Listening to Leona Alleslev’s explanation of why she’s leaving Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party to join the Opposition Conservatives, the most obvious question is: what took you so long?
Members of Parliament rarely take the dramatic step of crossing the floor of the House of Commons, so Alleslev’s move was bound to provide a moment of political theatre. Especially on the first day back at work for MPs, after a summer that saw the Trudeau government struggling with NAFTA negotiations and a big legal setback on getting the Trans Mountain pipeline built.
But if we’re to take Alleslev’s words at face value, it seems clear the MP for Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill has been a Conservative all along, just one who unaccountably found herself sitting on the wrong side of the Commons chamber.
Quite rightly, and uncontroversially, she pointed out that we are in the midst of a time of great global instability. “Trade relationships, international agreements and defence structures are under threat,” she said. “Canada faces a perfect storm of serious challenges at home and abroad.”
More specifically, she decried “large amounts of capital investment leaving Canada,” while the tax system and politics deter companies from expanding and undermines Canada’s competitiveness.
On the world stage, she went on, Canada’s “ability to deliver on our defence commitments is undermined by politics… To have a strong economy and a strong country we need strong federal leadership to rebuild our nation’s foundations; tax reform, employment reform, federal infrastructure, a comprehensive foreign policy, and a modernized military to reassure our allies and defend Canada’s interests at home and abroad.”
This is a coherent view of Canada’s challenges and the appropriate response. But in essence it’s a conservative view — and a Conservative one.
The formula she proposes includes tax reform (in this context, code for tax cuts on business to match cuts made by the Trump administration). It emphasizes freeing up business to invest more and become more globally competitive. And it stresses building a “modernized” military to “reassure our allies” (i.e. spending a lot more on defence to placate Donald Trump’s demand that other countries pay a bigger share of the costs of alliances like NATO).
So: tax cuts and fewer restrictions on business. Plus a considerable boost in military spending to make nice with Trump.
If those are Alleslev’s core beliefs, then indeed she ought to sit on the Conservative side of the House. It’s a puzzle why she ran for the Trudeau Liberals, who hardly made a secret of the fact that they were tilting to the left during the 2015 federal election.
Canada’s version of the Parliamentary system makes a fetish out of party discipline. Just one errant MP is often seen as proof that a leader is losing control of his or her party. (The British, in contrast, take a more relaxed view; MPs there often break party ranks without setting off a frenzy about a supposed breakdown of order.)
So while it’s inevitable that Alleslev’s defection from the Liberals will be seen as a blow to Trudeau, it should not be over-interpreted.
For one thing, it follows shortly upon Maxime Bernier’s much stormier departure from Conservative ranks to form his own party.
And more importantly, it amounts in the end to a Conservative finding her way home — even if it took her three years to get there.