Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Layton Loses One

So, what does Bev Desjarlais' decision to sit as an independent do to Don Laytone and his organization?

First, it must be understood that Ms. Desjarlais wasn't pushed out of caucus; rather, her local party apparatus was taken over by someone else. Another woman, Niki Ashton, will be the NDP candidate for Churchill in the next election. And despite voting against same-sex marriage legislation -- according to the will of her constituents, for which she lost her shadow cabinet position -- there's no real animosity between her and the caucus.

Is this a setback for Don Laytone? You might think so given the minority situation here, but it's not quite as dire as some people seem to think.

The Don still has 18 MPs, including himself, under his umbrella. Numerically it puts a Liberal-NDP voting bloc in a one-vote minority compared with a Tory-BQ voting bloc, putting the fate of the government in the hands of 4 independents: Ms. Desjarlais, and former Liberals David Kilgour, Pat O'Brien and Carolyn Parrish.

However, of these four, only Kilgour is likely to vote against the government in a no-confidence motion. Parrish, being virulently anti-Tory and having nothing to lose, will side with the Liberals out of force of habit. O'Brien left the Liberals over SSM, but otherside has no beef with the Grits, so he can be expected to support the government. So, since we know that Ms. Desjarlais' dispute is with her local officials rather than the caucus, we can expect her to continue voting the NDP line. Which means that while the Don can't guarantee victory, he still has a formidable voting bloc that Paul Martin needs to supplicate.

Now, whether Ms. Desjarlais can run as an Independent in the next election, and win, is an open question, but I'd say her odds are pretty good. She's had eight years' worth of experience, enough to generate at least some personal loyalty among her constituency staff; she should be able to get enough people together for a campaign. She's also running against an inexperienced candidate who may be relying on parental connections (Ms. Ashton's father is a provincial cabinet minister), which doesn't necessarily play well in public.

Regardless, we must wish Ms. Desjarlais the best of luck. She's going to need it.