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MP's expulsion dark news for Harper Add to ...

He says it was because he was a free spirit. They say it was because he was a snitch.

It doesn't matter. Garth Turner is about to become Stephen Harper's bane.

In one sense, Mr. Turner deserved to be expelled from the federal Conservative caucus. The member for Halton is a former newspaper columnist and successful businessman. Both careers encourage independent thinking and frank talk.

But the demands of a political party are absolute. Certainly, caucuses can accommodate large egos.

(When was the last time you stood at the front of a room grinning and waving your arms while hundreds of people cheered and chanted your name?) But those egos must ultimately submit to party discipline.

Especially when in government, whether you are a junior backbencher or a senior cabinet minister, you are entitled to make your views known to the leadership. But once the caucus, the cabinet or the prime minister has decided, then you must support that decision, or leave.

Mr. Turner has a much more American conception of the role of MP. In his view, parliamentarians associate with one party or another but should pass independent judgment on each issue, voting according to their conscience or the will of their constituents.

While there is merit in that approach, it is not our Westminster approach. There's a reason why we say that parliamentary votes are whipped.

And while Mr. Turner insists he never betrayed caucus confidences on his website, caucus members disagreed, complaining they could not speak openly in his presence for fear their words would appear on the Internet.

Mr. Turner's blog offered a running commentary on the actions of his own government that was often highly critical. Consider this recent excerpt: "A green plan with gonads is now at the very top of the public's wish list -- and rightly so. . . . My position [when the environmental plan is released]will be that climate change is the greatest all-round threat this country faces, and that my nation's government should not let us down with half-measures, a curtsy to junk science or a sellout to the tar sands."

He must have found that deeply satisfying to write. But it's unquestionably beyond the bounds of accepted speech for a government MP. Caucus had every right to turf him.

Nonetheless, this expulsion is dark news for Mr. Harper. Some people will believe that Mr. Turner was bounced because he is particularly loathed by the religious right -- he is a strong proponent of same-sex marriage -- or that he wouldn't toe the party line on the environment. Others will say the Prime Minister's Office orchestrated the expulsion as a warning to restless MPs that dissent will not be tolerated.

That's what Mr. Turner thinks. "Is my leaving caucus a shot across the bow? Yes, of course it is," he said yesterday at a news conference.

Regardless of the reason, the expulsion says nothing good about the party or the Prime Minister. Mr. Turner is a rare phenomenon: a conservative politician popular among middle-class suburban voters outside Toronto, that most precious of political constituencies, and one generally hostile to Harper Conservatives. They liked Mr. Turner's passion for lowering taxes and streamlining government, but equally his commitment to the environment and his socially progressive views. Mr. Turner was a Tory metrosexual, and the party needs all of them it can get.

And now he is on the outside, offering the blogosphere an even more unvarnished critique of his former party's performance, and reminding us that being a socially progressive libertarian in Mr. Harper's caucus is a tough row to hoe.

"I have a hard time understanding who wins out of this particular situation," Mr. Turner told reporters.

It ain't Stephen Harper.

jibbitson@globeandmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @JohnIbbitson

 

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