Some New Democrat MPs say they are shocked by the "mind-boggling" move of their former colleague Bev Desjarlais, who is now working for a Conservative cabinet minister.
Party-switching on Parliament Hill is fast becoming old hand, but Ms. Desjarlais's trek from New Democrat MP to an Independent and now to aide to Greg Thompson, the Tory Veterans Affairs Minister, is surely a political first.
Ms. Desjarlais, who represented the northern Manitoba riding of Churchill until she was defeated as an Independent in the Jan. 23 election, is now in charge of parliamentary relations for the New Brunswick minister.
According to Ms. Desjarlais, the job offer was unexpected. She said that after her defeat at the polls, she was packing up her things in her Parliament Hill office and decided to give a congratulatory call to Mr. Thompson, who had an office in the same hallway.
"Much to my surprise, he offered me a position with his department," she said.
"Probably the only time in my life that I've been totally speechless is when he offered me the position. He said he wanted someone who knew how to work with MPs, and how Parliament works, and who cares about people; and I have to admit, I was very humbled."
Ms. Desjarlais, 50, is perhaps best known as the MP who was stripped of her critic responsibilities by NDP Leader Jack Layton for voting against same-sex marriage.
As Mr. Thompson's parliamentary relations aide, Ms. Desjarlais will be the main contact for MPs of all parties wishing to raise issues with the minister. She will also keep an eye on veterans issues that may be percolating in the Commons.
Though some New Democrat MPs say they will have no problem working with Ms. Desjarlais, others, such as caucus chairwoman Judy Wasylycia-Leis, are fuming.
"It was a shock to me and people in our party everywhere. . . . It's hard to understand how Bev could have gone from being an active New Democrat to actually supporting and upholding the Stephen Harper agenda. [It]is just mind-boggling and very disappointing," said Ms. Wasylycia-Leis, the member for Winnipeg North.
But not all New Democrats feel that way. Peter Stoffer, the party's veterans affairs critic, has already met with Mr. Thompson and Ms. Desjarlais in their new roles and said they will make a good team.
"I'm very, very pleased. I'm so happy for her. I think she and Greg will have a nice fit and they'll work well together. I think it's fantastic," said Mr. Stoffer, a Nova Scotia MP.
Mr. Stoffer said Ms. Desjarlais has always worked well with MPs from other parties and he will appreciate having a contact in the department.
On the Conservative side, Tory strategist Tim Powers said Ms. Desjarlais's hiring is unlikely to concern many in the party but he joked about its effect on the NDP.
"Is Bernard Shapiro aware?" he said, poking fun at several recent letters from the New Democrats to the Ethics Commissioner about party-switching and other ethical issues. "The NDP seem to be firing conflict-of-interest and ethical-challenge missiles all day. I'm sure they're going to fire one at Bev Desjarlais any moment."
While Mr. Powers said he did not know Ms. Desjarlais personally, he believes she will be welcomed. "There might be some people who are put off by it but I suspect the majority of people will be not too engaged in it one way or the other," he said. "If Greg has confidence in her I'm sure the rest of us will follow suit."
Ms. Desjarlais said she is not planning to join the party of her new employer and is merely signing on to do a job. "I'm still an Independent. I've made a decision not to have a party affiliation," she said, and remained coy when asked which party she would vote for next time.
"It's a good thing that there's a secret ballot in Canada and that there's not going to be an election today."