The appointment of Liberal defector David Emerson to the Conservative cabinet as Minister of International Trade/the Pacific Gateway/the 2010 Winter Olympics/Keeping Them Damn Lotusland Hippies Happy has disappointed even the most partisan Conservatives, to say nothing of outraging the public.
It has cast a pall over what should have been a joyful occasion for the Conservative Party, and provides needless support to the cynical view that all political parties and politicians, of whatever stripe, are all alike in their willingness to sell out their principles for momentary advantage.
The Emerson appointment is offensive on several levels:
First, it undercuts the new government's stated claims to restore accountability to government and overcome the democratic deficit. David Emerson may be one of the most capable and accomplished men in Parliament, but crossing the floor on the eve of the change of government to cling to office overshadows his achievements and damages his credibility. Moreover, it is a deceit upon the voters of his constituency, who voted for him because he was the Liberal candidate and a defender of that government's record and platform.
Second, it legitimizes a spurious claim made by the elite media that a duly elected government, able to command the confidence of the House, somehow lacks legitimacy if it does not have representatives from Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. Appointing a Cabinet to satisfy the principle of regional balance and representation already ensures that some capable candidates will be excluded, and some weaker candidates included, to ensure that balance. Poaching members of the opposition caucus (and in Michael Fortier's case, appointing Senators) to achieve this supposedly necessary representation only underscores a critical weakness in the party; it will not remedy it in the long run at the organizational and policy levels.
Third, it creates needless tensions within the government caucus. There will always be people disappointed that they didn't get into Cabinet; they will be offended and outraged that they had to make way for an floor-crossing opportunist.
Fourth, it highlights a potential problem in Stephen Harper's style of government and political management: focussing too much on long-term grand strategies at the expense of short-term tactical errors that may prevent the long-term goals from being achieved.
The Emerson appointment may be defensible as part of a long-term strategy to permanently break off the right wing of the Liberal Party and gain a base in the major cities over the next few years, to hasten a realignment of Canadian party politics around a definite two-party system. But such a strategy may be delayed, even doomed, if measures such as this lead to the government's defeat.
The outrage over Emerson's appointment will die down presently; the public at large tend to be forgiving of such defections, and will likely have forgiven Emerson by next election time. Scott Brison, Ujjal Dosanjh, Keith Martin and Belinda Stronach are proof positive thereof. But in the short term, it will put Stephen Harper's government on the defensive when it could otherwise be enjoying a honeymoon.