Backbench Tory may join NDP

Bill Murdoch is no stranger to controversy. The MPP for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound has been tilting at windmills for more than 10 years and now it seems he actually may knock one over.
Last week, Murdoch announced he is considering an offer from long-time friend and NDP House leader Peter Kormos to sit with the NDP at Queen’s Park.
The move would give the NDP eight seats in the legislature and so restore official party status, which was lost in last month’s provincial election.
“Yes, we’re thinking about it,” Murdoch said from his constituency office in Owen Sound on Friday. “I’d say there’s about a 50-50 chance.”
Murdoch, whose voting record and opinions often have run counter to his party’s leader, said he is by no means a dyed-in-the-wool socialist, but instead is motivated by a sense of democracy and fair play.
“It would help the [legislature],” he remarked. “It would keep the Liberals honest.
“I believe in democracy,” he added. “I think it makes for a better opposition if they [NDP] have party status.”
That status was revoked when the NDP failed to garner the required minimum of eight seats on Oct. 2—despite increasing their share of the popular vote.
Because of that, the party is being denied its annual legislative budget of more than $1 million and a research staff of 20. The new Liberal government even has denied the NDP the right to use its official name at Queen’s Park.
And that, said Murdoch, is unfair and undemocratic. “I don’t like party politics,” he snapped. “I think it’s all [bull].”
Murdoch first became an object of rumours when his name was left off the list of opposition critics in the Tories’ shadow cabinet. Speculation was rife that considering his often radical views and the apparent snub by his leader, he might be bitter and disillusioned.
Not so, he said.
“I wasn’t interested in a critic’s position,” Murdoch claimed. “I was offered my choice of posts, but I said, ‘I wasn’t good enough for your cabinet, so why would I be a critic?’”
Murdoch is somewhat of a political enigma. At the federal level, he is a card-carrying member of the Canadian Alliance, but in his office, he has pictures of Ché Guevara, Fidel Castro, and Louis Riel.
He has a particular admiration for Castro and frequently vacations in Cuba.
“He’s the only dictator in the last 50 years who’s kept his country stable,” Murdoch noted. “Frankly, I’d like to see Cuba become Canada’s 11th province after he’s gone.”
Murdoch often was at loggerheads with his premier while the Tories were in power. On two occasions, he defied Mike Harris’ choice for Speaker and on both occasions had his own choice elected.
He also opposed the government’s move to ban the spring bear hunt and will work to have it reinstated—regardless of where he is sitting in the house.
He supports the tax credit for private schools but opposes the official recognition of same-sex marriages.
When it was suggested to him he might best be defined as a Libertarian, Murdoch did not deny the label, but said instead, “I believe in less government.”
So, how would such a loose cannon sit with the NDP?
NDP leader and local MPP Howard Hampton said he is aware of the situation and would welcome open discussions with Murdoch. Although often on opposing sides, Hampton recognizes Murdoch as a healthy, if not tranquil, influence on the legislature.
“Bill Murdoch is a populist,” Hampton said from his office at Queen’s Park. “He’s a rebel. He’s not an ideologue, not a ‘yes’ man. He’s often criticized the Conservative government.”
Given his track record, Hampton said he was not surprised Murdoch is as annoyed at the Liberal government as he is. Hampton said he feels the new government is being unnecessarily literal in its interpretation of the rules—and even vindictive in their application.
“The Liberals are doing really stupid stuff,” Hampton remarked. “They are trying to be as nasty as possible. It’s not just about denying us official status. They are taking it much further than that. They are trying to erase the name NDP.”
With Murdoch onside, that could change, but Hampton recognizes life won’t necessarily be quieter. He entertains no illusions about Murdoch toeing the party line any more than he does now.
“Bill Murdoch is the kind of guy who makes his own decisions,” Hampton concluded.
As for Murdoch, the issue is far from decided.
“First, I have to go to my constituents and get their permission,” he said. “Also, the [Tory] party has a lot of work to do. It’s a mess right now.
“I told Ernie [Eves] he should step down immediately so we can have a leadership convention and get ourselves back together. Then I’ll take a closer look.
“It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight,” Murdoch stressed.