SAINT JOHN – Wayne Long arrived home from Ottawa with a crowd of people waiting to greet him at the airport. They cheered as he came through the gate. One woman carrying a sign that said, “Thanks, Wayne,” came up and give him a hug, as did some of the others.
“I feel a lot of love from Saint John-Rothesay,” he told reporters once the crowd dispersed. “I feel a lot of support. This makes me feel great. In the end, politics is local. It’s the constituents of Saint John-Rothesay that would re-elect me. It’s my constituents, my business owners, my peers that I have to live with, work with.”
It’s been a difficult week for Long, something he acknowledged as he greeted and thanked people for coming out. Earlier this week, he voted for a Conservative Party motion to extend the public consultation process on proposed tax changes for incorporated businesses. On Thursday he was kicked off two parliamentary committees as a punishment for voting against the party.
Long said it’s heartening to see the public support for his stand, whether it’s people greeting him at the airport or through phone calls, e-mails or Facebook posts.
“I did it because I fundamentally believe we’ve got it wrong, right now,” he said. “I hope that we get it right. When I see the grassroots support it blows me away. People can look at my Facebook and people can look at my Twitter and see comments. But they don’t see the private messages – the personal e-mails and the calls – from really right across the country. It blows my mind the support I have right now.”
Long has a balanced perspective on what he’s going through right now. He was prepared to speak his mind, but also ready for the consequences of doing so.
“I expected discipline,” he said. “I’m not happy about it, but in the end, the party has the right to do that, and I accept their punishment.”
However, he does believe that an MP needs to vote independently when necessary, and he believes his party respects that principle.
“I’m a backbench MP going into [my third year],” he said. “I’m not speaking for all of my colleagues, but we’re getting our feet under us now. We’re not in awe of it all anymore. We want to do the right things. The more opportunities we do have to speak up and vote our conscience, to vote for what our constituents want, it makes for a healthier parliament. It makes for a healthier democracy.
“But let me be clear. By and large, we do get to vote our conscience. There are many times MPs have voted on different bills and motions that were against what the party wanted. So I think we have a healthy democracy. I love our caucus. I love my caucus colleagues. We have healthy debates. ”
At the same time, every party has what it calls “whipped votes,” motions or bills on which it expects its members to vote the party line. Long understands that but was prepared to suffer the consequences for voting for the Conservative motion anyway.
“This was just one instance where I went against the grain,” he said. “I knew I was going against the grain, and I’m paying a price for it. That’s something that’s difficult, but I’m comfortable with what I did.
“The party obviously decided to whip the vote. I respect that. I understand it’s a parliamentary system … I know at times they do need to whip votes. It’s just that on this one, I had very strong principles.”
Other party members that opposed the planned changes voted with the party Tuesday. Long said he respects that choice but had to take a different path given his background and strong views on the issue.
“I was a small business person, and I just felt I needed to make that stand,” he said. “Hopefully in some small way, I can be part of government reconsidering what they’re doing, along with all of my other New Brunswick colleagues who are lobbying government too. Hopefully, we can make a difference.”