Bruce Hyer says he’s willing to meet the NDP halfway, but he’ll only return to the party under certain conditions.
First and foremost the now-independent MP says the party must free him to vote the will of his constituents.
Whipped votes must be a thing of the past the Thunder Bay-Superior North representative said in a phone interview Tuesday night, after news broke of a letter he sent to his riding association over the weekend indicating a possible desire to return to the NDP fold.
“It’s very simple, and that would be contingent on one huge condition,” Hyer said, sounding anything but the apologetic MP national media are labeling him.
“And that condition is that I be allowed to vote for my conscience for my constituents. If and when that the party decide to do that, yes I’d consider that.”
A week ago, amid plenty of fanfare, Hyer abandoned the party caucus, saying then interim NDP leader Nycole Turmel’s decision to punish him and fellow Thunder Bay MP John Rafferty for voting with the Conservatives to end the controversial long-gun registry was not the political gamesmanship he signed up for.
Thunder Bay-Superior North NDP Riding Association president Maurice Grimstead said Hyer’s decision rocked the party locally, but if their former representative can repair his relationship with national leaders, they’d certainly be open to welcoming him back with open arms.
“I think the riding association and many members broadly throughout the riding support Bruce,” Grimstead said, reached by phone, noting there’s a party answer, a riding answer and a personal answer, none of which necessarily are the same.
“Yes, there is room (for him to return). The riding association, we’ve had a discussion about it internally. He would have to mend the schism with the party.”
According to Hyer, after new leader Thomas Mulcair took over the leadership of the party, Mulcair’s staff told the 65-year-old Hyer he’d be expected to vote with the party at all times.
Though the second-term MP said he plans to vote with the NDP 95 per cent of the time or more, the idea of being handcuffed to party policy still does not sit well.
“I’m a social democrat and I’m still a member of the party, but I’m not going to be told how to vote, it’s that simple. That’s the primary reason why I left. I’m not going to be told what to think, what to say and how to vote,” Hyer said.
“If the party decides that they really believe in democracy, representative democracy where the members represent primarily their constituents and the party fits into that, then yes, I’d go back, if they’re interested. But if they’re not willing to change that, then no.”
Hyer said the national NDP has undergone a tremendous change since former leader Jack Layton died last summer.
It’s much less democratic then it was in 2008, when he was first elected, Hyer said.
“I went to Ottawa believing that I would be able to represent my constituents. Under Jack that worked reasonably well, but since Nycole and now Tom Mulcair, it’s clear that the party thinks that their MPs will do as the party and the leaders and the party says,” he said.
“What I did say to my riding executives and to my members is that if the party is willing to show some flexibility and some sensitivity to the needs of my constituents, then yes, I would – I don’t know if apologize is the right word – but I would try to reintegrate into the party and vote with them most of the time, which I’m usually comfortable with.”
In his letter to the riding association, Hyer was a little more conciliatory toward the party leadership.
"I am willing to do that: to apologize, to accept MOST party discipline and drudgery, and I am willing to ask the riding association and Mr. Mulcair to let me resume my NDP seat."
Hyer said he hasn’t approached Mulcair about returning and a Mulcair spokesman told the Canadian Press the NDP leader is unaware of the letter Hyer sent to the local riding association.
Hyers defection left the NDP with 101 seats in the 308-seat legislature. The Conservatives lead the way with 165.
Follow Leith Dunick on Twitter: @LeithDunick