When Lise St. Denis decided last year to leave the Official Opposition to move down the opposition back benches, I noted that the most important issue was likely less her individual choice than whether it would lead to more MPs following suit. (Which of course it didn't.)
And to a large extent, the same goes for Bruce Hyer's decision to sit as an independent: the long-term effects will likely be minimal if other members facing similar choices keep working within the NDP. But it is worth noting one key background point in Hyer's decision.
It's been well noted that the one issue of caucus discipline involving Hyer took place under Nycole Turmel's interim leadership last fall. So Hyer's timing may have been less a matter of seeing anything change to his dissatisfaction under Thomas Mulcair, and more an issue of disappointment that the NDP's new leader didn't restore the party's previous stance allowing MPs to vote their conscience on the gun registry.
But it's still true that a change has indeed taken place since the last election, as MPs who campaigned on a position which was seen as consistent with party policy have found themselves facing discipline for exactly that stance. And that may be particularly important in light of Mulcair's primary leadership campaign proposal to allow for diversity of voices within the NDP.
Remember that Mulcair has (rightly) promised to encourage regional campaigns working within the party's existing policy framework in order to better address local concerns. And the leading example as to how that idea has worked in the past is...the NDP's base in Northern Ontario, which helped Hyer and a number of other MPs to get elected - in part by enabling candidates to put aside the gun registry as an issue.
Now, it could be that party members will make a decision on the gun registry that would take Hyer's stance outside the realm of party policy by 2015. But for now, Hyer's departure again highlights a question as to whether the candidates working within regional campaigns can count on the same flexibility in voting on issues after an election that they've been offered while campaigning. And Mulcair may need to clarify that point in order to encourage more regions to follow Northern Ontario's successful model.