Explainer: Who is Michael Chong? And what does he want to do with our Parliament?

Aaron Wherry previews the potential revolution

by Aaron Wherry

(Maclean's photo by Mitchel Raphael)

Ahead of the release of “An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act (reforms)”—recently dubbed “The Reform Act”—Aaron Wherry produced this brief guide to what could be a minor revolution in our parliamentary governance.

Follow the latest updates on the story here.

Just catching up? Here’s what you need to know:

Who is Michael Chong?

Mr. Chong is the Conservative MP for Wellington-Halton Hills.

Don’t I remember him from somewhere?

Probably. For awhile after the Conservatives formed government in 2006, Mr. Chong was the Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, but he quit cabinet in November 2006 because he could not support the Prime Minister’s motion that the Québécois formed a nation within a united Canada. He has been a backbencher ever since. In May 2010, he proposed a series of reforms to Question Period, which generated a great deal of discussion, but which have so far failed to be implemented.

What is he proposing now?
As reported on Friday, Mr. Chong is set to table a private member’s bill that would make several reforms to the way political parties and parliamentary caucuses function. First, his bill would amend the Elections Act to remove the provision that gives the party leader ultimate authority over who runs under the party’s banner. Second, it would specify that House of Commons caucus chairs must be elected, provide for how they can be reviewed and replaced, and set out rules for how MPs can be expelled from and re-admitted to caucus. Third, it will require that, for a party to be registered as a political party, party by-laws must allow for a caucus review of the party leader. The bill would come into force after the next election.

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What’s the big deal about all that?
Well, if you believe that the House of Commons is a sad, empty shell of what it could or should be, Mr. Chong’s proposals could go some way to fixing that. Each of the changes he will be proposing follow the same basic idea of shifting power from the party leader to the individual MP. And it is the current imbalance of power—in which the party leaders and their offices seems to be able to control much of what occurs in the legislature—that is arguably at the root of our current malaise.

Mr. Chong raised the possibility of amending the Elections Act in an interview with this magazine three years ago. He explained the significance as follows. “The current situation is at the root of the imbalance between not just the executive branch and the legislature, but also the root of the imbalance between party leaders and their caucuses. If you know that the leader may not sign your papers in the next election or may in fact kick you out of caucus, that’s going to colour your judgment about whether or not you’re going to support the party line on a particular vote.”

As I suggested at the time, “The theory follows that moving the power to authorize candidates from the party leader to the constituency or a regional authority would leave the MP less beholden to the leader and more likely to speak freely. If MPs were more likely to speak freely, more free votes would have to result. And if fewer votes were preordained by party lines, debate would become more meaningful, both as an expression of individual views and as a means of influencing others. At once, the individual MP and the House as an institution would become more relevant.”

What happens now?
Mr. Chong’s bill was to be tabled on Thursday, but due to sudden interest in its contents, he’s decided to table it tomorrow, shortly after the House convenes at 10 a.m. At that point, we’ll get a better sense of precisely what these changes will involve and the focus will shift to the other 307 MPs in the House: Will they support his legislation? If not, why not? We’ll also then get a sense of where the party leaders stand.

The system will thus be put on trial. This was probably a long time coming, but in the year of Brent Rathgeber and the Backbench Spring and the Duffy-Wright affair, this is probably precisely the conversation that needed to be had.




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Explainer: Who is Michael Chong? And what does he want to do with our Parliament?

  1. Congrats to Chong for playing the long game so well.

  2. Why mandate that party by-laws allow a different trigger for leadership reviews? Why not simply officially sever the roles of party leader in the Commons and party leader outside the Commons into 2 different roles, sort of like CEO and chairman of the Board. Typically it’s the same person, but MPs voting to replace them in that role should be enough of a slap in the face to make the leader resign without forcing a change to party by-laws. Or parties might decide that giving their caucus more independence is a good reason to keep the roles separate.

  3. Bravo Mr. Chong! I hope the bill gets sufficient support to pass.
    Opposition parties: Get behind this!

  4. Bravo to Mr. Chong!!! I think he is going in the right direction and maybe he should head the Conservative Party.

  5. Dam good ‘Breath of Fresh Air’. Come on everybody, get behind this guy. We may need a few adjustments to his bill but it’s the best thing to happen to Canadians since Dictator Harper took office. Any past abuse(before Harper) has been minimal but a bill like this could eliminate that.

  6. This is a story to follow! At first glance I saw the rise of an American senate value structure and then I remembered WE ARE CANADIAN EH! And in recent years the normally quiet Canucks are organizing and speaking up for the people in their neighborhood. Idle more and the occupy movements had great intentions but were buried in anger and hastily produced events that produced little or no change in government practices and procedures on any level eh!

    I will support this Mr.Chong. His platform seems to be “responsible” He has taken the moments necessary to establish a clear perspective and now offering a good orderly direction for our country to move forward, responsibly!

    After many many years consumed by The Information Age, we have learned to lessen the divides between parliament and the people. We have entered the responsibility age, worldwide, change will come from responsible assembly of thoughts to become actions. In any weather, our collective voice needs a responsible path to parliament. I believe Mr.Chong is cutting the trail for us all!

    giver Bud! Take these hosers out for a Rip eh!

  7. Anybody who gives up the perks of a cabinet position to stand for what he believes in is okay in my books.

    This is a meaningful reform that Canadians should all support. Unlike the sexier topics like Senate reform, this is actually doable in a practical manner. It will make a real difference in the power of the leaders office of all parties to control what MPs say and do. (Contrary to some headlines, this is not a single party problem.)

    Right now we elect an MP, who then acts as the leader’s trained seal clapping on demand and otherwise not representing us at all. We need to take some of the power away from the leader and give it back to our representatives, so they can do the job we’re paying them for – representing us.

  8. Parties are the problem not the solution.
    Get rid of the party system and you get rid of the problem.
    What Chong is purposing is to further empower the party over the electorate, It might sound good but it’s really a further entrenching of party politics over the will of the people.
    Get rid of the party system and there are no majorities or minorities just representatives and an elected PM who has no free passes and no power structure to enforce his/her will on the people.
    Representative governments are the only true form of government of the people, party democracy is not a true form of representative government as people elect parties whom they hate slightly less than another party, we don’t elect reps to represent us, we elect party reps to represent the will of the entrenched party elite… not us.
    Parties are the problem.

    • Absolutely needed to remove the current “elect a dictator every 5 years”, First Past the Post shell game. Make Canadian elections at ALL levels “instant runoff” type, where voters rate candidates from 1st choice to last. We do have these things called computers that make the process easy, but note that many emerging democracies choose instant runoff voting, even if they must do it manually. That way it becomes more difficult for any group, official party or otherwise, to gerrymander or divide the opposition to gain power with less than 50% of the vote. I would rather have my second or even third choice be elected than my last, and I’m guessing so would most Canadians. If it is good enough for the party faithful to have runoff votes to choose their leaders, why not Canadian voters?

      And spare us the various “proportional representation” schemes where the Parties choose which of their favorites get “voted” to Parliament (or the Senate, if we get EEE shoved down our throats).

      • IRV is just a spruced-up version of FPTP and does nothing to address the problem of minority dictatorships, and most of the other ills of a plurality electoral system. That is why it is so little used.

        But rather than argue the pros and cons of different electoral systems, I say strike up a Royal Commission to study the issue, consult with Canadians and make a recommendation to Parliament.

        The first thing that opponents of any electoral reform do is start arguing the pros and cons of different systems, muddy the water with erroneous information and, in general, attempt to derail any progress on the issue.

        So, let’s just get on with the Royal Commission…after Chong’s reform bill is passed.

      • One of the problems of IRV is that it doesn’t meet the Condorcet criteria (which says that the most preferred candidate should always win). However, there are a number of systems which work the same way from the voter’s perspective that actually meet that criteria. I think we would be better served by one those systems, such as the Ranked Pairs method or the Schulz method.

        • The problem with the various systems suggested is that they are not “legible” to the average voter. It is bad enough having to rely on corporations like Diebold and Lockheed-Martin to handle our electoral hardware/software, let alone have a voting system that at it’s most basic requires an advanced degree in math to understand. While IRV may not be mathematically “perfect”, it is WAY better than FPTP. And it can be far more easily manually checked for fraud.

          @ Durward, as much as I would like to see ALL special interest groups, not just Parties, barred from the political arena, that just ain’t gonna happen. So most candidates will be fielded by Parties. But independents would stand a better chance if the Parties couldn’t simply manipulate 30%ish of the popular vote into a “win” as easily.

          Minority government is NOT a bad thing. It should force the MPs, MPPs and city counselors to play nice with each other. But Party control makes even that level of representative democracy moot.

          Elected/appointed Senate at this point means nothing as long as the Parties call the tune. Appointed means they must plan long, elected means they plan short like the Commons. In the end democracy can only work IF the representatives work in the best interests of ALL CITIZENS, not just the Parties, whose fortunes are inevitable tied to the will of the 0.1% class.

          Better no legislation than bad legislation. We have literally tons of legislation, and does that stop the corruption, the moral rot? Not a bit, the lawyers are doing well though.

      • You’d still be voting for people the party picked, they’d still be beholden to the party and not the people.
        No better than the system we have now, worse in fact as we’d have a continuous welfare state voted in by the takers at the expense of the taxpayers and we’d collapse in no time flat.
        How exactly is an elected Senate inferior to an appointed one?
        If our Senators were beholden to their provinces it would in fact be a good thing as no legislation would pass that played one area off against another like so often happens now.
        I’m assuming you’d pay for runoffs for choices nobody really likes but not for Provincial Senators? That makes zero sense.
        Democracy is mob rule, it’s a stepping stone to socialism and then communism, It’s not designed for free countries, it’s designed to destroy them.
        Democracy like socialism was a dirty word 60 yrs ago when people paid more attention and cared about how they were governed.
        Democracy is 51% dictating to 49%, it’s mob rule, A free representative republic keeps power local and with the people.

        • Well right now we have 30%ish dictating to the rest of us. Smaller mob, especially when that 30% mob is controlled by a 0.1% mob.

          And 50%+1 is not enough? maybe the Constitutional Reform level of 66+? Or 100%? Reaching consensus is difficult at best, sometimes we just have to go with what most people want and hope for the best.

          Our current parliamentary/municipal system, like other political representation systems elsewhere are compromises of the ideal governance by the people. If anyone knew what that ideal would be.

          A compromise where our politicians and the Parties they mostly belong to were honest and forthright, with sufficient checks and balances to ensure they remained so, is about the best we’ll get anytime soon.

          Better than what we have now.

          • Ha, no, your wrong, we have about .4% dictating to us, the policies of the parties vary only during elections, tax and spend and fire sales on resources, borrow on the future, the rest is semantics which is why they can switch to parties they one week ago despised, it’s theater.
            The party system keeps us under their control through the illusion of choice while the central bank of England sets the agenda,,, further debt and further control.
            Destroying the party system is the only way to real government by the people.

          • Not wrong at all, I agree it is the wealth/power elite (the exact % is irrelevant) setting the Major Political Parties’ agendas. See the who’s-who at the Demarais funeral…

            Unfortunately it is impossible legally and ethically to destroy the Parties, as to act/bargain collectively is a basic Human Right. The problem is separating the good from the evil.

            Chong is taking the opportunity (all politicians are opportunistic, hence the party-hopping you note) in the public outrage at the current crop of political scandals (Mayor Ford, gas-plant, Senate, Caledonia, Champlain Bridge, etc.) to put SOME Canadian parliamentary power back into the hands of the backbenchers.

            Is his bill enough to “save” our representative democracy or prevent all future scandals? Probably not, but it is a good step in the right direction. Get this done and the other badly needed reforms are a possibility. Without some measure like this, the needed reforms become less possible without complete revolution at time passes and the power of the PMO, PCO and Party/corporate/.0.1% become increasingly entrenched.

            Fix a major underlying problem and other issues will be easier to resolve.

          • We are not now nor have we ever been a representative democracy, we are a confederation of Provinces under a constitutional monarchy with a elected Parliamentary government who serve with the consent of the Queen and only the parties are represented.
            Acting or bargaining collectively is not a basic human right, it’s a “right” given by government to empower unions, PUBLIC UNIONS, given by the communist Trudeau to buy the votes of the bureaucracies and contrary to what the constitution terms as essential services which were forbidden to organize but granted tenure(now they have both) …and look at that financial disaster.
            Individualism is a god given right you are born with, not one thought up by politicos and written into the same bill that took away private property rights, the right to defense of life and property and empowered the Supreme court beyond what the Constitution intended, our courts now make laws through interpretation of the constitution instead of just enforcing the constitution as it is written, it’s ridiculous.
            The Charter of rights and freedoms is a socialist piece of crap that was never even legally brought in and is the biggest destructive force in the country, next to UN Agenda 21.
            The fact remains whether power is held by the PMO or back bench MPs it’s still the party and not the people they are beholden to, Parliament was supposed to speak for the Provinces not to the Provinces.
            The biggest problem with our governments is that they ignore the Constitution, they enact illegal unconstitutional laws and enforce them through bureaucracies like revenue Canada and their Supreme puppet court.
            It matters not one iota who holds power when the laws of the land are not known by 97% of the population and broken with impunity by those who share it only with the consent of the party, all other can f off and be slaves paying for the party’s illegal activities.
            If we don’t choose the candidate we don’t hold sway and that won’t change with Chong’s distraction.
            In truth once the budget is passed the MPs should be home as really there is nothing for them to do but dream up new infringements on our lives.
            In Texas the Legislature serves for 90 days and are paid 7,000 dollars, they pass a budget then they go home, job done.
            It’s the only sane government in North America.
            Chong’s distraction is just that..Theater for the masses, a trick to make the people feel empowered.
            Teach the Constitution in our schools, that would be a far more effective way to limit power in the PMO and in Parliament itself.

          • wow, did you get a Doctorate in TotalNitPickyBS?

            Spare us all the non sequitur history lesson. The PRACTICAL issue is that 0.1% of the population LARGELY controls the fundamental government/governance/economic/media structure Canadians find themselves trying to make sense of and navigate in their work/personal/societal/political lives.

            No, Little Prince Stevie and his corporate masters don’t tell me what clothes to wear, what job to have or who I can associate with, but they sure set the “stage” as it were. They certainly make sure the 90% get taxed and the 10%/corporations don’t.

            Let’s look at the largest “news story” which puts a Canadian figure in the International Media Spotlight. Yup, the Ford debacle. The Harperite Braintrust supported a certain Toronto mayoral candidate and his ex-drug-dealer brother despite ample prior indications it would not work out well. I’ve been screened more thoroughly for a minimum wage job than it seems the Conservative party machine did on the Ford brothers. Oh, ya, their Dad was a Conservative MPP and general party insider. I think Flaherty’s crocodile tears were more because he saw his influence with the HarperCon backroom fading than any real emotional attachment to the Ford family.

            So all your blithering about Canada not being a representative democracy or a whether forming unions is a “right’ or a “privilege” means squat in practical terms. Unions exist in their current form because PEOPLE DIED to make it happen. Which begs the question as to why the ReformaCons have such a hard-on to kill unions. All unions, not just public sector. Let them “eat” minimum wage.

            You are the “theatre”, muddying any direct, practical attempt to shift power to citizens or their Parliamentary representatives, from those who would like to keep it for themselves.

            Are you also a climate change skeptic and an intelligent design proponent?

            So if Chong’s Bill can claw back some of what rightfully belongs to THE PEOPLE, great. I would prefer Canadians didn’t have to go to such lengths to control megalomaniac PM’s and mayors, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

        • what taxpayers are those all the foreign workers who for their own selfishness vote for the current government who is unemploying canadians at an alarming rate…These people coming over aren’t just enhancing the work force they are replacing canadians. meanwhile this corrupt government continues to push their paper work through…. just where are canadians suppose to go for work, we are losing our homes, marriages, lifestyle, religious freedoms, family… how many young canadians can’t even get starter jobs because of the flooding of filipinos.. exactly why is a unskilled labour getting work permits, we have enough unskilled labour already. when you walk into a business where their entire staff has been replaced by these foreign workers, look at them. because these are all canadians who have been pushed out of the job market.

  9. The problem with worthy initiatives like Chong’s is that they get bogged down with everybody’s pet project (Senate reform, proportional representation, preferential ballots, etc.).

    • Chong’s proposals are relatively simple, reflect what is being used in most other parliamentary democracies and were used in Canada before political parties were such a potent force.

      So everyone should get behind them.

      These are not the only reforms needed. But they are a good first step. Let’s move on them.

      • I agree, but I don’t think it will happen because the real source of seems to be frustration on the part of social conservatives with getting the abortion debate back on the agenda rather than any true democratic spirit..

  10. Frankly, I am disturbed that MPs don’t already have these powers and I hope Mr Chong’s bill is supported by all parties. Parliament should elect the PM and Parliment should be able to remove them without an election.

  11. This is a Canadian Tea Party idea. Give the power back to the people.

    • If you mean rolling back abortion rights, you might be right.

  12. ‘You shall not pass!”….That’s what comes to mind when I read Chong’s proposed bill.

    • I tend to agree with you that this bill won’t make it to Senate. But the timing and subject matter is strategically important — shining a light on the young, progressive CPC MP Michael Chong at a time when his party and leader are very weak and vulnerable. Giving up his cabinet position and waiting until just the right moment to put this bill forward may have been the most strategic move made by a CPC MP in dog years!

      • That is true; Chong’s proposal is just trying to fix something that Harper negated, abused and manipulated. Chong’s line that his proposed bill does not bring into light the current leadership skills of the Prime Minister-disingenuous.
        Unfortunately, for all of us Chong’s bill, if implemented would not alter the political landscape in 2015.

  13. This is a bill that does nothing more than formalize the power structures that are already supposed to exist in our system, but that have been undermined over time by various PMOs. And for this reason every single Canadian should support it. And with the bill not kicking in until after the next election, no party leader has an excuse to work against it.

    • One could say that this will enable Harper to ram through the rest of his right-wing agenda and make it impossible for future PM’s to undo it. I’d say if you’re seriosu about it, do it right away.

      • Harper can ram through as much as he desires under the status-quo. He basically has unlimited power at the moment. The only accountability he has is to the voters in several swing ridings that he depends on to win a majority government (without a majority of the popular vote). There is no reason to think that empowering the MPs will take away the ability of future progressive governments to undo the reforms of Harper’s neoliberal government. If the reforms are unpopular and a future leader makes it a priority to repeal them, then the party — if it indeed functions as a party — will mostly fall in line. If it doesn’t function as a party, then it will fall apart and a better, more united party will take its place (or a coalition of parties, theoretically).

  14. As a voter who voted conservative and before that reform, my MP better support this motion are I will not vote for her again. I cant put it any simpler then that…….

  15. Bravo Michael Chong, and may your bill become law!

  16. Recognize this for what it is . . . yet further dissension within the Harpocon ranks. And this offered up by a fellow con? Perfect. But in that independent thought and representation of ones constituents is strictly regulated and controlled by Heir Harpo, expect that Harpo himself will intervene to make sure this fails so that he might continue to keep his minions under lock and key. If all else, and in the event that Harpo makes sure it does fail, this at minimum will demonstrate to all regardless of political stripe just what a corporate serving tyrannical controller this son-of-a-con is as well as any and all who back him. Pay very close attention to this.

  17. Michael Chong’s bill promotes a new synthesis between polar opposites. Keeping the party whip firmly on all MPs is a favourite and instinctive act of many who hold vested interests in today’s political parties. They are understandably mortified by the prospect of Michael Chong’s bill achieving some success. Ultimately the entire issue becomes a ballot box affair that the whip-lovers abhor: local constituents are faced with the choice of whether their local MP should be their ombudsman in Ottawa versus whether they want their local MP to adhere strictly to the ever-evolving dictates of their particular party’s core power centre. The pendulum has been seized in favour of the party-deference extreme for quite some time, due especially to the efforts of PMs Chretien and Harper, but it is ready to be nudged towards the other extreme, with the hope that the point of equilibrium will be the clear winner.

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