Let the Reform Act debate begin

Awaiting Michael Chong’s private member’s bill

by Aaron Wherry

The Liberals have invited Michael Chong to discuss his Reform Act with their caucus. Justin Trudeau has already promised open nominations and some measure of independence for Liberal MPs.

Andrew Coyne has made his case for Mr. Chong’s bill and I’ve so far written about it here, here and here.

Colin Horgan puts some onus on Mr. Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair.

As it happens, though, we’ve been afforded some fortune in the form of Conservative MP Michael Chong’s new private member’s bill that would set out rules to change Parliament. Primary among those are two elements: That a leader’s final sign-off would no longer be needed to approve of riding nominations; and, that if 15 per cent of caucus members demand a leadership review, it has to happen. That is to say, they can now prove it.

Given the line of logic being pushed from the opposition benches, they’d better be the first to adopt this thing in some form or another. If Trudeau and Mulcair don’t agree to most, if not all, of Chong’s bill for reforms that would mark the beginning of a dismantling of the increasing centralized power of leaders’ offices – the problem they’ve both suggested is really at the heart of this current scandal – then while listening to them launch attacks at the Conservatives, we may all be justified in wondering, frankly, so the hell what.

The possible upside of the last few years and this current era in parliamentary governance, is that it might’ve made parliamentary reform fashionable. Such is progress achieved.

Dale Smith suggests the problem is how party leaders are now elected.

Justin Ling wishes Mr. Chong had pursued other measures.

Identifying independents as proper, funded, caucuses and affording them the same support offered to the parties would be a great start.  They could also look to establish encoded freedoms for backbenchers during Question Period — namely, abolishing the power of the parties to dictate the list of members who are allowed to ask questions.  Extending time for private member’s business, and reforming the lottery that choses which come first would also expand the role for individual MPs.

That QP reform was included in Mr. Chong’s proposal of three years ago.

And Alice Funke quibbles with what is known of Mr. Chong’s bill and suggests he’d be better to look at other areas of concern.

So, to summarize, all the legislative authority in the world can’t make the weak and powerless suddenly powerful, except in the most counterproductive ways possible, none of which are probably in the public interest. The bill is a solution in search of a problem, albeit born out of the noblest of intentions. It should be tabled, and then it should be thoroughly and non-partisanly debated, perhaps amended, and in the best traditions of private member’s business, it should be decided through a non-whipped vote.

I commend all the debate and discussion on how to strengthen our democracy, but what would really get me excited is a bill to end the use of Omnibus legislation and time allocation. Maybe then we could start properly debating some of the issues that really affect Canadians. The fact we’re not getting that kind of bill from a government backbench MP just shows how much they truly do consent to their government’s legislative strategy.

Say this much already for Mr. Chong’s proposal: it will compel precisely this sort of discussion about the state of our Parliament, how it is and how it should be. If we find ourselves to be generally dissatisfied with the status quo, we have then to decide not whether there will be change, but what kind of change there will be.

Mr. Chong is due to table his bill in the House this morning just after 10am. I’ll post the text of the bill as soon as it is available.




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Let the Reform Act debate begin

  1. Proportional representation in parliament would also be a progressive change to ensure more voices being heard in parliament. The Scandanavian countries have got it right.

    • So you essentially want to hand the keys to the car to the NDP or Greens, or support a Liberal-Tory behemoth that would be next to impossible to ever vote out? I don’t think so. For all its flaws at least with FPTP we tend to get decisive elections and legislatures that aren’t hijacked by fringe parties.

      • Which is why my favoured approach is the preferential (or ranked) ballot.

    • ….like it works in Israel and Italy…no thanks. Our system works fine. It doesn’t need fixing. Britain, New Zealand and Australia have all managed to become the most envied countries in the world and all use our system.

      • Excuse me, Britain, New Zealand and Australia are not using our system. We started out using the British parliamentary system but have strayed, unlike New Zealand and Australia. We need to come back into the fold.

    • Tell that to the thousands of Swedish rape victims.Covered up by a Political class Media of Dhimmi The taking over of their Nation by Islam. Its worked well for them has it?

      • I hereby recognize you as winner of the Freakishly Stupid Internet Comment of the Week award. It comes with this crazy lookin’ hat, wear it with pride as you bask in the adulation of the six people bizarre enough to upvote that.

    • PR is a sham. Instead of local riding associations electing their rep in Parliament, a committee does, how commie is that!??

  2. Dale Smith makes the following assertion about the status quo: “If enough government MPs decide that it’s time for the leader to go, they can join in a vote of non-confidence — no need for a call for a leadership review that gives the PM time to organize one and to consolidate support for the vote.”

    I understand confidence votes to apply to the governing party (or parties), and not something that can be levied solely against the Prime Minister. Am I wrong, or is Smith wrong? (Aaron?, anyone?)

    • You’re not wrong, but I think that Dale Smith realizes this. His point, I think, is simply that if backbenchers feel that it’s time for a PM to go, they always have the option of toppling the entire government. It’s a pretty radical move, but I can at least hypothetically see a PM acting in a way that would tend to “force” his or her caucus to react this way.

      • Thanks! Though I don’t think it a realistic check on the PM when the only option for the crew is to torpedo their own ship.

        • It’s a feature, not a bug. Parliamentary democracy is set up so that you can oppose anything (including your own PM, though it’s rare) but you have to be willing for everyone to lose their job and apply again. So there’s always an option, but it’s a nuclear option so you better be serious about it.

          (interesting though that with a PM having a veto over candidates means that the PM can say to a dissenter “well, YOU won’t be the one vying for the seat. This is ameloriated however because people can still run as independents and if there are a lot of dissenters the PM might not be able to fill the candidate slate)

  3. Where is the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, the Honourable Pierre Poilievre, in this debate? One would think that such bills as this fall within his area of responsibility. It would seem that Mr. Chong is eating Mr. Poilievre’s lunch.

    • I believe Mr. Polievre went on record with his assertion that Stephen Harper is the most democratic democratizer of democracy, like, ever.

      • Plus we have the best Finance Minister in the world! The world I tell ya!

  4. It’s always good to go ask Alice.

  5. I just want to know we rarely if, never, ever, ever, ever, ever see a story such as this when there is a Liberal minority or majority government in place. If we do it is only when some “unbiased” reporter does a puff piece for the NDP. Just wondering.

  6. Mr.Harper
    Dig your way out of this.
    Chong has called you out for the Liberal you have become.
    Political expediency finally caught you
    Eat it

  7. I think the problem with the senate scandal was allowing duffy to double dip on the campaign trail, then try to hush it up. But that is just me.

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