The Reform Act and our parliamentary democracy on trial

More reaction to Michael Chong’s proposals

by Aaron Wherry

Dan Arnold questions Michael Chong’s proposed mechanism for removing the party leader’s veto over riding nominations.

However, the part of this bill that has received the least attention, but is the most problematic is giving riding associations the ultimate say in candidate veting, by having them elect a “Nomination Officer”. It’s unclear how exactly this would work, since all parties (almost always) hold nomination contests in unheld ridings and Green Light Committees vet candidates to make sure there aren’t crack videos of them floating around the Internet.

One assumes the Nomination Officer could deny an MP, or a candidate, the right to run for nomination, or could veto a candidate once nominated. This opens the possibility of an impass if the Nomination Officer nixes a candidate who has been elected by the riding, or is at odds with a potential candidate because they support someone else. Paranoia already runs deep in local politics, and you can be sure MPs concerned about a challenge would do everything in their power to ensure a friendly face is elected as the riding’s Nomination Officer. That means local ridings will spend more time fighting each other, than doing the types of things local ridings should be doing.

Lori Turnbull defends the notion that the party caucus should be able to oust the party leader.

And here’s where the cons come in: many observers have criticized the bill already on the grounds that it would allow a caucus to substitute its own judgment in the place of the party’s. Party leaders in Canada are chosen by their parties at-large rather than their caucuses, in nationwide contests that allow card-carrying members across the country to be involved. (The Liberal Party opened its last leadership contest not just to members but to supporters as well.) Is it undemocratic for the collective decision of the party members to be overturned by the caucus, only a small faction of the party?

Though there’s an apparent logic to this line of thinking, it’s flawed. This bill does not pit the caucus against the party. While the caucus would be permitted to remove a leader by majority vote, it would then select an interim leader until the party chooses a new leader. This way, the party at-large retains control over who the leader is; a leader chosen by caucus would hold the position only temporarily.

Radical Centrist compares how Mr. Chong’s bill compares to the rules and practices in Britain and Australia.

This is actually standard procedure in other countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, where such measures are incorporated not into legislation, but in political party constitutions. For example, in the UK, under Conservative Party rules, a leadership review is triggered if 15% of Conservative MPs call for a no confidence vote in the leader. The Labour Party has a slightly higher threshold. It requires that 20% of Labour MPs express that they no longer have confidence in the leader. The Liberal Democrats have set the highest bar for a leadership review. According to the Lib Dem constitution, a vote of no confidence must be passed by a majority of all Members of the Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons or the receipt by the President of the Party of a requisition submitted by at least 75 local party associations.

And here are two experienced political players and one experienced political journalist (our own Paul Wells) debating the proposal.

See previously: Let the Reform Act debate begin, What if the Reform Act is a bad idea? and Thirty questions to ask before proceeding with the Reform Act




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The Reform Act and our parliamentary democracy on trial

  1. You don’t have to defeat a Leader to incapacitate one. A determined group of 15% of MPs who’ve made the calculation that they’d rather roll the dice with ANY new leader with the possibility of enhanced career prospects rather than the certainty of zero prospects with a current leader, would be incentivized to just keep nibbling away. I have no good solutions, but perhaps 15% is too low a threshold?

    • I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing that number get bumped up a bit. I’m personally not the haggling type, but if I was, and I was presenting a bill like this, I might include “15%” based on my belief that 25% or 30% would be fine, in anticipation of my opponents using the lower threshold as a sticking point.

    • Are leaders continuously deposed or challenged in the UK where such a rule is already in place?

  2. I think a few of the commenters on Paul’s blog came up with a fair compromise. Retain some residual emergency power for the party leader to nix a wonky candidate. Once elected the leader should have no right to refuse to sign that candidate’s papers come next election.
    Watching the ctv debate it’s pretty obvious Coyne was right to predict the forces of inertia are out to sit on this bill right out of the shute. Scott Reid isn’t even bothering to disguise the fact he thinks the PM should process it to death; ironically enough that just underlines why it might be necessary to have such a bill in the first place. Neither he nor Wells or the blue sky lady seem to be able to explain that mutinies don’t seem to be erupting everywhere caucus does in fact call the shots, notwithstanding the Australian example. Really, the only difference between what they did and the Chretien Martin affair, is that we had to endure the better part of a decade of open feuding and liberal party agony.

    But make the thresholds a little higher by all means if it makes party insiders rest a little easier,.Listening to Reid you’d think there was some marvelous principle worth defending from the machinations of caucuses bent on imposing their will on PMs.

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