The Reform Act: Who is saying what

More hope, questions and suggestions for Michael Chong’s proposal

by Aaron Wherry

Alison Loat says the Reform Act should drive new openness at the riding level.

In order to ensure that power appropriately flows from citizens to Ottawa and not the other way around, it is imperative that riding associations are equipped to handle the responsibility, with transparent operations that encourage participation from the average citizen, and not just party insiders.

As currently constituted, many riding associations do not. In our exit interviews, former MPs described their nominations as opaque, with changing rules and deadlines. The MPs’ descriptions varied widely from riding to riding and the process appeared subject to a host of idiosyncrasies. One former MP called their nomination “the worst political experience of my life.”

As Alison notes in her op-ed, Samara has done valuable research on the experiences of MPs—their reports, based on exit interviews with MPs, can be read here.

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David McLaughlin says we need to clarify what it is we expect our MPs to do.

Instead, we need to go back to basics. Write what’s needed first: a job description for our members of Parliament, setting out their roles and duties and a code of conduct to ensure they adhere to it.

It’s not so far-fetched. Britain has a code of conduct for MPs that sets out members’ duties and states: “Members have a general duty to act in the interests of the nation as a whole; and a special duty to their constituents.”

Kelly Blidook argues for the value of rules.

Further, whatever one’s concern with our current government may be, this is hardly logical reasoning to oppose the bill. I have heard various people, MPs included, state that different rules would not be necessary with a prime minister that “respects Parliament.” This is a lesser form of saying “we would have elections if the dictator would let us.” If a governing institution relies upon good will to be democratic, then it is poorly designed.

The imbalance we observe in Ottawa is not a problem of any particular person or leader. Rather we are observing a problem with Parliament’s rules. They are flawed, and this has become apparent as the Parliament matures and its rules are pushed to their limits by those who pursue goals, as those in power are prone to do.

William Cross quibbles with the imposition of rules on political parties.

Chong’s bill would enshrine in law the procedure for removal of party leaders. Such legislation does not exist in any of the other principal Westminster systems. As is the case in Canada, in these countries, parties decide for themselves how their leaders are chosen and removed. Chong’s proposal to strip parties of this authority actually runs counter to the Westminster practice.

(Radical Centrist compared the Reform Act to the leadership review and candidate selection procedures in the UK here and here.)

And Monte Solberg, former Reform MP and Conservative cabinet minister, welcomes the Reform Act.

Since, say, 1970 the drift of politics has been toward sanitizing. People who were off message or otherwise were out of sync with their leader were either pushed out, hushed up or hidden away…

If Parliament becomes more relevant it favours MPs who are informed and thoughtful. It favours leaders who can speak with authority on issues and who can successfully explain the nuances of legislation and the differing views of his or her MPs. Let’s just say that not everyone would successfully make the transition.

Former members and fans of the Reform party might remember that amending the Elections Act to make MPs less beholden to party leaders was an official Reform policy. At least as late as 1999, it was part of the party platform (the Reform Party became the Canadian Alliance the following year).

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The Reform Act: Who is saying what

  1. The fact that this bill would take power away from political party leaders is a good thing. At present, party leaders are expected to have party whips who force MPs to vote the way the leader wants. The argument as to why this is necessary goes that, if other parties vote in mass, then we must do so also or our voice will be swamped. So all parties do it, and MPs almost never get to vote for what they think is best for Canada.

    Every party wants freedom to do things as they like, but what they like is hurting Canada. We need changes.

  2. Everybody who’s self-interest is not entrenched in the status quo, plus Wherry and Coyne, is in favour of the Reform Act.

    • Plus of course there are a thousand electoral reform zealots out there, each with The Plan, who won’t accept anything by their idiosyncratic Plan. And half of them are against the Reform Act.

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