OTTAWA – It’s hard to imagine the perpetually upbeat Michael Chong in a bad mood, but the earnest Conservative MP has abandoned hiding his frustration.
Chong has spent about five years crusading for a rebalancing of powers between MPs and party leaders in the Commons. In December 2013, he finally introduced his Reform Act to do something about it — and earned the support of most of the Commons.
But now the bill looks like it might wither away in the Senate, critiqued by both Conservative and Liberal senators who say they might want to tinker with the legislation.
Sources say Chong has made impassioned speeches to his caucus colleagues, both at their weekly meeting Wednesday and to MPs and senators from the greater Toronto area in an earlier get-together.
Amending the proposed legislation and thus sending it back to the Commons will spell its demise, Chong insists. The House rises in June, and an election call is expected some time in late summer.
“It would be an abomination if the Senate were to block a democratic reform bill of the House of Commons,” Chong said Wednesday outside the national caucus meeting.
“Canadians need to contract their senators, demand that the Senate pass the bill before the end of June, because time is running out.”
Chong’s bill seeks to give MPs the power to trigger leadership reviews, suspend and reinstate colleagues, and select their caucus chairperson.
It also removes from the Canada Elections Act the leader’s veto over electoral candidates, while seeking to give more control to local riding officials.
Chong added considerable water to his wine as the bill went through the Commons, changing it so that the party caucuses would vote on the new rules after every election and decide what precise form they should take. A caucus could even decide to stick with the status quo.
“The Reform Act concerns the House of Commons, how the House of Commons and its caucuses govern themselves and how the members of the House of Commons are to be elected,” Chong pointedly noted.
But Conservative Sen. David Wells and others take issue with the suggestion senators have no stake in the outcome.
Wells said the thousands of party members who select leaders could have their wishes overturned by a group of MPs — something he says very much impacts senators.
“When that member of Parliament is the leader, then that’s the leader for the whole party, and that includes the senators; that doesn’t exclude the senators,” Wells said.
“For a leader who’s prime minister, or simply the leader of a party, I think it needs … to include the grassroots party membership that put the leader in.”
The Reform Act is in the midst of second-reading debate in the Senate, and should it pass, will go on to the rules and procedures committee for further study.