Is Michael Chong ready to challenge the system?

New proposals with the potential for major reform

Huffington Post reports that Conservative MP Michael Chong is preparing to propose a bill that would alter the political and parliamentary structure—notably amending the Elections Act to remove the requirement of the party leader’s signature for an individual to run as the candidate for a political party. You can find notice of a bill from Mr. Chong on today’s order paper at No. 76: “An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act (reforms).”

On amending the Elections Act, Elizabeth May tabled a proposal in May. Mr. Chong and I spoke about this particular change two years ago.

Change, if it is ever to transpire, would need to start with those questions about who and what an MP is supposed to be. Since 1970 it has been a requirement of the Elections Act that any candidate seeking to stand for a political party in an election must receive the signed endorsement of that party’s leader. Chong, whose proposals for question-period reform are being studied by a parliamentary committee, would start there. “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,” he says. “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.”

I’m told the bill will apparently include a few measures. First, an amendment to the Elections Act—see section 67(4)(c) of the Act—to require the endorsement of a nomination officer chosen by the riding association. 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 idea of party leaders being accountable to the party caucus is better understood (and more often practiced) in other Westminster parliaments.

The bill would come into force after the next general election.

It will be interesting to see how many backbenchers are willing to support these sorts of measures, but this should put the leaders of each party on the spot as well—not merely on whether they support such proposals, but, if they don’t, whether they agree there is a problem with the current balance of power between MPs and party leaders and, if so, how they would otherwise propose to solve it.

The existence of a group of Conservative backbenchers who were meeting to discuss their powers as parliamentarians began to emerge in the spring.

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