Most of you probably don’t remember Michael Chong from his last flirtation with the national media in 2006. He courageously stood up, on a matter of conscience, to his own Prime Minister and the vast majority of his colleagues in the House of Commons and voted against Harper’s Quebec Motion.
Chong apparently learned a few things from that experience, which led to him being booted out of cabinet and on to the backbenches, where he has sat , far from the PM and any serious access to power, ever since. Firstly, he learned that the executive branch of our political system calls the shots and will bully any MP who goes against the grain into submission. Secondly, he learned that some measures must be put in place to ensure that the humble individual MP be protected from the wrath of the executive, lest our Prime Minister become unaccountable to parliament, instead of the opposite, which has been the general trend in Canada, at least since the 1970s.
His answer is called the Reform Act, a bill he introduced last Tuesday. It proposes to curb the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for whipping his caucus by allowing three simple changes:
1) Party caucuses would be able to remove the leader by a majority vote
2) Leaders would no longer have the power to kill candidates chosen at the riding level ( as they currently do under the Elections Act)
3) Party leaders could no longer unilaterally give MPs the boot from caucus simply for disobeying orders.
All of this is the norm in practically every other modern liberal democratic country that shares the British parliamentary model of government (and was true of Canada before 1970).
As with any serious attempt at reform in this country, there are plenty of naysayers who are making all kinds of objections, serious and silly, to what they view as a “controversial” new idea.
Let’s begin by looking at one of the more serious issues raised by the bill first. The fact is, the proposed measures would undermine to some extent the influence of party rank and file in choosing who will lead their party in elections and government.
However, as Chong as explained, the deposing of a leader by his caucus is a power that caucuses already theoretically possess. This procedure would simply make it easier for them to orchestrate a putsch by automatically triggering a leadership review in the event that 15% of them decided to get rid of their leader. The bill makes it clear that a party caucus that successfully rebelled against its master would only be able to replace him or her on an interim basis, and that it would be up to the grass roots of the party to keep he or she in power or not.
Anyway, what’s so democratic about allowing private organizations, who are not accountable to the general public and represent roughly 1% of society, to make hugely important decisions that affects us all? Surely, elected MPs who must answer to all of their constituents, rather than just those who vote for them, are in a better position to make the call.
On the sillier side of the equation is the idea that this reform would allow the lunatic fringe to somehow take control of riding association’s nomination processes, and, in effect, allow the tail to wag the dog by imposing their extremist candidates on the political establishment in Canada. We can’t deny this might happen in some ridings by disallowing party bosses the deeply undemocratic exercise of the veto over potential election candidates that they disapprove of.
Yet, isn’t this the essence of democracy, no matter how ugly the results may be sometimes? The truth is, all the major federal political parties could probably benefit from an infusion of outsiders who have popular support among their communities instead of allowing the top brass to make this vital decision on behalf of its membership and the rest of us.