Private member's bill will 'restore Canadians' faith in their Parliament'
Published Tuesday, December 3, 2013 6:33AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, December 3, 2013 6:05PM EST
Conservative MP Michael Chong says his private member’s bill that would give more power to party caucuses, including the ability to oust their leaders, will rebalance power between the legislative and executive branches of government and “restore Canadians’ faith in their Parliament.”
Chong, who has served as the MP for Wellington-Halton Hills for nearly 10 years, tabled his bill on Tuesday morning.
“The proposals in the Reform Act would reinforce the principle of responsible government,” Chong told reporters on Parliament Hill. “It would make the executive more accountable to the legislature, and ensure that party leaders maintain the confidence of their caucuses.”
If enacted, the bill -- formally named “An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act (reforms),” -- would:
- Allow a nomination officer from a riding association, and not the party leader, to sign nomination papers for a candidate.
- Give party caucuses the power to trigger a leadership review vote if 15 per cent of caucus members request one.
- Require that, if a majority of caucus members vote to oust the leader, a vote to install an interim leader will take place right away “until a new leader has been duly elected by the party.”
- Give the Commons caucus the power to elect committee chairs, call for a review of an MP, and to decide whether to oust or readmit an MP to caucus.
The bill would not come into force until after the 2015 election, Chong said, because his proposals are “fundamental” changes and it would be “disruptive to have them implemented midway through a Parliament.”
Chong was so overwhelmed by the interest in his bill generated by media reports last week that he tabled it two days earlier than he had planned.
“The ideas contained in this bill are not new ideas,” Chong said. “They are very, very old ideas. They are the ideas that Canada’s democratic institutions are founded upon.”
Chong said that “over many, many decades,” individual MPs have lost their autonomy and power has been concentrated within the Prime Minister’s Office, which has “imposed a presidential-style system of government over top of our Westminster Parliamentary system.
“I think that needs to be rebalanced, and that’s exactly what the Reform Act proposes to do.”
Chong later responded to a question on CTV’s Power Play about whether MPs already have some of the powers enshrined in the bill, including the ability to trigger a leadership review, by saying that his bill puts those guidelines in writing.
“The problem is it’s not been put down on paper, so the rules are unclear; they’re vague and opaque, and that’s why many are uncertain about how they work,” Chong told Power Play. “So, what my bill proposes to do is to put them down in writing, on paper for all to see to make it clear what the rules are and how they are to be used.”
The bill was seconded by Conservative MP James Rajotte, who told Power Play he plans to vote in favour of the legislation.
“This is a fundamental discussion in terms of where power should reside,” Rajotte told Power Play. “And in my view and Michael’s view it has drifted too much toward the centre, toward the executive branch, and some ought to be pulled back to the legislative branch.”
Rajotte said he “can’t see” a whipped vote on the bill for the Conservative caucus.
The Alberta MP was among a handful of Conservative Parliamentarians at Chong’s press conference, including MPs Stella Ambler and Larry Miller, and Sen. Hugh Segal. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was also in attendance.
Independent MP Brent Rathgeber, who left the Conservative caucus earlier this year, has also pledged his support for the bill.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announced over Twitter Tuesday afternoon that he has invited Chong to address his party’s caucus legislative committee, which meets Tuesday evening.
“I share the goals of @MichaelChongMP’s #ReformAct. MPs should be the voice of their communities,” Trudeau said.
NDP MP Craig Scott told reporters before question period that “I will be supporting the bill…and I will be recommending to all of my colleagues in caucus that they do, as well.”
Scott said NDP Leader Tom Mulcair will allow for a free vote on the bill, but would not speculate on the level of support among caucus.
Deputy Leader Megan Leslie told Power Play that “it is a good time to have that conversation and look at where does the power lie, where should it lie, should it be with members, should it be with the caucus, should it be with the guy or gal in charge?”
When asked about the recent Senate expenses scandal and how his bill would change the balance of power in the PMO, Chong said the bill is not a rebuke of any current party leaders, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who he said has his confidence.
“To suggest this is any response or any to the leaders in the current Parliament or any response to events of this Parliament is missing the point of the bill,” Chong said.
“It’s clear when you look at the evidence that our system has strayed substantially from the founding principles it was established on.”
Chong said he prepared a two-page memo about the bill for the prime minister, but has yet to receive a response. He will discuss his proposals at the Conservatives’ national caucus meeting on Wednesday, he said.
Chong said he has “no idea” how many of his caucus colleagues will support his bill, but said that while it should be viewed as “a package,” he is open to “constructive reforms.”
“I expect a full debate, a vigorous debate on the merits of this bill, and I’m optimistic that we can achieve the change the bill proposes,” Chong told Power Play.
Last weekend, stories about the bill generated a massive social media response, including the Twitter hashtag #ReformAct, which users included in their tweets to their MPs asking that they support the bill.
The social media response even spurred Chong to join Twitter Saturday afternoon.
Michael Chong's private member's bill: