Tory private bill to empower MPs has support
OTTAWA - A Conservative MP's provocative new bill to rebalance power between MPs and party leaders has gotten an early thumbs up from the NDP and the Liberals.
With a number of Michael Chong's Tory colleagues already supportive, the measure could have serious legislative legs.
Among other things, the bill would give party caucuses the explicit right to review and oust their leaders.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau tweeted Tuesday that he shared the goals of Chong's "Reform Act of 2013."
NDP reform critic Craig Scott said he will personally support the bill and MPs in his party will be allowed a free vote on the legislation.
He said his leader, Tom Mulcair, "wants a system that's fair, where prime ministers actually don't have the kinds of levers of power that have been abused under Stephen Harper and have been used in ways that frankly aren't all that justified by previous prime ministers."
The parliamentarians who showed up at Chong's morning news conference Tuesday also spoke volumes about the mood in Parliament and the potential success of his bill. Chong is a moderate, popular Ontario MP with a long history of promoting stronger responsible government.
Conservative supporters included Alberta MP James Rajotte, Ontario MPs Larry Miller and Stella Ambler and Ontario Sen. Hugh Segal.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and Independent MP Bruce Hyer rounded out the cheering section.
"It depends on whether Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Mulcair will allow their caucuses to vote for democracy," May said of the bill's prospects.
"If they do, then the pressure on Conservatives will be that much more and I think the bill would then pass, but no Conservative is going to risk the ire of their leader if they think the Liberals and the New Democrats aren't on board."
A Conservative source estimated that up to a quarter of the caucus, or 40 MPs, could back Chong's proposals.
Chong's bill has three components, the most controversial of which would give party caucuses in the Commons the right to vote to review the party leader and to trigger a leadership race.
If 15 per cent of a caucus applied in writing for a leadership review, that would open the door for a review vote in caucus. A simple majority of 50 per cent plus one would mean a leadership campaign.
As well, the bill would entrench in the Parliament of Canada Act the right of a caucus to review, eject and readmit MPs.
They would also have the right to elect and eject their caucus chair.
Chong argues that these rights have always existed by convention, but have not been exercised for decades. The British Conservative party and the Labour party in Australia use this procedure.
Chong said his bill is about restructuring the Canadian system.
"I think the decades of changes over many, many years have created a system where we have imposed a presidential style of government over top of our Westminster parliamentary system," Chong said.
"That needs to rebalanced and that's exactly what the Reform Act proposes to do."
The third part of the bill would give electoral district associations the power to approve electoral candidates. Nomination papers would no longer require a leader's signature.
These measures would theoretically embolden MPs to vote as they want in the Commons, without fear of being turfed from caucus by the leadership or of being dropped as the candidate in the next election.
Chong insists the bill is not a response to criticism over the Prime Minister's Office's handling of the Senate expenses scandal.
The legislation would not come into effect until after the 2015 election.
Segal said he is prepared to sponsor the bill in the Senate should it pass the Commons and he wants a free vote.
"I think it would be in the interest of all three party leaders to facilitate a free vote on this issue, because frankly, if you hear the chatter from other caucuses as well as my own, there would be people in other caucuses who are frustrated with the level of top-down control which they have to face," said Segal.
"This is a notion of how Parliament works regardless of who the prime minister might be and regardless of who might be leading the other parties."