Reform Act 2013

December 9, 2013

Conservative MP Michael Chong says he’s “hoping” the Tory caucus will be allowed a free vote on his private member’s bill that seeks to rebalance the power between MPs and the executive branch of government.


Last week, Chong tabled the bill, entitled “An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act (reforms),” which he says is a response to a shift in power from Parliament to the Prime Minister’s Office that has occurred over the last few decades.


The bill puts into writing powers already considered the political norm, including the ability to oust a leader, elect committee chairs and remove MPs from caucus and then decide when they can be readmitted.


While opposition leaders have already indicated they support the bill, and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair indicated he will allow a free vote, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has yet to go public with where he stands.


“I’m hoping it will be a free vote, but we’ll have to see what the cabinet decides, what the prime minister decides,” Chong told CTV’s Question Period in an interview that aired Sunday, adding that “we’re months away from a vote. There will be lots of vigorous debate on this bill. I welcome that; I think it’s important that we examine all the implications of it. But I believe that the intent of the bill is sound and I think these are changes that are necessary to rebalance the power structure.”


Chong acknowledged that when it comes to private member’s bills, cabinet typically votes as a block and backbench MPs are free to vote their conscience. Chong said it could be “a number of months” before cabinet states its position on the bill because “while this bill is very simple — it’s only six pages and proposes three simple reforms — it has fundamental impacts on our parliamentary system of government.”


If enacted, the bill would:


*Allow a nomination officer from a riding association, and not the party leader, to sign a candidate’s nomination papers.

*Give party caucuses the power to trigger a leadership review vote with the support of 15 per cent of caucus members.

*Require that, if a majority of caucus members vote to oust the leader, a vote to install an interim leader to 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, and to decide whether to oust or re-admit an MP to caucus.

The bill would only come into force after the 2015 election.


“These powers are current powers of party caucuses,” Chong told Question Period. “However, we have never written them down on paper … All my bill proposes to do is to take this unwritten convention, which is vague, unclear and opaque, put it down on paper so that Canadians and members of Parliament are clear about what the rules of the process are.”


Chong defended his decision to brief the opposition caucuses, which he will do next week, saying he is “doing what the government does all the time” when it introduces new legislation.


“The departments provide technical briefings to members on both sides of the aisle so they can make an informed decision on what the legislation is about.”


Conservative MP Larry Miller, who strongly supports the bill, told Question Period said he hasn’t heard any opposition to the bill from his constituents, except some concern about the 15 per cent threshold required to trigger a leadership review.


“It’s pretty hard to draft a perfect bill to please everybody,” Miller said. “But I think Michael has made it known that he is willing to look at any objective criticism, so I think that’s one of them.”


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