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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Chong's Reform Act a year on

Just over a year ago Michael Chong’s Reform Act was introduced in the Commons to widespread acclaim.

It has now passed through the Commons Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Many hope that it will pass into law but many feel it has been gutted.

As I explained a year ago, it never had any guts. Or rather its premise was that MPs haven’t the guts to fulfill their role under the constitution and choose their leaders, but must be the slaves of their party.

All of the dictatorial power of party leaders of which so many complain stems from the idea that a leader is not responsible to the MPs elected by the voters but to a party that only has any reality when its fluctuating membership is cumbersomely convened, perhaps once a year.

Chong agreed to amendments leaving it up to the parties to decide who should certify their candidates at elections and making the provisions for an MP instigated leadership review and MPs’ control of caucuses voluntary.

The votes on these amendments followed strict party lines and comment has chosen to see this as Harper putting the fix in.

But opposition MPs questioning Chong before the Committee evinced concern that MPs should be able to set aside a leader chosen by their party and that parties would not be able to control nominations to assure that voters be presented with the politically correct choices. That is, the NDP wants affirmative action in nominations.

Before the Committee Chong claimed that there is confusion about MPs’ say on their leaders. As if some people think that MPs are bound by law or convention to follow the leader chosen by their party. If some, wrongly, think that, Chong only encourages them to.

Even as amended, Chong’s bill is a further step to entrenching parties as a legal part of the constitution.

On my research the only legal definition of a party is under the Canada Elections Act, for election finance purposes. Elsewhere, in Commons rules for example, their existence is assumed, but they have no formal power. The Speaker does not recognise Mulcair as leader of the NDP because he has received an order from the New Democratic Party, but because so many MPs recognise him as such.

Chong’s attempt to liberate MPs continues to be based on legal recognition that they are party creatures.

How confused we have become, about quite simple matters, is illustrated by a recent column by the Master of Massey College. Hugh Segal argues that NDP MLAs in Manitoba who want Greg Selinger to step down while the party chooses a new leader are dissing responsible government and the Westminster model.

But Selinger evidently no longer has the confidence of the majority of the legislature. He only remains Premier because the NDP MLAs have farmed out the choice of his successor to their party.

That is an affront to responsible government and the Westminster model.

One that Michael Chong's efforts encourages.

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