Let the Reform Act debate begin

Awaiting Michael Chong’s private member’s bill

The Liberals have invited Michael Chong to discuss his Reform Act with their caucus. Justin Trudeau has already promised open nominations and some measure of independence for Liberal MPs.

Andrew Coyne has made his case for Mr. Chong’s bill and I’ve so far written about it here, here and here.

Colin Horgan puts some onus on Mr. Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair.

As it happens, though, we’ve been afforded some fortune in the form of Conservative MP Michael Chong’s new private member’s bill that would set out rules to change Parliament. Primary among those are two elements: That a leader’s final sign-off would no longer be needed to approve of riding nominations; and, that if 15 per cent of caucus members demand a leadership review, it has to happen. That is to say, they can now prove it.

Given the line of logic being pushed from the opposition benches, they’d better be the first to adopt this thing in some form or another. If Trudeau and Mulcair don’t agree to most, if not all, of Chong’s bill for reforms that would mark the beginning of a dismantling of the increasing centralized power of leaders’ offices – the problem they’ve both suggested is really at the heart of this current scandal – then while listening to them launch attacks at the Conservatives, we may all be justified in wondering, frankly, so the hell what.

The possible upside of the last few years and this current era in parliamentary governance, is that it might’ve made parliamentary reform fashionable. Such is progress achieved.

Dale Smith suggests the problem is how party leaders are now elected.

Justin Ling wishes Mr. Chong had pursued other measures.

Identifying independents as proper, funded, caucuses and affording them the same support offered to the parties would be a great start.  They could also look to establish encoded freedoms for backbenchers during Question Period — namely, abolishing the power of the parties to dictate the list of members who are allowed to ask questions.  Extending time for private member’s business, and reforming the lottery that choses which come first would also expand the role for individual MPs.

That QP reform was included in Mr. Chong’s proposal of three years ago.

And Alice Funke quibbles with what is known of Mr. Chong’s bill and suggests he’d be better to look at other areas of concern.

So, to summarize, all the legislative authority in the world can’t make the weak and powerless suddenly powerful, except in the most counterproductive ways possible, none of which are probably in the public interest. The bill is a solution in search of a problem, albeit born out of the noblest of intentions. It should be tabled, and then it should be thoroughly and non-partisanly debated, perhaps amended, and in the best traditions of private member’s business, it should be decided through a non-whipped vote.

I commend all the debate and discussion on how to strengthen our democracy, but what would really get me excited is a bill to end the use of Omnibus legislation and time allocation. Maybe then we could start properly debating some of the issues that really affect Canadians. The fact we’re not getting that kind of bill from a government backbench MP just shows how much they truly do consent to their government’s legislative strategy.

Say this much already for Mr. Chong’s proposal: it will compel precisely this sort of discussion about the state of our Parliament, how it is and how it should be. If we find ourselves to be generally dissatisfied with the status quo, we have then to decide not whether there will be change, but what kind of change there will be.

Mr. Chong is due to table his bill in the House this morning just after 10am. I’ll post the text of the bill as soon as it is available.