Whatever happened to the Reform party?

The House considers e-petitions
The Peace Tower is seen in Ottawa, Friday September 25, 2009. Adrian Wyld/TCPI/The Canadian Press

Peter O’Neill notes that, whatever the ancient principles of the Reform party and however much the current Conservative party shares a heritage with the Reform party, the Harper government won’t be supporting an NDP MP’s motion to expand the petition process.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is poised to betray the Conservative party’s western populist roots by opposing a B.C. NDP MP’s initiative to bring electronic petitions to the House of Commons, critics charged Thursday.

Two government MPs, one from Ontario and one from Nova Scotia, denounced Kennedy Stewart’s proposal during debate Wednesday evening and Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan confirmed his government will oppose it.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is unimpressed, while Mr. Van Loan rather adorably suggests that Mr. Stewart’s motion would somehow undermine an “evidence-based” committee study—an argument that was challenged when it was raised during debate on Wednesday.

In fairness to the two Conservative MPs who spoke against the motion—Dave MacKenzie and Scott Armstrong—and the Government House leader, none of them have roots in the Reform party: they each came up through the Progressive Conservative party. And, for that matter, the Reform party’s calls for recalls and referenda were perhaps not its best ideas.

But Mr. Stewart’s proposal—which fundamentally differs from the old referendum idea in a few ways—might have some merit in its own right and O’Neill’s framing of the matter does make for an interesting philosophical storyline. The Reform party ran on a platform that included referendums in 1993 and 1997 and the Canadian Alliance promised referendums in 2000 (much to the chagrin of Stockwell Day) and there are 22 MPs in the House who were first elected under either the Reform or Alliance banners: David Anderson, Cheryl Gallant, James Lunney, Rob Merrifield, James Moore, James Rajotte, Scott Reid, Kevin Sorenson, Vic Toews, Lynne Yelich, Stephen Harper, Rob Anders, Peter Goldring, Jason Kenney, Deepak Obhrai, Gerry Ritz, Maurice Vellacott, John Duncan, Diane Ablonczy, Leon Benoit, Garry Breitkreuz and Dick Harris.

Mr. Stewart has the support of the Liberals, independent MP Brent Rathgeber and Conservative MP Brad Trost.