Michael Chong proposes two more changes to the Reform Act

The Conservative MP offers two further compromises

<p>The Peace Tower is seen on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 5, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick</p>

The Peace Tower is seen on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 5, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Conservative MP Michael Chong is proposing two more changes to his Reform Act.

After tabling the original bill last December, Chong tabled a second version in April. It’s too late for him to make further changes, but he is proposing that, if the bill passes at second reading, the committee studying the bill make two changes. “I had numerous conversations with members from all parties during the summer and these changes are a response to the concerns and constructive criticisms that they raised,” Chong says.

First, Chong proposes that the committee maintain the Reform Act’s deletion of the Elections Act’s current requirement that candidates have the endorsement of their party’s leader, but he would otherwise remove the bill’s prescriptions for how nomination contests should be conducted and how nominees should be endorsed. It would be left to registered parties to identify an individual responsible for endorsing candidates.

“For the first time since October 1970, the statutory requirement that a party leader approve or veto a party candidate will be removed from the Canada Elections Act and it will be up to each respective political party to determine how party candidates are to be selected,” Chong says. “And I believe that party members across the country, in all the parties, want to see local democracy and local control over who the local party candidate will be.”

Related reading: The Reform Act so far 

Second, the Reform Act’s additions to the Parliament of Canada Act to give party caucuses the power to remove a party leader, expel or readmit members, elect a caucus chair and elect an interim leader would remain, but it would be up to each caucus to convene at the start of a new parliament and vote as to whether or not to adopt those particular rules. The votes would be recorded votes, but it would be up to each caucus to decide whether to release a tally of those votes. Caucuses could also conceivably adopt versions of those rules tailored to the situation of the caucus—for instance, if a caucus were smaller and wanted to adopt a higher threshold for launching a leadership review or if it wanted to put a decision on a leadership review to the general membership of the party. Putting it to caucuses to adopt, modify or reject the rules after each election will also, Chong say, “continually open a debate for those caucuses that have not chosen to democratize themselves, not chosen to empower MPs with the tools they need to represent their constituents.”

So is this a better bill now? Chong says he believes the second change strengthens the bill, providing for flexibility “while at the same time laying down these clear model rules in the Parliament of Canada Act and mandating that they must be considered and that each and every member of the House caucus must have a say in whether or not they want to adopt or reject them.”

Related listening: Michael Chong talks to Aaron Wherry about the Reform Act. 

As for the first change, Chong had already made a concession on the issue of candidate endorsement—in the first version of the bill it would have been entirely for local riding associations to endorse a candidate, in the second version he’d allowed for a provincial nomination officer. Now, he’s settled for getting rid of the legislated requirement of the leader’s signature and effectively putting it on the parties to settle where the endorsement power should reside. “I think it’s clear that the issues we were trying to tackle, the issues around local democracy, raised far too many issues for the various political parties and so we’ve settled on achieving something less ambitious but nevertheless significant—for the first time since October 1970 we are proposing to get rid of the statutory power of the party leader to approve or veto party candidates. And I think accomplishment is significant. The battle now will go to the floor of national conventions for each of the respective parties where we will have the debates over who exactly should have the final say over party candidates.”

So are these changes enough to get the bill passed not only at second reading, but by both the House and Senate? Chong is optimistic. “I think these changes will build further support for the bill and secure the support necessary for the bill to become law.”

The bill is scheduled to receive its second of debate next week and then be voted on at seconding reading the week after.

See previously: The Reform Act story so far and The Reform Act debate gets real