Conservative MP Michael Chong today tabled the proposed reform act, a private member's bill intended to restore a system of checks and balances that would shift some power away from party leaders towards members of Parliament and their party caucuses.
"The reform act is an effort to strengthen Canada's democratic institutions by restoring power and the role of elected members of Parliament in the House of Commons," Chong told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday morning.
Under this bill, Chong said, MPs would be able to better represent the people who voted for them.
For instance, if an MP had a disagreement about a particular issue or bill before the House, this bill would empower the MP "to vote against the bill and in favour of their constituents without a high chance of being expulsed from caucus," Chong said.
The reform act would have three main focuses:
- Restoring local control over party nominations.
- Strengthening caucuses as decision-making bodies.
- Reinforcing the accountability of party leaders to their caucuses.
While the bill does grant caucus the power to trigger a leadership review, Chong noted it also grants local riding associations the power to approve the party candidate.
"MPs are going to be careful in exercising the review power that they have of the party leader because they will have to be accountable to the local riding association," Chong said.
The Conservative MP cautioned that under his bill, the prime minister and party leaders would still remain immensely powerful, just not "all powerful."
Chong said the reform act proposals would "reinforce the principle of responsible government, it would make the executive more accountable to the legislature and ensure that party leaders would maintain the confidence of their caucuses."
Chong who has long been an advocate of democratic reform has given much thought to his private member's bill, which he said has been in the making for years.
While private member's bills do not always receive the support needed to become law, the initial reaction to Chong's bill has been positive both inside the Commons and out.
The bill was immediately seconded by James Rajotte, the Conservative MP for Edmonton–Leduc and chair of the commons finance committee.
Early supporters of the bill include Conservative MPs Stella Ambler, Larry Miller and Kyle Seeback, and Conservative Senator Hugh Segal. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and Independent MPs Bruce Hyer and Dean Del Mastro have also said they will back Chong's bill.
Talking points sent out by the Conservatives said "as we do with all private members’ business that comes forward for debate, the caucus will take the time to review Mr. Chong’s proposal carefully."
The Conservative memo cited a study showing that the Opposition New Democrats did not have a single MP vote against the party line between June 2, 2011, and Jan. 28, 2013.
"While the Liberals were whipped into conformity 90 per cent of the time, the NDP voted as a block 100 per cent of the time," the Conservative talking points memo said.
NDP democratic reform critic Craig Scott said NDP Leader Tom Mulcair will allow his caucus members to vote their conscience when the bill comes up for a vote.
"Mulcair said it will be a free vote. He also said if there's ever a bill that deserves being put to a free vote, it's this one."
Scott said he will support Chong's bill and will recommend to his caucus colleagues that they vote in favour of it as well.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he agreed with the bill's overall goals.
"We are open to any and all discussions on democratic reform and I agree with this bill’s broad objectives. We believe MPs should be their community's voice in Ottawa, not the prime minister's voice in their community," Trudeau said in a written statement.
Trudeau has promised he will hold open nominations in all ridings for the next federal election.
The federal Liberals have invited Chong to make a presentation about his bill to the Liberal caucus later this week.
Outside of Parliament Progressive Conservative prime minister Joe Clark publicly endorsed Chong's bill and calling on people in his political circle to contact their MPs.
"This is a very important initiative, which deserves all-party support. Please contact the MPs you know," Clark said in an email.
Clark's support was precipitated by an email from Paul Heinbecker, a retired Canadian diplomat, who urged Clark and others to support Chong's bill "to free MPs from excessive control by the Prime Minister's Office."
Chong's bill would amend two acts of Parliament: the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act but would not come into force until after the next federal election in 2015.
You can read the text of Chong's bill here: