As published in The Erin Advocate
2015 is shaping up as a momentous year for MP Michael Chong, with his Reform Act expected to come up for Third Reading and a final vote in the House of Commons this month.
It would be turning point in the history of Canadian democracy, tipping the balance of power away from party leaders, in favour of members of parliament.
“I am cautiously optimistic that the Reform Act will be passed into law,” he said. “We are up against the hard deadline of the 2015 federal election. It’s important that the bill be passed into law before the House rises next June.”
The act would reinforce the traditional concept of “responsible government”, making the executive (prime minister and cabinet) more accountable to the legislature and ensure that leaders maintain the confidence of their MPs – similar to systems in the United Kingdom and Australia.
After each election, MPs would have a recorded vote to set their caucus rules, including how a member might be removed or re-admitted, and they would have the right to force a leadership contest. It would remove a leader’s legal right to reject a locally-chosen candidate.
Chong has been the Conservative MP for Wellington-Halton Hills since 2004, winning four elections with an ever-increasing share of the vote. His previous effort to make political parties more democratic was cut off by the 2011 election and it could happen again if the Senate does not pass his Private Member’s Bill in this session.
“This is a democratic reform bill, so I would expect that the unelected senate would want to respect the wishes of the elected members,” he said.
After consulting with constituents, Canadians across the country and MPs from all parties, and proposing amendments to give parties more flexibility, Chong achieved overwhelming support. The bill passed Second Reading last September by a vote of 253-17.
It went then to the Procedure and House Affairs Committee for a clause-by-clause review. Just before Christmas, the committee approved the bill with all of Chong’s proposed changes. It could have its final Commons vote and be off to the Senate within a few weeks.
Chong says it is “pretty rare” for a Private Member’s Bill to make it to Third Reading, especially if it is not officially sanctioned by the government.
It was no small feat to get support from the Conservative cabinet, NDP Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and prominent Canadians including Hugh Segal, Bob Rae, Preston Manning, David Suzuki and Joe Clark.
He also has non-partisan support from pro-democracy groups like Samara Canada, and especially from Friends of the Reform Act. People who want to voice their support or get more information can visit www.reformact.ca.
Journalist Andrew Coyne said of the bill: “Should it pass, Parliament would never be the same again. The balance of power would shift, irrevocably, in favour of MPs and their riding associations.”
Chong got the support of The Globe and Mail, which said that "MPs have been reduced to rubber stamps and mouthpieces" and that "the Reform Act will realign the balance of power in Parliament."
Leading up to Second Reading, Maclean’s Magazine quoted Chong: “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.
“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.”
Voter turnout for federal elections has dropped 20% since 2004. Public opinion research shows that many Canadians feel disconnected from activity in Parliament, partly because questions and statements by their MPs are often controlled by the offices of party leaders.
The Reform Act amends two Acts of Parliament: The Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act. It would not come into force until seven days after the next general election.