Conservative backbencher MP Michael Chong recently introduced a Bill in the House of Commons, “An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act (reforms),” a.k.a. “The Revenge of the Political Nerds and Nobodies.”
This Bill is a direct attack on the leadership of Harper and an indirect attack on the leadership of Trudeau of the Liberals and NDP Mulcair.
I think this Bill will attract broad three party opposition and be rejected.
The thrust of this Bill is to take power away from Harper as Conservative leader and Mulcair and Trudeau as leaders of the NDP and Liberals, respectively, and vest more power in individual federal members of Parliament.
This Bill wrests power from each party leader as follows:
1. 15 per cent of caucus members can trigger a leadership review any time. Then a majority of caucus, voting by secret ballot, would be sufficient to remove the leader, and begin the process of selecting a new one.
2. The caucus, not the leader, would decide whether a MP can stay in caucus. A vote to expel (or to readmit) would be held under the same rules as a leadership review: 15 per cent of caucus to trigger, 50 per cent plus one to decide.
3. It would remove the leader’s ultimate right to select nominees in each of the federal ridings and vests that power in the individual riding associations.
This Bill is being brought forward by Conservative MP Chong who apparently has never forgiven Stephen Harper for kneecapping his once promising political career. Chong opposed his party’s historic and symbolic recognition of Quebec as a “nation” and was forced to resign his Cabinet post in 2006. This bill is Chong’s revenge on Harper.
Under the guise of greater democratic powers of MPs to express themselves and make the leader accountable, what Chong is proposing is nothing more than a “bait and switch” measure.
That is the fatal flaw of Chong’s Bill and why it should not survive.
The political reality of Canadian federal elections is that Canadian voters are voting for the leader of the party, his policies, his character, and his ability to govern and implement his policies. In the last three federal elections, the voters chose Harper over Dion and Ignatieff. Because they believed that Harper was the most prudent and disciplined manager of the Canadian economy. And they believed Harper’s promise that he would focus on the economy and that there was no hidden social conservative agenda, i.e. anti-abortion and anti-same sex marriage policies.
Similarly, the success of the NDP in Quebec was due to the efforts of Jack Layton, whose personal appeal replaced established Bloc, Liberal and Tory incumbents, with unknown NDP candidates.
I believe that the major determinant of whether an individual MP is elected, re-elected and is a member of the winning governing party or losing opposition party, is the success or failure of the federal campaign of the leader.
Once the voters have elected Harper indirectly as Prime Minister, they expect him to last out his term, and not to be turfed out because 15 per cent of Tory MPs suddenly don’t like Harper’s disciplined approach to party unity and his policies upon which he and the party campaigned.
More specifically, the Canadian voters have three times elected Harper as prime minister because, among other things, Harper promised that he would focus on managing the economy and that he would not reopen such controversial areas, as abortion, a woman’s right to choose, or any matters relating to gay rights, i.e. same sex marriage. These are very controversial and divisive social “hot button” issues.
The Chong Bill will provide a small minority of caucus MPs who won an election on one agenda, (women’s and gay rights) the power to remove Harper as leader, because this group secretly preferred a contrary agenda, (the restriction of abortion rights and gay rights). But these very same MPs did not have the integrity to campaign honestly as Independents in order to further these controversial social policies.
The removal of a sitting leader under these circumstances, strikes me as unjust, unfair and undemocratic. The Chong Bill, by investing such power in the MPs, would clearly undermine trust with the voters, that the leader of the party has the unfettered power to keep his campaign promises, upon which he was elected, during his term of office
The same reasoning would apply to those voters who voted indirectly for Trudeau and Mulcair.
The voters also expect that the leaders of their respective parties, would impose discipline on their parties and determine who should be in or out of caucus and who should be running as candidates under the party’s banner.
If Harper is holding himself out to Canadian voters that he and his party maintain the status quo of abortion rights and are defenders of bilingualism, multiculturalism, and equality, then Harper should have the right to remove any MP from caucus who opposes these principles or prevent any candidate from running for the Conservatives, who espouses the views of homophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, anti-bilingualism or misogyny, to name just a few such areas.
The Chong Bill would restrict Harper and Trudeau and Mulcair, from removing MPs from their respective caucus, who violate party principles.
Lastly, all the major parties are trying to be more inclusive than exclusive. As a result, parties are trying to broaden their base, but encouraging Canadian voters to join the various parties and vote indirectly, through delegates or directly, (as in the recent case of the Liberals) for the leader of the party.
Chong’s Bill giving the right of the caucus to remove a leader who has been elected leader by thousands of party members, flies in the face of this more populist, inclusionary and more democratic trend.
For these above reasons, I predict there will be broad party support to deep six Chong’s Reform Bill.