Michael Chong, the MP from naϊveté.

No, Naϊveté is not an electoral district in Quebec. The Hon. Michael Chong is the Member of Parliament for the Ontario riding of Wellington-Halton Hills. What Mr. Chong has not done is endear himself to his Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper. He left Mr. Harper’s cabinet over what he likely perceived as its pandering to Quebec separatists. He has further distanced himself from his leader by promoting a private member’s bill to give MPs the power to remove the leader of their party. What Michael Chong has really done is annoy members of all three major political parties in Canada.

Michael Chong obviously is not in touch with the history of Canada’s political parties. You would at least think somebody might have told him about the classic battle in the 1960s between his party’s Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and then party President Dalton Camp. This simple disagreement between two prominent Conservatives was the stuff of books and television specials. Dalton, delightful chap that he was, had decided that since the Conservative Party had selected John Diefenbaker to lead the party, the party, in turn, should have the right to dismiss him. Suffice to say, Dalton won.

The major point to this is that all three major political parties have to some degree or other the power to remove their leader. Michael Chong thinks that the power should be vested in the parliamentary caucus. That is similar to the way it works in the Mother of Parliaments at Westminster. Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan mocked the undemocratic customs of the British Parliament about 150 years ago and the Brits are still stuck with many of them.

Mr. Chong’s private member’s bill, due to be debated and then voted on in second reading in September, also provides for the MPs to decide who is allowed to sit in their caucus. He wants to take that power away from the party leader. Mr. Chong might have attended school in Ontario but he seems to have missed classes on British history. While the British parliament had its origins about 1000 years ago, political parties are a much newer phenomenon. Formal political parties only made their appearance in the early 1800s. Even in Canada, while the Elections Act lays out rules for parties, there has been little formal recognition of them. And every time parliament passes new rules for political parties, you can be sure that it is the parties that lose and the politicians who win.

The only point of agreement between Mr. Chong’s private member’s proposal and modern political thinking is that we have to take the power to veto local party nominations away from party leaders. That does not mean that the power should be vested in caucus. That veto is destroying the democratic process and saps the vitality and interest in electoral district associations across the country. That power needs to be returned to the electoral districts.


Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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