Chong’s changes that change nothing.

Congratulations to Conservative MP Michael Chong. He actually got his reform bill passed by the House of Commons. Too bad it passed because he watered it down to almost nothing. Voters are unlikely to ever see the effects of his changes. The original bill was designed to take some of the power away from the party leaders and give it to their party caucuses. It would have been better if the bill had redistributed political power to where it really belongs.

First of all, we have to recognize that the party leader has to have the ability to maintain a reasonable level of control over the party’s parliamentary wing without them having to enter the PMO or Leader’s office on their knees. The party leader therefore has to have enough leverage to get the elected members attention. This can be through some of the appointments that the current leaders have been abusing. It can be a simple as the seating plan for the party in the House.

What Chong’s bill has ended up doing is returning the power to the caucus members to elect caucus chairs, expel or readmit caucus members and choose interim leaders. In addition to these traditional powers, the bill allows caucus to trigger leadership reviews and remove a leader.

Since leadership reviews and a removal are traditionally a political party’s responsibility in Canada, these items are in serious conflict with what the party views as its power. A political party would lose its final role beyond being election-time grunts if it agreed to those changes.

A caucus member who can no longer support the leader always has the option of resigning or “crossing the floor.”

Back in the 1960s in Canada it was both the Conservatives of the time and the Liberal Party that addressed the need for the party to review party leadership. The reasoning was that as long as the party was responsible for choosing the leader, it should be able to periodically review that leadership. Both parties established party control of leadership at that time. (Who can forget the claim by Conservative Leader Joe Clark in 1983 that “66.9 per cent was not enough”? It cost him the subsequent leadership convention.)

Sure Chong’s bill passed with the support of both Liberal and New Democrat MPs. Only the Green’s Elizabeth May saw it as a sop to foolish backbenchers. She will wait for something worth voting for.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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