Reform Act, 2014

An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act (candidacy and caucus reforms)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.


Michael Chong  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill.


This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Canada Elections Act to provide that the chief agent of every party is to report, in writing, to the Chief Electoral Officer the names of the person or persons authorized by the party to endorse prospective candidates.
It also amends the Parliament of Canada Act to establish processes for the expulsion and readmission of a caucus member, the election and removal of a caucus chair, leadership reviews, and the election of an interim leader, and to provide that these processes apply to party caucuses that vote to adopt them.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


Feb. 25, 2015 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
Sept. 24, 2014 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 5:30 p.m.
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Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

moved that Bill C-586, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act (candidacy and caucus reforms), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I, like many of my colleagues in the House, have spent countless hours in this place over the years. We have spent countless years debating and arguing and trying to convince our colleagues of our position on various issues. Like my colleagues in the House, I have participated in numerous debates, sat for hundreds of hours on parliamentary committees, and sat late into the evening, as we will once again tonight, on debate. I have run in five general elections, standing up for the principles and ideals that I believe in and for my constituents in Wellington—Halton Hills.

I say all this because the House of Commons is really like a second home to all of us because of the amount of time we spend here. My colleagues are like family, and like all families we have our agreements and our disagreements and we have our ups and downs. Like family, we are honest with each other. If we are honest, we will acknowledge that we have a problem in Canada's Parliament.

The Senate scandals and last year's controversy in the House about whether or not MPs have the right to stand and speak make it clear that decades of changes to Parliament and our electoral laws have weakened the role of elected legislators and centralized that power in party leaders. It is clear that Parliament needs to be reformed.

Barrels of ink have been spent documenting this problem throughout the decades. Countless books, academic papers, columns, and journals have been written.

The problems in Parliament today are not the result of any one party or any one leader. They are not the result of any one set of actors. They are the result of changes that have happened through successive Parliaments, through governments and leaders of different stripes from different parties.

Party leaders themselves have acknowledged this problem. Party leaders from John Turner to Preston Manning, from Paul Martin to current party leaders, have called for measures to address this “democratic deficit”.

Despite all the barrels of ink, despite all the platform commitments, despite all the attempts to change, little if anything has happened. Arguably the problem is worse today than it ever has been, so today, in this month, in this year, the time has come to act, and act we must, because it is clear that Canadians are becoming increasingly disillusioned with their Parliament and their democracy.

Parliamentary reform includes both the House of Commons and the Senate, but before we reform the Senate, we must reform the House of Commons. The reason is very simple: in our Parliament there is only one place where the people have a democratically elected voice, where people are democratically elected on the basis of population, where people have an appeal to the powers that govern this country, and that is the House of Commons, not the Senate of Canada.

Furthermore, it is clear with the recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling that Senate reform, whether it is in the form of abolition or whether it is in the form of term limits and direct election of senators, will require a constitutional amendment and the consent of provincial governments and provincial legislatures.

The bill in front of us today addresses reform in what I believe to be the more important chamber in this Parliament; not only that, it is achievable through a simple piece of legislation.

I have spent a quarter of my life in this institution, and I believe there are three reasons for the problems we face today.

First, party leaders approve party candidates. In fact, to my knowledge, Canada is the only western democracy where by law party leaders have the power to approve party candidates in an election. To my knowledge, no other western democracy has given party leaders this enormous power over their party candidates.

Second, the unwritten conventions that have governed parliamentary party caucuses have changed over the decades, and they have changed and evolved in a way that has advantaged the caucus leadership and disadvantaged caucus members.

Third, the role of the caucus in reviewing the leader has been little used and the rules are opaque. This has weakened the accountability of party leaders to their respective caucuses in a system of parliamentary democracy wherein caucuses once elected the party leader.

As a result, Canadians are losing confidence in the ability of their elected MPs to represent them in Ottawa and increasingly feel that MPs represent Ottawa to them. Voter turnout has declined and many feel disconnected from politics and political parties. In the last federal election, four out of 10 Canadians did not vote. According to Samara, a democracy think tank, 50 years ago, nearly 80% of Canadians voted in federal elections. Today voter turnout is closer to 60%, and the most dramatic declines have taken place in the last 25 years. According to Nik Nanos, the pollster, just over 60% of eligible voters cast their ballots in the last federal election, and among those under 30 years of age, fewer than 40% bothered to vote.

Before we suggest that this problem is endemic in all western democracies, if we look at data from Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and the United Kingdom, voter turnout in their recent federal elections was 93% in Australia, 74% in New Zealand, 67% in the United States, and 66% in the United Kingdom. Canada is the outlier in voter participation in national elections. This data comes from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

I want to emphasize why the role of elected MPs is so important. In many democracies, such as the great democracy to the south of us, voters and citizens have three franchises. They have three votes at the national level. They vote for the head of government, the president; they vote for a member of their upper chamber, a senator; and they vote for a member of their lower chamber, a congressman or congresswoman. The same is true in France, where citizens vote for a president, a member of their lower chamber, and indirectly, for members of their upper chamber.

In those democracies and many others, citizens have three avenues to pursue when they want their democratic voice effected, when they want their representation heard. However, in Canada and most Westminster parliamentary democracies, voters have one vote, one franchise, at the federal level, and that is a vote for their local member of Parliament. That is why the role of that local elected member of Parliament in the Canadian system is so incredibly important.

Many colleagues have questioned why we should use legislation as a means to implement this. They have pointed to other Westminster parliamentary democracies and have suggested that in those Westminster systems, the rules have not been effected through legislation, and they are correct. I would say two things in response to that argument. First, legislation is important for two reasons. First, it is important to apply these changes to all parties so that no one party can game the system to its advantage, so that the rules are consistent for all parties. Second, for over 20 years, we have been talking about reforms that will address the democratic deficit, and to this point, little, if anything, has happened. Legislation is a clear and transparent way to implement the changes necessary.

I want to make a point on the need to write the rules down. If we look at other Westminster parliamentary democracies, they have all written the rules down about either the review or the election of the party leader and the role caucuses play in the review or the election of the party leader. The U.K. conservative caucus has written down rules in a document called, “The Fresh Future”. It is filed with the library of Parliament in the United Kingdom.

The U.K. Labour Party has a document that details the rules for the election of the party leader and the participation of caucus in that election. The New Zealand Labour Party has rules that clearly outline the role of caucus in reviewing and electing the party leader. The New Zealand National Party has rules that clearly outline the role of the caucus in the review and election of the party leader.

The Australian Liberal Party has clear rules on the review and the election of the party leader, as does the Labor Party. It has clear, written-down rules about the review and election of the party leader. I say all this because we are the last holdout among Westminster parliamentary democracies in writing down the rules on the role caucus should play in either the review of the leader or the election of the interim leader, and that is why this legislation is necessary.

Transitions in power, whether they be in opposition or government caucuses, are vitally important in a democracy. It is the hallmark of a democracy. Clear rules-based systems for transfers of power are especially important for the caucus that is in power.

Now, some have suggested that by restoring local control over party candidates, as this bill would do, we would get problem candidates. Well, we already do. We can all think of the instance in the Conservative Party when we had an embarrassing situation in 2006, when a candidate smuggled 112 bottles of booze across the U.S.-Canada border. We can all think of the New Democratic candidate who videotaped himself smoking marijuana in the Vancouver Lower Mainland and gave Mr. Layton a great deal of indigestion when he uploaded the video to YouTube. We can all think of the white supremacist who ran as a Liberal Party candidate in the last election.

Every party has candidates who cause embarrassment for the party. It happens today and no doubt it will happen under local control. Furthermore, by restoring local control, there is nothing to prevent the local officials from deciding that a party candidate needs to be removed as a party candidate.

Finally, before 1970, the parliaments of Canada were not characterized as full of crazy and extreme candidates. Those parliaments were populated by Canadians who did the hard work of governing this country. Therefore, the need for the party leader veto simply is not there and needs to be removed.

We have a double check in our system. First, we must ask local party members to select the party candidate in an electoral district, and then the voters in that electoral district have to decide if that party candidate should be their member of Parliament. If both groups of Canadians, local party members and the voters in that riding, decide that a particular candidate should be their member of Parliament, we should respect their choice and respect their vote.

Review of the rules for the interim leader and for the election of the interim leader are vitally important. What would happen if, god forbid, the head of a G7 government were to suddenly become incapacitated or die while in office? What exactly are the rules and the role caucus plays in electing a new interim leader who would also become, based on the appointment by the Governor General, the full prime minister of this country, with all the powers vested in that office? These rules need to be a lot clearer, and they need to be written down.

There is a lot more I could say about the importance of this legislation and why I think members in the House should support it, but I will finish on this thought.

Democracies around the world are the most prosperous, most stable, and most productive societies, and that is no accident. This economic prosperity, productivity, and stability derives directly from the democratic foundations of these societies.

In Canada, it is the health of our democratic institutions that is going to determine the economic prosperity our children and grandchildren will enjoy in these years of the 21st century. In the long run, democratic checks and balances on power are the most important way to ensure long-run outcomes that ensure prosperity and stability.

It is clear that Canadians want us to reform Parliament. We must reform Parliament, or the reform will be forced upon us by Canadians themselves, so let us not be timid about the changes proposed in this piece of legislation. Let us be bold. Let us send it to committee for further study and amendment.

If we are asking Canadians to once again trust us as politicians, if we are asking Canadians to once again trust their elected officials, the House of Commons, and the Senate, the Parliament of Canada, to govern this body politic, we as politicians and members of this House must trust Canadians. We must trust Canadians with the vote, whether they be local party members electing a local party candidate, Canadians electing their member of Parliament to make decisions on their behalf, or Canadians in this House of Commons exercising their judgment as to whether a colleague should sit inside or outside of caucus or whether a party leader should be reviewed and an interim leader elected.

We have to trust. That is the foundation of this bill. I ask members of this House to support this bill at second reading and send it to committee for further study and debate.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 5:45 p.m.
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Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I just wanted to quickly ask a question that has to do with one provision in the bill, which would accord the electoral district associations the power to set the timing and the rules for nomination contests.

There is some concern on my side of the House, a concern that I share, that without more specification, the question of the application of national rules designed to promote diversity in the recruitment and representation of candidates in elections might be affected.

I would like my hon. colleague, if he could, to speak to this and whether he would be willing to work with us to make sure that this particular concern was addressed.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 5:45 p.m.
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Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would be willing to work with the member and any other colleagues who have concerns about this particular clause through the work of the committee.

However, I would also answer the question by telling the member that the bill maintains the current power of the party leader and two other officers of a registered political party to unilaterally deregister and re-register an electoral district association. By maintaining that current power in the Canada Elections Act, we would ensure that parties could mandate a consistent set of rules across all 338 electoral districts and ensure the kind of policies the NDP currently has in place.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 5:45 p.m.
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Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his efforts to improve our democracy.

I just want to ask him if he is aware that in one of the cases he mentioned, the Labor Party of Australia, after they twice removed the prime minister the people had chosen because they thought it was maybe one of the reasons they had a terrible defeat last time, they decided last July to remove the ability of the caucus to dismiss its leader if the leader was the prime minister. The irony of the case he mentioned is that they freely decided, as a party, to have rules more like the current rules in Canada.

Does he realize that they have been able to do so because there is no straitjacket law imposed on parties, something his bill would do, and that we would be the only democracy to do so? The majority today would decide the internal democratic rules of all parties in Canada.

Does he not think it is a dangerous precedent that exists in no other democracy in the world, and certainly not in Australia?

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 5:45 p.m.
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Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville.

I think it is very important to have written rules. The greatest danger right now is that the current rules that allow caucuses to assess their leaders are not written down. In a democracy that believes in a system of laws, it is important to have written rules.

It is important to have written rules, because unwritten rules and conventions are subject to ad hoc and arbitrary measures. That is far more dangerous than using the medium of legislation to ensure consistent written rules for all parties in this chamber.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 5:50 p.m.
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Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I share a similar concern with the previous questioner. I listened to the hon. member's response. He said that he felt there needed to be written rules rather than conventions. My concern is that what we are doing here is having Parliament set the rules for political parties and the way they run their nomination processes and their caucuses. My feeling would be that this should be something political parties determine on their own. It is something caucuses should determine.

If the member wants written rules, why did he not choose to approach his political party and encourage other political parties and caucuses to do the same, rather than prescribe something by Parliament?

As a supplementary question, who would he see enforcing these rules? Would it be Elections Canada, Parliament, or an officer of Parliament? What would be the prescription?

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 5:50 p.m.
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Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, quite simply, the rules would be enforced by the members themselves, just as we self-enforce the rules on the Standing Orders and other unwritten conventions that govern parliamentary parties in this place.

To respond to the first part of his question, political parties are quasi-public institutions. The days that this chamber and political parties existed as private clubs for an elite group of people are over. Parties in this country are registered under law. They are creations of the Canada Elections Act for a reason, because they receive hundreds of millions of dollars a decade of political public taxpayer dollars. In return for the receipt of that public money, they ought to be publicly accountable and publicly available to a broad group of Canadians.

In the last ten years, the Conservative Party of Canada has received close to $300 million in public support through political tax credits and other political expenditures, which the Department of Finance Canada considers expenditures, and other forms of subsidies. In return for that money, we are quasi-public institutions, and we ought to be publicly accountable for that money.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 5:50 p.m.
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Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, if you would allow me, on this debate on Bill C-586, I would like to begin with a very short quotation:

Canadian party leaders today enjoy a remarkable amount of power when measured against their peers in Canadian history, or against leaders in similar parliamentary systems around the world.

That is taken from a remarkable new book that I think many in the House are beginning to read, by Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan, Tragedy in the Commons: Former Members of Parliament Speak Out About Canada's Failing Democracy.

It is important to note that, in addition to party leaders, party leaders as prime ministers have a particular power in Canada. A 2007 study quoted in the book I just cited, by Irish political scientist Eoin O'Malley, compared 22 parliamentary democracies and found that the Canadian prime minister ranked as the most powerful of all 22.

Not only party leaders but prime ministers in our particular version of the Westminster system have a great deal of power. It is for that reason that I thank the member for bringing the bill forward, for daring to bring the bill forward and spark the kind of debate that is necessary for us to ask whether or not the particular degree of power of both party leaders and prime ministers needs to be looked at in order to make our democracy healthier.

I would also like to quickly summarize what I understand to be in the bill, so we can be clearer when I speak to one or two other elements in terms of how much I support or have concerns.

First of all, I would say the bill would do three things. In the first area, it would decentralize the nomination process of party candidates in two key ways. The first is that local registered associations—let us call them EDAs—would determine the timing of and the governing rules for nomination contests. That relates to the question I just asked the hon. member. The second thing is that, within this decentralization of the nomination process, the party leader would be removed by the bill from the process of endorsing party candidates under the Canada Elections Act and replaced by province-wide nomination officers who are given that role.

The second thing the bill would do is in the realm of caucus governance and discipline, and there are two key elements. One is that there would now be mandatory election rules for caucus chairs to be elected and rules around how that would happen. That is already done in the New Democratic Party. I understand it is not the case in the Conservative Party. This would make it mandatory for all. The second thing within the caucus governance and discipline theme is that the caucus would explicitly have control over membership in caucus, specifically the issue of expulsion or readmission to caucus, an area that is unclear in terms of constitutional convention about whether or not that currently resides in the hands of party leaders or actually is something by convention that is with caucuses. This would certainly clarify it.

The third area of change is that Bill C-586 would legislate rules for the House of Commons caucus members to remove the leader—and it is very important to note—of a recognized party in Parliament, while at the same time leaving untouched the party's rules for selecting the leader of what we call the registered party or the extraparliamentary party. This would lead to some confusion on the part of the public and commentators, and I will come back to it, but the third element involves the ability to remove the leader in Parliament.

I have indicated that I welcome the bill. I believe it is important. It will stimulate debate, and it already has, at a time when it is hard to say that there is not a malaise in our parliamentary system and a recognition of that by the public.

My hon. colleague has somehow tapped into a certain zeitgeist, the response in civil society to the bill. It reflects that, and obviously this is quite brave in the context of our parliamentary system that puts such a premium on party discipline, at the moment.

I would also like to make clear that everything is not sunlight here, in the sense that I believe—and some of the comments coming from farther down the chamber suggest this—that there is some element that this focuses on the experience of one party and some of the problems within that party's own organization. It does not necessarily mean I am not willing to act in solidarity through legislation to share the rules we already have. We already elect our caucus chairs. We have a leadership review at every convention, for example. Nonetheless there is an element of asking other parties to come to the rescue of one particular party. At least, that is my view of it.

Second, there are two elements here: reforming the Canada Elections Act and reforming the Parliament of Canada Act. They are not mutually necessary. The Parliament of Canada Act provisions on caucus governance, removal of the leader, et cetera, is really about the independence of MPs, regardless of their philosophy of representation, while the Canada Elections Act clauses about nomination contests really seem to be about localized democracy.

They do work together, certainly in the conception of my hon. colleague, but I do want to suggest that the two can be severed and that, from my perspective at the moment, the whole question of greater independence of MPs in caucus is where I would certainly want to be putting my emphasis.

There are three very good things about the bill that I would like to emphasis at this time. First, I do believe that the innovation of having province-wide nomination officers be the ones to sign off on candidates once they have been elected from a nomination contest is very much worth looking at, and I personally would support that.

Second, on the idea of electing caucus chairs, having specific rules around it is okay, although I think some of the rules have been too finely drafted in the bill. We might want to look at loosening them up. We currently have caucus chairs elected every year, and I would want to make sure that we do not have to get creative after this bill is passed to allow that to continue, because the bill states that caucus chairs would have to be elected after every general election and then in some other instances.

Third, I believe that the provision that gives the caucus control of its membership is perhaps the most important part of the bill. The idea that caucus, through a voting mechanism, would decide whether somebody should be expelled and readmitted certainly clarifies what is a hazy area. Whether it even approaches a constitutional convention or not, it is certainly hazy. This clarifies that this would no longer be the pure prerogative of the leader of a party.

I think this provision, in and of itself, would create significant independence and extra protection for free speech and for the decisions—sometimes complicated, angst-ridden decisions—on whether to exercise a vote contrary to what others in the party are doing. I think it respects the electorate who, when they vote, are voting for an MP, almost always, who represents a party.

At some level, the wish of the people to be represented by not just an individual but an individual from a party is thwarted when a person is ejected from caucus. I think it is all more the reason that the caucus should have a say.

I have indicated, however, that there is one provision about which I am a bit worried. The electoral district associations would be able to control the timing and the rules around nomination contests. At the same time, there is a provision that says the act's rules would prevail over any bylaws and constitutions of parties.

Therefore, apart from the mechanism that my hon. colleague has suggested, which is that there be always the ability to sort of coerce riding associations to adopt national rules as local rules because ultimately there can be a threat of de-registering, I would much prefer to see more clarity that says certain kinds of national rules unambiguously can apply.

The NDP has a policy whereby at least 50% of all electoral districts shall have women running as NDP candidates for election and the goal is that a minimum of 60% of electoral districts where the NDP has a reasonable chance of winning have women running as NDP candidates for election.

Also, we have a goal that a minimum of 15% of electoral districts where the NDP has a reasonable chance of winning should have NDP candidates for election who reflect the diversity of Canada and include representation of equity groups.

Therefore, it is not an entire coincidence that the current caucus has around 40 women and 5 members of the LGBTQ community. The process at the national level, although stated as a policy, has clear rules for each EDA to follow to make sure it has actually made the effort to contribute to the goal.

My concern is to make sure that this is unambiguously protected at the time at which this bill would emerge from committee, as I hope it will, because I will be voting for it to go to committee. I look forward to studying it.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 6 p.m.
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Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I first want to thank my colleague for bringing this forward. There has been a lot of discussion about this for quite some time, to say the least.

A lot of it is taking place electronically. A lot of it is taking place through many of the forums we see around here and outward. This is one of those issues where people say, “You guys only talk about this in the bubble of Ottawa”, but quite frankly, it has burst through the bubble and many people are talking about this across the country from coast to coast to coast.

I congratulate my colleague for bringing this discussion to the nation because, as he mentioned in his speech, each and every leader, dating back 50 or 60 years or more, has always talked about electoral reform and we have seen it managed at a snail's pace in many cases. What the member is attempting to do is say that some of the incremental changes that took place within legislation some time ago should be taken further; in other words, we have a choice.

Back in 1970, there was the requirement that, in order to have the party attached to one's name on a ballot, one had to have the signature of the party's leader. Anyone within this House and beyond who has ever run in a federal election, unless he or she is an independent, had to have that affixed next to his or her name or have a letter from the party's leader saying that he or she stands as the candidate. Candidates may have been elected through the electoral process within the party itself, by nomination as we normally call it, or by appointment for whatever reason. That is certainly within the ability of a party leader to do, because we must remember that what is required is the signature. Therefore, what my hon. colleague is doing is taking that and pushing it further to affect the two acts in question here.

Just to recap what was talked about thus far, the enactment would amend the Canada Elections Act. Nominations of contestants would be held by a party's electoral district association. Proof of the party's endorsement of prospective candidates would be provided by the nomination officer of the party's electoral district association, and now with other signatures, so there has been a slight change in that. I also commend the member for making that change based on a provincial designate.

There is a fundamental shift here in what we are looking at; that is, it would make it a local aspect of a nomination process. Originally, there was to be a nomination officer in each electoral district association. We have made a slight change. A lot of people are okay with that.

We also talked about some of the other changes the member would make, such as the ability of the caucus to eject a leader or to call for the vote on a leader. We also have that juxtaposed to the fact my hon. colleague pointed out, which is that in this country the process of selecting the leader of a party or ejecting a leader from that position would now also involve the caucus in a much more proactive way. That is something we have to address within this debate as well.

What I hope to do here today is present some of the facts and further this debate. I will not leave members in animated suspense, because I have not yet decided how I am going to vote, because I believe in debate in this House. I do believe I am leaning in one certain direction—God forbid that I tell anybody—but what I want to hear during this debate is this. In a private member's bill there is what we call a five-minute rebuttal that the mover of the bill gets to do. What I am planning on doing is being specific, which was started by my colleague from Quebec, and talk about some of the concerns that were brought about during our discussions not only within our caucus but within the structure itself of the Liberal Party of Canada. We are talking about some of the concerns around imposing the same rules by a single law to all parties and caucuses. The fact is that the parties are free to adapt and change the rules. With this bill, they would not be able to do that anymore.

It would be a precedent to allow Parliament, the party that holds the majority, to decide internal democratic rules for all parties. A majority of MPs may vote for the current provisions of the bill against the will of the majority of a specific caucus. For example, a caucus within the House may contain members from an entire region, not just one province, of the country. Therefore, that voice would get weighted in a certain direction for one particular reason.

Propositions for reform, trying to convince parties to implement it, the Liberal Party made specific changes about nomination processes in the past. The Conservatives are welcome to adopt these changes for themselves. This is why I think the colleague from Alberta asked the question about leaving it to the party itself to decide these rules and not make it institutionalized within Canadian law. There are concerns about how we police that once we break the law.

Leaders are chosen by caucuses alone in some places. While they also have the power to take them out of that leadership, and that has been the case in countries around the world, it is not the case in our country. Then there is the process of allowing caucus to play a major role in removing a leader from his or her position when, at the genesis of that, it did not play a role in selecting that leader. Many people within parties would certainly have that concern.

On the positive side, there are a few things I would like to talk about, and I am reflecting my own personal view. I want to return to the nomination process. I think the member is on to a fundamental concept of allowing local democracy to select the candidate of their choice.

There are mechanisms within parties. We have one called the green light committee, which decides whether a candidate is eligible to run for the party. There are certain things about candidates, whether they are passed or whether they support the principles of the party. These kinds of measures have to be analyzed by every party in the House. It is no good for one of us to condemn another party for having a stringent process, saying that it is against democracy. It is not. Otherwise, we would have candidates in all political parties, no matter what their ideology, who would run madly off on all directions on whatever issue they chose.

The member is infusing an element of local democracy that to me shows promise, especially when he made changes before tabling the bill. That was also a good thing to do.

Let us go back to caucus chairs. We currently select democratically our caucus chair and so forth, but to eject someone from caucus, we go back to the principles that my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville mentioned earlier. We can apply the same sort of misgivings about that.

I hope when we return for debate, my hon. colleague gets a chance to rebut some of those concerns we have. I know he has done it personally, but I would like to see him do it within the House as well.

However, I want to commend him for all the work he has done on this. Over the course of this debate, I hope we all reflect on what we have done over the past while as politicians, as representatives. I hope we can say that we believe in a local democracy and we believe that people living within the boundaries of our riding or province should have the fundamental say over who the candidate should be. Then there is whether the party should be the decider of who that person represents it in that riding. If that is the way we feel, then we all need to personally reflect upon that.

This is the long way of saying that we need to have a good think when it comes to this legislation. I certainly look forward to having more debate on it. Unfortunately, we are confined as to the time we have. I know a lot of my colleagues would say that I should send it to committee. That requires me to say yes in principle, and therein lies the debate.

Do we say yes in principle to this, that we want democratic reform? Or does it currently go too far within legislation to confine parties on how they operate in the House, and by extension govern the country?

Again, I congratulate the member, and I look forward to the following debate.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 6:10 p.m.
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Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-586, the reform act, addresses several issues, not one issue. All of these issues are part of a general problem or a cluster of problems that have been collectively referred to as Canada's democratic deficit. The democratic deficit can be summarized as follows. The ways in which the Canadian party system, including its caucus system operates, is considerably less democratic, on close inspection, than Canadians think it is, or think it ought to be.

Bill C-586 is divided into two parts, each of which amends a different statute, the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act. The two sets of amendments are concerned with issues that are completely unrelated other than the thematic similarity noted above. Therefore, each of the two parts of the bill has to be considered on its own merits. That means if one of those two parts turns out to be so seriously flawed that it cannot be fixed while the other is a useful improvement to the status quo, that would put all of us here into a quandary.

Let us start with the proposed amendments to the Canada Election Act.

Clauses 4 to 8 of Bill C-586 would create a position styled “nomination officer”. The nomination officer would have the authority to approve, and therefore disallow, party candidates, a power that therefore would be removed from the leader of the political party. Each party would have, in each province, a single nomination officer, elected by presidents of the actual district associations in that province for a four year term.

I do not think that the creation of this new officer would actually eliminate the party's ability to refuse a candidate nomination, something that could have been done. It just centralizes this power in a different officer in what is an unintentional division of the powers of the leader, rather than the elimination of an unwarranted power, as I have to think would have been the idealized way of dealing with the problem of centralized authority over nominations.

We ought to ask this question. What is the purpose the leader's signature serves in the first place and why not just get rid of it altogether? The answer is this. A registered party has a brand, a trademark, like a franchise and this is not the property of any individual person or candidate to use for his or her own purposes or agenda, which might be quite divergent from those of the party. It belongs to the entire party, and one individual who goes significantly off message can destroy the electoral prospects of many candidates.

Those of us whose history dates back to the old Reform Party remember that we were all castigated as, among other things, western separatists, racists and so on, based on a few completely unrepresentative comments made by people who were not part of the party's overall philosophy and who were dealt with by having their nominations removed. These people sought to exploit the credibility that the party and its then leader, Preston Manning, were building. Therefore, this is something that is of no small significance.

The other thing we have to worry about, as we deal with the attempt to balance these two considerations, the importance of the trademark and the danger that the leader will misuse his or her powers, is that this splitting of power does not mean that it is not subject to abuse in the future. Interest groups or party factions could take over the position of nomination officer. This would allow them to control candidate approvals in a given province. The nomination power having a veto over candidates could effectively support one faction from the party or one aspirant for a leadership race. If anyone doubts that could happen, one need only to look at what happened in the Liberal Party during the Chrétien-Martin struggle for power. The fact is that there was a real problem in the way in which nominations were being controlled and distributed in order to favour one faction over another.

In a provision that has been almost entirely overlooked by the media, the Canada Elections Act would also be amended to allow electoral district associations to establish their own rules governing timing of nomination races and the rules governing nominations. Based on my own experience in my own constituency, dating back to my first nomination, there is a real danger of gatekeeping practices designed to keep out candidates other than the one who has been chosen by the then current board of the riding.

When I discussed my own experiences from way back then, I discovered that many other people had similar experiences. The fact is that having some oversight of the central party can serve a useful purpose, although I grant it can also be misused.

Let me turn now to the other half of the reform bill. Section 9 of the bill would amend the Parliament of Canada Act in four ways. First, it would for the first time ever come up with a definition of the word “caucus”. Up until now, caucuses have been, from a statutory point of view, entirely informal. That is to say, they are creatures of usage, of convention, to the extent that they have ever been before the courts of the common law. Under a new section 49.1 of the Parliament of Canada Act a caucus would be defined as “a group composed solely of members of the House of Commons who are members of the same recognized party”. That would exclude senators.

Second, third and fourth, since there were four changes here, the bill would create procedures for three processes that are not now governed by statute: first, for caucuses to remove and replace leaders; second, for caucuses to admit new members or expel existing members; and third, for electing and removing caucus chairs. I will not be able to deal with the election and removal of caucus chairs except to say that I think the process laid out in the bill is probably a pretty good one.

I do want to dwell, however, on the leadership election process. The first thing to understand here is that other Commonwealth countries, and the most frequently cited being the United Kingdom and Australia, do use a system similar to this for having caucuses choose their leaders. There is no doubt about that.

Neither of those two countries, none of the others I am aware of, nor any of the Australian states, none of the sovereign jurisdictions we are looking at, have statutes dictating the process by which this occurs. These are entirely dealt with by the parties themselves. We know, for example, that the rules used by the labour party in Britain are not the same as those used by the conservative party in Britain. The labour party requires 20% of the caucus to trigger a leadership review and the British Tories require 15%. The British liberal democrats, an entirely different system, require 75 local riding associations to trigger a review.

The systems are different again in Australia and they are not unproblematic. To make this point I am going to give the House the history of recent leadership reviews in the Australian labour party.

There is a Wikipedia article on absolutely every subject under the sun, including leadership spills in Australia, the term used for a leadership review vote. I want members to keep count. Leadership spill one, June 2003, Mark Latham attempts to oust Simon Crean as leader of the labour party. He fails. Number two, in December, he succeeds. Number three, in December 2006, Crean and Latham are both gone but Kim Beazley is kicked out by Kevin Rudd. Number four, Kevin Rudd, who is now prime minister, is replaced by Julia Gillard. Number five, Kevin Rudd is not replaced by Julia Gillard, although there is an attempt. Number six, March 2013, Simon Crean attempts to cause Julia Gillard to be replaced by Simon Rudd who refuses to participate. Number seven, in June 2013, Kevin Rudd replaces Julia Gillard as leader of the party through their seventh leadership spill in the space of a decade. Shortly after that the labour party loses the election and then changes its rules to make sure that this kind of serial replacement of leaders is stopped.

The reason I have mentioned all of this is not because Australia's system is good or bad, but it is to make the point that it had the power to change its own rules because it was not entrenched in statute. That is the significant point.

Let me turn now to the very last point I want to deal with and that is the expulsion of members of caucus by means of a vote of the caucus. The proposed law would allow for a 50% vote to expel a member from a caucus. There would be no other way of expelling a member from a caucus. That is not a bad way of handling things.

I do not however like the proposal that members would be able, by means of collecting a series of signatures without revealing their identities, to begin this process. We would not get to do this under this proposed legislation when trying to replace a leader but we could when we are trying to kick a colleague out of caucus. I for one would want to be able to face my accusers if they were attempting to kick me out of the Conservative caucus.

Whatever happens, we can expect that if the bill goes forward and finds its way before a committee that would be one change that I would be looking for and there would be some others as well.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 6:20 p.m.
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The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we resume debate, I wish to inform the hon. member for Pontiac that he will have only six minutes for his speech. He will therefore have four minutes to complete it when the House resumes debate.

The hon. member for Pontiac.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 6:20 p.m.
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Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will make full use of the six minutes allocated for my speech.

It is somewhat unfortunate because this bill raises some very interesting and fundamental questions regarding the health of our democracy. I would just like to congratulate my Conservative colleague for having the courage to confront the issue, his own party and the Prime Minister. I know that the member is sincere and that he shares my passion for protecting our democracy.

Democracy, its transparency and its responsibility are not partisan issues.

In fact, they are questions of the tension between authoritarianism and freedom. In history, we have seen that authoritarianism is not limited to the left or to the right. Authoritarian governments have been both right-wing and left-wing. The only safeguard against what is an inherent tendency in our political system to gain power and to want to maintain it is to balance this tendency with what I call multiple localities of power; that is, a sharing of power between various jurisdictions and segments of society.

I think what characterizes a healthy, modern democracy is power sharing. This is done in many ways, both tacitly and implicitly in our society. For example, we can point out the free market system that, with its profit motive, contains contradictions, it is true, with regard to the expression of freedom, with its tendency to deny the right of access to capital and to the means of production, labour mobility, free association labour movements, et cetera, but, nonetheless, at least in its social democratic expression, and my colleague will forgive me for that, provide fundamental room in expressing oneself in freely formed relationships between human beings.

We can all think about the sharing of power within civil society at large, as well. There are vast areas of our society that are not political, thank God, yet function in a free and open manner where the right of association is clearly established and actually creates shared power, spontaneous shared power structures separate from government, which are freely made and freely associated in. This is not to mention the ballot box and universal suffrage that, in my opinion, can be fundamentally improved in our democratic system; for example, by moving to a mixed-member proportional and more democratic system than the first past the post system. However, that is neither here nor there.

However, when we talk about political parties, there is something fundamental that goes on. We have to admit that they are different animals than other types of associations, corporations, or groups. Why? Political parties are in the business of taking power and maintaining power. They are, by their very nature, political. Electoral laws also tend to institutionally favour already established parties and discourage the formation of new political parties.

My colleagues across the hall would probably be more familiar with that than I am, with the whole Reform Party experience.

However, within a free market system, political parties are also financed through private means; therefore, they are also directly related to money, which opens them to all contradictions of our economic system, as mentioned earlier, even more so with the elimination of the electoral return and the public support of the political parties, which was meant to level the playing field. This is unfortunate.

I do lament the fact that this bill would not address these problems, both within our electoral laws and the financing of political parties, because I think that these are the fundamental issues and the very basis of what is wrong with our democracy and why there is so much cynicism and a lack of participatory action within our country today, at a political point of view.

Also, we have to mention that political parties make their own rules. The Conservative Party and the Liberal Party have a long history of being flawed democratic institutions. Their relationship to Bay Street, where the oil industry is too close for them to represent the true interest of the majority of Canadians, is an example.

In its current form, the NDP is much more democratic because it is the only party that has a leadership review every two years. Furthermore, it is the only party that would subject a sitting prime minister to such a review. Since the last election, for example, Jack Layton and our leader have had such reviews. No other party has had a leadership race and two reviews in the past two and a half years. Furthermore, the NDP already elects its caucus chair. We also have transparent processes for choosing a leader.

Nonetheless, how political parties are structured and work, and in particular the relationship between the party and its elected officials, is clearly a blind spot in our democracy. I commend the member for shedding some considerable light on this issue.

Like many Canadians, I am deeply concerned about the highly concentrated power that the government has created in the Prime Minister's Office and his cabinet. We must remain vigilant lest our democracy slip. The fact is that a majority government in this country with a Senate that is undemocratic yields too much power.

One of these powers is the control of its own caucus and elected members, a democratic deficit this bill partially attempts to address.

I will finish the rest when I have four minutes at the next hour of debate. I am thankful for the attention of the members.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 6:30 p.m.
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The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

As the hon. member mentioned, he will have four minutes when the House resumes debate on this motion. It will not be today.

The time provided for the consideration of this item of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Pursuant to Standing Order 30(7), the House will now proceed to the consideration of Bill C-560 under private members' business.

The House resumed from May 27 consideration of the motion that Bill C-586, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act (candidacy and caucus reforms), be read the second time and referred to a committee.