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.

Sponsor

Michael Chong  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill.

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

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

February 3rd, 2015 / 7:10 p.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am glad you told me about the time constraints on my presentation, because you know me well and my history in this place. I sometimes find it difficult to clear my throat in less than eight and a half minutes, but I appreciate the heads-up on that.

It is a pleasure for me, honestly, to stand here and speak to Bill C-586, the bill now known as the reform act, brought forward by my colleague from Wellington—Halton Hills.

I must first congratulate my colleague, as I have done before, and I mean this quite sincerely. Any time any person in this place brings forward an initiative to improve the functioning of this place or to try to improve the functioning of our democratic process, that individual should be applauded. I applaud my colleague for bringing forward this legislation, which has sparked more discussion than any other private member's bill I can recall, and I have been here for close to 11 years. That speaks to the impact the contents of the bill will have on average, or at least typical, Canadians.

When the bill was first introduced, prior to the amendments, I received phone calls, letters, and emails from people, not only within my riding but throughout western Canada, encouraging me, in some cases, to support the bill. Some would merely query me as to how I would be reacting and whether I would be voting for or against the bill and asking for my rationale for the vote I would be undertaking.

I cannot recall another private member's bill having that much impact, causing so much discussion, and creating so much attention. On that alone, I sincerely congratulate the member, because if nothing else, he has brought to the attention of a lot of Canadians what private members can do, what members commonly known as backbenchers can do.

There is so much criticism of our democratic process. There is so much criticism these days about how this Chamber operates, and that criticism is usually targeted toward centralization and party leaders, or in some cases, the centre, having too much influence over how members operate and vote and over what they say in this place.

To have a private member's bill that has sparked so much discussion and interest throughout Canada speaks to the fact that individual members who are not in cabinet, who are not in leadership roles in opposition parties, have the ability to enact positive change. More than anything else, that is the benefit this legislation will have, and that will be the legacy of the member for Wellington—Halton Hills. The member has demonstrated quite clearly to members within this place and to members of the general public that the power of one exists, that the power of individual members, whether or not they are in cabinet or in leadership roles, is still absolute. I will not go further than that.

This is a powerful piece of legislation the member has brought forward. It speaks volumes about the ability of individual members and what they can do if they have an idea that would improve the functioning of this place and democracy. I hope more members take this into account when considering private member's bills they may want to bring forward in the future. Kudos to my colleague.

When the bill was originally brought forward by the member, I had some concerns. My primary concern was that in its original form, caucuses would have the ability not only to cause a leadership review to take place but to determine the fate of a leader. I had great difficulty with that. My point then, and still is today, was that if party memberships elect a leader, they should have the ability to get rid of a leader or to at least review and vote on whether they want that leader to continue. That was my primary concern. The amendments brought forward by my colleague are certainly measures I can support now.

I was very taken by my colleague's words when he said that perfection is sometimes the enemy of the good. What he was actually saying is that he has discovered and has worked toward the art of the possible. I think my colleague is quite correct. In its original form, I do not believe the bill would have passed Parliament, but there is so much good in the original bill and this revision that it should pass Parliament.

I will point out a couple of things in the bill that, in my personal view, are excellent. One is the ability of caucuses, if they choose to adopt the suggestions contained in Bill C-586, to vote for the caucus chair. I have long held that belief. I believe that as members we should have the ability to determine whom we wish to see in that chair representing us. I think that is an excellent suggestion, one I will wholeheartedly support and encourage my colleagues to support.

The other point that I think is extremely well-intended and makes for a very, very solid bill is the ability of caucus members to determine if one of their caucus colleagues should either be expelled or re-admitted to caucus. I think every party in this place has had members of their caucuses who have left, sometimes for different reasons.

Looking at my colleagues across the floor in the the official opposition, since this Parliament was first elected in 2011, there have been six members of the NDP who have left their caucus, sometimes voluntarily, and perhaps sometimes with a little encouragement, shall we say.

In our party, we have had a number of examples as well, but the point is that many times there are issues that we have within caucus. Those issues in large part remain private, but if they were serious enough to the point where caucus members themselves believed there should at least be a discussion on whether the admissibility of a caucus member should be in question, they should have the right to do so.

I do not believe that it should be the unilateral right of a leader to make those determinations. Certainly, the opinion of party leaders will play a great role in that determination, but ultimately I believe that members of Parliament in all caucuses have the intelligence and the ability to make that determination themselves.

I have been in caucuses where we have seen caucus members leave. I have also been in caucuses where I have personally known that some of those members would like to have been re-admitted, but there was no method for me or other caucus members to have a say in that process. The bill deals with that, and I think that is a very, very positive aspect of it.

I will just say in conclusion that while I agree with my colleague and my friend that the bill may not be perfect, it is a step in the right direction, and I strongly encourage all of my colleagues throughout the House to support the bill because, as my colleague quite correctly pointed out, it is perhaps the first step in an ongoing series of reforms that will improve the functioning of this place. If that is the case, then his legacy will be forever enshrined as one of the great movers of democracy in our country.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

September 18th, 2014 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Arnold Chan Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise for the first time in the House to join the debates, and I do so with a profound sense of humility. I wish to express my tremendous appreciation to the residents of Scarborough—Agincourt for the distinct honour of representing them as their member of Parliament.

As this is my inaugural address in the House of Commons, I am mindful of the sense of history of this place. In my youth, I fell in love with Canadian history, and when I finally had the opportunity to visit Parliament, I realized why this place was so important. Not only is this where we make our laws and establish our government, it is this place that symbolizes the fundamental value of our democratic freedom. This is a freedom that flows through our evolved relationship with the Crown and with the institutions of sovereign and colonial power.

I have deliberately chosen this legislation to rise for my first time to join the debates in the House of Commons because I recognize the very important symbolism that the bill has come to represent across our country. There is a fundamental sense that democracy in our country, and across all democratic countries, is gradually eroding. Participation rates in elections have been steadily dropping. Canadians are increasingly developing a sense that our democratic institutions do not matter.

As members of Parliament, we each owe a critical duty to arrest this development and to increase confidence in our democratic institutions.

I look to my recent by-election and that of my fellow three colleagues who were elected on June 30. In that by-election, we saw participation rates drop to incredible lows. Sadly, in my riding of Scarborough—Agincourt less than 30% of electors chose to cast a ballot. My colleague in the riding of Trinity—Spadina probably had the best turnout in having approximately one third of the ballots cast by those who were eligible to vote. In the two Alberta by-elections, we saw voter participation drop to roughly 19% in Macleod and 15% in Fort McMurray—Athabasca.

We have seen participation rates in successive federal and provincial elections continue to drop. This is a broad question that all of us, as members, need to ask and, ultimately, to be concerned about.

To that end, I would like to pay tribute to the hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills for the intent behind his private member's bill, Bill C-586, entitled simply “Reform Act”. In reading his backgrounder on this bill, I noted that it was his intent to reinforce the principle of responsible government. It was also his intent to provide checks against the exercise of executive power over the legislature. In particular, my friend sought to ensure that party leaders maintain the confidence of their respective caucuses.

This is a laudable goal and it is an attempt to bring back the normative practices of our Westminster model of government. However, when one actually examines the substance of the bill, I have to admit that I find somewhat of a disconnect between the aspirational aspects that the member for Wellington—Halton Hills is proposing and the practical outcomes of his bill. It leads to a series of questions and concerns.

In his backgrounder to the legislation, my friend from Wellington—Halton Hills attempts to address four broad reforms: first, restoring local control over party nominations; second, strengthening caucus as a decision-making body; third, reinforcing accountability of the party leader to caucus; and fourth, reforming the institution of Parliament.

I submit that my friend's intent to codify what has been the conventional practices reflects, unfortunately, a failing of members to exercise their very rights and privileges as members of Parliament. In some aspects, the changes proposed are rigid in that they seek to impose and create controls over political parties and their practices.

I have trouble with this approach. I can fully understand having parliamentary oversight over the practices of political parties, for example, as it relates to issues like financing, particularly when there are implications on our tax system or when there might be the possibility of undue influence as a result of public financing.

As it relates to the organization of political parties themselves, I am fundamentally convinced that these organizations should set their own rules and that participation by the broader public would be judged on effect, or how democratically these institutions operate. Let us leave the constitution of political parties up to the political parties themselves.

I know that the hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills has consulted broadly on his bill, including soliciting input from various members of this House to address the operational concerns of his proposed legislation. I applaud my friend for reaching out. This is in fact how we should be working together and returning ourselves to a more civil time, when all members in this place were treated with honour and respect.

Let me say that here in the Liberal Party, we intend to honour the very spirit of my friend's legislation. It is our intent on this side of the House to allow all members of the Liberal caucus to vote on this private member's bill by way of a free vote.

Let me also say that despite outlining some of our concerns, it is my intention to support my friend's bill and to vote yes when it comes up for a vote at second reading. I will note that I reserve my right to reconsider my vote, depending on what transpires when the bill is sent to committee and we see what emerges at third reading.

I should also state that the Liberal Party has a different approach. I recognize that my friend from Wellington—Halton Hills may have some cause for concern about the practices within his own party or by the approach taken by the Prime Minister and the executive council, but here in the Liberal Party, we have decided that restoring trust in Canada's democracy will encompass the following reforms that have been passed, by a party resolution, by our own party. These include free and open democratic nomination of our candidates; fewer whipped votes and more free votes, requiring individual MPs to assume full responsibility for their decisions; stronger parliamentary control of public finances, including an annual deadline in the budget; accounting consistency among estimates and public accounts; more clarity in voting on estimates; a cost analysis of all government bills; and a requirement that government borrowing plans obtain Parliament's pre-approval.

We would seek an independent and properly resourced parliamentary budget officer. We would move to a more effective access to information system, with safeguards against political interference and meaningful whistle-blower protection; an impartial system to identify and eliminate wasteful partisan government advertising, like we actually have in the government of Ontario; limitations on secret committee proceedings; a limitation on omnibus bills; and limitations on the use of prorogation for the short-term convenience of the government.

We would move to adequate funding, investigative powers, and enforcement authority to ensure that Elections Canada could root out electoral fraud.

We would move to proactive disclosure of parliamentarians' expenses and a more transparent Board of Internal Economy that has proper audit rules.

Finally, we would move toward a truly independent Senate.

To that end, I would encourage my friend to also support Bill C-613, known as the transparency act, that was introduced by my leader, the hon. member for Papineau.

The goals of this bill my friend from Wellington—Halton Hills is presenting are laudable. Those on this side want a House where Parliament respects the principles of responsible government and the rule of law. I know that my friend has had challenges with his own party and with the sometimes difficult nature of the exercise of executive power.

Therefore, I challenge my friend from Wellington—Halton Hills to make the changes within his own party before we impose changes on all political parties, and if he cannot change his party, he is welcome to change parties.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

September 18th, 2014 / 5:35 p.m.
See context

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I am taking this occasion to rise on this bill, titled the reform act, 2014. I would like to thank the member for Wellington—Halton Hills for presenting us with the occasion to debate that very subject before this chamber. This debate allows us to highlight the important improvements we have witnessed under this Prime Minister and this government in the area of democratic reform.

I understand that in politics, one of the idiosyncrasies with which we must be faced is that sometimes narrative departs a long way from the facts. People have a tendency to confuse, for example, strength with centralization, competence with control, and so it is when many critics in the public sphere judge the degree of central power in the various parties that are in the House today.

I think we should examine the facts to see how the parties actually add up on this very question. Let me examine some of those empirical facts.

The Globe and Mail published an analysis of 162,000 votes cast on the floor of this House of Commons by individual MPs. It found that during a two-year period, between June 2, 2011, and January 28, 2013, the Liberal Party voted as a unanimous block 90% of the time, with no difference of opinion whatsoever.

The Conservative Party had independent votes; that is, members of the caucus voted differently than the leadership in one in four votes on the floor of the House of Commons.

The NDP whipped 100% of its MPs 100% of the time. That is to say, in that two-year period, there was literally not one MP who dared disagree with their leader even once, which is an exceptional statement of the centralization of powers that has occurred in the NDP.

We move to the subject of the Senate. I think all of us are frustrated with the outcome of the Supreme Court ruling on that question. However, it is important to note what was at stake. The reference to the Supreme Court on the question of the Senate was actually very ironic.

I am not aware of another occasion in our history when a Prime Minister has gone to court to ask judges to take powers away from him. He actually went to the court and asked the court to allow him to give the people authority over who would represent them in the Senate. He agreed that if provinces held elections, he would respect the outcome and he would oblige himself to do so in federal statutory law.

Equally ironic was that it was the courts that actually refused to let him give away the powers he wanted to cede, but no less, it is interesting to note that he wanted to cede them in the first place, an action and a motive that is not normally part of the constitution of any leader of government, but with this Prime Minister it is, as I will further elaborate when I come to our position on this particular bill.

On the question of private members' bills in general, I should note that under this Parliament, with a majority Conservative government, and this Prime Minister, we actually have had more private members' bills passed into law than at any time since 1972. In that Parliament, many of the bills were just name changes to constituencies.

In terms of legislating, this Parliament, under a majority Conservative government, led by this Prime Minister, has had more backbenchers enact legislation than at any time in history.

Some have become cynical about this fact and have said that it is actually just the government putting private members up to passing legislation. They offer no proof of that except that the government actually voted for the legislation.

There is the Catch-22. If the government had voted against this backbench legislation, they would say that the government was blocking it, but with the government having voted for it, they now say that it cannot be that independent if the government supported it at the end of the day. Members will see that with these critics, there is no winning.

However, Canadians are winning. They are winning because of the democratic action of members of this House, such as the member for Kildonan—St. Paul, who was able to introduce legislation to protect vulnerable people from human trafficking, and the member for Okanagan—Coquihalla, who was able to amend legislation from the Prohibition era that prevented Canadians from transporting wines and other spirits across borders. The legislation now allows Canadians to actually drink Canadian-produced wines and beers. We also had the member for Kitchener—Conestoga, who succeeded in passing suicide prevention legislation through the House of Commons. This was serious, substantive legislation passed by backbench MPs under this government.

We now have another bill before the House of Commons, the reform act. That bill would address the 45-year-old requirement in law that a leader sign off on the candidacy of every single person who is on the ballot for the party. Since 1970, it has been a requirement in law that a party leader sign off on every candidate. Without that signature, one cannot be a candidate. Even parties that would prefer to have another form of approval for their candidates cannot do so, because the statutory law in paragraph 67(4)(c) bans them from doing it.

When my friend in the Liberal Party, whom I congratulate on giving his maiden speech, said that these matters should not be codified in law, I point out the fact that they already are codified in law in this instance. That statute forces parties to give leaders veto power over their candidates, even if the party constitution disagrees. The treasured party autonomy of which he is in pursuit does not exist in the current law.

The member for Wellington—Halton Hills seeks to change that by removing this veto power from the leaders and allowing parties to select any officer or officers they think fit to approve their candidacies.

I suspect the Liberal Party would oppose that idea. The leader of their party has abused that power in order to prevent numerous people from running for the Liberal Party. Just today, six former MPs for the Liberal Party spoke out against their leader and said that he was abusing his veto power to impose his ideology on every single candidate who runs for the Liberals. He has further had preferences for friends whom he wanted to have on the ballot for his party. He has basically used the legal authority embedded in the Elections Act to hand nominations to those friends at the expense of other people who would probably have more merit and be able to win the nominations if they were held democratically.

In our party, that decision is left to local party members, the grassroots. In practice, our leader has not used his whip, his legal power, in an abusive manner.

Furthermore, in another instance of this Prime Minister acting in a manner more democratic than any of his predecessors, he becomes the first leader in half a century to declare his support for the removal of the legal veto power of party leaders over candidates. Once again, that speaks to his willingness to cede power to the Canadian people and to grassroots political participants so that they can exercise their own will. That gesture on behalf of our Prime Minister demonstrates that he is ahead of his predecessors on the question of democratic reform and certainly ahead of his competitors in the House of Commons.

The member who brought forward this legislation has congratulated the Prime Minister for creating a space in which this kind of debate can occur. The member is absolutely right that there is no other party, no other caucus, under no other leader, in which this kind of debate would ever have been permitted, because only on this side of the House and under this Prime Minister can we openly discuss the nature of our democracy and propose substantive reforms to improve it.

For that I thank our Prime Minister. I look forward to continuing this debate.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

September 18th, 2014 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak about Bill C-586 and discuss exactly what measures this reform act contains.

The NDP has been talking about Canada's democratic deficit for a long time. What does that mean? The term democratic deficit involves two major constructs. One of them is more concrete and pertains to the exercise of democracy, while the other is more abstract and deals with the perception that voters have of that exercise.

Canada has 150 years of experience with democracy. Canadian democracy is well-established, reliable and, in some ways, sine qua non. We can no longer envision our lives in this country without our democracy. Even if we criticize it, and sometimes with good reason, it serves us well.

Over the years, we improved the democratic process whenever we felt as though something was not quite right. As challenges arose and mores, demographics and regional cares changed, we quietly shaped and changed the House to reflect our great country and its people.

What I am trying to say is that when real problems arise, we solve them. The major exception, and we will continue to speak out against it, is the unfair elections act that was introduced last spring. It will cause serious problems in upcoming elections.

While we are witnessing an alarming increase in democratic apathy and while strong and informed action should be taken to rouse voters and get them interested, a repressive elections act reminiscent of East Germany's received the enthusiastic approval of the Conservative government.

The democratic deficit that I am talking about is caused by obvious social and cultural circumstances. Accustomed to democracy, a growing proportion of Canadians no longer sense how fragile it is and they forget that they have a duty as voters. This is a very worrisome trend for which the NDP has been seeking solutions for a long time.

The government, on the other hand, is pleased with this decline in interest. It is sad, but that is the way it is. However, our platform is clear and sound. We are going to do everything we can to overcome this lack of interest. That is what Canadians expect and we will not let them down.

The deficit is caused by actual practices, which need constant adjustments in order to remain effective, and by the widespread false perception that our democracy is elitist and lacks transparency.

Bill C-586 is not the great reform that it claims to be, and for this very simple reason: although it says it addresses a concrete problem, that problem is first and foremost a problem of perception. A bill is a proposed solution to a problem. If Bill C-586 is meant to tighten up a specific mechanism that is part of our democracy, where is the problem? If the answer is 42, does anyone know the question?

Here is the problem this bill is meant to fix. Party leaders and decision makers have too much power regarding the nomination process and how their members vote in the House. The way these powers are used dilutes the democratic voices of the people and affects the transparency of the system that governs us.

To fix that, and this is what Bill C-586 proposes, riding associations, the grassroots, the partisan base, must be allowed to select candidates without any interference.

Once elected, these candidates should have greater flexibility when voting in the House. This all seems fine and dandy, but in reality, what we are really dealing with is a very abstract problem. In fact, the opportunity to work to improve the concrete aspect of the issue was buried last spring along with the government's democratic credibility in a communal grave.

Candidates are not chosen the same way as party leaders. There are no major debates or massive conventions. In most cases, candidates are nominated without any opposition.

Bill C-586 is therefore meant to change the electorate's somewhat false perception that everything is decided ahead of time and the party steamrolls over Canada right before an election, imposing its own will.

That is not the case, but it could actually become the reality, which is why I am supporting this bill. We can prevent this risk right away. It will regenerate a certain partisan fervour and force parties to be more accountable during the nomination process in the ridings.

Bill C-586 contains another very interesting and very telling aspect regarding what happens in the Conservative ranks. Usually no information ever leaks out, except when a member gets fed up with the black hole atmosphere and ditches the party.

The bill aims to reform certain aspects of what is known as the party line culture. The preamble of the bill includes a very important sentence:

Whereas the leadership of political parties must maintain the confidence of their caucuses;

Once again, we have a slight shift in meaning. At conventions, the people who make up a political party's partisan base fine-tune and reassert the resolutions that become their party's ideological base.

Party leaders lead elected members with their own strategic vision of the issues that are important to the partisan base. The leaders are the ones who decide which of these wants take precedence, who do the calculations and who take all the risks. Members of Parliament must support their leader and his or her decisions, since together, they form a molecule of public support.

The party line is the agreement between the leader and the members of Parliament. That is what the party offers to the electorate that has put its confidence in the party. The electorate is not partisan; the parties in the House must respect the diversity of public opinion. The party leaders have the confidence of the partisan base. The base has the opportunity to confirm or deny that confidence during votes at national conventions.

When a person runs as a candidate in an election, they announce that they are supporting a leader. The election platform is a compromise. The candidate may not be pleased with all of the aspects, but they decide to focus on certain key aspects. At the end of the day, small crises of confidence are not part of the democratic deficit, since that person knew exactly what they were getting into when they signed up. I am sorry, but it is simply a reality that we must face.

I have a problem with some other aspects of the bill regarding a party's internal practices. For example, I understand that including the election of the caucus chair could seem like an excellent idea for a party that does not already do that. However, for the NDP, electing a caucus chair once every four years would be a step backwards from our current practice of holding a yearly election. Furthermore, our party has a gender parity system that works very well. Obviously, if this bill forced us to regress in these areas, I would have a hard time supporting it. However, the bill's sponsor has assured us that these changes would become suggestions instead of requirements.

Now that the member for Wellington—Halton Hills has indicated that he is prepared to change some aspects of his bill through amendments in committee, I think that the best decision is to vote in favour of this bill, send it to committee and study the impact or effect of this reform. That is why I will support this bill, in the hopes that something good will come out of it.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

September 18th, 2014 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

Conservative

James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to rise to speak very proudly in favour of the reform act introduced by my friend and colleague, the member of Parliament for Wellington—Halton Hills.

At the outset, I would like to commend him for the substance of this bill and the substantive debate that he has caused both here in the House of Commons and across the country, as well as the manner and the process that he has followed in presenting his reforms. He presented a first version of this bill last year and sought meaningful input from members of Parliament and Canadians across the country. In fact, I can personally attest to the fact that he came to my constituency and engaged directly with many people in the riding. It was an excellent example of real citizen engagement, and I want to thank him for that.

After receiving all of the input, he proposed two different sets of amendments. One he proposed as reform act 2014 and the second, I believe, he proposed on September 11. It is my understanding that the government, as well as members of the opposition, will be supporting the bill. He made a real effort to hear constructive criticism of the bill. I know there are people who were supportive of this legislation and wished that he had kept it in its original form, and I say to him that he has shown some courage and real flexibility in trying to get a piece of legislation that can be supported by a majority of the members of this House and, hopefully, a majority of the members of the Senate as well.

To review the reform act itself, it proposed three main reforms: restoring local control over party nominations, strengthening caucus as a decision-making body, and reinforcing the accountability of party leaders to their caucuses. The purpose of these reforms is to strengthen Canada's democratic institutions by restoring the role of elected members of Parliament in the House of Commons.

The proposals in the reform act would reinforce the principle of responsible government, something I will return to over and over again in this speech. It would make the executive more accountable to the legislature and ensure that party leaders maintain the confidence of their caucuses, something that has existed since Parliament began.

If one wants to review, especially on the Conservative side of the House, an excellent example of party leaders having to maintain the confidence of their caucuses, one only has to go back to perhaps the greatest parliamentarian of all time, Winston Churchill, who became prime minister during World War II, a period in which someone else held a majority of the seats of the House of Commons. A Conservative government had the majority of seats in the House of Commons and Churchill was not party leader, but that change was made, and I think for all of our sakes it was much better. That is certainly a historical example, especially for Conservative parliamentarians.

Responsible government, as we know, is the principle that the executive council, the cabinet, is responsible and accountable to the elected legislative assembly, the House of Commons, not the appointed governor. This was a change that was made in Canadian history.

Much of this debate has focused upon the present-day situation or the concentration of power that has occurred over the past 40 years, but I want to commend the member for Wellington—Halton Hills because he has tried to say that this is a fundamental realigning of Parliament, that one has to go beyond the present personalities and circumstances of today. We all have our present-day debates, but we need to think fundamentally of the relationship between the executive and the legislative. This is something that has, frankly, perplexed political thinkers since the advent of political activity and political organization, since people started distinguishing between the different roles that the executive and legislative, or those who dispense funds and those who raise funds, ought to have.

Why is it so important to restore the proper balance between the executive and the legislative? Why should we care about responsible government? In my view, democracy is the best form of government, to turn around one of Churchill's phrases, and parliamentary democracy is the best form of democracy. However, in order to truly be a parliamentary democracy, it must be both representative and responsible. It must be representative in that the legislative branch, members of Parliament, must be duly elected and accountable to their constituents. It must be responsible in that executive branch, the cabinet, the government, must be accountable to those legislators. It requires those two absolute functions.

If one surveys the early histories of Parliament, as I have done recently, especially excellent works like J.R. Maddicott's The Origins of the English Parliament, which I recommend to everyone in this place and across the country, one will see that the powers of the executive, meaning the king or queen, during the early Parliaments actually existed outside of Parliament.

Parliament started as sort of a council of advisors, some from the property classes, some from the ecclesiastical classes, and even at that time they started two important functions that we continue today. That is, they started challenging the sovereign with respect to the raising of money, taxes, most often to fight wars, and with respect to the review of spending.

These two essential functions that Parliament still fulfills today, in terms of ways and means motions and the estimates process, actually started centuries ago in these early parliaments. However, at that time the executive power actually resided outside of Parliament with a king or queen. What happened over time was that these executive powers moved, in effect, from the crown to the advisors of the crown, the privy councillors, as they are still called today, and over time to ministers of cabinet and the prime minister within the legislature.

This was a very fundamental change that occurred over many years. Is this wrong? Some may perceive there is an actual problem with this. In fact, the Americans, in my view, saw this as a problem and chose a different system. They opted for a different system and very formally separated the executive—the president and the administration—completely from the Congress, which is the Senate and the House of Representatives.

It is very straightforward to ensure formal responsibility between the executive branch and the legislative branch. It is also simple to ensure that American citizens have more than one vote and can split their votes. They split the votes between a vote for the president and a vote for a member of the Senate or a member of the representatives.

As we know, Canadians have one vote. They have a vote for their member of Parliament at the federal level. I do not see having the executive within the legislature as a problem. In fact, I think it is a benefit. I think one of the beauties of the parliamentary system is that it is organic. As Edmund Burke would say, it's one of the advantages of the parliamentary system. It can respond to situations. It is a benefit to have the executive residing within the legislature.

What needs to happen then is responsible government. All parliamentary democracies must ensure, with this real transfer through the history of executive power from the sovereign to the privy council, the cabinet and the prime minister, that we have responsible government where the executive resides within the legislature and is responsible to the legislature. It is much more complicated than the American system. I think it is better than the American system, but we must ensure that responsible government applies.

In my time remaining I want to address some of the concerns that have been raised. It is very difficult to do so because some of the concerns were raised by people who have raised issues about political parties. I think members of all political parties have raised concerns about MPs possibly usurping some of the role of political partisans in terms of selecting or deselecting leaders. However, the role of caucus, in terms of having responsibility for the leadership, has always been there throughout history. My view is caucus members will respond to it in a very meaningful way.

I was in a situation in my first term in Parliament where we had a very destabilizing situation. It would have been helpful in fact to have a set of rules to guide us in how to deal with that in a much quicker way.

Second, I appeal to those who say the bill has been amended too much and not enough has been retained from the original bill to pass. The member for Wellington—Halton Hills has introduced a piece of legislation and has tried to be as constructive as he can to get support from all political parties so it has near unanimous support to pass in the House.

I therefore ask all members of Parliament to support this important bill to redress the imbalances that have occurred over decades in our country. The powers of the executive have grown and the strength of the legislative branch, unfortunately, has diminished. We need to restore the proper balance between the executive and the legislative. A true parliamentary democracy requires representative institutions, but it also requires responsible government. We need to honour these fundamental traditions of our parliamentary democracy.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

September 18th, 2014 / 6:05 p.m.
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NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that the bill introduced by the hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills is part of a much larger debate we are currently having about making our parliamentary system more democratic, reforming our democratic institutions and recognizing the role of each member within his or her caucus.

When talking about a topic as important as this, it is critical that we remain open-minded and that we are prepared to hold an open discussion and listen to the ideas coming from all sides. No one can claim to be the keeper of absolute truth. With a topic as complex as this, we need to be able to admit that discussion is the only way we will all win.

That is why I would like to thank the hon. member. From the moment he introduced his bill, he has been open to discussion. I have been able to speak with him about my concerns and fears about his bill. He took them into consideration and showed that he was willing to amend his bill in light of those concerns. That is the kind of attitude we need if we are going to reform our democratic system. What we definitely do not need is having bills introduced to reform our democratic system without the willingness to accept any amendments whatsoever. We will not be able to change our parliamentary system by setting things in stone before debate even begins.

I wanted to take the time to thank the hon. member for that.

This bill will make rather substantial changes to the nomination process and the process of admitting or readmitting a member or the party leader to the caucus.

I would like start by taking a moment to talk about what the NDP is doing so that people can then understand the concerns I had.

Our internal bylaws call for a biennial leadership review. Even if our leader is Prime Minister, they must submit to this review. We also take steps to ensure the transparency of our nomination process.

We also have affirmative action policies in place. As far as nominations go, we have processes in place to ensure that at least half of our candidates are women. We also encourage persons with disabilities and LGBT, Aboriginal, and young people to run in the nomination process.

In fact, my main fear regarding this bill is that it will weaken the parties' affirmative action policies. I am not talking about a party leader who blocks a candidate in order to shoehorn in a friend or acquaintance, but of someone who tries to promote one person's nomination because they belong to one of these affirmative action groups.

I do hope the amendments my colleague intends on bringing forward in committee will not weaken the affirmative action policies put in place by the parties to increase representation of under-represented groups. Once the bill gets to committee, if the amendments my colleague will propose to improve his bill are rejected, the subsequent vote will surely have a different outcome. If they pass, however, my fears will have been assuaged and I will be free to continue down the same path.

When we talk about a process to expel a member from a parliamentary group or elect a party leader, we have to keep certain facts in mind. In some legislatures, in Canada and elsewhere, sometimes there are people who do things that may not be not illegal but are certainly not well received.

Currently, if a caucus member did such a thing, it would be up to the party leader to decide whether it was serious enough or still within the bounds of acceptability and decide whether that person would remain a member of his parliamentary caucus or not. It is much more appropriate for that decision to be made by all the members of the caucus.

This also applies to the leader. When he or she does something that is not illegal, but is not well regarded, the members of caucus can vote to determine whether that person still has the moral authority to be the leader of a parliamentary group. What is more, it is appropriate to ask that question.

Medical issues may also come into play when it comes to the leader. Some people might refuse to give up the position of leader while experiencing medical problems affecting their judgment—for example, because of substance abuse or an illness that is affecting their cognitive abilities, self-examination and judgment. In that case, a mechanism would enable members of caucus to decide what to do next.

It would be interesting to discuss this in committee. In some exceptional circumstances, these measures might help parliamentary groups make a decision that would not be based solely on the judgment of one person or a handful of people within a group, but on the majority of the members of a parliamentary caucus.

When I read my colleague's bill, I was surprised. Sometimes we can be a little naive and not think to look through all of the rules. In the NDP, we elect a chair every year and we have gender parity, so if the chair is a man, the vice-chair will automatically be a woman and vice versa. I was surprised to find out that that is not the norm everywhere. Naively, I figured that all parties elected their chairs. It seemed logical to me. I would therefore like to thank my colleague because now I know that some parties have a lot to learn from the NDP. I think that is a bit of a shame.

With these changes, the election of a caucus chair once per Parliament would not be a strict rule but the minimum standard. If a party wants to hold an election every year, as the NDP does, it can continue to do so. The important thing is that caucus chairs have to be elected. That is very interesting. That way, people can elect an individual who is competent and who is also ready to listen to them.

Choosing the right person is key to maintaining harmony within a parliamentary caucus. The chair has to have sound cognitive abilities and knowledge of the parliamentary system, as well as human relations skills allowing him or her to accurately assess situations and intervene at the party level and the caucus level for the good of the members. Electing the caucus chair is therefore a very good way to operate.

I would like to thank my colleague one last time for his openness when we were discussing my concerns.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

September 18th, 2014 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and for International Human Rights

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour for me to rise and speak to the reform act, 2014, brought my colleague from Wellington—Halton Hills.

My dear friend from Edmonton—Leduc gave a little history about governments and the Westminster type of government. I have travelled all over the world and have seen numerous forms of government across the world, not only the Americans but we have the French. We have military regimes and we have dictatorships and we have all kinds of other governments. However, what is very clearly important is the form of democracy that we have elected here in Canada, the Westminster style of democracy, which has stood the test of time coming from U.K.

However, in what I am saying, it is dreadful that our Senate is not an elected Senate. Having said that, the House of Commons indeed is an institution that, for all everybody says whatever they want to say, is a very respected institution giving good governance to Canada, based on my own experience travelling around the world.

I have been a member of Parliament for close to 17 years now. Through this process, I have gone through a tremendous amount of political flux that has taken place in this country. I started as a Reform MP, then a member of the Canadian Alliance, then the old Progressive Conservative Party, and then the new Conservative Party. As I like to say, I never crossed the floor, the parties crossed on me.

Going through all this system over here, we learned one thing: where is the basic situation. Sure, there are always ways and room to improve, but the main basic thing I learned from all this here is that our process has checks and balances, not through legislation and that discipline but through practice. Let me give an example of that. My friend from Leduc talked about the crisis we had during the time of the Canadian Alliance. I went through all of that and I must say I give great credit for what happened over there to Stockwell Day, who realized that the caucus was not with him at that given time and took the right step, but went back out there to seek the leadership again from the members. These are the kinds of decisions that are in practice, which we have as part of us. However, I do want to commend my colleague here for trying to formalize it.

Where I had a very strong objection to his bill was where I felt that membership's voice was being taken away by giving more power to the caucuses, to Elections Canada, and so on. However, to his great credit, he heard all of our objections, and I want to commend him for bringing in the amendments that he did, which address many of the concerns we have had. I must say that gives back, in my opinion, the powers to the membership as, for example, in his first amendment by letting the parties decide who is going to be the person in charge. It does not matter who is the person in charge, whether it is the Prime Minister or whoever, but it is the membership that will decide, and that is part of his amendment.

I want to thank the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, who worked throughout the summer with the others in bringing in a lot of amendments that have now made us feel very good, so that I feel I am in a situation where a lot of positive things are now coming out of this bill. One of those positive steps that I am quite comfortable with is the election of the caucus chair. A democratically elected caucus chair is an absolutely good idea. Also the caucus would have the ability to admit or re-admit people who have been removed from caucus. That should be a caucus choice, which makes it a democratic institution. So that is excellent.

However, I do still have some little problems over here, which he has of course addressed. Again that comes to the issue of the leadership, which he said caucuses can update. What I am saying now is that it is a bill that we can all debate and all talk about. There are some positive aspects to it that we can move forward. When the bill goes to the committee, we can talk about other areas where we have concerns. I will talk to him again about concerns that I do have, and see how best we can bridge that gap. It can allow us, at the end of the day, to make a bill that is acceptable to all of us, which will strengthen the democracy in this country.

I want to give him credit for bringing it forward. We are waiting for this. We will vote for the bill to go to the committee, and then at the committee we will bring further amendments.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

September 18th, 2014 / 6:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, when I introduced Reform Act, 2014, I said I would welcome comments and amendments. Since being introduced, Reform Act, 2014 has generated a lot of interest and discussion. In these past months, I have received recommendations and comments from colleagues from both sides of the House and from Canadians across the country.

I want to thank all members of the House who have contributed to this debate, particularly the member for Edmonton—Leduc for seconding the bill. I want to also thank many members of my caucus, as well as the members for Mississauga, Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, Toronto—Danforth, Burnaby—Douglas and the other members from New Democratic caucus who have been up today to debate this bill.

I would like to thank the members for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville and Saanich—Gulf Islands, who has been a big supporter of this initiative all along, as well as the Minister of State for Democratic Reform. I also thank all who have voiced concerns and constructive criticisms about the original bill.

Change is never easy. The changes proposed last week and the changes incorporated into the bill introduced last spring reflect the input that was received.

I want to take this opportunity to respond directly to one concern, which is the general concern about imposing on parties, whether they be party caucuses or registered political parties, mandatory rules about how they operate, whether that concerns the selection of party candidates, or the rules regarding the review and removal of the party leader, or the selection of a caucus chair or the expulsion of a caucus member.

I believe the changes announced last week will directly address those concerns. These changes, which I hope the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs will adopt, would leave it to the parties, whether they are party members at a national convention or members of a party caucus, to decide on how to implement these particular changes. Any rules would have to be voted on, either by party members on the floor of a national convention or by caucus members within a caucus. Regardless of the outcome, it would be a recorded vote so that members of Parliament could be held accountable, not just to their constituents but to party members, as to why they voted the way they did.

It is also important to note that this bill would not affect in any way, shape or form how registered political parties outside the House would review the leader or how those parties would elect the leader in the event that they had a leadership race. All the bill would do is clarify the rules concerning the review and removal of a party leader by caucus. In the event that the party leader is removed or in the event that the party leader becomes incapacitated, suddenly dies or resigns, the bill would provide for the clarity and rules on the election of the interim leader.

It is important to point out that party caucuses are not private organizations. If they are private organizations, we have semi-privatized the election and removal in part of premiers and prime ministers. It is important to point out to colleagues that in the last nine months two premiers have been removed from office as a result of caucus action: Premier Dunderdale of Newfoundland and Labrador and Premier Redford of Alberta. It is also important to point out that party caucuses in the last nine months at the provincial level have elected four new interim leaders during that time.

There is a greater need for clarity and transparency about how these changes take place at the federal level and why we need to pass the bill.

Many wanted to see this bill pass in its original form. I understand. However, in this case, we need to acknowledge that perfection is the enemy of the good. The bill in its original form would never have passed Parliament. The bill in front of us today is very good, and has a good chance of passing and becoming law. I reserve the right to not move this bill at third reading if the committee makes changes that are not acceptable.

In closing, I urge members of the House to adopt this bill next week. More important, I urge members of the procedure and House affairs committee to deal with this bill as expeditiously as possible. Time is short. There are a mere few months before the dissolution of Parliament and the onset of the general election. We cannot allow this bill to die on the order paper. Canadians are watching.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 5:30 p.m.
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Conservative

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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NDP

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.
See context

Conservative

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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Liberal

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.
See context

Conservative

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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Conservative

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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Conservative

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.