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.