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 18th, 2015 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to stand today and say that I support something that has originated on the other side of the House.

I would like to congratulate the member for Wellington—Halton Hills for a fantastic job on Bill C-586, which is known as the reform act. I would also like to thank the member for Toronto—Danforth, who sits on this side of the House, for steering our party and for contributing a lot to the debate here as well.

I am proud to say that I jointly seconded this bill and supported it all the way through the process, and will, of course, again support it in its third reading.

The bill addresses how parties nominate candidates, choose their caucus chairs, expel members, undertake leadership reviews, and select interim leaders. It is a very wide-ranging bill that would affect what some people might call “inside baseball”.

The Canadian public has heard a lot about the bill, but I think once they see the rubber hit the road when the bill finally passes, they will see a difference in how this chamber operates and how Canadian democracy operates. For that reason, I think it is an important bill.

The bill has been through many iterations. There has been a lot of talk across parties and within parties about how it would operate, so I commend the member for sticking with it and getting it to this stage in the process.

However, I worry a little bit about the fate of the bill in the Senate. We know that it has to go through the readings there, and, as the chair of our committee said, we are coming to the end of the runway in terms of this parliamentary sitting. I am worried about how the Senate is going to deal with the bill, in that it might try to delay it or perhaps propose amendments that would delay the passing of the bill until we come to the next election. Then, of course, we would have to start all over again.

What has prompted this worry and concern is that the Senate is currently playing games with a bill from my seatmate, the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. That is Bill C-279, regarding transgendered rights. The Senate promised it would not interfere with the bill, as it has passed this place, but interference has happened twice. It happened in this Parliament and in a previous Parliament with a bill from the former member of Parliament for Burnaby—Douglas, Bill Siksay. We are now unsure about whether Bill C-279 will make it through the Senate.

Of course, the Senate can delay the bill until there is an election called, and again that process would have to start all over. I think that is probably my largest concern.

With the Prime Minister's support and with our support on this side, I think that all members have now come to a version of the bill that we can agree with, although I worry that the senators will be a main threshold, and the spotlight should be on them.

This is a bill that talks about how we conduct ourselves here in this House, in the green chamber. It is not about the red chamber. I think those in the red chamber should just pass the bill through as quickly as they can so that this measure can be in place before the next election.

In terms of substance, the bill would remove the statutory requirement that party leaders approve party candidates in general elections. I think this is perhaps the tip of the spear and that we are getting into the whole topic of nominations and how candidates are selected. I will touch on that aspect a bit more later.

The bill would also require parties to vote in a formal way on the rules governing their caucuses and enable us as members to choose how power should be balanced between members and our party leaders. I think that in this area the bill has struck a balance with its flexibility.

There are different requirements in different parties, which have different principles on which they stand. I think there is flexibility required, but not so much flexibility that the bill would be meaningless. I think the bill has struck a balance in terms of how different parties would approach this issue.

I think there will be a level of public scrutiny after the next election when the bill is in place and we have to vote on these rules. They will be widely reported, and Canadians will have a much better idea of how parties function within this House.

I am sure that we New Democrats will decide to elect our caucus chairs. The Liberal Party may not choose to do that, and I think that would cause a lot of interest within the public and again distinguish the parties from one another, so I think that is very important.

The bill would establish formal rules on how we expel or re-admit caucus members. It is something that is done but it is not formalized. It is important that it be formalized so that everyone would know the rules of the game before they get into it. It would reduce the speculation and the uncertainty around these processes. Even though the rules may vary between parties, it is important that there be codified rules.

The bill would establish how we remove party leaders and then how we select interim leaders. As we sadly know, that was the situation we faced with the passing of Jack Layton, as has happened throughout the history of Parliament. Codification of how this would happen is critical. When Jack passed away, the party was in shock and it was not time to be making up the rules of the game. The rules should be known before something happens. When leadership or party leaders resign, it is better to have this in place beforehand. It is a good idea.

These are all good ideas. The flexibility shown in the crafting of this legislation and its movement over nearly two years has been well done. I praise my friend for his diligence in seeing this through.

I would also like to thank my colleague from Toronto—Danforth. He suggested in his speech a number of things that he would like to see in the bill and that he might look for in future bills. This will be an ongoing process, and I agree with my colleague from Toronto—Danforth that there will be constant iterations as we go through how we work here, as it has always been. In particular, my colleague from Toronto—Danforth would like to see some changes perhaps made in the timing of when notices are given or decisions are made, or the form in which they are reported. These are things that we can talk about after we have had the first iteration of this in the next Parliament. We could possibly tweak it after the first iteration.

My motion on electronic petitions is now at committee, where it will go through the same process of debate back and forth on how this should work. Once it is in place and tried, then there will be room for adjustments.

I would like to return to the part of the bill that interests me the most, the nomination of candidates. All parties are in the middle of nominating hundreds of candidates who will compete in the upcoming election. It is hard to open a newspaper without seeing some report on a nomination process, either controversial or not. This legislation touches on this by addressing whether or not the party leader has to sign a candidate's nomination papers, but there is more to be said here.

I am intimately familiar with this process having gone through it myself. My wife, Jeanette Ashe, has just finished her Ph.D. on this topic. She examined 10 years of nomination contest data made available by the British Labour Party. I am happy to be able to call her Dr. Ashe now. The data she collected and the interviews she conducted allowed her to paint a detailed and precise picture of this rather secretive process. I have written about this myself. In the academic world, it is often called the “secret garden” or the “black box” of politics. The public really has very little idea. It is like a sausage machine where meat goes in one end and the sausage comes out the other, if we can refer to ourselves as sausages. However, we do not really know what happens in the middle. This legislation touches on a bit of that. It has been formalized in the Canada Elections Act, but it can change. A party leader or someone else will sign the papers, but what happens within this process is important. It is time that we shed a little light into the secret garden.

Right now Elections Canada looks at the financing of the nomination process. There is a cap on how much individuals can spend and financial disclosure is required. With this legislation, we would have a bit more. We will have a bit more discussion on this.

Elections Canada should perhaps look into having more reporting around the nomination process. For example, Elections Canada does not report on the results. It looks at who wins the process but it does not look at who participated in it.

The key for my wife's study was that the British Labour Party did track this and make it available. Perhaps that could also be more formalized. Perhaps Elections Canada could record, not like the primary system in the U.S., which is completely regulated by electoral officials, but to just have transparency, recording perhaps who ran and how many votes were cast in these contests.

If we are fortunate enough to come back in the next Parliament, I look forward to working on that with my colleague across the way.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

February 18th, 2015 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would say right from the get-go that the Liberal Party is having a free vote on the member's bill. There is quite a difference in opinions and thoughts, as I am sure the member can anticipate, even within our own caucus. At the very least, he has provoked a good, healthy debate.

I come to the table with some experience in the sense that I have been a parliamentarian for a couple of decades now, and I have also sat on election readiness committees. He just made reference to the nomination process. There has been a lot of interest in how we can improve the system.

If we were to canvass most parliamentarians, we would find that they all have some thoughts they would like to share. The member who spoke before me made reference to the financing of elections, for example.

I am very familiar with nominations. I have had nominations when I have been acclaimed. I have had to run against other individuals. There is something to be said about acclamations, but contested nominations are also of high interest for local communities.

There seems to be a natural evolution toward what I believe is a healthier democratic process. I would cite, for example, leadership, from oppositions to prime ministers. As we all know, at one point, caucuses were responsible for the selection of their own leaders. If a party happened to be the one with the most seats, the leader of that party became the prime minister.

It then moved off in many different forms. It was not that long ago, for example, that the Liberal Party elected leaders through delegates. We had 300 constituencies scattered across Canada. Each constituency would have a number of selected delegates, a large convention would occur, and those elected delegates would then determine who the next leader, in my case, of the Liberal Party of Canada, would be. In our most recent leadership convention, we literally had hundreds of thousands of Canadians engaged directly in that process, from every region of this country. In my short political time, I have witnessed an evolution that ultimately saw the grassroots get engaged in selecting a leader.

Here we talk about how to get rid of a leader. There are mechanisms in political parties, such as leadership reviews. In Manitoba, a small group of four or five NDP members of the legislative assembly chose to go offside of the elected premier, Mr. Selinger. Because of those five NDP MLAs, there is now a leadership convention taking place. Again, delegates and union members will determine who the next leader of the New Democratic Party, and therefore the premier of Manitoba, is going to be.

Different parties are at different stages. From what I have witnessed over my short tenure, there is reason for us to be encouraged. I think of nomination meetings. The leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, upon being elected as the leader of the party, indicated that all nominations are open nominations. We have heard stories or a nomination candidate is upset because he or she did not get a green light or something of that nature.

At the end of the day, I truly believe that all 338 constituency nominations are, in fact, open. We have seen that in terms of just expressions of interest. We have had literally hundreds of people, again from every region of the country, putting in papers, requesting and wanting to get engaged in the Liberal Party, and who want to be candidates.

It is no easy feat having to get the memberships and go through a process that I would argue is very democratic. I am not trying to say that we have the best system in the world. There is always room for improvement.

When I look at the member's bill and some of the things that he is suggesting, for example, the selection or election of caucus chairs, that is something the Liberal caucus currently does. We recognize the important role that our caucus chair plays. I have had the opportunity to participate directly in that. We do sit down as a group of members of Parliament to select who is going to be the chair of our association.

I have seen other areas where we have made significant improvement. Just over a year ago, it was the issue of the Senate, and the leader of the Liberal Party likely did more for Senate reform than anything that has happened in the last 15 or 20 years, by making it truly more independent.

There are many things that we can actually do without having to pass legislation to ensure that we do get some of the reforms that I believe Canadians as a whole want to see.

There are other types of reforms that are necessary for us to have in terms of legislation. We see that in the Elections Act and financing. These are areas that I, personally, have a deep interest in seeing take place. For example, during a campaign period, there is a fixed amount of money that anyone can actually spend pre-election. In the months leading up to an election, what someone could actually spend is endless. That is something that needs to be looked at.

I brought forward a bill which would have ensured more accountability for advertising, where leaders of a political party or executive officers of non-profits or other organizations, third parties, would have to take responsibility for the advertising that takes place, and doing what takes place in the United States and other jurisdictions. It is called “stand by my ad”. For example, an ad would have to be followed by leaders stating that they approve of that particular ad.

There are many different types of reforms where I would like to see legislation required. With respect to this particular piece of legislation, the member brought it forward and it went to PROC. There was a substantial change made to the original proposal. It talked about each party voting after an election on whether to adopt some of the specific provisions.

That was a substantial concession that the member had actually taken into consideration, in essence allowing for the individual caucuses to determine whether or not they would like to proceed on some of the initiatives that the member actually put into this private member's bill.

When I look at the bill overall, there is a great deal of merit to it. I am not 100% sure, in terms of having been someone who supported the bill to go to committee, wanting to see what would take place at committee. I was hoping to see a couple of different things and maybe a little more debate occurring.

All in all, with this particular amendment, the member has made it that much easier for members on all sides to support his bill. I suspect the bill will ultimately pass. I do applaud him for taking what I believe is not an easy path, trying to reform the institution or system in a proactive fashion. I do give him credit for having the courage and the tenacity to continue to push some very important issues that I am sure Canadians will agree with.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

February 18th, 2015 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

Oak Ridges—Markham Ontario

Conservative

Paul Calandra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate today on Bill C-586, Reform Act, 2014.

I, too, would like to echo the comments of previous speakers by acknowledging the member for Wellington—Halton Hills for the hard work, dedication and spirit of collaboration he has brought to this process on the bill. The spirit of collaboration is a major reason why we have reached this point today.

There have been a number of changes to the bill from its first iteration, Bill C-559, as amended, and is much different than the original version that was introduced.

I believe the changes that were made are extremely important because they recognize that parties must have the freedom to organize themselves as they see fit. What works well for one party may not work well for another. A one-size-fits-all approach does not work, which is why I fully support the bill as amended by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

With my time, I will focus on some international examples that are relevant to the content of the reform act, 2014.

It is clear that in developing this legislation the member for Wellington—Halton Hills looked at current practices in Canada and examples in other countries with a Westminster form of government.

On the review of party leadership issue, the hon. member referenced the existence of rules in other countries to empower caucuses. If we examine the international examples, it is quite remarkable to note the number of different rules that exist in different countries and among different parties. In fact, there are about as many different approaches to issues such as leadership review as there are political parties.

For example, in the United Kingdom, all of the major parties have different rules for leadership removal. For the United Kingdom Conservative Party, a vote by 15% of Tory MPs can trigger a leadership review and a leader can be dismissed upon a majority of those voting by secret ballot.

For the Labour Party, a leadership contest can be triggered if a challenger collects nominations from 20% of Labour MPs. The party leader is replaced if the challenger receives a majority of votes using an alternative vote system in an electoral college consisting of Labour MPs, members of the European Parliament, party members and members of affiliate organizations.

The Liberal Democrats take yet a different approach. A leadership contest can be triggered by a majority vote of Liberal Democratic MPs or if 75 local party organizations write to the party president calling for a leadership contest.

Political parties in Australia and New Zealand also have rules that set out thresholds for the review of party leaders. However, as is the case with the United Kingdom, the rules are different from party to party.

The rules of the Australian Labour Party, for example, require the support of 75% of caucus members to initiate a leadership review of a governing leader or 60% to initiate a review of a leader in opposition. These thresholds were increased in 2013 from the previous threshold of 30% because the party believed the threshold was too low and contributed to leadership instability.

To give an example from New Zealand, the rules of the New Zealand Labour Party provide that a leadership election is triggered upon a vote of 50% plus one of caucus members. The party also has an automatic leadership review by caucus after three months of a general election, where the votes of 60% of caucus members are required to endorse the leader.

The experiences in Australia and New Zealand, like the U.K., show that a one-size-fits-all solution does not work. It is important that parties have the flexibility to determine the rules that govern them.

Bill C-586, as amended by the Procedure and House Affairs Standing Committee, respects that important principle.

Mr. Speaker, I believe there are important lessons that can be taken from the international examples. First, there is the simple fact that while rules do exist in other Westminster systems, they differ quite a lot from party to party. The example of all parties in the U.K. shows us just how varied approaches can be to the same issue in the same country.

In some cases, the votes on leadership reviews are taken only amongst MPs, while in other cases parties involve the wider party membership in these decisions. There are also considerable differences in how those votes are conducted.

It is also important to note that the rules that govern the parties have changed over time and I suspect they will continue to evolve in the future. This is best exemplified by the dramatic differences in the threshold for party leader review made by the Australian Labour Party in 2013.

It is important that political parties have the freedom to make their decisions about what type of approach they would like to pursue. Bill C-586, as amended, would do this.

I would like to take a moment to turn to our government's strong, democratic reform record. We walk the walk when it comes to empowering members of Parliament to bring forward ideas and issues important to them and to their constituents. For instance, the Globe and Mail analyzed 162,000 votes over almost two years which showed that members on this side of the House were far more likely to vote independently from their party than were opposition MPs. As well, more backbench MPs have passed bills into law through this majority Conservative Parliament than in over 100 years, the time for which such records are available.

The bill of the member for Wellington—Halton Hills has precipitated important discussion and debate on matters that affect us all. I have listened carefully to the views of my colleagues on both sides of the House regarding the changes that have been made to the reform act, 2014. In my opinion, the changes that were made have improved the bill and take into account concerns that have been raised.

For this reason, I urge all my colleagues to support the bill.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

February 18th, 2015 / 6 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-586, a bill that my good friend and colleague, the member for Wellington—Halton Hills, has brought forward.

I would like to thank him for his fortitude in putting together the bill. If we are honest with each other, no one likes change, and change in this place is always hard to attain. So I thank him for staying with it. Our hon. colleague across the way, the member for Burnaby—Douglas, mentioned this as well. I think a lot of people in this place, knowing how the process works and how time-consuming it can be, find it discouraging at times. Therefore, I thank the member for staying with it.

I would also like to thank the Minister for Democratic Reform, the member for Nepean—Carleton. He was instrumental in working with the member for Wellington—Halton Hills in making changes to or tweaking the bill in a way that made it acceptable to the House. From the comments I have heard here, I think it is a very strong bill and that it will get very strong support. That is a good thing.

I will speak to some of the amendments to the bill, because I think they are key. However, before I do that we should go back in history and get to why we are where we are today and why we need some changes.

We cannot all be ministers. We cannot all be leaders of parties, but we are all members of Parliament. Whether I am a backbencher MP, the prime minister, or the leader of the opposition, my vote is the same. It is the same as yours, Mr. Speaker, when you are in your chair. We all have that vote. Our people send us here for that. Therefore, we have to protect it.

In about 1969 or 1970, former Prime Minister Trudeau made a statement that, if I had been a member that day, I am sure I would have been offended by. He basically said that backbenchers were nobodies. I think that was wrong then and is still wrong today. Anything we can do to empower all of us in this place is very important. That is what taxpayers around the country want.

Quite often in the House, because most people only see what happens at question period, they believe that we are always at odds with each other. In this debate and on some other bills we have had, of course there are differences of opinions and philosophies and that type of thing. We need to thank the member for being flexible enough to work with other parties to get something that was acceptable to everyone in Bill C-586. To hear that around this place is very nice and good to see.

The amendments I will speak to were adopted by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I want to explain how these modify the bill.

The member removed the requirement from the bill and Canada Elections Act that party leaders sign a candidate's nomination papers. That has never been an issue in the party that I belong to. Someone has to make sure that all the i's are dotted and the t's crossed. I cannot say that about all parties. Sometimes there is interference in nominations. At the end of the day, what will be improved by this bill is grassroots democracy, as people from the ridings will have more of a say in this. The changes under the bill would confer that power to nomination officers. Those changes would give that authority to a person or persons authorized by the party. Again, that change was made at the procedure and House affairs committee.

This amendment would remove overly prescriptive and outdated provisions and would provide political parties with greater flexibility. Parties, for the first time, would be able to determine their own processes for candidate sign-off, and that is a good thing. They can choose who to vest this power in rather than having it prescribed by law. That is a very key and positive change.

In addition, the committee adopted an amendment that would require the chief agent of each political party to submit a written report to the Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Canada containing the names of the persons designated by the party to endorse prospective candidates. The report would be submitted no later than 25 days before the polling date. This would ensure that Elections Canada and returning officers would be informed of who was authorized by the party to endorse prospective candidates, et cetera.

A consequential amendment was also adopted that would require a party to submit, within 10 days of the writ being issued for a general election, a statement with the names of the persons authorized to endorse prospective candidates in the election to the CEO of Elections Canada. These amendments to the Canada Elections Act are in keeping with the spirit of the reform proposed by the member for Wellington—Halton Hills.

There are a couple of amendments to the Parliament of Canada Act. I want to talk about those provisions and how they would change. The original proposals in the reform act sparked quite a lot of interest and debate in the House. One of the concerns raised was whether it was appropriate to legislatively regulate the governance of party caucuses, and it was a good discussion to have. In September of last year, the sponsor of the bill announced an amendment that would have each caucus decide whether it would be subject to the caucus rules outlined in the bill instead of the rules being imposed on it.

These amendments were made by the procedure and House affairs committee at the committee stage of the bill. They require that at the first meeting after a general election that each party caucus hold a separate vote to determine whether it wants to adopt the rules outlined in the bill regarding four things: the expulsion and readmission of a member; the election of a caucus chair; leadership reviews; and the election of an interim leader, should that be necessary. This would mean that four separate votes, one for each of these processes, would take place. One caucus may decide to adopt all of these processes while another may decide to adopt none of them or only the rules relating to leadership. What is important is that it is the decision of the caucus, and that is very valuable.

There are some other minor amendments and changes, but to wrap up, I want to pass on my support. The day that the member for Wellington—Halton Hills announced he would table this bill, I was at the press conference, and I have supported him from day one. I am very proud of that, and I will continue to support him. I urge all members in the House to stand in the House next Wednesday and support this.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

February 18th, 2015 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to thank my colleague from Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound for his support for the bill. I would also like to thank my colleagues in the caucus, including the members for Leeds—Grenville and Edmonton—Leduc, and numerous other members, including the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, for working with me on making amendments to the bill. I would like to thank the dozens of my colleagues in the caucus who both seconded the bill and supported it throughout the entire process.

Members opposite, the members for Toronto—Danforth and Burnaby—Douglas, provided very constructive advice on how to improve the bill. The member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, right from the day I tabled the bill in the House, was very supportive of it. The member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville also provided some very good advice.

Most particularly, I would like to thank those colleagues of mine who did not support the original bill when it first came out. I want to thank them for their patience and for the advice they gave me. I listened to their concerns. The committee heard their views, and we have incorporated those concerns in this bill. I want to thank them for their patience and advice over the last year. As the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound said, change is never easy. Sometimes change is difficult. I want to thank them truly for that patience.

I just want to make two quick points in closing. The first point is that I believe strongly that our society's greatest invention is Parliament. More specifically, I believe that our society's greatest invention is this elected House of Commons. Even more specifically, it is this elected House of Commons and its democratic checks and balances on power.

If we were to look around the world today at the societies that have the greatest prosperity, the greatest justice, the greatest social outcomes, and the most stability, they are all liberal democracies with democratic checks and balances on power. That is no accident. It is these very checks and balances on power, democratic in nature, that have produced the kind of wealth, stability, and prosperity we have come to enjoy as citizens in the modern west.

That is why I believe in the principles of this bill so strongly. We need to strengthen these democratic checks and balances on power. If we can do so, we will ensure that the prosperity, stability, and outcomes we have inherited from generations past will be passed on to the generations to come in this great country.

The second point I want to make is that time is short. We are mere months away from the adjournment of this Parliament and the eventual dissolution of this Parliament in the general election. If the bill is successfully adopted at third reading next week, we have a mere four months for the Senate to consider this bill and to adopt it into law.

My message to the Senate is that this bill must be adopted into law. This is a bill that concerns the democratic reform of this elected House of Commons. It is a bill about this House of Commons and how its members govern themselves and organize themselves. This bill is about how this House of Commons elects its own members. For that very reason, I believe that the Senate should expeditiously and swiftly pass this bill.

Constitutionally, we are chambers that are masters of our own destiny. The Senate should respect those constitutional divisions of powers, quickly pass this bill, and strengthen the democratic checks and balances that we have in this place so that we can pass along to future generations a Parliament that is strengthened and prepared to deal with the challenges of the 21st century.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

February 3rd, 2015 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

moved that the bill be read a third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to debate Bill C-586, the reform act.

I would first like to thank the members of the procedure and House affairs committee for their work on this bill with respect to all the witnesses they heard from and all the testimony they received. In particular, I want to thank the chair of that committee, the member for Elgin—Middlesex—London, for helping shepherd the bill through committee before the Christmas adjournment and reporting it back to the House as soon as possible after we resumed sitting in January. Therefore, I thank all members of the committee for their work in that regard.

As was mentioned at report stage, the bill has been amended. However, I put it to the House that the bill remains true to the principles upon which it was based when I originally introduced it last April.

The amended bill incorporates the same principles as the original. It makes it possible to give the responsibility for nominations back to the riding associations; it stipulates that caucuses must vote to choose their chair and to expel members; and it sets out the rules that a caucus must follow for a leadership review.

The bill in front of us, as amended, does keep the principles of the original bill.

There has been much debate about the bill and the amendments to it. To those who would say that the bill should not have been amended, I say this. The bill, as amended, is not perfect but it is still very good. In this case, if not amended, the bill would not pass the House. The important point for people to know is that in this case perfection would have been the enemy of the good, because it is clear, and I think all members of the House will acknowledge, that had the bill not been amended it would not have any chance of passage through the House of Commons or the Senate. As it is stands before us today, as amended, the bill has a good chance of being passed through the House, through the Senate, and becoming law before the dissolution of Parliament and the next general election.

I would like to take some time to dwell on what the amended bill would do. For the first time in 45 years, since October 1970, the bill would remove the statutory requirement that party leaders approve party candidates in general elections. It would also mandate that after each general election, each House of Commons caucus, as its first item of business, would vote on the rules that govern that party caucus. In other words, after the next general election, MPs will be given the vote in respect of their role as elected members of caucus in this Parliament. With that vote, elected MPs can choose to empower themselves or choose to give that power to party leaders. If the bill becomes law, our first item of official business when we first meet as party caucuses will be to vote either to adopt, reject, or modify four sets of rules that will govern party caucuses, the first being the election and removal of the caucus chair, the second being the expulsion or readmission of caucus members, the third being the review and removal of the party leader, and the fourth being the election of the interim leader.

Throughout the life of this Parliament there have been examples of these rules being utilized in the last four years. However, they have never been clear in their exercise and seem largely based on circumstance rather than clear guidelines and clearly defined rules.

It would be a significant change from the status quo to remove a party leader's veto in the Canada Elections Act, which has been in place since October 1970, and the empowerment of caucuses to decide, as their first order of business after each and every general election, how they will structure and govern themselves.

I would like to dwell a bit on why I believe this legislation, as amended, is so important.

It is clear that we have a problem in Ottawa. We have a problem in Parliament. We have a problem in the House of Commons. This should not be news to anyone. The fact of the matter is that over the last number of decades, barrels of ink have been spilled documenting this problem. The problem quite simply is the following.

There has been a change in our Westminster parliamentary system of government, a change away from a legislature and a House of Commons that was empowered by Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine, a change away from the principles of responsible government that the Governor in Council was not accountable back to colonial masters in London but rather to an elected legislature in this House of Commons.

Those rule changes have created a fundamental problem, and that fundamental problem is the centralization of power in party leaders. This problem is not the result of any one party or any one leader. There is plenty of blame to spread around in this regard. It is not a problem that has been in the making in recent years, or even the last decade. This problem has been decades in the making. I referenced October 1970. It was one little change innocently taken in that year that amended the Canada Elections Act and gave party leaders the unprecedented authority to approve party candidates in general elections. Today, to my knowledge, there is no other western democracy where party leaders by law have the power to approve or to veto party candidates. It is an astounding power that we have given to party leaders, and this is just one of a myriad of examples of changes to our system that have taken place and created this problem of centralization.

As I mentioned, we have come a long way from the loose fish of Sir John A. Macdonald's era, the loose fish that he referred to in referencing his fellow elected members of Parliament in the legislatures post-1867.

Party leaders themselves have acknowledged this problem of the centralization of power. John Turner, a former prime minister, at the most recent Liberal policy convention talked about the need to remove the statutory veto power of party leaders over party candidates. He supported a resolution on the floor of the convention. That resolution did not pass but he spoke strongly in favour of removing that statutory power.

Preston Manning is another party leader who has long advocated for democratic reforms to this place. Leaders like Paul Martin campaigned in 2004 on addressing the democratic deficit and Joe Clark long talked about the need to respect the parliamentary process in the House of Commons. Former MPs, like the former occupant of that chair, former Speaker Peter Milliken, have spoken in favour of the reforms in the reform act.

As I mentioned, despite all the barrels of ink spilled on documenting this problem, all of the columnists who have written about this problem, all of the academics like Donald Savoie or Ned Franks, all of the political parties that have promised change, little if anything has happened. The time has come to act. We must act because Canadians are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the state of our democratic institutions.

This bill is so important because if we look at the prosperity that we have inherited, if we look at the stability of our society, if we look at the justice in our society, if we look at the social outcomes, they are not an accident. I say this because if we look around the world today, the societies that are the most prosperous, the most just, the most stable, the societies with the best outcomes, are all democracies, and that is no accident.

The very foundation of all this prosperity and stability is our democratic institutions of government. If we are going to preserve this prosperity, if we are going to sustain it against the rise of semi-totalitarian states like China, against the rise of energy powerhouses like Russia, against the rise of many other developing economies, it will start with reinvigorating the foundations of our society.

At the heart of these democratic institutions is a series of checks and balances on power.

I read an op-ed piece by Stewart Prest, who is a graduate student at the University of British Columbia. I want to quote him, because what he said is so succinct and important as to why this bill should be supported. He said:

Politics is not simply about the pursuit and exercise of power; it is about its regulation. Democracy is as concerned with the presence of effective checks on the use of political power as with the occasional elections that determine who wields it.

That is why this bill is important. It is because, at its heart, it proposes to strengthen the checks and balances in our system of government. It proposes to rebalance power between elected MPs and party leaders.

Recently in the media there has been talk about the need to strengthen parliamentary oversight of the security and intelligence apparatus in this country, and I agree. We need strengthened oversight of these institutions of state that are going to surveil and monitor terrorist activities, but strengthened oversight starts with the reform act. Standing committees cannot be providing proper oversight of government institutions of state in respect of surveillance and security if those parliamentary standing committees are being controlled, through the whips' lists, by party leaders. There cannot be proper parliamentary oversight if the membership and chairs of those committees are appointed through the whips' lists by the party leaders.

If we want to have proper parliamentary oversight, as many have suggested, as they do in the United Kingdom through its standing committee system, there needs to be the secret ballot election of committee members and the secret ballot election of committee chairs. Then there will be truly independent legislative standing committees that will provide that check and balance on the power of the state.

However, to move to that system of secret ballots for committee chairs and committee members, we need to rebalance power between the party leader and the party caucus, and that is why this bill is so very important.

On this 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, on the eve of a springtime when the House is very likely to adopt Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism act, which I support, on the eve of the dissolution of Parliament for a general election, when we will be adding another 30 MPs to the House of Commons, we need to restore the balance of power between elected MPs and the party leader.

I encourage all members to support this bill at its report stage and third reading vote, with their colleagues in the Senate, so that we can ensure that this bill not only passes the House and the Senate but becomes law before the dissolution of Parliament and the next general election.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

February 3rd, 2015 / 6:35 p.m.
See context

NDP

Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Wellington—Halton Hills for what is becoming the end of a marathon on this bill and for the leadership he has shown.

I have a simple and fairly pointed question, which is this. One of the amendments that has gone through committee and is now part of the package is that when a caucus meets after an election and votes on the rules, the rules will now be binding, which will mean that we cannot go back on those rules for the entire Parliament, until dissolved. There is something ironic about that, because the whole framework has now been made non-mandatory with respect to parties having to choose the rules or not. However, it is a ratchet; if the NDP caucus chooses a rule that is not one of the ones on the menu, and three years later says that it was a mistake and wants to improve it, make it more “Chong-like”, it cannot do that.

What would the member say to the insertion of that requirement to create a ratchet so that all parties would now be bound not to change these rules for four years? It strikes me as a rather odd insertion in the bill.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

February 3rd, 2015 / 6:35 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will simply respond by saying that I am looking at the bill as a whole package. The bill has a number of amendments in it, and I support the bill as amended, including the provision the member opposite has referenced.

At the end of day, as I said at the outset, perfection in this regard was the enemy of the good, and the bill would not have passed in its original form. That was clear. We now have a chance of passing this bill through the House of Commons and the Senate before the next election. With these amendments, I believe we have secured the support necessary to do exactly that.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

February 3rd, 2015 / 6:35 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the hon. member for his work on the bill. As my colleague pointed out, the marathon session we have been in about the rules and how we deal with them and what is possible under this legislation has certainly been a worthwhile one.

What is possible to achieve that balance between members of Parliament and leaders of the party? We have a free vote on this. I personally liked the bill before. I could have dealt with small changes, but we have some major changes here, and that is fine too.

This may be an unrelated question. The member has been a champion of reforming question period. Will he continue, in the same spirit, with those changes as well?

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

February 3rd, 2015 / 6:40 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe that all good things will flow from this reform act if it is adopted by the House and the Senate. I believe strongly that if we can put the bill into force, into law, that a number of other constructive changes to the chamber will take place, changes such as the reform of question period to make it more meaningful and more empowering for individual members but also changes to the standing committee system that will assure greater independence for legislative standing committees to hold the government to account.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

February 3rd, 2015 / 6:40 p.m.
See context

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member on getting this far with a bill this ambitious. It has been a great pleasure working with him as the minister responsible for the subject material. The product he has put together, in combination with the committee, which also deserves congratulations, is commendable.

In particular, the member was criticized for trying to impose by law rules on parties and caucuses, but he retorted that the law already imposed a rule that gave leaders a legal veto over candidacies. That provision, paragraph 67(4)(c), came into effect in 1970.

The member is known for his knowledge of parliamentary history. The Prime Minister has said that he is prepared to support the repeal of that section, in other words, to remove his own legal veto over party candidacies. To the hon. member's knowledge, is he the first sitting prime minister to support the removal of the legal veto for party leaders?

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

February 3rd, 2015 / 6:40 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, to my knowledge, the Prime Minister is the first sitting prime minister to support the removal of this statutory veto, so I am very happy that the Prime Minister is supporting the bill. I hope that with his support, the bill will have a speedy passage through the upper chamber, the Senate of Canada. It is important to note, for senators watching this debate, that the Prime Minister does support the bill.

I would also add that in the long run, there are a number of other reforms that are necessary for political parties. They are quasi public institutions, as the member knows, and ultimately, we need to bring further reforms to democratize parties and to bring them out of the shadows, into the open, with greater accountability and greater transparency, for they are publicly funded institutions.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

February 3rd, 2015 / 6:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would simply like to address where we might go in the future with respect to Bill C-586. By that I mean, once it hopefully gets to the Senate and becomes law, before dissolution of this Parliament, what could a future Parliament want to do to improve it?

Where these comments are coming from is that in committee the NDP would have preferred to see considerably bolstered transparency on the new model that the bill represents. The new bill would require after each election that each House of Commons caucus, as its first order of business effectively, vote on each of the following four rules. These are rules that are written in some detail in our colleague's bill. First is the review and removal of the party leader. Second is the election of an interim leader, if in fact the leader has been removed. Third is the election and removal of caucus chairs. Fourth is the expulsion and readmission to caucus of a caucus member. After each election, that is what is to take place.

It has become an optional model rule system as opposed to a mandatory system, so each party would look at the rule and say whether it wants it or not. It would then have to report to the Speaker what its decision was on each of those rules, yes or no.

I will come back to that basic framework in a second. I did want to also note one of the things that has changed in the bill. It was just the subject of the exchange between the minister and our colleague. Paragraph 67(4)(c) of the Canada Elections Act says the leader of the party must sign the papers of candidates for them to run in the name of the party. That rule would now be changed. It would now be a person designated by each registered political party. It is very important to know that it again creates an optional rule. Each party would decide for itself.

However, it is also important to note that—not to go too far into nirvana as the minister of state wanted to—it would no longer mandate and make only the leader of the party responsible for that signature, but it would not prohibit it. Therefore, it would still be possible for a party to say it would ask the party leader to do the signature. That would not be fully in the spirit of the change, but it would be fully within the law. I want to make sure that we do not get too carried away with the accolades being directed in the direction of the Prime Minister by the minister.

With respect to the system that would be put in place by the bill, the optional model rule system, I have said on several occasions—including in the House at second reading when the issue was knowing in advance that our colleague wanted to see these changes—that a spotlighting role for making sure parties take responsibility for at least deciding on each of these rules would be welcome, and it could actually have a beneficial follow-on impact in other areas of how we try to produce a bit of transparency without over-regulation. We can see how that could work in a few other areas as well.

I firmly believe that the transparency function of spotlighting could be beneficial, saying at least a party has to decide and be accountable for a decision once it has decided to reject the model rule, not the mandatory rule that is in the act. That said, I do feel that our colleague was basically put in a position to maybe concede a bit too much on the transparency front. Therefore, in committee, we did move several amendments to make things more transparent. I am here to signal that, when the time comes in a future Parliament, I certainly will be pushing for strengthening the transparency parts of the bill.

Let me go through the five amendments we would have like to have seen. The first is that at the moment the amended bill that is before us requires the chief electoral officer to be informed by each party, effectively 25 days from polling day, which person is responsible for signing off on candidates.

We would like to have seen that within a month after each election, every party must designate which institutional position has that function, so that for the next three to four years everybody knows where the rubber hits the road, who actually has that function, rather than it being potentially up in the air until right into the election and then, lo and behold, the system says that the party members must say who the person is.

Obviously, it is compatible that once the institutional actors are designated, then 25 days before polling day they will know who is occupying that position and then further inform the Chief Electoral Officer. We would very much have liked to have seen that change for greater transparency and for, I would say, a bit more pressure on parties to ensure that the person or persons chosen to make the candidate endorsement decisions are appropriate in an evolving democracy.

The second amendment is that at the moment, in the amended bill we have before us, each party is to tell the Speaker whether it has adopted each one of these four rules, but there is no specification that this must be in writing. It could easily be verbal, and obviously that could mean standing in the House and it would be recorded by Hansard, but there is no requirement even for that. It could be quite an informal conveying of this information, at least by the language of the bill. We wanted to ensure that it was in writing so that the beginning of the paper trail could be set up, which itself could then turn into greater transparency through one or two of the other amendments we had suggested, which is to ensure that when the decisions are made, the media and the public are in a position to know they have been made.

The third amendment is that at the moment it is now written to say whether the party did or did not adopt the model rule. Did the party adopt the rule that says there must be a caucus chair elected after the election, and then re-elected after the next election? The NDP is probably going to vote against that rule because we elect our caucus chair every year. We also have a rule that says there must be gender equity so that at least one of the chair or the deputy chair must be a woman. We will have no choice but to vote against it, but we will have a rule. However, there is nothing in the bill to say the party must report to the Speaker what rule it uses instead of the one that it has rejected. From a transparency perspective, I would like to see this changed in the future, so that not only does the party report yes or no, but it says what the rule is.

The fourth amendment is that the Speaker receives this information, but then what does he or she do with it. There is no specification in the bill that the Speaker has to do anything in particular; stand in the House and announce it or whatever. At minimum, and perhaps even more important than standing in the House and announcing what the Speaker has heard from each party, is to have a tailored accessible website where each party's decision is recorded, where journalists and the informed public know where to go and where the spotlighting effect can be increased by virtue of the recording on the website of where each party stands. That would of course be enhanced if each party also has to say what rule it has adopted in place of the one it may have rejected.

The final amendment goes back to the question I asked my colleague earlier. There is something extremely ironic in that a lot of pressure was put to change the model from binding rules to an optional-rules approach, a model-rules approach. Yet when push comes to shove, layered on top of this through the government's efforts, is a rule that says once a party's members have voted they cannot vote again. Each party is locked into its vote, and it is binding on the party until the dissolution of Parliament. There cannot be any revisiting.

If the members learn through all kinds of pressure from society that they took the wrong decision and, let us say, the Conservative Party votes not to have a rule electing its caucus chair, for four years the Conservatives are stuck with that rule. No amount of agitation within the Conservative caucus will allow that rule to change. I found that to be a particularly odd insertion and almost ironic in light of the fact that the whole bill is organized around the optional nature of the rules, and yet once a party has chosen which rule to take, it is bound to it. I would certainly want that to be removed in a future Parliament as well.

This is a bill I personally will be supporting. I have been supporting it from the beginning, and I will be recommending the same to my colleagues.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

February 3rd, 2015 / 6:50 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, as we have said before, we have spent a long time on this. This has been more than about passing a law. It has been an actual grand national discussion on parliamentary reform, one that I welcome.

Everybody here should welcome it, whether they vote for this or not. It is something that opened our eyes to many things. Many Canadians have asked me about this in my role as critic for democratic reform. They always ask me what brought this on and how bad is it. I said that it was bad when it started in 1970. As the mover of the bill pointed out, in 1970 the signature of a leader was required. That has caused angst in backrooms and front rooms, in all political parties, for quite some time. Former prime minister John Turner made mention of that. It was a very valid point.

In the very beginning, some people said that it may have been overly prescriptive, to the point where it quashed the rights of a political party to decide itself who their leader would be and that its rights were diminished as a result of this legislation.

I thought that was being a little excessive. Some people wanted to amend it so it would be less so, and it has been amended to a great degree. There is that option at the very beginning, once Parliament reconvenes.

I share some of the concerns of my colleague from the NDP about the fact that beyond that one vote after an election, we have the same process where we do, by secret ballot, elect our chairs. There is some concern there, but not too much. The process is that we have a secret ballot to elect the caucus chair. That is a great concept, and I agree with that.

There was not only a movement and discussion here, it was also discussed through social media. Just a short time ago, there was a tweet from TheReformAct. A Twitter account was set up around this, and that fuelled a discussion. I enjoy the comments on this, whether people were talking about the stage the bill was at or what was being debated. It was very illustrative, and I congratulate the authors of this for doing so.

I will go back to some of the comments from my colleague, the mover of this bill, as amended. The amendments remain true to the principles of this bill in many instances, which is why I recommended to the leader from the beginning that we should have a free vote on this.

Although some people might not think this is a dramatic change, if the parties do not elect to do the things that are recommended in this bill, then people will ask what is the point of all this. There is a point to this.

It is not just about the legality. It is not about the written rule on the legislation paper itself. This is a narrative, the spirit of which is parliamentary reform. I am going to quote the mover of the bill once more. He talked about the balance of MPs and leaders. He said that perfection was the enemy of the good.

People watch us on television. A lot of people tell me that they try to watch, but that we get bogged down in details about this and that subamendment, and so on and so forth. I agree.

As one person once noted, and I cannot remember who said this but it is a good quote, that law-making is like sausage-making. People like to eat sausages but they certainly do not want to know how it is made.

In this particular case, despite all the details we have brought out, the fundamental debate was about a balance achieved and the importance of the House that we are in right now. On the prominence of the House of Commons, it is less prominent than it once was among the public. When television was introduced here many years ago, back in the 1970s, it was supposed to shed a light on what went on here, because it is the most powerful institution in the country. Over that time, it has not.

I assume that people back then talked about what happened in the House of Commons a lot more than they do today. One of the reasons is because of the things that this bill is trying to change.

The member earlier mentioned that the cabinet is no longer responsible to our colonial fathers but to the legislators here, and the executive power that resides in here as well is answerable to this institution. We battle over certain bills time and time again over that very issue, but a lot of people in the public are not aware of this right now. What this debate has done is bring it out before the public for them to see how the House operates and, more importantly, how the role of the House has been diminished, as well as see who chooses us to come here, how we behave once we are here, and how a lot of the conventions that we have here are codified as well.

We have the Standing Orders. These are the large books that we have, which we call Standing Orders, but a lot of the other stuff is based on convention. In other words, things that we have done in the past and are now accustomed to are not codified, but we practise them now because we have in the past.

I mentioned the reform of question period in my question to the member, and I hope that it comes up again. This is my own personal opinion, but in the spirit of parliamentarians here, I like to put my personal opinion on the record. Question period desperately needs to be reformed. The rules of question period are not as much codified as they are a tradition.

We have a list, which the whips provide, and we go down the list for 45 minutes. It is the same for statements by members, which precede question period for 15 minutes. Where is the flexibility by which we can rise in the House and ask about our own riding or own area of expertise, or announce something that has happened in our riding based on that?

There was a kerfuffle earlier last year about that, based on the subject matter, but the debate was such that the public started to take notice. They started to take notice by saying that they always thought that in the House of Commons, once someone is elected, they can pretty much stand up at any time and be recognized by the Speaker. Well, that is not always the case. Really, the only time is when they call for questions and comments after a debate. Other than that, it is according to a list that is provided.

In some cases, that is fine. If there is a debate, there is the minister and the critic, and others fall into line, depending on their interests.

Quite frankly, though, sometimes we should consider the fact that we need to be far more flexible in the House. It is the spirit of this motion to do that, so I want to applaud the member for doing this and for the changes that were made, such as replacing the party leader in paragraph 67(4)(c) with a person to be designated by each registered political party. Before, it was problematic. I again congratulate the member, because he listened to some of the concerns, even from our own party, about the fact that we would have a person in the riding, and only that person. Now we could designate a person that we desire. That was accepted, if not by the vast majority of our party, at least by the majority, who said that it would be fine and that we would do that following the election.

There is also the review and removal of the party leader. That is something that we can elect to do after the election. There is the election of the interim leader and the election and removal of the caucus chair, as I mentioned earlier, as well as the expulsion and readmission of a caucus member.

That is more codified than it ever was before, and it is overdue. Hopefully, we can keep changing it—not drastically, but so that when something comes up in the future, what we can do as a Parliament is change certain rules here, maybe even some of the things that were brought up by the member and the critic for the NDP. Some of them were valid.

That is the point of this whole debate. The narrative is that in 1970, they brought in a rule that they felt was necessary, but it was incredibly restrictive. Although some people think that this private member's bill is overly prescriptive, the narrative is one that is sound and just, and I respect the member for bringing this in.

This is a free vote, but I am proud to say that as the member of Parliament for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, I will enthusiastically support it on third reading.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

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

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am so pleased to stand today and speak on my friend's bill, Bill C-586.

Before I get to my specific comments, I want to thank the member for Wellington—Halton Hills for his hard work. I know that this has not been easy to do, and sometimes it was a case of friend against friend discussing the bill. However, he brought dedication, spirit, and collaboration to the endeavour, which is not always shown in this place. When we do take the time to listen to the views of others, we sometimes get it right, or, as the member has said, it is perhaps not perfect, but we do take steps to get there. The hon. member has shown an extraordinary openness to discuss and, some might say, compromise, but at least he worked together with others here in the House. That certainly helped the bill make it through committee.

I will begin my comments with a brief outline of how we have arrived at this point.

The first iteration of the bill was introduced late 2013. After consultation with colleagues and many discussions among ourselves, and not even with the member sometimes, the member for Wellington—Halton Hills introduced a modified version of the bill in the spring of 2014.

Since April, many in the House have reviewed, considered, and discussed the revised bill. In its original form, the bill would have made substantial changes to the Westminster system of governance, which needed to be carefully considered. I personally spent a lot of time talking to the member for Wellington—Halton Hills and others. We talked about proposed changes, and through the summer I realized that while I might not like the bill entirely, boy there was some good stuff in it, as the member said, and so we had to work to get it here.

My colleague, the member for Wellington—Halton Hills, worked with members on both sides of the House to improve the bill, and in September he announced further changes. It was also announced that political parties would remain in charge of their own nomination rules and have freedom to choose who approves candidates, which is such a large step. I do not think members recognize how large a step that is. This would allow caucuses to determine whether they wanted to opt in or opt out of some of these processes.

I think there may be some initial fears about some of the changes that have been suggested, but as the member has said, we cannot reach for the stars without taking a couple of steps forward, which is exactly how this would happen. We cannot have it all at once, but we will never finish the trip if we do not take the first steps.

I was pleased to see some of the further changes. I listened intently to the debate in the House at second reading, and then the bill came to committee. It is the changes that were made at the procedure and House affairs committee that I will focus the rest of my comments on.

As the chair of the committee, I have been there a long time, and the rules of this place, as the member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor said, sometimes get in the way. People do not understand why a rule is there and why a member cannot just stand up and do something about it.

I thank the member for Toronto—Danforth for his great help at committee on this, but as he said, the procedures are what run this place, and if we write the right rules the place will run better, and if we write bad rules it will not. The member for Wellington—Halton Hills has it somewhere nearer to right, I might chance to say. However, as the chair of the committee, I must take a non-partisan role throughout all of the points I have discussed so far. When the bill gets to committee, I must help the committee move it as we can. Personally, I had some great thoughts as to what could be done, but we had to let it get there, and I thank the member for the kind comments about the work the committee did.

I will talk about some of the rules in the bill.

Regarding the role of the party leader to endorse candidates, as I said, it is a huge step forward when we can designate the person who would do that. If we take out of the law the provision that it is the party leader who endorses candidates, will that be a great change? We will see. As each party grows into the system, we will find out.

As I said, section 67(4)(c) of the Canada Elections Act currently requires candidates to have the signed approval of their party leader. That could now change, and we expressed that we hope it will.

A number of commentators have pointed out that the nomination contests represent the most fundamental element of our democratic system; that is, the people back home choose who is going to run to represent them back home. It is important that sometimes the party stays out of the way on that. This bill would help do that.

The original version of Bill C-586 would have amended the Canada Elections Act to dictate a more elaborate process, but we have now got it to where each party can choose its own and, through a democratic procedure, make that happen. I think it is important that we have that freedom.

This led to an important debate in the House about how to uphold the independence of parties and their right to decide how to function as private organizations and, in fact, function differently from other parties. I think the internal workings of parties need to have that type of flexibility.

As amended by the procedure and House affairs committee, the requirement for the party leader's signature would be replaced with a more open requirement of the signature of a person or persons authorized by the political party to endorse prospective candidates.

Those are just words on a piece of paper, but I find them to be extremely significant in this place. When we can change the rules to make the place work better, change party rules to make parties work better, we have accomplished something.

It would also remove the presumption that only the party leader has the ultimate power to endorse candidates while, at the same time, recognizing the right of parties to tailor their process to meet the unique needs of that party. Large, small, national in scope, or not national in scope, all of these things can now be taken into consideration. We would have that flexibility when we pass this bill that we did not have the moment before.

At committee, we also discussed caucus members and party leaders. The other key aspects of Bill C-586 are the provisions for the removal and the re-admission of caucus members and the removal of party leaders. These were discussions and parts of the bill.

Unlike the role the party leader plays in endorsing prospective candidates, the rules and procedures of party caucuses have never been set out in standard. There is not something we could point to and say, “That is what they are”.

In fact, we are ploughing some new ground here, certainly, in this Parliament, giving those options for a caucus to meet immediately after election and decide what rules it would be run by in the election of caucus leaders and the election of how to admit caucus members or dismiss caucus members.

Again, having spent some time in this place, I know these are extremely large decisions. We may look back on this day and say, “I remember when we allowed ourselves to have the freedom to do exactly that”.

Parties must have the freedom to organize themselves as they see fit. Again, what works for one party may not always work well for the other. However, the bill from the member for Wellington—Halton Hills would allow that freedom between those parties.

I believe there are important changes in the reform act.

I have spent a great deal of time working with a great group of people at the procedure and House affairs committee, moving things forward that are hard to do, but sometimes they are not as rewarding as I find the bill today from the member for Wellington—Halton Hills is, and would be, going forward. We have accomplished something here and I am proud to be able to do it. I am proud, now, to able to stand in the House, remove my non-partisan hat that I have to wear at committee in order to make things happen functionally, and say that I will be standing to support this bill and I hope all other members will.

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.
See context

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.
See context

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.
See context

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.
See context

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.
See context

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.
See context

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.
See context

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.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

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.
See context

Liberal

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.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

May 27th, 2014 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

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.
See context

NDP

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, 2014Routine Proceedings

April 7th, 2014 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-586, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act (candidacy and caucus reforms).

Mr. Speaker, last September I introduced the reform act, 2013. At that time I indicated I was open to suggestions and amendments that would improve the bill. Since that bill was introduced last September, the reform act has received a great deal of attention and debate.

Over the past few months, I have listened carefully to the suggestions I received from Canadians and colleagues on both sides of the aisle. I want to thank those colleagues and Canadians who provided those suggestions, and based on their feedback and input, I have drafted a second version of the bill entitled reform act, 2014.

The amended bill reflects the same principles as the original. It gives the responsibility for appointments back to the electoral district associations. It stipulates that caucuses must vote to choose their chair and to expel members, and it sets out the rules that must be followed during leadership reviews.

In closing, this changed bill that I am introducing today would increase the number of caucus members required to trigger a vote from 15% to 20%; would mandate that those requesting a review vote of the party leader be made public; redefine a majority as that of the entire caucus rather than just those members of the caucus present; replace a locally elected nomination officer with one for each province and the territories; maintain the power of the party leaders to deregister an electoral district association; and finally, put the reviewed rules for the leader of a party in the Parliament of Canada Act rather than the Canada Elections Act.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)