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.

Alleged Process Used to Determine Liberal Caucus Membership—Speaker's RulingPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

April 11th, 2019 / 10:15 a.m.
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Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on April 9, 2019, by the hon. member for Markham—Stouffville concerning an alleged violation of section 49.8 of the Parliament of Canada Act.

In raising this matter, the member for Markham—Stouffville argued that caucus expulsions or readmissions require proper due process. According to her, members of the Liberal caucus were prevented from voting on the rules for this decision pursuant to section 49.8 of the Parliament of Canada Act. She stated explicitly that, in this case, the matter of privilege is very much about knowing which rules apply for expulsion or readmission; it is not about a possible caucus expulsion, as was the issue addressed in my ruling on April 8, 2019. In her view, although the Chair has no role in the interpretation of statutes, it does not relieve the Speaker of the responsibility to ensure that all members are aware of their rights in this House.

In response, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons informed the House that the chair of the national Liberal caucus had indeed sent the requisite letter to the Speaker, specifying that the provisions of the act regarding the expulsion and readmission of caucus members would not apply for the 42nd Parliament. This, in his view, makes this question of privilege moot and removes any confusion as to which rules apply. Furthermore, he argued that it is not the role of the Speaker to adjudicate such matters.

The issue at hand is quite simple: The Chair is being asked, as was the case with the recent ruling on a similar matter, to determine whether provisions included in the Parliament of Canada Act, as they relate to matters of caucus, have been violated. Section 49.8(1) of the act states:

At its first meeting following a general election, the caucus of every party that has a recognized membership of 12 or more persons in the House of Commons shall conduct a separate vote among the caucus members in respect of each of the following questions:

(a) whether sections 49.2 and 49.3 are to apply in respect of the caucus;

(b) whether section 49.4 is to apply in respect of the caucus;

(c) whether subsections 49.5(1) to (3) are to apply in respect of the caucus; and

(d) whether subsection 49.5(4) and section 49.6 are to apply in respect of the caucus.

These requirements, which came into force when the House adopted Bill C-586, Reform Act, 2014, in the 41st Parliament, establish processes for the expulsion and readmission of a caucus member, the election and removal of a caucus chair, leadership review and the election of an interim leader. It is the caucus of each recognized party, not the Speaker, which bears the responsibility for ensuring that these votes are held.

In fact, the only role of the Speaker is to be advised of the caucus decision. Section 49.8(5) of the act states:

49.8(5) As soon as feasible after the conduct of the votes, the chair of the caucus shall inform the Speaker of the House of Commons of the outcome of each vote.

The Speaker's role stops there. It does not, in any way, extend to interpreting the results of the votes, how the votes were taken or interpreting any other relevant provisions.

This is very much in keeping with the general restraint on Speakers when they are asked to interpret the law. Speaker Fraser stated this fundamental principle in a ruling on April 9, 1991, at page 19234 of the Debates.

...the Speaker has no role in interpreting matters of either a constitutional or legal nature.

This is in addition to another limit on its scope of authority, that is, parliamentary privilege and, thus, the authority of the Speaker is limited to the internal affairs of the House, its own proceedings. It does not extend to caucus matters. The member for Markham—Stouffville was right to state that the Speaker bears the responsibility for ensuring that all members are aware of their rights in this House. While caucuses may have some extraneous relationship to the membership of the House, it remains just that. There is nothing to suggest that its proceedings constitute or relate to a proceeding of the House.

This leaves caucuses alone with the authority to govern their internal operations. This is also made quite clear by the wording of section 49.7 of the Act which bars against judicial review, stating:

49.7 Any determination of a matter relating to the internal operations of a party by the caucus, a committee of the caucus or the caucus chair is final and not subject to judicial review.

With the full authority given to caucuses themselves in such unequivocal terms, it is clear that the Chair has no role in the interpretation or enforcement of this statute, even when members feel rudderless without what they feel would be clearly stated and understood rules.

For these reasons, the Chair is unable to conclude that the member for Markham—Stouffville has been obstructed in the fulfillment of her parliamentary functions. Accordingly, I cannot find that there is a prima facie question of privilege.

I thank all hon. members for their attention.

Democratic ReformStatements By Members

May 14th, 2015 / 2:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, on February 25, Bill C-586, the reform act, was adopted in this House by a vote of 260-17.

However, we are rapidly approaching the dissolution of this Parliament and the general election. There remains only five sitting weeks before summer adjournment. If the bill is not passed into law before the end of June, it will die.

There is an important constitutional principle at stake here. The Constitution and the Parliament of Canada Act provide for a bicameral Parliament where each chamber is independent of the other in respect of its own affairs and its own governance. The reform act concerns only the House of Commons, how the House of Commons and its caucuses are to be governed and how members are to be elected to the House of Commons.

On February 25, this House of Commons overwhelmingly pronounced on how it wants to be governed. Constitutional principles need to be respected and upheld, and the reform act needs to pass into law.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

February 25th, 2015 / 3:05 p.m.
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Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It being 3:10 p.m., pursuant to an order made on Monday, February 23, 2015, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at third reading stage of Bill C-586 under private members' business.

Call in the members.

The House resumed from February 18 consideration of the motion that Bill C-586, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act (candidacy and caucus reforms), be read the third time and passed.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

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

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-586, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act (candidacy and caucus reforms), be read the third time and passed.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

February 18th, 2015 / 5:50 p.m.
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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 / 5:30 p.m.
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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.

The House resumed from February 3 consideration of the motion that Bill C-586, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act (candidacy and caucus reforms), be read the third time and passed.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

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

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 / 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 / 6:20 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.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-586, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act (candidacy and caucus reforms), as reported (with amendments) from the committee.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

January 26th, 2015 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 29th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on Bill C-586, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act (candidacy and caucus reforms). The committee has studied the bill and has decided to report the bill back to the House with amendments.