Free our MP: support the Reform Act

Yukon MP Ryan Leef has a chance to help repair our damaged political system. But he needs some prodding in order to do it.

Yukon MP Ryan Leef has a chance to help repair our damaged political system. But he needs some prodding in order to do it.

The opportunity arises from a private member’s bill tabled this week by Michael Chong, one of Leef’s fellow Conservative backbenchers. Dubbed the Reform Act, the draft law aims to empower MPs and somewhat weaken party leaders. It could be a real game changer.

The bill would deprive party leaders of one powerful weapon they wield to keep their MPs in line – a veto over who receives the party nomination in each riding. Approval of nominations would instead revert back to individual riding associations.

The bill would also codify the rules in which a party caucus may expel and re-admit members, or give their party leader the boot. All these measures could be triggered by a petition signed by 15 per cent of caucus, followed by majority consent during a secret-ballot vote.

Chong insists his bill is not an effort to depose Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and to diffuse any such interpretation, it would not take effect until after the next election.

The aim of the bill, instead, is to restore what Chong sees as the proper workings of a Westminster parliamentary system such as our own. He points to other Westminster democracies, such as Britain, where MPs currently wield such powers.

There, prime ministers fear the real possibility of an uprising by their own backbench, and government MPs outside of cabinet aren’t afraid ask real questions of ministers in Parliament – as opposed to the canned schlock rehearsed by backbenchers like Leef.

The downfall of Leef’s predecessor, the Liberals’ Larry Bagnell, may well have played out very differently under this proposed set of rules. After voting against his party’s long-gun registry on several occasions, Bagnell eventually joined the pack, after being told that doing otherwise would result in his expulsion from caucus. Many Yukoners later cited Bagnell’s propping up of the gun registry as why they abandoned supporting him.

These new rules could also conceivably allow Leef to open his mouth without first consulting the Prime Minister’s Office – a request he’s presumably still waiting to hear back on for this matter, as his position remains unclear for now.

In fairness to Leef, some thoughtful objections to Chong’s bill have been raised. It’s inconsistent to have party leaders picked by the membership (or in the case of the Liberals, anyone who chooses to cast a vote) but expelled by caucus.

The threshold to trigger a leadership vote amounts to just a handful of MPs for small parties, like the much-diminished Liberals, creating the potential for undesirable turmoil. And parties could be vulnerable to pressure groups hijacking weak riding associations.

It’s also been noted that a majority of a party’s MPs are already empowered by parliamentary convention to oust an unwanted leader, should they choose. If our MPs are disappointing in their general spinelessness, the real solution is for the public to communicate that we expect our politicians to grow some spines.

But, given the culture of conformity within our major federal parties today, it looks like a legislative nudge may be needed for this to happen.

Leef, dutifully reading the Prime Minister’s Office talking points, notes that both the Liberals and NDP actually vote as a herd more often than the Conservatives. That may be true, but the reality is that all parties see their members vote as a bloc the overwhelming majority of the time.

Many private member’s bills fail, but the Reform Act has a real chance of becoming law, with both opposition parties making warm sounds about it, and a handful of Conservative backbenchers openly expressing their support.

Leef should, too. This is not one of those disingenuous pleas for our MP to commit political suicide by, say, voting against his government’s budget. He says he expects to be able to vote freely on the matter. He just hasn’t made up his mind.

Clear support from his constituents could help settle the matter. So if you’re unhappy with how MPs are often relegated to behaving like trained seals, with how the prime minister wields too much power, and with how party posturing tends to trump constituency concerns, take a few minutes to tell Leef to support the Reform Act.

You can reach his Ottawa office at (613) 995-9368, his Whitehorse constituency office at (867) 668-6565, or send him an email at 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks at a press conference in Whitehorse on March 30. Hanley announced three more COVID-19 cases in a release on Nov. 21. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three more COVID-19 cases, new exposure notice announced

The Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Brendan Hanley, announced three… Continue reading

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: COVID-19 strikes another blow at high-school students

They don’t show up very often in COVID-19 case statistics, but they… Continue reading

The Cornerstone housing project under construction at the end of Main Street in Whitehorse on Nov. 19. Community Services Minister John Streicker said he will consult with the Yukon Contractors Association after concerns were raised in the legislature about COVID-19 isolation procedures for Outside workers at the site. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Concerns raised about alternate self-isolation plans for construction

Minister Streicker said going forward, official safety plans should be shared across a worksite

The Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, pictured at a press conference in October, announced three new cases of COVID-19 on Nov. 20 as well as a new public exposure notice. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New COVID-19 cases, public exposure notice announced

The new cases have all been linked to previous cases

Beatrice Lorne was always remembered by gold rush veterans as the ‘Klondike Nightingale’. (Yukon Archives/Maggies Museum Collection)
History Hunter: Beatrice Lorne — The ‘Klondike Nightingale’

In June of 1929, 11 years after the end of the First… Continue reading

Samson Hartland is the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during its annual general meeting held virtually on Nov. 17. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Yukon Chamber of Mines elects new board

The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during… Continue reading

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and — unsurprisingly — hospital visitations were down. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Annual report says COVID-19 had a large impact visitation numbers at Whitehorse General

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

City council was closed to public on March 23 due to gathering rules brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The council is now hoping there will be ways to improve access for residents to directly address council, even if it’s a virtual connection. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Solution sought to allow for more public presentations with council

Teleconference or video may provide opportunities, Roddick says

Megan Waterman, director of the Lastraw Ranch, is using remediated placer mine land in the Dawson area to raise local meat in a new initiative undertaken with the Yukon government’s agriculture branch. (Submitted)
Dawson-area farm using placer miner partnership to raise pigs on leased land

“Who in their right mind is going to do agriculture at a mining claim? But this made sense.”

Riverdale residents can learn more details of the City of Whitehorse’s plan to FireSmart a total of 24 hectares in the area of Chadburn Lake Road and south of the Hidden Lakes trail at a meeting on Nov. 26. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Meeting will focus on FireSmart plans

Riverdale residents will learn more details of the City of Whitehorse’s FireSmarting… Continue reading

The City of Whitehorse is planning to borrow $10 million to help pay for the construction of the operations building (pictured), a move that has one concillor questioning why they don’t just use reserve funds. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Councillor questions borrowing plan

City of Whitehorse would borrow $10 million for operations building

Most Read