Conservative backbench MP Mike Chong’s proposed so-called Reform Act bill is stirring quite the debate in Ottawa.
If passed, the bill private members bill would rebalance the internal power of a political party, giving more weight to MPs and at the expense of the party executive. It also lays out tools for calling a leadership review and removing a party leader.
While Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cabinet have yet to comment formally about the bill, many MPs are already giving it a vigorous debate.
Yukon’s MP Ryan Leef said while he hasn’t had a chance to read the entire four-page document, he supports the spirit and intent of the bill. Some of the details, however, worry him.
“The preamble of the bill is actually an interesting statement and one that I don’t think anyone would disagree with,” Leef said.
“But I haven’t made any sort of concrete decision about whether it’s something I would support.”
Leef’s biggest beef is with the threshold of MPs needed to call a leadership review. The bill says if 15 per cent of a caucus group is unhappy with a party leader, they can call a review. That would then lead to a vote by the entire caucus, so the dissenting 15 per cent can’t actually force a leader out on their own, but even the perception of internal strife caused by a review could damage a party, Ryan said.
“I think that number is pretty small. That could mean that the Liberals could trigger a leadership review with just four of their MPs. In a 100-person caucus, it’s 15 people.”
Leef worried that such a small percentage of MPs could use a leadership review for personal gain, attempting to publicly wound a leader they are unhappy with even if they know an actual vote on their leadership isn’t likely to succeed.
“It’s not hard to imagine if 15 or 30 people who are emotionally invested in an issue. It runs the danger of small factions of a party forcing you into a review,” he said.
That said, Leef was clear that he isn’t discounting the bill outright. He just thinks there may be better, non-legislative ways to achieve the same ends.
“I see what he’s trying to drive at, but I think there may be some other ways that we can get this done. Some people think that the leadership choice and nomination of a candidate should be up to the voters to decide, not Elections Canada,” he said.
Another part of Chong’s proposal would see party leaders give up the signing authority over an election candidate’s nomination papers, allowing each party’s riding association to choose who runs.
“At the end of the day, the only people who will decide how the parties go about electing or nominating their candidates should be left up to the party,” Leef said.
Harper hasn’t said whether he will allow a free vote on Chong’s bill. Parliamentary tradition is for MPs to vote their conscience on private members bill, but it isn’t known yet whether that will be extended to Harper’s cabinet as well.
Leef said he will definitely vote his conscience on Chong’s bill after he has time to study it more carefully, and get feedback from his constituents in the Yukon.
Leef said he’s never experience any of the top-down pressure from his party leader that other MPs from all three parties have expressed concern over. He also pointed out that when it comes to party discipline, the Conservatives have had more free votes in recent years than either the Liberals or the NDP.
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