Liberal party gets cold feet over caucus changes

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell said there is no rush to vote on the provisions in the Reform Act, a bill that gives MPs a chance to take some of the iron-fisted control away from their party leaders.

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell said there is no rush to vote on the provisions in the Reform Act, a bill that gives MPs a chance to take some of the iron-fisted control away from their party leaders.

Under the new law, party caucus members are supposed to decide, at their first meeting following an election, whether they wish to take advantage of the powers in the bill.

Those powers include removing the ability of party leaders to block candidates from running for their party and also giving MPs the power to trigger a leadership review vote to remove a party leader. It would also give them the power to select their caucus chairperson.

But last week, Liberal MPs unanimously decided to defer the decision until their upcoming national convention in May.

Bagnell said it was a good idea, as it allows party members to weigh in on the issue.

“Democratically, a huge number of people in the party set the guidelines and it shouldn’t be up to a few MPs to make those decisions in isolation,” he said.

The Reform Act, a private member’s bill introduced by Conservative MP Michael Chong in Dec. 2013, passed the Senate in June last year.

Chong heavily watered down the act in order to get support from all parties.

Bagnell noted parts of the bill don’t affect the party, as Liberal MPs have always elected interim leaders as well as caucus chairs.

But he said he’s always had reservations about the vote that would trigger a leadership review.

The bill would allow a caucus to remove its chair or leader – or expel a member – if 20 per cent of the members call for a review.

“In our last caucus eight people could have initiated the process,” Bagnell said.

If that threshold is reached, then there is a second vote – and if 50 per cent plus one of all caucus members vote to remove the leader or chair, that’s what happens.

More than 100,000 party members and supporters cast their vote by phone or online over a week of voting in 2013 to determine the leader. The party said its membership stood at approximately 300,000 people last December.

“It’s only democratic to let those people decide what procedures we’ll use.”

Based on the size of the current caucus – 184 MPs – 37 would be required to trigger the review.

The Liberal Party’s four commissions – aboriginal, youth, senior and women – also have a lot of input when it comes to policies and decisions, added Bagnell.

NDP MPs also voted to defer the vote to a future caucus meeting.

Conservative MPs were the only ones to vote on the Reform Act. They adopted a provision to elect the caucus chair, who had previously been appointed by the prime minister.

But they rejected the rule that would trigger the leadership review, as well as the one which provides for caucus MPs to vote on an interim leader if the position becomes vacant.

As it stands, the party’s constitution allows for both MPs and senators to take part in the vote.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

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