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Private member's bill could help empower MPs

Yukon MP Ryan Leef said he supports a bill that would take some of the iron-fisted control away from party leaders. The Reform Act, a private member's bill introduced by Conservative MP Michael Chong in Dec.

Yukon MP Ryan Leef said he supports a bill that would take some of the iron-fisted control away from party leaders.

The Reform Act, a private member’s bill introduced by Conservative MP Michael Chong in Dec. 2013, recently passed in the House of Commons by a vote of 260 to 17.

Set to enter the Senate on Tuesday, it is expected to become law in time for the upcoming federal election in October.

As it stands, party leaders wield a considerable amount of power over their members.

They have the ability to pick their party’s caucus chairs and can turf disobedient members from the party caucus.

Chong’s bill proposes two significant changes: it would remove the ability of party leaders to block candidates from running for their party, and also give MPs the power to trigger a leadership review vote to remove a party leader.

In short, MPs would be freer to vote without fear of retribution from party leaders.

But there’s one important catch - the bill forces party caucus members to decide, at their first meeting following an election, whether they wish to take advantage of the powers in the bill.

Leef said he sees the value in using the Reform Act if MPs ultimately need it.

“I would vote in favour of engaging some of the authorities that are in there,” he said.

“You don’t have to use it, and we should all be striving for never having to use these mechanisms. But there is no harm in having those mechanisms on the books.”

Based on his previous experiences, he’s never had to toe the party line on an issue for fear of repercussions, he said.

He cited the example of an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

“I’ve never experienced any sort of backlash from any of my positions or conduct,” he said.

“I spoke my position on that (issue) - it was publicly stated, and then repeated. There were no repercussions and I was free to speak my mind.

“When you have to differ for the benefit of your riding, you differ, and I’ve done so.”

He said the notion that MPs would need legislation to protect them from speaking their mind “seems bizarre on a few levels.”

“It’s a clear-cut obligation.”

Back in Oct. 2013, Leef announced his support for a public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, despite Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s refusal to do so.

He said that his promotion to chair of the government’s northern caucus, around the same time, proves his point.

But in Sept. 2014, he switched to a different stance, saying a national inquiry may no longer be needed.

“To simply boil this down to ‘do I support a national inquiry?’ or does the Yukon for that matter, is an oversimplification of an important issue,” he wrote in an open letter.

The Yukon’s federal Liberal candidate, Larry Bagnell, said he’s all in favour of giving MPs more independence and power.

Bagnell, who served as Yukon MP from 2000 to 2011, promised voters he’d fight the long gun registry.

But despite the vow, he ultimately buckled under party pressure and voted to help prop up the registry in Sept. 2010.

Had the Reform Act been in place at the time, he would have had the freedom to vote the way he wanted to.

But he contends that during his time in Ottawa, he was one of the MPs who voted most often against his party.

Bagnell said he’s in favour of removing the requirement in the Canada Elections Act that party leaders sign off on their party’s nominee in each riding.

But he has reservations about the second change, the vote to trigger a leadership review.

According to the change, 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.

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.

“In the Liberals, we democratized the selection of a party leader,” Bagnell said.

“We set it up so that not only party members (can vote for a leader), but also supporters. In the last leadership race that was about 300,000 people, including about 2,000 in the Yukon alone. We have 40 caucus members in Ottawa - to let half of them dismiss a leader, after 300,000 people chose him, well I’m not sure how democratic that is.

“So that means if the Reform Act were in place they would only need eight votes (20 per cent) to trigger a vote, none of them northerners.”

Bagnell said the Reform Act, which has been watered down since its original form, could use more changes to make it even more effective.

He suggested fewer whipped votes in Parliament, stronger parliamentary control over public finances and an impartial system to identify and eliminate the waste of tax dollars on partisan advertising.

Contact Myles Dolphin at