Conservative MP Michael Chong speaks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons following question period on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sept. 20, 2010. Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press
Conservative MP Michael Chong today tabled the proposed reform act, a private member's bill intended to restore a system of checks and balances that would shift some power away from party leaders towards members of Parliament and their party caucuses.
"The reform act is an effort to strengthen Canada's democratic institutions by restoring power and the role of elected members of Parliament in the House of Commons," Chong told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday morning.
Under this bill, Chong said, MPs would be able to better represent the people who voted for them.
For instance, if an MP had a disagreement about a particular issue or bill before the House, this bill would empower the MP "to vote against the bill and in favour of their constituents without a high chance of being expulsed from caucus," Chong said.
The reform act would have three main focuses:
- Restoring local control over party nominations.
- Strengthening caucuses as decision-making bodies.
- Reinforcing the accountability of party leaders to their caucuses.
While the bill does grant caucus the power to trigger a leadership review, Chong noted it also grants local riding associations the power to approve the party candidate.
"MPs are going to be careful in exercising the review power that they have of the party leader because they will have to be accountable to the local riding association," Chong said.
The Conservative MP cautioned that under his bill, the prime minister and party leaders would still remain immensely powerful, just not "all powerful."
Chong said the reform act proposals would "reinforce the principle of responsible government, it would make the executive more accountable to the legislature and ensure that party leaders would maintain the confidence of their caucuses."
Chong who has long been an advocate of democratic reform has given much thought to his private member's bill, which he said has been in the making for years.
While private member's bills do not always receive the support needed to become law, the initial reaction to Chong's bill has been positive both inside the Commons and out.
CBC News has learned that former Progressive Conservative prime minister Joe Clark is publicly endorsing Chong's bill and calling on people in his political circle to contact their MPs.
"This is a very important initiative, which deserves all-party support. Please contact the MPs you know," Clark said in an email.
Clark's support was precipitated by an email from Paul Heinbecker, a retired Canadian diplomat, who urged Clark and others to support Chong's bill "to free MPs from excessive control by the Prime Minister's Office."
Inside the Commons, the bill was immediately seconded by James Rajotte, the Conservative MP for Edmonton–Leduc and chair of the commons finance committee.
Conservative MPs Stella Ambler, Larry Miller and Kyle Seeback, and Conservative Senator Hugh Segal have come out in favour of the bill. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and Independent MPs Bruce Hyer and Dean Del Mastro have also said they will back the Conservative bill.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he agreed with the bill's overall goals.
"We are open to any and all discussions on democratic reform and I agree with this bill’s broad objectives. We believe MPs should be their community's voice in Ottawa, not the prime minister's voice in their community," Trudeau said in a written statement.
Trudeau has promised he will hold open nominations in all ridings for the next federal election.
The federal Liberals have invited Chong to make a presentation about his bill to the Liberal caucus later this week.
Chong's bill would amend two acts of Parliament: the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act but would not come into force until after the next federal election.
The Opposition New Democrats will respond to Chong's private member's bill at 1:45 p.m. ET today.
You can read the text of Chong's bill here:
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