Michael Chong should reconsider his crusade for reform: Copps

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The veteran MP from Wellington-Halton Hills is touting a trio of reforms that he claims will take power away from the prime minister and give it to members of Parliament.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on August 29, 2022.

OTTAWA—Member of Parliament Michael Chong is back on the reform bandwagon.

The veteran Conservative MP from Wellington-Halton Hills is touting a trio of reforms that he claims will take power away from the prime minister and give it to members of Parliament.

But before we jump on the Chong train-wreck, let’s review the result of his last round of reforms.

Chong came up with the idea that every caucus should be able to turf its leader if one-fifth of the caucus signs an expulsion petition, which is then followed by a secret ballot majority caucus vote.

The original reforms, introduced in a private member’s bill by Chong, were passed by a huge majority vote in the House of Commons.

There was one proviso that made the legislation palatable for everyone. Its implementation was subject to a vote by each caucus at the beginning of every Parliament.

So far, the only caucus that has actually embraced Chong’s reforms has been his own.

And we have seen what a disastrous result that has been for his party.

Since the introduction of Chong’s legislation, the Conservative Party has dumped two leaders within months of a national election, amid open crossfire by party dissidents looking for someone to blame for their loss.

The party has been in shambles with so much infighting that it is difficult to see how ongoing leadership rifts will be healed after the leadership change Sept. 10.

Chong claims reform was introduced to give power to members of Parliament.

But what about members of the party, who are not elected to Parliament?

Take the case of Erin O’Toole. He lasted 18 months as leader of the Conservatives until he was expelled, courtesy of the Chong bill.

In reality, O’Toole was chosen by a majority of almost 175,000 voters and rejected by 73 voters.

How democratic is that?

And how can members of Parliament give themselves the right to remove a leader when they do not have the right to elect a leader?

In Canada, leader selection still rests with the party members. Chong’s first reform bill was a slap in the face to all those who do not sit in Parliament but who devote thousands of hours of their volunteer time to promote a political vision they share with other party members.

There is a reason why no other party has yet adopted these measures.

One of the tenets of membership in a caucus is that you rise and fall together. After an election failure, there needs to be a period of calm reflection, after which all members of the party should have a say in the leader’s status.

It should not be the right of select few members of Parliament to pull the trigger.

Chong’s new triad of reforms are just as illogical. He is claiming that the elected Speaker should determine which members of Parliament have the right to speak in the House of Commons.

That right is currently delegated to parties, based on their standing in the last election.

In elections, people mark their ballot in favour of individuals, yes, but they also vote keeping in mind the party values those individuals represent.

It is not up to the Speaker to run a popularity contest for speaking privileges.

Chong claims that by giving the Speaker these powers, members of Parliament will have to work with other parties, thus promoting more collegiality.

At the end of the day, the parliamentary system works because people represent parties. Those parties include leaders, values, policies, and members who share a vision for the direction of the country.

It is also absurd to say the prime minister controls the House of Commons.

Anyone who knows the system will understand that it is the House leaders and party whips who control the House.

That duo exists in every party, and both meet regularly amongst all parties to negotiate fair House participation.

A single Speaker deciding who gets time in Parliament is much less democratic than a committee of all parties that negotiates times, bill placement, etc.

If Chong’s first reform is any example, it has inflicted more damage than democratization upon his party. After reflection, giving the power of expulsion to a couple dozen members of Parliament may not be such a good idea after all.

Ask Erin O’Toole. He secured the most votes of any leader in the country, and came close to his goal of forming the government.

Another try might have been the charm.

Thanks to Chong’s reform, we will never know.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.