On April 7, 2014, MP Michael Chong introduced an amended version of his Reform Act – a private member’s bill that, if passed into law, would transform the relationship between party leaders and their caucuses by shifting the balance of power toward the latter.
Chong has said that the purpose of the bill is to reinforce parties’ accountability to voters and to give life to the theory of responsible government – the first principle of Westminster parliamentary systems.
The bill seeks to make at least three major changes. First, a caucus would be able to initiate a review of its leader, provided that at least twenty percent of caucus members were supportive of the review. In the original draft of the bill, the magic number was fifteen percent. The individuals in support of the review would have to make their names public, which would guarantee that a leadership review would never take place unless supporters thought it essential and were willing to stake their own reputations on it.
Second, the bill would allow a caucus to remove its leader by majority vote of all caucus members. In the first iteration of the bill, the threshold was a majority vote of all caucus members present, so the amended version of the bill makes it significantly less likely that a leader would be removed. Caucus members who wanted to avoid the contentious and divisive subject of a leadership review would simply stay away from the vote. And each caucus member who stayed silent on the issue would be voting in favour of the status quo.
Third, the bill would remove the leader’s power to veto candidates selected at the constituency level by local party associations. Instead, local electoral district associations would approve candidates. This measure would empower the party at large – the members rather than the elites – and would remove an aspect of the leader’s control over candidates once they become MPs. If a party leader has the power to veto nominations, he or she could use this power to veto the nomination of a sitting MP when it came time for re-election. This encourages MPs to be loyal to their leaders in all situations and at all costs, which can compromise an MP’s ability to represent constituents.
The bill was amended following consultations with Members of Parliament and other individuals and groups. In the hope of seeing the bill graduate into law, Chong re-wrote some of the bill’s provisions in ways that offer more protection to leaders. Specifically, the second draft of the bill makes it much tougher for a caucus to remove a leader. That said, the bill as it stands would force leaders to be accountable to their caucuses and would acknowledge MPs’ primary responsibility to represent their constituents.
The full text of the bill can be found here: