Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The Reform Act: did Michael Chong just blink?

All the smart money dismissed Michael Chong's Reform Act when he introduced it last fall. Leaders being accountable to MPs?  Unthinkable.  Dead on arrival, for sure.

But it endured, awaiting its moment, and there were rumours of this caucus and this group of MPs being maybe inclined to support it, and then rumours that the government was doing some quiet negotiating with Chong.

So now, a revised version of the bill.  (Aaron Wherry has the gist of it here.  The new bill is here).

The first change Chong has made is about who will approve riding selections. Chong has now come up with a complicated process by which each party would elect a provincial nominations officer to supervise riding nominations, instead of giving the riding associations themselves a free hand, and there would be some supervisory veto by the party leader.

I never took the whole "who controls constituency nominations" matter very seriously. The whole argument about the malevolent influence of the Election Act clause that gives the leader a veto on party nominations has always seemed to me to miss the point.  It ain't the black letter of the Elections Act that is the problem. It is the unaccountable status of the leader that leads to abuses of this provision. If parliamentary democracy broke out, and leaders were accountable to caucus, then caucus would restrain inappropriate attempts by leaders to dismiss or threaten to dismiss candidates. So I don't much care about the parties' inside-baseball tinkering with the management of there selection processes. Indeed I'm not sure it all needs to be spelled out in legislation.

The second change looks like flinching.  Chong originally proposed that 15% of caucus could trigger a review of leadership.  He's upped it to 20% -- of the whole caucus, not just those present -- and required that the names of those requesting a review be published.  I'd say he should be going in the other direction: 10% oughta suffice. If those requesting a review are nuts and flakes with no support, it will not be difficult to caucus to organize a quick vote and expose the nuts and flakes by defeating them overwhelmingly. Report who voted yea and nay on the actual review vote, not the request for a vote. Why increase the difficulty of initiating this process unless you don't really believe in it?

Course, Chong may have a shrewd sense that a few concessions might be all he needs to get his bill through, and getting it through is more important than the details. Give MPs a little responsibility, even a little power (!), and the appetite will grow with the eating.

He still has not put in the really important change:  after a caucus turfs a leader, caucus needs to assert its authority -- and choose his or her successor. Baby steps, baby steps.

(Image:  from ctvnews.ca )
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