12.03.2013 09:29 AM

Chong, preach

I’m no PMO shill, obviously, but I think this Chong bill is a trap. It is dangerous.

Among other things, it would render this sort of nightmare – which I lived through, day after day, from 2000 to 2006 – an ongoing reality, and give rise to myriad constitutional crises.

Well-intentioned, but a bad idea. Cure is worse than the disease, etc.

33 Comments

  1. Steve Barry says:

    I agree. While Party politics is conflicted, sometimes ridiculous and fraught, I don’t know that legislating the mechanisms further is going to have the desired effect. I think it would lead to more manipulation and cynicism about process, not less.

  2. John says:

    Nah. The leadership structure on the Hill is intolerable. Virtually anything that’ll shake it up in all the parties is a good thing.

    The best was the NDP line on this whole debate: “none of these concerns apply to us, because our Caucus is morally flawless and democratically perfect.” Lol.

    A cure as bad as the disease, perhaps. Not worse.

  3. Robin says:

    The Chong Reform Act warrants some serious study and amendment. It opens Pandora’s Box however as the Chinese say: chaos is opportunity. We may add amendments such as preferential balloting to elect MPs instead of first-past-the-post; banning political opinion polling surveys during federal elections and definitely not allowing any polling information to be made public; banning robo-calls without prior approval of message and registration of the authors and proponents with Elections Canada; giving Elections Canada the power to subpoena witnesses under oath and to conduct investigations in response to citizen appeals and official requests by an MP or defeated candidate.

    The status quo should not be tolerated if there is an opportunity to increase the power of individual MPs and compel the PMO to be more attentive to the views, interests, and needs of MPs and their party’s caucus.

    The legislation would allow 15 percent of a “Parliamentary Party” (Caucus) to trigger a vote to remove the leader and begin a leadership race if a majority of MPs, that is, 50 percent plus one, agree. This requires at least 15 percent of MPs to publicly apply for a leadership review in writing. Then, all the caucus members vote for or against the application by secret ballot.

    In a small caucus such as a third party with 38 members, six MPs could force a vote; and 20 MPs could force a leadership race.

    Maybe different thresholds are needed, for example:
    • Governing party: 20 percent/60 percent plus one;
    • Official Opposition: 30 percent/75 percent plus one; and,
    • Third or other parties; 75 percent/75 percent.

    With 338 seats in the House of Commons in 2015, a majority government will require 170 seats. 15 percent is 26 and 50 percent plus one is 86 whereas 20 percent is 34 and 60 percent plus one is 103; this is a higher threshold which is justifiable to protect the Leader and the Party from interest group factions or ambitious detractors.

    Since it is more difficult for the Official Opposition Leader to dish out perks and the Official Opposition Caucus is smaller than the government caucus; therefore, the threshold must be higher in fairness to the Leader. As for third parties, frankly, near consensus is recommended since their caucuses are small and probably close nit.

    The Party Leader’s ability to deny a successful nominated candidate from being the official party candidate may be best delegated to a Party/Caucus/PMO committee. The suggestion of a local nomination commissioner has merit in principle, however, it could result in numerous local eruptions if the power is abused due to animosities between factions; therefore, a national nomination committee comprised of a majority of sitting MPs, a few senior party officials, and one representative from the Leader’s Office, might be a better alternative for refusing an individual by secret ballot as the official candidate.

    Annual vote of confidence in the government by secret ballot.

    It might also be worth considering the idea that at the end of each sitting in June, there is an automatic requirement for a vote of confidence in the government by secret ballot. If the vote fails, a federal election would be held in mid-September and prorogation, if requested, would not be permitted until the vote is held even if it involves advancing the date; it would be an automatic requirement on the Order Paper on the last day before the House of Commons adjourns for the summer recess whatever date that might be. This would, in essence, give government MPs an opportunity to bring down their own government.

    • Robin says:

      Removing a leader is serious business. The lessons learned in the failed attempt to impeach Bill Clinton are instructive and well articulated by former Senior Senator from Arkansas, Dale Bumpers (and former Governor of Arkansas and friend of the Clintons) as he presents the Closing Arguments in the well of the US Senate. It is worth reading. It is US Constitutional history regarding the impeachment clause.

      http://www.pbs.org/newshour/impeachment/trial/bumpers_1-21.html

      • Ronald O'Dowd says:

        Robin,

        I would argue that the House can and will vote for impeachment. However, the President will never be convicted at trial by the Senate. The latter is mindful that it would irretrivably weaken the presidency. No doubt Nixon would have been impeached but I think this principle would have assured his acquittal — as was the case with Clinton and previously Andrew Johnson.

        • Robin says:

          Impeachment proceedings were never initiated against President Andrew Johnson although a bipartisan committee was struck to investigate if there were any ground for impeachment and ultimately concluded there wasn’t. In the case of President Clinton, his crimes were not “crimes against the state” whereas Nixon’s obstruction of justice and interference with FBI investigations and with the Special Prosecutor, not to mention the initial break in at the Democratic Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel, crossed that threshold; that’s why he resigned, Nixon didn’t have sufficient support in the Senate to survive a trial.

          Nixon’s resignation prevented an impeachment trial and his unconditional pardon by President Ford prevented any other trials against him. Convicting a US President in an impeachment trial in the Senate under the terms of the articles for impeachment strengthens the Presidency by maintaining its legitimacy in the US Constitutional democracy where the rule of law is paramount; not a King.

  4. grim says:

    I’m supportive of the removal of a leader’s effective veto over a nomination. I think it will create more accountability, shorter leadership tenures, and demand true leadership skill to carry a caucus toward a vision. I don’t know if the details of this bill achieve this in a satisfactory way though.
    But to Warren’s point, even if it reawakens internecine wars, it would do so simultaneously in all parties, and we’d all become desensitized to the drama while enjoying the benefits of a more empowered electorate.

    • Windsurfer says:

      I signed an on-line petition this morning in support of the Chong.

      It was circulated by Leadnow, I think.

      Not so critical that I agree with every dotted “i” or other nuance. To me, it’s time to shake things up. Chong should do the right thing and cross the floor to sit as an independent or join one of the other parties. This of course would create a nice crisis in his home riding and possibly cost him his pension but that’s life in the fast lane.

      In any case, within 1/2 hour, I got a thank you back from Mulcair and from May, so they have obviously tuned their computers on to responding to the issue. Nil from JT, nor from my useless MP, Ms KL, but you never know about her – wonders will never stop ceasing.

      Your 2 cents’ worth is important so please respond.

  5. Kelly says:

    I support the Chong bill. Canadian elect a parliament, not a President.

    I hate that the PM — mentioned only in passing in the Constitution, nothing more than the leader of a party, not elected by Canadians except in one riding — has nearly dictatorial powers. Anything that weakens the PMO and leads to more consultation and consensus is a good thing.
    I don’t want any PM pushing me around.

    Ideally we’d have PR, Short of that, preferential voting. Minority government is a good thing.

    • Robin says:

      Proportional representation promotes interest group and wedge politics that can be divisive and vitriolic at the local level; it divides and is potentially toxic whereas Preferential Voting encourages civility since each candidate may require the votes of one of his/her opponents in order to surpass 50 percent plus one to win; this, IMHO, is more consistent with Canadian values of fairness and civility.

      Frankly, proportional representation is best applied to an upper house if it is elected; however, I prefer an appointed upper house with a better system that takes it away from the Prime Minister and gives the power directly to the Governor General who must select from a recommended short list using established criteria and developed by an august committee of distinguished Canadians including representation from each of the officially recognized political parties with 12 or more seats in the House of Commons.

      Otherwise, proportional representation in the election of members of the House of Commons will only provide a soap box for every militant interest group that can must a sufficient sliver of the electorate: wedge politics.

      • Kelly says:

        You’re probably right in practice. Preferential vote would likely incentivize parties to remain reasonable.

        At least it would be better than the phony system we have now. I just want thoughtful people to sit down and make good decisions based on evidence, rather than the whims if a party boss under the influence of cranks and no-nothings.

    • Michael says:

      Tell that to the people of Ontario, where the only piece of legislation to pass last year in a minority legislature was the budget. Minority government is a good thing if the government & opposition are willing to work together. But that is not always the case. Some opposition leaders seem to think that by needlessly stalling the legislative process they are scoring political points.

      • Kelly says:

        You have a point — but it suggests a major problem with our political culture, not the reality of minority governments. I think this culture has been brought on because of our phony electoral process. FPTP simply does’t produce the government that most people want. Despite what our phony election results and dimwitted political punditry would have you believe, Western Canada really isn’t conservative and the big cities really aren’t all populated by liberals. Almost 60% of voters chose progressive parties in the recent Brandon-Souris by-election, while the Conservatives receive thousands of votes in downtowns all over Canada . On a provincial basis, Western Canada did not vote majority Conservative in the last federal election, yet most of the seats are Conservative. Our system doesn’t reflect popular sentiment; it produces phony governments and a frustrated and disillusioned citizenry. The powerful are just fine with this, of course.

  6. Any Political Party can entrench provisions in their Constitution and by-laws limiting their Leaders power to withold their endorsement from a properly nominated candidate. The Green Party has such limitations, and woe to the GPC Leader who ignored the Constitution claiming that the law over-rides its provisions!
    If Chong was serious then why wasn’t he introducing such measures at the Conservative Convention? Sure, the Law stipulates that the Leaders endosement is required, but while that is the final word, there can be consequences to refusing to endorse a nomination, like triggering an immediate Leadership review for instance. That honours the law, retains the flexibility for the leader, but forces an accounting when the extraordinary ability to withold nominations is exercised. I think we know why, it is because the Conservative Party is not interested in limiting its leaders powers.
    So why should this bill turn into a law that binds all Party leaders?
    I am looking forward to debate on the other measures mooted, like committee selection, more face time for individual MP’s etc. I doubt the bill will pass, but it may spawn some interesting reform measures that different Party’s and their caucuses might want to enact in the future. It will also prompt plenty of debate on Parliaments inner works, which might actually inform a lot of Canadians on how they are actually governed. That is not a bad thing.
    What this looks like to me, is a bill with little hope of passing suddenly takes on a holy aura due to it’s topicality, and the desire to ‘DO something NOW!’ That is no reason to adopt a passel of major reforms on the fly…

  7. MississaugaPeter says:

    I admire Chong and all MPs who will support this bill.

    A prime minister or premier with a majority in Canada has too much power. Any additional check on this power is most welcome.

  8. Ottawa Civil Servant says:

    My only concern is the susceptability of ridings to being overwhelmed by single-issue causes.
    The Bloc was a useless affront to our national parliament, but it was able to sow up and damage politics throughout Chretien’s reign. And Chretien new that some control was required, hence his imposition of the “Leader’s Signature” rule.

    What happens if a purely Pro-Life group targets just ridings where MPs are retiring, no matter the party? Some nomination meetings are decided by handfuls of people. Far fewer than one chrurch congregation, or one temple, or one mosque. Or a lobby group decides it is better to take a Liberal riding association hostage, rather than running a Green Party candidate?

    I disagree with the Leaders having a veto, but politics and lobbying have changed since the 80’s, and party powers have to be able to respond.

  9. Paul says:

    I think the electorate should vote on the leader of the country….he/she has to con millions of us instead of a few 100 MPS looking for special favours …

  10. davidray says:

    and while we dither 5

    who will cry for the little ones
    pointing to the sky
    kicking at the ashes and asking why
    mommy daddy there’s poison in the clouds
    why are you crying, are you not proud.

  11. doconnor says:

    “Among other things, it would render this sort of nightmare – which I lived through, day after day, from 2000 to 2006 – an ongoing reality, and give rise to myriad constitutional crises.”

    It creates a mechanism to resolve such a crises, which would prevent it from lasting 6 years.

    It’s like the United States where they don’t have a way of resolving conflicts between the Executive and Legislative branches which has resulted in budget crisis after crisis for, like, the last 20 years. In Canada we have a way of resolving conflicts and have had only 3 crisis since confederation, none of which damaged the functioning of government.

    Creating a way to resolve a crisis can discourage people from creating a crisis. Leaders have used the lack of a mechanism to resolve a leadership crisis to abuse their positions, just as the Republicans in Congress have.

  12. Rob says:

    Amen.

    As someone who has worked in the Green Party to deal with similar issues, I find it more than frustrating to explain to my fellow Greens why this is not a great idea. All of the major parties work to exclude nutters, this wont’ help

  13. m5slib says:

    I was waiting for your input on this because you’ve been noticably quiet. I think your concerns are valid, but it’s hard to get by the whole point that the MPs are virtually useless. I think it’s one thing that needs to be addressed in our overall system of democracy. My fear is that it’ll lead to something more like the US where incumbency carries a lot of power, and it’ll be harder to get things done. Still, I’m very worried about the power in our PMO. One thing I keep thinking about in all this is how would Dion’s leaderhsip have been affected by this. Would he have even been elected? Then are are equity questions. Still, I suppose that’s what committees are for. I don’t think the bill is perfect, but I think it’s addressing the right issue. It’s embarassing watching some MP’s get up and read lines like puppets. I think from a governance perspective, this might be more valuable, but from an electoral politics perspective, this is a step back. On vera.

  14. Mulletaur says:

    I think it would be fun to watch Conservatives constantly trying to unseat their leaders. Good thing there is parliamentary sovereignty, though.

  15. Brian says:

    A solution might be not to select a deceptive, overbearing, obsessive control freak and jerk as your party’s leader, which is clearly what serves as the impetus for this legislation. Since they’re not proposing these rules go into effect until after 2015, apparently they can’t identify any Conservative Party leaders who are doing anything they find objectionable currently. What a bunch of moral cowards.

  16. Tim says:

    It would be really good if the citizenry started to take democracy more seriously. I think Chong means well, but this hasn’t been thought out. More rules = less participation and bad people figuring out the way around. People like Ford and Harper shouldn’t ever be given the keys to begin with. Is mandatory voting a potential solution?

  17. Russ says:

    1. This is an issue for parties to decide, not parliament
    2. And this would engage the membership how?
    3. If caucus wants a leader gone they will be gone – see Gordon Wilson or Carol James in BC

  18. Richard Besserer says:

    Warren, this looks less to me like the Liberal feuds and more like the Social Credit backbenchers’ revolt. The creditistes, Muslim-baiters, anti-abortionists and Tea Party wannabes are sick of being ignored and want to blackmail Harper into giving them their way.

    This is where Harper’s authoritarianism might actually be a benefit to mankind. I can easily see him purging the latter-day Douglasites from the CPC once and for all, as Ernest Manning finally had to do.

    • m5slib says:

      If a fringe party element within a party were more exposed, wouldn’t that turn voters off? Think Warren and Stockwell Day.

  19. MgS says:

    Now that I have had a chance to read through the legislation, I am inclined to agree with you Warren.

    Unfortunately, this bill appears to place an arbitrary amount of control over the party leadership in the hands of MPs – I do not think that this will have the effect that Chong is seeking.

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