Conservative MP Chong’s Reform Act gets bumpy ride in Senate committee

Prospects are looking grim for Michael Chong’s legislative baby, the Reform Act 2014.

OTTAWA — Prospects are looking grim for Michael Chong’s legislative baby, the Reform Act 2014.

Conservative senators from Chong’s caucus — along with some Liberals — laid out their opposition to parts of the private member’s bill Tuesday at the Senate rules committee.

That’s a strong signal that the proposed legislation, which is designed to give MPs more power in the Commons, will not get through the upper chamber without amendments.

Amendments would be the kiss of death for the bill, which would then go back to the House of Commons for more votes. There’s less than a month before the two houses rise for the summer; an election campaign will dissolve Parliament in the fall.

So is Chong’s bill is essentially being killed by the Prime Minister’s Office through the Senate? If so, it would be an ironic turn of events, given that the bill is supposed to temper the power of party leaders.

Chong said he does not know if his Senate colleagues have been coached to make sure the bill doesn’t see the light of day — but he warned that voters are watching.

“It potentially could become an election issue,” Chong said after the meeting. The seniors lobby group CARP emailed its 300,000 members on the weekend to warn that the bill had become stalled, he added.

“I would like to think that political parties are aware of an impending federal election and that they would take this into account when it comes to whether or not they support this bill.”

The act is billed as a way to rebalance power between members of Parliament and party leaders.

One section would remove the veto power of party leaders over who gets to run in a federal election — a stick that leaders have brandished over MPs to ensure caucus discipline.

The bill would also give MPs the power to suspend and readmit colleagues and to select their caucus chair. More controversially, it would allow MPs to trigger a leadership review vote inside the caucus.

That has proven to be the main point of contention for senators, who argue that it would strip the power from tens of thousands of party members and from Canadian voters who approve of certain leaders.

“In the case of the government, that could potentially remove a duly elected prime minister without consultation of party members or Canadian voters,” said Conservative Sen. Denise Batters.

“How do you square that with grassroots democracy?”

Canadian voters do not elect leaders or governments — they elect MPs and legislatures, Chong told the committee. Allowing parties to decide solely on leaders in the Commons gives semi-private entities power that should rest with elected MPs, he said.

Most of the time, it’s party caucuses that dump leaders anyway, he added — it’s just that the current process has no rules and can get messy, such as in the case of former Alberta premier Alison Redford, or ex-B.C. MP Stockwell Day when he was leader of the now-defunct Canadian Alliance.

Chong is also resolute in his belief that the Senate should quickly pass the bill, given that it technically only affects the House of Commons and was supported by a vast majority of MPs earlier this year.

“I’m really concerned with your starting point of saying that if we amend this bill, we kill this bill. So basically you’re asking us to rubber-stamp this bill?” asked Liberal Sen. Mobina Jaffer.

“That is correct,” said Chong, arguing that certain kinds of bills don’t require sober second thought — including those that deal exclusively with how MPs govern themselves.

Some senators indicated they supported Chong’s bill, including Liberal senators Serge Joyal and David Smith, and Conservative Norm Doyle.

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