This weeks column for 24Hrs Vancouver: Party leaders have too much power of elected representatives

This week, Brent and I take a look at Michael Chong’s private member bill, The Reform Act 2013.

This week’s topic: Would the proposed Reform Act improve our system of government by redistributing power from party leaders to Members of Parliament?

Earlier this year, I had a compelling conversation with a friend who had immigrated to Canada from Egypt shortly before the start of the country’s political riots. I asked if democracy was still as elusive as it had been prior to the revolution, and what she thought of Canadian politics.

“Laila,” she said, “I brought my family from Egypt because I wanted to raise them in a democratic country. I wanted them to see how true democracy works. Then we come here, I start really following Canadian politics, and see that democratic process here is broken as well. Harper can do whatever he wants to do, it seems. No one in his party will speak up against him. He can even close the government for no reason. It is different, and better, but still not what I thought it was.”

Read Brent Stafford’s column

Her comments were stark, observant and right on the money. It’s no secret party leaders wield extraordinary power over Members of Parliament, in particular when it comes to the party that governs. Instead of power lying with the MPs who have been duly elected to represent their constituents, the power is largely centralized in the party executive.

This is why Conservative MP Michael Chong introduced his private member’s bill last week called the Reform Act. The bill is intended to return some of the power currently held by party leaders and executive, back to MPs and hold the executive accountable for their actions…

Read the rest of this weeks column, and vote for who you think should win this debate at the following link

16 thoughts on “This weeks column for 24Hrs Vancouver: Party leaders have too much power of elected representatives

  1. Your Egyptian friend is right, of course. But the real violators of Democracy are not the bastards in power (tho they come a close second), it is us. Like Pogo said, we are the enemy. We could still ‘vote’ these power-trippers out. We can still ‘reform’ the system. We can ‘recall’. We can still do something but we don’t. We are more than fools and dupes, we are accomplices, we are complicit. We are like the oft-beaten spouse – we stay on for more of the same! Over half of us don’t even vote. The half that do, dont think about their vote, they do it from habit. “Been a Chevy man all my life, won’t change now! Chevy rules! Oops…I mean Liberals…yeah…Liberals rule. I vote Liberal!” (repeat mantra for all party-followers). The truth is that we still have Democracy but we don’t exercise it. And, as Harper is trying to prove once and for all: if you don’t use it, you lose it!


    1. I would love to see reform like this come to the province of British Columbia… as I pointed out in the column, it bill isn’t perfect and could use some tweaks imo, but it is a start.


    2. As has been proven in the recent past, ” recall ” is a joke, provincially at least. I don’t know if such legislation even exists federally.


    1. Forgive me for repeating myself: we do not have to suffer the tyrants and crooks! We just have to think and act differently from that which has become the norm. Don’t vote Liberal, Conservative, NDP or First Christian Social Fusion from habit, instead demand that one party (or independent) bring in real reform and vote for them. It won’t work right away but it will work. Vote for REAL DEMOCRATIC REFORM.
      And we better do that before they bring in electronic voting………….’cause, I don’t trust the robo-b*tards!’


  2. I think that this bill is a good start. I am tired of voting for a candidate, just to have them forced to tow the party ( or PMOs ) line, and in the process , the constituent gets left behind. Some of the thresh holds are too low, but we have to start letting our candidates deal with the issues that we elected them to take care of. If this means that they go against the party line, then too bad for the party or the leader. It is past time that true debate is brought back to our houses, federal, and provincial.


  3. I like the idea of the proposed changes by Michael Chong. It at least gives the MP’s a chance to vote independantly (representing the constituents) and not under the party leaders orders (or else). Another change that would be benificial in my opinion, is to make voting mandatory regardless. This way the people are forced to paty more attention to the voting process or be out of pocket by paying a substantial penalty. I know this system works in Australia, though I have no idea what the fine would be.
    Another system that is worth looking at is the Swiss model, where citizens are allowed to be involved in proposed changes.

    Our Canadian system is broken and until the citizens start to make concerted efforts to change it, nothing will be done. Hopefully Michael Chong’s proposal will be small start.
    We Canadians DO NOT live in a democracy per se as most think of democracy. While the current system remains unchallenged, nothing will change.


  4. workforfun: MPs already can vote independently anytime they want and they don’t lose their parliamentary seats if that independence gets them booted from the party that bankrolled their successful election campaigns. The use of a Whip is purely party policy; no MP is legally obliged to suffer their own party’s Whip, nor any other Whip, for that matter.

    I think the fine for not voting in Australia is about $100. Their turnout is usually above 90%.

    The Swiss situation is totally incomparable to a huge, multi-cultured country like ours. Citizen can get involved to a considerable degree and in many ways. I know people who get involved in public policy making who don’t even vote.

    I’d characterize the system as being hobbled, not broken, whenever independent regulatory bodies are shit-canned by politicians with ulterior motive that usually benefits them and their friends but is not in the public interest. If transgressions were prosecuted under the provisions we already have, the system would work just fine. The challenges are: who is going to prosecute? and who is going to pay for it? How long will it take? The system is not intended to avail politicians of immunities, omission, libel chill, plaintiffs paying for the defence, obstruction and so forth. It’s more like politicians should stop trying to break the system by abusing it. The solution has to be the law and that need only prosecution.

    We have Citizens’ Initiative legislation here in BC. We finally figured out how it works when, for the first time in 800 years of British parliamentary history, a legislated tax (the HST) was rescinded by popular measure. Lucky us. OTOH, we also are home to one of the biggest travesties of jurisprudence in Canadian history—the corruption of the BC Rail corruption trial—a corruption which still stands. The government used our tax dollars to defend themselves, dragging out every conceivable phase of the trial and effectively corrupting it in ways we still aren’t sure about. You got serious problems when this kind of systemic abuse becomes a tolerable precedent.

    Again, in the tumult of Anti HST Petitions and Recall campaigns, the BC Liberals blatantly tainted the Electoral Office by substituting the legitimate Chief with a cabinet appointee instead of one selected by an all-party committee, as prescribed by law. This bogus ‘Acting’ Chief should have been challenged, in court if necessary. As it turned out, the ‘Acting’ Chief did behave inappropriately and did end up in court when he refused to reveal the results of the HST Referendum and allowed a mail-in ballot system fraught with veracity problems to obscure those results (I for one believe the margin of rejection was much higher than the official result.)

    If we allow these bad habits to fester, it doesn’t really matter what system we have. We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We need to force governments to obey the law, in court, if necessary. The problem is so broad, now, we should be able to dispense with
    those highly suspect “special prosecutors”. The police probably should get a good spanking, too, before being sent back out to do their jobs—and stick to it.

    As to Mr Chong’s bill, it just seems weird to me to have caucus, which normally consists of one single party, deliberate about the performance of a parliamentary officer without the knowledge or consultation with the whole parliament, including members of other caucuses. If it’s a party matter, it’s up to them to deal with any beefs they might have against a leader whom they, for reasons privy to themselves, voted for as leader. It is coincidental that the leader is also an officer of parliament (i.e. if he or she is leader of the governing or opposition parties, deputy, etc.)


  5. I’m sorry. The ‘Acting’ Electoral Officer was hauled into court to force him to release the results of the Antis-HST Petition, not the Referendum. He was never hauled into court for providing us with a Referendum ballot system that could not be verified because of its design. That probably should have been challenged, too.


  6. @Scotty
    With Harpers record on control, his governments record for interfering in parliamentary procedures, senior aids accused of bribery, PMO record of deception,corruption, harrassment, threats (senate scandal) and his disdain for scientifically proven facts, it is no small wonder that the public holds the federal government in such low esteem.
    Admittedly no model is perfect, but attempts shouold be made to make it better. What the current Con – servative government is doing is not making it better.
    What happens in Westminster and the downfall of Margaret Thatcher is a necessary function for democracy to exist.
    Absolute control is the hallmark of a dick-tator and has no place in a democratic society. Harper has gone a long way down the path of dictatorship. When I am accused of siding with Child Pornograpers because I don’t believe what the government is doing, is right, is insulting. When I believe our environment needs necessary care and adequate protection from damaging corporate policies (mining etc.) the Conservative government accuses me of being and Environmental Radical and an enemy of the state.
    Wow – that is democracy ???? I won’t list the ever increasing list of things the current Canadian government has done/is doing to make our world less safe and healthy place to live.

    Anything has to be better that what Harper has done to Canada – and at what cost !!! Democracy does not exist here in Canada period.
    Changing the system – albeit it only a little, is a big improvement.
    Making the system so the average Canadian can make a difference through their MP/MLA etc. is a good start and an improvement.
    As I said earlier, if there is no effort to question or challenge the governement there will be no change.
    Talk is cheap and easy – as we witness daily in question perioid, where the current Cons-ervative Canadian government babbles on when avoiding answering questions from the opposition.


  7. Workforfun: Hey, I hear ya. But I’d point out that when the Tories (real Tories) got rid of Maggy, they still had a Tory government, the same MPs who did her bidding, the same right wing ideology. I don’t doubt, no matter how detestable the neo-rightists are, that getting rid of just one of them, Harper, would probably be a big improvement—but they are still neo-rightists. They aren’t against Harper’s agenda, they’re upset about his acting. Nobody’s going to get rid of him and do something better. Besides, he’s a hair’s breadth away from becoming the subject of an RCMP investigation over the infamous Duffy affair. I don’t want just Harper gone, I want the lot of them gone.

    Incidentally, it was the BC Liberal caucus that fired Gordon Campbell, Premier and their party’s leader. Did things get better? Nope.


    1. Special interest groups is too broad a label. Parents of autistic children or small farm owners or even a larger group like seniors don’t seem to have much sway at all. Special interest groups who have money to donate to campaigns and bribes…well, they seem to have too much power. Special interest groups is like the term moral majority – it has come to mean something it is not. Hell, most people are moral and most means majority but most people are not religious fundamentalists. So we have to be careful with the labels.


      1. Great to see the discussion spurred by this column – with most political parties now, special interest groups are simply those who don’t follow the party line….


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