I recently posted about the decline of conservatism in Canadian politics with the transformation of the progressive conservatives to mere conservatives. Red Toryism has not, however, been entirely extinguished in the federal party. Michael Chong serves as an example.
He has suggested reforms of House of Commons procedure that will appeal to all those who are concerned that party leaders, and prime ministers in particular, wield too much power. The Trump phenomenon in the U.S. serves as a caution about where excessive loyalty to a party leader can lead.
Chong is proposing three reforms that would increase the influence of individual members in the House of Commons while diminishing that of party leaders.
First, he wants the speaker empowered to choose which MPs are called on during question period and debates. At the moment, the speaker must choose from a list approved by each party’s house leader. This effectively leaves MPs at the mercy of party leaders for the right to speak, a right that was in fact given them by the people. Chong believes the speaker should also choose which cabinet minister should respond to questions, something that would lead to greater accountability.
Second, he argues that the chairs and members of parliamentary committees should be chosen by secret, ranked ballots of all MPs, as is done in the UK, rather than by party leaders.
Third, Chong would remove the prime minister’s power to appoint key officers of Parliament, including the House of Commons clerk, law clerk and sergeant-at-arms. These, he says, should be appointed by the speaker, who is elected by all MPs in a secret ballot.
Under our undemocratic voting system, a party may form the government, i.e. gain 100 per cent of the power, without the support of even half the voters. The Liberals currently govern even though they only garnered 33 percent of the popular vote (modified for the moment at least by the Supply and Confidence Agreement with the NDP). Add to this caucus solidarity and supplement that with the privileges allocated to the PM, and power becomes too concentrated for healthy democracy. The PM becomes more president than prime minister.
Giving greater independence to MPs would not only allow them to better represent their constituents, but would give all MPs, including those in the opposition, more of a voice. After all, opposition MPs represent citizens too, and those citizens deserve to be heard in their legislature.
This isn’t Chong’s first effort to give individual MPs more power. His Reform Act of 2015, passed with overwhelming support in the House, gave MPs in a party caucus the right to trigger a leadership review and to subsequently vote to oust their leader. Unfortunately the rules are not mandatory and and party leaders have exploited that weakness.
But Chong persists. We can hope his new reforms will also be adopted and this time with more muscle. An MP who is committed to making the system more democratic and not solely devoted to advancing the interests of his party is downright refreshing.