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MP Dan Albas report: Discussing the Reform Act

December 10, 2013 - 11:51 AM

There have been very few bills that have generated as much discussion, debate and feedback as Bill C-559. This is quite remarkable given that this Private Member`s Bill was only tabled into the House late last week and has yet to be deemed votable or to reach second reading. You may ask, "What exactly is Bill C-559? " It is called the Reform Act of 2013 and was introduced recently by my colleague MP Michael Chong.

Depending upon who you ask, the reactions to this Bill have ranged from being viewed as the salvation of our Parliamentary democracy to declarations that the Bill is an all out assault on the democratic principles which have helped shape our great country. Media pundits, academics, retired politicians, interest groups and most importantly, citizens have all taken the time to comment on this Bill with a passion and a level of interest rarely observed, at least from my limited time as a Member of Parliament. I view this level of engagement as very encouraging and to date the majority of the input I have heard locally is supportive of this Bill.

There is also something which extends beyond this Bill that I believe is worthy of note. In the days prior to Bill C-559 being introduced into the House of Commons, an advocacy organization began a lobbying campaign with local MP`s, calling on them to support this democratic reform Private Member`s Bill. I mention this due to the fact that the actual provisions of the Bill at that point were unknown with many openly supporting the bill based on what they believed to be the contents and objective– in this case an “increase” in democracy. The challenge for legislators is that the actual content of what is proposed in a bill is of equal if not more importance that the intent. Does Bill C-559 increase democracy?

One of the proposals of this Bill is to end a requirement that a locally elected candidate who intends to run for a political party is formally endorsed by the leader of the party in question. What is interesting on this point is that it was actually a Liberal Government in the 1970’s who introduced this requirement in large part to ensure that special interest groups could not unduly influence the candidate selection process at the local level. In many respects, the requirement for formal endorsement by a party leader has acted as a disincentive in attempting to influence a candidate selection process as the results can be nullified by a party leader if desired. Bill C-559 proposes to eliminate this safeguard.

Another proposal in the Reform Act allows for 15 per cent of a party caucus to initiate a leadership review process and ultimately the majority of caucus MP’s attending a leadership review meeting could in effect remove a democratically elected Prime Minister and in-turn could install a new Prime Minister solely based on a majority caucus decision with no democratic participation from Canadians. A similar clause is also proposed in the democratic reform bill with respect to how an MP can be removed from or re-instated to caucus. If 15 per cent of the caucus membership requests a review and a majority of caucus members in attendance at the review in question vote for the removal or re-instatement of another MP (within caucus) that majority vote would stand regardless of the intentions of the Prime Minister. The intent of these proposals is to increase the power of individual MP’s and to decrease the ability of the Prime Minister to unilaterally make decision with respect to caucus composition. In other words the Prime Minister would be more susceptible to the demands of individual Members of Parliament or smaller groups of MP`s as opposed to the consensus of caucus or `team` approach that has emerged over the past few decades.

One other point of interest is that should Bill C-559 be adopted, the implementation date would be 7 days after the next election. This would mean that some provisions around candidate selection would not actually be implemented until possibly the year 2019. Will these proposed changes increase democracy? To date I have read the bill and dozens of opinion editorials both for and against the Reform Act that offer different but valid points. I would still like to hear from more citizens on this bill once the actual contents are better known. I believe almost everyone supports increased democracy in our electoral process. However the details of how that is best achieved (otherwise known as reading the fine print) should not be overlooked. For the record I support increasing democracy, transparency and accountability in our political process and welcome your comments and views on this important subject. I can be reached at dan.albas@parl.gc.ca or by phone at 1-800-665-8711 and I do look forward to hearing from you.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013
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