Removal of MPs from caucus
Today, by convention, removing an MP from caucus is essentially the prerogative of the party leader. Chong’s bill would instead rest that power with the caucus. The only way an MP could be removed from caucus would be by a majority vote of the caucus, a process that can be triggered by the request of 15 per cent of the caucus.
- Within the party system, it could be mandated that nominations for all ridings open on a pre-determined and publicly known date, with set deadlines flowing backward from that date for membership cutoff, approval as a nomination candidate, submission of nomination papers, and so on. In combination with the removal of the leader veto with the creation of the nomination officer as envisioned by Chong, and a transparent process for approval as a candidate, this would remove the ability of the party leadership (as today) or the MP or possible candidate that controls the riding association (as under Chong’s proposal) to manipulate the process for a favoured candidate. Everyone would have a level playing-field under which to contest the nomination.
- If we want to think bigger, we could move to an Elections Canada-run primary system for nomination races, where every resident of the riding has the option to register as a supporter of a party and vote in only one nomination race, which could all happen at the same time on a pre-determined and known timeline similar to that outlined above, but ran by Elections Canada to ensure transparency and fairness. My concern with this scenario is the dilution of the privileges of party membership, similar to the concerns I expressed when the Liberals debated the issue in the leadership selection context in 2012.
On the issue of caucus firing the leader, I’m less inclined to propose radical reform because I fundamentally oppose what Chong is proposing to do. As mentioned, the caucus doesn’t elect the leader, the membership (and supporters) do, and caucus should not have the right to overrule the democratically expressed will of the membership by fiat. We members would like to reserve that right for ourselves. If caucus members don’t like that, perhaps they should consider how they’re going to get re-elected without thousands of loyal volunteers to knock on doors, stuff envelopes and make donations. Chong’s bill shows a pretty fundamental disrespect for the party loyalists, volunteers and workers without whom they would not be in Parliament. The party is bigger than just the caucus.
While the ability to fire the leader must remain with the membership, I would be open to considering making it easier to trigger a leadership review vote. Currently, in the case of the Liberals, a leadership endorsement vote is held with every member having the option to vote as part of the process of selecting delegates to the first biennial after an election in which the party did not form government.
As far as I’d be willing to consider going towards what Chong proposes is to allow a majority vote of caucus to trigger a leadership endorsement vote by the membership of the party. If the leader is endorsed, the leader stays on. If the leader is not endorsed, a leadership race is triggered. And, of course, the leader could chose to quit having lost the support of caucus, triggering a leadership race. But the ultimate power should rest with the party membership, not with caucus. If you’re a caucus member that doesn’t like the leader the party membership wants, maybe you’re in the wrong party, or need to accept that in a democracy you don't always get your way.
It’s not all about Parliament Hill
I’ve gone on too long already, so I’ll leave the need to think beyond Ottawa when it comes to political reforms for a future post. Instead, I’ll just close by saying I do support reforms to empower individual MPs, to allow them to speak to constituency concerns and stray from the party line when it’s not on an issue of fundamental principle. When considering how to accomplish such goals though, we can’t merely look at Parliament Hill, at MPs and leaders, in isolation.
Party leaders and MPs are (unless they’re independents) members of a political party. Parties include a leader, they include (hopefully) caucus members, and they include members (and even supporters). They’re all united by common goals, and a common idea and vision, and by policies they come together to debate and discuss and then go forward and support. The party doesn’t exist just on Parliament Hill – it exists right across the country, and any reform worth considering will acknowledge this.
I want to devolve power in our political system. But I don’t see a devolution from the party leader to the caucus as a particularly desirable step forward – instead, I want it devolved to the party membership itself, whether it’s picking our nomination candidates and our leader, or developing our election platform.
That’s the kind of reform I could get behind. In the mean time, while I understand the desire for change in many quarters, that doesn't mean we should blindly hop in the first piece of reform that comes along. And far from behind an imperfect step forward, this bill seems like an ill-advised step in the wrong direction. Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers