THE CANADIAN PRESS
Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Nov. 27. An Ontario Tory MP is expected to introduce a private member’s bill this week that would give party riding associations the ultimate say in electoral nominations.
OTTAWA — An Ontario Conservative MP is set to introduce a bill that would give party riding associations the ultimate say in electoral nominations.
Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong has been working on the private member’s bill for years which will remove the leader’s signature from the equation for the first time since 1970.
The timing of the bill coincides with the election win of Conservative MP-elect Larry Maguire in Brandon-Souris, who faced many questions about his acclamation locally and about his party in Ottawa allegedly hijacking his campaign in the waning days of the election.
Maguire, who has only spent two days in Ottawa since his byelection win a week ago, couldn’t speak about the bill specifically.
"I would look at any reforms that would come forward," Maguire told the Brandon Sun. "Any time you can bring parliamentary reforms that will help, then it’s a plus."
"Any time you have a chance to look at these types of reforms, you want to hear the views of the people in the region and I want to see what those reforms are first and I’m sure the public will see them as they get tabled in the house as well."
The bill, which has yet to be tabled in Parliament, would give backbenchers significant powers — including the ability to vote out their leader.
If Maguire, who will enter Parliament with a backbench seat, can have a louder say within his party, it could have positive effects in the riding, Maguire said.
Perhaps the federal government will open its coffers to help with airport expansion, for example, in order to win back disenchanted Conservatives in the area.
The airport, which is "right at the top" of Maguire’s priority list, has already come up during recent talks with Mayor Shari Decter Hirst and the MP-elect said "certainly it’s a priority for myself to make sure the airport is upgraded to continue to have the ridership with Westjet we’ve already got.
"If that helps solidify the riding, then that’s just my job, is to make sure we look at it."
Meanwhile, measures in the soon-to-be tabled private member’s bill that focus on MPs are the most likely to stir debate in the House of Commons, particularly at a time when the power of the executive is in the spotlight.
Details of how Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s staff allegedly tried to manipulate a Senate committee report and an independent audit were laid out in an RCMP affidavit filed last week in court.
Conservative sources familiar with Chong’s bill say it’s not a direct reaction to what’s currently in the news, and wouldn’t even come into effect until after the next election. Chong had been forced to introduce the bill or risk losing his place in the order of Commons consideration.
When asked about the bill Friday, Chong said, "I’m going to wait until the bill is introduced in the House before providing public comment."
One measure would entrench in the Parliament of Canada Act that the different Commons caucuses — also referred to as parliamentary parties — have the power to trigger a leadership review vote, as long as 15 per cent of the caucus applies in writing for one.
After that, a simple majority of MPs, 50 per cent plus one, could vote to turf the leader and have a leadership race.
Members of Australian’s Labour party caucus recently used that power to eject leader Julia Gillard, and Conservative MPs in Britain have the same power.
In the case of Chong’s bill, the power would be restricted to the House of Commons caucus, and not the larger national caucus that includes senators.
Theoretically, the MPs would be cautious about how they vote because of their new, closer relationship to the riding associations that helped send them to Ottawa. The idea would also be to make political engagement more attractive to Canadians, with the knowledge they have more power at the grassroots level.
Commons caucuses would also have the right to elect their own chairs and to call for a review of an MP, as well as to eject or readmit them.
Right now, it is the prerogative of the leader alone, as Harper showed this year when MP Dean Del Mastro was shown the door after being charged under the Canada Elections Act.
Chong’s bill is expected to be introduced next Thursday, and would potentially see second reading debate in February or March.
There is a quiet but substantial section of the Conservative caucus that has bridled against Harper’s control, which has extended to their questions and votes in committees, and what they say on the floor of the Commons.
This spring, they rallied behind MP Mark Warawa’s bid to give MPs the right to make statements of their own choosing in the Commons.
MP Brent Rathgeber left the Conservative caucus in June, complaining about the gradual transfer of power from members of Parliament to the Prime Minister’s Office and cabinet.
Chong is a popular figure in the Conservative caucus, regarded as a moderate and measured straight-shooter with a lot of integrity.
He himself resigned from a cabinet post in 2006, saying he did not agree with a government motion recognizing Quebec as a nation.
In order for Chong’s private member’s bill to fly, he will need more than just the support of his own colleagues — MPs from other parties will also need to come on board.
» The Canadian Press, with files from Graeme Bruce
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 2, 2013