Chong’s Reform Act easily passes second reading

Josh Wingrove, The Globe and Mail,  Sep. 24 2014

An amended version of the Reform Act – a Conservative backbencher’s effort to rein in the authority of party leaders and hand more power to individual MPs – has passed a second reading in the House of Commons, a key step in its path to becoming law.

The Reform Act, Bill C-586, was supported by an overwhelming number of MPs Wednesday evening, passing by a vote of 253 to 17. Many Conservative cabinet ministers, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau were among those to vote in its favour, while a handful of MPs from each of the major three parties opposed it. Prime Minister Stephen Harper wasn’t present for the vote.

The fate of Ontario MP Michael Chong’s bill, which one early supporter said has been weakened through changes, will now be in the hands of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee, where it could face further changes.

Mr. Chong has twice reined in the bill’s proposals – first in the Spring by tabling a new version of the bill, and earlier this month by announcing what changes he’ll seek at the committee.

The most recent round of changes backed off his initial proposals in two key areas. One related to signing authority over which candidates can run for a party. That power presently sits with the party leader and is a de facto power the leader has to hold current MPs, who would like to seek re-election, in line. Mr. Chong first proposed handing signing authority to individual riding associations, then changed that and instead suggested handing it to party provincial nomination officers. He now proposes handing it to a single person in the party, possibly but not necessarily the party leader.

The second major change governed rules of party caucuses. It includes formalizing what powers MPs have to overthrow a leader, select a new one, elect a caucus chair and decide who is let into, and kicked out of, caucus. All would generally hand more power to the MPs that make up a party caucus. Mr. Chong’s most recent changes hand party caucuses an opt-out clause on this front – they can choose to accept the new powers, or opt out and, if they then wish, come up with their own.

“I think with these changes, the chances of the bill have gone up significantly,” Mr. Chong said earlier this month, after announcing the changes.

Many of his early supporters, particularly fellow Conservative MPs, backed the changes, saying they continue to support his efforts to push through reform in the House of Commons. However, one independent MP, former Conservative Brent Rathgeber, said he was very concerned by changes and that they weakened the bill. Mr. Rathgeber quit caucus last year when a Conservative-dominated committee heavily changed his own bill without his consent.

It’s unclear when the Reform Act will be handled by the committee. It would then need to return to the House for report stage and third reading, then pass through the Senate before becoming law.

Those who opposed the bill on second reading included Conservative MPs David Wilks, Bev Shipley, Bob Dechert, Roxanne James, Gordon O’Connor and Bryan Hayes; NDP MPs Alain Giguère, Jean Rousseau, Pierre-Luc Dusseault, Mylène Freeman, Charmaine Borg, Tarik Brahmi, Élaine Michaud, Anne-Marie Day, Chris Charlton and Libby Davies; and Liberal MP Marc Garneau.