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Senate should stop playing games on Monday and pass ‘Hope for Reform Act’

Unjustifiable and undemocratic for unelected senators to change or fail to pass bill

Large majority of voters support empowering MPs and large majority of MPs passed Bill C-586 (which only gives MPs and parties votes on some ways to empower MPs)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, June 22, 2015

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on the Senate to stop playing games and pass the Reform Act (Bill C-586) this week.  On Friday two Conservative senators – David Wells backed by Denise Batters – proposed an amendment to the Reform Act that will likely be voted on late Monday.  If the change passes it will effectively stop the bill because the House of Commons has adjourned and very likely won’t open again to consider the change before an election call stops all outstanding bills.

Even if the amendment fails to pass, the Senate could still stop the Reform Act simply by failing to pass it before the Senate adjourns (which is expected to happen at the end of the week).

The House of Commons passed the Reform Act by a vote of 260-17 on February 25th.  It only requires MPs to vote behind closed doors after each election on rules that govern some of their rights and powers in relation to their party leader and caucus, and they are allowed to vote to keep the rules the same as they are now.  The only actual change it makes is to remove the power of party leaders to approve election candidates – but it gives parties the right to decide to give that power back to their leader (or to anyone else).

In other words, it is in effect only a ‘Hope for Reform Act’ – it only creates a formal opportunity after each election for discussion and reform of some of the rights and powers of MPs.  A national survey in May 2013 found that 71% of adult Canadians want restrictions on the powers of leaders to choose their party’s election candidates, to choose which MPs sit on committees, and to penalize politicians who don’t vote with their party (only 20% were opposed; 9% did not answer).  Another national survey in November 2014 found that 61% want local riding associations to choose election candidates (only 24% want the leader to do this), and 73% want a majority of MPs to decide whether to expel an MP from the party (only 17% want the leader to decide).

For all these reasons, it is unjustifiable, undemocratic and simply ridiculous that unelected senators have taken so long to review the Reform Act and are even considering changing or stopping it.

“The Hope for Reform Act passed in the House of Commons by a huge majority and it only gives parties the opportunity to democratize the selection of all their election candidates, and MPs the opportunity to decide some of their rights and powers concerning their party leader and caucus,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Visiting Professor at the University of Ottawa. “It is completely unjustifiable, undemocratic and ridiculous that unelected senators have taken so long to review the Reform Act, and they should stop playing games and pass it before the Senate adjourns.”

The initial version of the Reform Act (Bill C-586) took away each federal party leader’s power to approve their party’s election candidates and gave it to a riding-association elected nomination officer in each province (and one for all the territories).  It also took away each leader’s power to: choose the party’s caucus chair; kick an MP out of caucus (and re-admit them), and choose an interim leader if the leader resigns. Instead, the bill required a secret-ballot vote approved of by a majority of MPs in each party to make these decisions, and it also gave 20% of any party’s MPs the power to initiate a secret-ballot vote of all the party’s MPs that, if passed by a majority of the party MPs, would either endorse or fire the party’s leader.

Last December, Conservative MPs introduced amendments in committee that effectively changed it into the “Hope for Reform Act” – changes that meant the bill allows parties to decide (however they want) who will approve candidates (so leaders could end up keeping this power), and changes that meant each party’s MPs would only be required to vote after each election behind closed doors on the rule changes summarized above concerning choosing their caucus chair, expelling or re-admitting an MP, and reviewing their leader.

The November 2014 national survey indicated that voters wanted the Reform Act changed in only one way, with 68% saying they want the members of the party to decide whether to fire the party leader (only 26% want the party’s MPs to decide).  Senator Wells’ proposed amendment removes from the Reform Act the measure that allows MPs to vote in a rule that gives them the power to remove a party leader.

Democracy Watch’s position is the rule should be that a majority of each party’s MPs could initiate a review of the party leader but then all members of the party would vote on whether to remove the party leader.  However, even though Democracy Watch thinks the proposed rules concerning MP rights and powers in the Reform Act should be changed and strengthened and expanded to cover other key rights and powers, it still supports passing the bill as it is a step forward in the movement to free and empower MPs in ways that balance their rights with restrictions on the powers of party leaders.

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
[email protected]

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