Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Reform Act: Much Ado About Nothing

Almost everyone agrees, our political system is in need of fundamental, substantive repair.  Within that generalized view, there is a pre-disposed attraction to "reforms".   I would actually offer up the frenzied initial response to the mere mention of Michael Chong's looming "Reform Act", as proof of the serious undercurrent for change that exists within Canadian political circles.   It was quite heartening to see an otherwise apathetic political environment stir to life when talk emerged of a reform bill that would address some current ills.

Fast forward to the actual Reform Act tabled this week by Mr. Chong and I wonder what all the fuss was really about.  A scant eight page document-minus the padding- a few paragraphs of note at best.  I see nothing particularly revolutionary, or better put, progressive in nature.  On balance Chong's proposals offer a net neutral outcome at best, if one is truly committed to more representative, responsive and accountable democracy.

I support local riding associations deciding who runs under a party banner, without any interference from the party leader or the larger party apparatus.  Chong is spot on with this proposal, primarily because removing the paternal oversight allows for a more pronounced grassroots democratic expression.  If local ridings decide on a rogue representative that is their choice, parties must deal with these realities and there is nothing to preclude a leader from distancing themselves from this undesirable representation.  Political parties aren't monoliths, people have differing points of view, we should never fear democratic inputs, plenty of ways to still marginalize if certain rogue positions find concrete manifestation.

Now the problem with Chong's Reform Act.  This idea of allowing MP's the power to turf a Prime Minister completely, utterly, contradicts the spirit outlined in the previous paragraph.  The grassroots should have ultimate say on who represents them, but that same grassroots that ELECTED a leader is now rendered meaningless, replaced with a small cadre of MP's who can override their choice.  How anyone can reconcile the conflicting philosophical tenets escapes me, Chong essentially gives and takes from the grassroots with his proposals, and in essence creates a total wash in terms of thrust.

Our political system already has this incredibly inclusive process called a "leadership review", wherein rank and file, as well as MP's cast votes on the fitness of their leaders to continue.  Perhaps we need more frequent leadership reviews, but we certainly don't need MP's replacing the grassroots in determining who leads, that is elitist and above all paternal, which contradicts other "reforms".

Further, I don't want a system where poll gazing MP's consume themselves with reactionary considerations, as we've recently seen in Australia.  The modern political reality already spends an exorbitant amount of time on polling, all Chong does is introduce another mechanism for poll chasing politics.  As well, the potential for power plays, political gamesmanship, one can only imagine this tenet in place during the Chretien years.   I see no evolution with this proposal, in fact taking away the grassroots ultimate say is regression.

Removing caucus chairs tepid stuff, voting on inclusion or explusion of MP's a yawner on the grand scheme, basically a lot of attached rhetoric to elevate marginal "reform".  Chong's Reform Act is a tertiary distraction, which risks unnecessarily appeasing our desire for real change should this pass (and I suspect it will given the overarching simplistic narratives, desire to be attached to change).

The Reform Act doesn't even offer a consistent narrative, it gives and takes if one looks beyond MP's as sole democratic input.  In the end, the much hyped "Reform Act" is disappointingly thin, unimaginative in its desire to simply replicate other flawed jurisdictions and above all will have little practical impact.  Better than nothing as they say, but not much...


rockfish said...

I'm in agreement with you - there is less meat here than noise. Not to sound the conspiracy bells, but that this would be laid for after the 2015 election, that it permits elected MPs with an opportunity to end-run the membership with its leader, and I'd even add the element of allowing no to little options for leaders in having a say in who carries the banner -- this doesn't stand the smell test.
None of these pro-active points outweigh the damage that could befall a party, especially non-ideological parties where members join together with a variety of common and uncommon ideas. I'd also like to put to the point that funny how Chong is such a great defender of our democratic institutions -- but i don't recall him sounding off against the multiple proroguations, the mega-omni bills that usurp both democratic debate and the virtual promises made to Canadians about accountability. Chong seems to be almost serving another portion of Harper's agenda here, changing the channel with something that at best will work against the Conservatives' rivals, who are poised to make serious gains in the next election. The issues he is trying to address have all been exasperated, and some completely constructed by, the current Chong supported regime.

Anonymous said...

While not perfect, I am glad he brought it up even if defeated. Something needs to be done about the centralization of the PMO. A compromise might be if enough MPs want a leader removed it goes to an automatic vote for the party grassroots where the leader can run again. I think the real issue here is if a PM or leader adopts policies that are not unpopular nationwide but widely unpopular in certain parts of the country (think gun registry or more recent EI changes) its a way to force the PM or leader to into account regional concerns.

An easier rule that would be in line what Britain already has is everything except money bills and straight up non-confidence motions would be a free vote for all backbenchers. This would allow MPs to represent their constituents but also allow greater diversity of views in the party. If a person is routinely voting against the party and being mischief the leader can distance themselves from them or caucus vote to remove them, but occasionally taking a view different than the party is perfectly legitimate.

Simon said...

hi's the problem:

This idea of allowing MP's the power to turf a Prime Minister completely, utterly, contradicts the spirit outlined in the previous paragraph. The grassroots should have ultimate say on who represents them, but that same grassroots that ELECTED a leader is now rendered meaningless, replaced with a small cadre of MP's who can override their choice.

Under our system constituents elect an MP not a leader. The MP's represent the riding and are more accountable than the so-called grassroots or Party activists. To get away from that concept is to take us into the realm of a presidential system, which is of course the root of our present problem. It took the British Conservative Party one day to remove Thatcher, the most popular PM of her generation. If she could be removed we can remove anyone...

Bluegreenblogger said...

If your ideal is to allow for variety in political expression, then Partys should be allowed to make whatever rules they can collectively agree to. That includes top-down, leader-centric partys, or ideologies that run counter to your accepted norm of devolved control. For example, can you imagine squezzing a Marxist-Lenninist party into a grassroots straightjacket. It would change them beyond recognition. Parliament should forget about tinkering with party constitutions, and stick to formalising the unwritten conventions that helped parliament work. If you ask me, this is a belated recognition that it was not such a great idea for the Harper government to ignore those parliamentary conventions, but the `cure` has little to do with the disease.

Anonymous said...

I want to make sure that the way Michael Ignatieff got shoved down our throats can never happen again. But this reform doesn't address taht.