New Private Member’s Bill Would Place Necessary Checks on Party Power



May 3, 2013

By Lennart DeVisser ( Is Canada’s Parliament still democratic? Recent events make this question hard to answer with confidence. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May is one of many who are appalled by the abuse of power by party leaders. With her new Private Member’s Bill, she is doing something to change this.

At a press conference yesterday, Ms. May explained why she is pushing for an amendment to the Canada Elections Act. An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act aims at putting power back into the hands of MPs and their constituents. She is motivated by what she calls “the noxious effect of party discipline on our democracy.”

This proposed amendment would require candidates running for seats in Parliament to be endorsed by members of their political party’s electoral district association.

The nomination would have to stem from the electoral district in which the candidate is seeking nomination. At the moment, candidates must get their nomination papers signed by the party leader. This practice gives the party leaders too much power. If MPs do not vote according to the wishes of their party leaders, they run the risk of losing the endorsement of the leaders come election time. This has cost some MPs their political careers.

May cited the example of Bill Casey, a former Conservative MP from Nova Scotia. When he decided to vote against his party’s budget legislation, he lost his place in the Conservative caucus. He voted against the budget because he believed it failed to follow through on promises made to Atlantic Canada. His demand for promise keeping is certainly laudable. The actions of Mr. Harper and the party whip are certainly not.

It is clear that there needs to be limitations on the power of individuals. Human beings are sinful and imperfect creatures. It is for this reason that checks and balances of power were instituted in our Western democracies. Ms. May’s public efforts to maintain this part of our heritage is praiseworthy.

Demand for this kind of change has grown recently in response to the Conservative Party whip’s refusal to let MP Mark Warawa speak out in Parliament about sex-selective abortions. And although an expert from Parliament testified that Warawa’s motion met the criteria for votability, a committee deemed it non-votable, preventing it from proceeding. This censorship is a blatant disregard for the beliefs of Canadians and, more fundamentally, the values of our democracy.

The Speaker of the House, Andrew Scheer, recently encouraged MPs to let their opinions be heard. His ruling allowed backbench MPs to stand up in the House of Commons regardless of whether they were on a prepared list from their party. By allowing them not to be constrained by caucus lists, Scheer gave MPs more freedom. Elizabeth May was optimistic about the growing demand for change. She expressed that various MPs shared her feelings about this issue and she hopes to have their support when her Bill comes before Parliament.

In the press release, May stated, “I have put forward a legislative solution to end the current climate of fear in caucuses and ensure that MPs are not subject to the harsh sanction of being thrown out of caucus and denied the chance to stand for their constituency due to a leader’s ire.”

Preserving our democratic values is something on which all Canadians can agree on, especially those who are fighting for change on politically sensitive issues that Party leaders do not want to touch. ARPA Canada welcomes Ms. May’s efforts for democratic reform.


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