04/07/2014 05:10 EDT | Updated 06/07/2014 05:59 EDT

Michael Chong: Reform Bill Changes Made To Attract All-Party Support


OTTAWA - Two Conservative bills that would fundamentally change the Canadian electoral system, two very different approaches.

On the one hand there is Tory MP Michael Chong, whose high-profile private member's bill seeks to rebalance power between MPs and party leaders, and also between the grassroots and party headquarters.

After hearing input from MPs of all stripes, Chong introduced amendments to his legislation Monday before it even got to second reading.

"I believe that a bill like this needs multi-party support in order for it to become law. Because it affects all parties, I believe that support is necessary," Chong told reporters Monday.

By contrast, the government has lashed out at critics of its Fair Elections Act, which would overhaul parts of the Canada Elections Act. Experts who have expressed reservations about the legislation have found their motivations questioned, and opposition politicians have so far been ignored.

That bill is currently before a Commons committee.

Interestingly, the minister fronting the Fair Elections Act — Pierre Poilievre — has provided suggestions to Chong on his legislation. Chong took those recommendations, along with others from other parties, and used them to help amend his so-called Reform Act.

A Conservative source noted that the fact the NDP supports the bill, giving it a better chance of passing, could explain why the government is willing to work with Chong to reshape it.

Chong, a former intergovernmental affairs minister, carefully sidestepped questions about the government's handling of the elections bill.

"At minimum, the bill should go through the full process, it should receive full consideration and that's what I expect will happen," Chong said.

Chong's private member's bill would hand power to party caucuses to trigger a leadership review, rather than leaving that up to party members during conventions.

He had originally called for a threshold of 15 per cent of the caucus to trigger the review, but has raised that to 20 per cent.

The bill now also calls for the publication of names of those MPs who vote in favour of a leadership review.

Chong had originally handed complete power over the timing and rules of electoral nominations to riding associations. There, too, he has put some water in his wine.

With his new amendments, the party leader would still have the power to deregister a riding association "if it went rogue and totally off the rails."

And a system of elected, provincial nomination officers would have the ultimate power to eject an elected candidate in a riding. Those officers would be elected by a party's riding association presidents in each province.

Chong says the measures would create a sort of tension between the power exerted by the leadership and the power of the grassroots party members. A leader and his or her team would have to be willing to go as far as deregistering a riding association in order to overturn its decisions on a nomination race.

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