OTTAWA - Conservative MP Michael Chong's bid to shift the balance of power between caucuses and party leaders easily passed a critical vote in the Commons on Wednesday.
The Reform Act 2014 passed second reading by a vote of 253-17 with support from all three major parties and now goes to be studied at a Commons committee.
The private member's bill had the support of Conservative ministers, the leaders of the opposition parties and ordinary MPs from both sides of the aisle. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York, but both his parliamentary secretary and Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre voted in favour.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair noted he was the first leader to support the bill when it was introduced last year.
"I think it's a good idea to start opening things up. I love the debate itself, the very fact of the debate is a good thing," Mulcair told reporters on Wednesday.
"We don't think about these things enough. It's true, it's a little bit inside-the-ballpark baseball, but I like the idea we're having a refreshing discussion on this."
When Chong introduced the bill, he said it was time to restore power to parliamentarians vis-a-vis their party leaders, in order to make the Commons more responsible to the voters who send MPs to Ottawa.
He proposed giving party caucuses the power to review and eject party leaders, to select their caucus chairpeople and to decide on the ouster and reinstatement of colleagues.
Chong also proposed removing the section of the Canada Elections Act that gives party leaders a veto over who can run for a party — one of the tools used to keep MPs in line.
The proposals immediately sparked a debate amongst MPs, with parliamentarians of all stripes offering support for the reforms.
But Chong wanted to make sure the bill would pass and undertook months of talks with caucus leaders, backbenchers and members of the public on how to make the bill better, or at least feasible.
The MP ultimately promised to amend his bill to introduce more flexibility — for example, allowing parties to decide on their own particular caucus rules after each federal election. Such amendments can only occur at the committee stage.
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