OTTAWA - A Conservative MP's bill rapidly making its way through the House of Commons could restrict leaders in the future from unilaterally suspending MPs — a point very relevant on Parliament Hill this year.
Michael Chong's Reform Act 2014 will be studied line-by-line by MPs in committee Thursday, after which it is expected to be come back to the Commons for a penultimate vote in the new year.
Should it pass, MPs could give themselves the power within their caucuses to vote on suspensions and reinstatements, rather than leaving it to be the sole prerogative of their leaders.
Last month, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau suspended MPs Massimo Pacetti and Scott Andrews after hearing allegations of personal misconduct from two female NDP MPs. The two men have denied any wrongdoing.
Since then, questions have swirled about whether the men have received proper due process, and under what circumstances they could re-enter caucus.
Chong doesn't want to comment on the particulars of the Liberal suspensions, but he said his proposed legislation would take something that is arbitrary and ad hoc and make it clear what should happen.
"What the Reform Act will do is allow caucuses to implement clear, written rules on how members are to be afforded that due process and procedural fairness in the event of an allegation," Chong said.
"It will allow members to put their case to caucus and have their caucuses, as a jury of peers, adjudicate that case through a secret ballot vote."
Each party's parliamentary caucus would be required to vote after a general election on whether to give themselves that power over suspensions, the reviewing and expelling of a leader, and the naming of the caucus chair.
Should it pass, the bill would come into effect after the next election. Power has been centralized with the leaders' offices in recent years; Chong's bill seeks to restore a measure of that power to caucus members.
The bill has only received two days of study in the busy procedure and house affairs committee, with all witnesses praising the content.
"Those aspects of it are important in my mind for furthering a more democratic operation for our Parliament, because I don't think the members should be dictated to by party leaders and told, 'If you don't vote this way you're out of caucus,'" former House Speaker Peter Milliken told the committee last week.
Chong himself has suggested a number of amendments in order to gain the approval of all three major parties — allowing caucuses to vote to adopt new rules or stick to the status quo, for example.
"This bill is still a very good bill and will lead to meaningful change," Chong said. "I'm cautiously optimistic we can get this done."
The Liberals have hired labour and human rights lawyer Cynthia Peterson to lead an investigation into the allegations against Pacetti and Andrews. Trudeau has said he will use her report as the basis of his decision on whether to ultimately reinstate the men.
He explained that he had suspended Pacetti and Andrews in the absence of a formal process to deal with harassment complaints between MPs.
On Wednesday, Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer announced that a harassment prevention policy and mediation process that applied to administrative staff will now apply to MPs and their office employees.
The two NDP MPs have not indicated whether they intend to take part in any such process.
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