I think there are some merits to some of Mr. Chong’s proposals, particularly those that give a greater role to backbench MPs, but triggering a leadership vote with 15% of a party’s caucus goes too far. That would mean that 24 disgruntled Conservative MPs out of a caucus of 160 could trigger a leadership vote. Be careful what you wish for – Conservative MPs in Britain forced the ouster of Margaret Thatcher in 1990 under exactly the same system that Chong is proposing, and the inept non-entities who replaced her as leader were largely responsible for the subsequent long reign of the Labour Party.
Do we really want a system where 24 MPs can force a leadership vote? The party leader is currently elected by thousands of party members across the country in a democratic process. If the party is unhappy with its leadership, it’s up to the party to do something about it, not a relative handful of unhappy backbenchers. If there are flaws in the party rules for leadership reviews, then it’s up to the party to change them, not Parliament. Under the current system I have a direct voice in leadership contests, not just through my MP (and this would be especially true if I lived in a riding held by an opposition MP). It is up to ALL party members to hold the leader accountable in a leadership review, not on secretive back-room shenanigans in the House of Commons. Ultimately it is up to the voters to cast their judgement on a party leader in a general election. Under the current system it is very difficult to replace a party leader, and that is as it should be; it should not be considered lightly.
I find it curious that the media is jumping on Chong’s bandwagon right now. Where was the howling for “democratic reform” under Jean Chretien, who wielded the exact same powers as Harper in exactly the same way but was just the aw-shucks “little guy from Shawinigan” as far as the press was concerned? For that matter, where was the outrage during Pierre Trudeau’s regime - he who contemptuously referred to his caucus backbench MPs as “nobodies” once they were 50 yards from Parliament Hill?
I think a lot of the problems in the House of Commons could be solved with a few simple rule changes. We should follow the current British example and allow free votes in the House without automatically triggering an election. In Britain, all votes in the House are free votes unless they involve money bills or are specifically designated by all parties as confidence votes. This would allow backbench MPs to vote more often against their own party and follow the wishes of their constituents without forcing an election. In Canada we currently have the exact opposite system – all votes are confidence votes unless specifically designated as a free vote.
Secondly, we could empower backbenchers if we gave more serious attention to Private Members’ Bills. Most of this type of legislation dies on the order paper – with a few simple procedure changes the House could make it much easier for backbench MPs to bring Private Members’ Bills to a final vote in the House and give a much greater role to individual MPs, much as the US Congress does.
Conservatives should be very careful of changing the leadership process just because Thomas Mulcair, Andrew Coyne & Robert Fife can’t stand Stephen Harper.