Chong’s PMB would result in a Gillard/Thatcher type of MP coup!

Credit CP files. Click for National Post.

Credit CP files. Click for National Post.

In one way, Andrew Coyne is right. If what we understand (since specifics have not yet been released) is the purpose of Conservative MP Michael Chong’s Private Member’s Bill on parliamentary reform, is ever passed, Parliament would never be the same because internal caucus coups would become possible.

In fact, while legislating the right for MPs to express their confidence in their leader might give the appearance of improving the perceived democratic deficit for Cabinet members and regular backbenchers, in reality it would reduce the democratic right for political party rank and file members to choose their leaders.  (H/T Eric at BLY and JNW)

And, worse, it would allow for a type of political coup that I would think most Canadians would not want. Which brings to mind the old saying — “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Think about it. In the case of a Canadian majority governing party, given what Coyne and others have written on the topic, a simple 15% of 154+ MPs would be able to depose a Prime Minister (as recently happened to Julia Gillard in Australia) without regard for the very people who elected that leader in the first place.

And, speaking of the corrupting influence of power, for those of us over 30 or 35, who among us can forget what the Conservative Party in the U.K. did to Margaret Thatcher in 1990? Robin Harris recently wrote on this topic referring to her detractors as weak bitter men.

I think the key phrase in one of Harris’s final paragraphs says it all — a coup “without reference to the electorate.” I would also add, without reference to the Conservative party members who chose her as leader in a well fought leadership campaign in 1975.

However, I don’t disagree with everything that the media says will be in Chong’s PMB. I agree, for example, that allowing a caucus vote to remove or readmit a member from caucus (as opposed to it being solely a PM or opposition leader decision) would give the MPs some limited power.

Plus, I also agree that it should not be necessary for a party leader to sign a candidates papers. Rather, who represents a riding in a federal election should be a nomination decision of a riding association’s members. Or, at the very least, signatures of both the party leader “and” the riding president.

The crux of the matter is that “an allowable coup by only 15% of a caucus” is hardly democratic given it would give absolute power to an elected few who have so much to gain personally and politically.


20 thoughts on “Chong’s PMB would result in a Gillard/Thatcher type of MP coup!

  1. I’ve updated my post to reflect your point that 15% is destabilizing. What if the 15% number is just a bait so MP’s will buy into the bill by amending it?


  2. I think a better solution is keep that rule, but such number wouldn’t require the leader to step down it would simply require a vote amongst the party rank and file. With the internet today, this could be done in a week’s notice. Every member on their membership would get a passcode and then would log online and enter this. Also I would weight each riding equally as lets remember the Tory grassroots won’t just be going on what they want they will also go on what they hear around them. If they have several friends who voted Tory last time around, but are fed up enough they won’t next time around they might see this as a sign for change.


  3. Ah Ken, I missed your post because I couldn’t get the BT aggregator today for some reason. But, just think, only 23 of 155 MPs could lop off the head of a gov’t. That’s crazy! I am against the idea, even if the % was higher, because it is essentially anti-democratic. A few elected elites running the show as it were. What about party members? Where would donations come from if the rank and file were not involved. No, there are just too many possible unintended consequences. But, I’ll take a look at your post tomorrow.


  4. Some interesting ideas monkey. However, EC hasn’t figured out how to vote via the Internet yet, so I think we are still far away from that possibility, although it might be a good compromise.

    I worked for a Mike Harris MPP and know precisely how restrictive party discipline can be — from candidate selection to elected office. All parties in power are the same, no matter what they say in opposition. Governing is a team effort and if an MPP or MP doesn’t like the direction the team is going, they either quit and sit as an independent or sit back and compromise.

    Elected office really is not about the wishes of constituents. Never has been. A party runs on a platform and all constituents know what that platform is. So, even though once elected, an MP is there to help all voters, no matter who they voted for, no politician is going to go against what he or she agreed with prior to an election. The problem comes up when a Cabinet takes a completely new direction. Or, some egos don’t like the restrictions of what it means to be a backbencher! Trudeau Sr had something to say about that.

    By the way, thanks for using a real email address. I don’t approve comments from anyone who is anonymous.


  5. The heavy party discipline though is in many ways the problem. Britain who has the same system as we do generally allows people to break party ranks as long as they are backbenchers and it is not a money bill. While it may weaken unity, Canada is a vast country and an idea may be popular in one area but not in other. If MPs can vote against it they stand a better chance at holding their seats than if they have to toe the party line. Take the EI changes for example. They are reasonably popular in Ontario and the West so logically the Tories in those areas should vote for them. But extremely unpopular in Atlantic Canada and as a result could cause the party to lose most of seats next election there. If those MPs could vote against the changes, it would allow them to respond to their constituents as well as make them more electable. Never mind either it would pass due to enough support elsewhere or it would force the government to take into consideration the issues there. Also some Liberal MPs in Ontario where most unemployed are unable to qualify for EI or in the West which sees it as a wealth transfer may face pressure to back to the Tories so it might pass that way.

    In fact the strong party discipline is an exception in Canada, not the norm in most parliamentary system. Only in countries with proportional representation where MPs are chosen from a list not directly elected is party discipline stronger.

    As for removing a party leader, the problem is the grassroots gets to choose him or her but its extremely difficult to remove them until they resign. I don’t know if any case where a party leader has actually been removed by the grassroots although some have voluntarily resigned due to numbers being insufficient at leadership reviews.

    If leadership reviews were mandated at least once a year, that might also work too as a substitute. The problem is leadership reviews seem to be at the whim of the leader.


  6. Pingback: Sandy: Chong’s PMB would result in Gillard/Thatcher MP coup! | Jack's Newswatch

  7. Monkey — Re party members getting rid of party leaders, two cases would be John Tory when he was leader of the Ontario PCs and none other than Joe Clark. As nice as both men are personally, they simply don’t seem to have any political instincts. Or, when they do, most of the time they are wrong.

    Caucus discipline is sometimes difficult. There are ways to get around it, however, like being absent for a vote. Yes, even after the Whips office has called to make sure how your boss is going to vote. 😉


  8. Chong forgets who put him in Parliament. We the membership did, and the membership voted in a leader WE want.
    Chong was voted in because of the leadership of PM Harper.
    The membership would be over ruled by the MPs if Chongs PMB passes.
    That is very wrong for a grassroots party.

    Changes that would facilitate MPs being more representative of the people …..would be RECALL and the House supporting INDEPENDANT MPs the same as those running under a party banner.
    We should be able to get rid of MPs, not MPs being able to get rid of fellow MPs and leaders, who the people chose.


  9. If PP was brought into Canada, the CPC hold the most seats with over 50% of the vote and most of the Candidates who came in second were also CPC.
    Any wonder why the Opps and Coyne have dropped proportional representation as the way to go…..
    PMSH is actually favorable to some sort of PP, maybe we will see something in the democratic reform policy tba.


  10. As for Chong, being critical of certain aspects of the PM I disagree. If you look throughout history not just here but across Canada and in various political points, mavericks tend to do better. I should point out Michael Chong had the highest vote percentage in Ontario of any Tory candidate so while not doubt the riding would have gone Tory no matter what, considering it wasn’t the highest for Hudak suggests his maverick works in his favour rather than against.

    As mentioned in Britain, party discipline is much weaker than Canada and far from causing problems its actually allowed parties to stay together when had the Canadian style of discipline been in place, I am not so sure. Take two examples below. In the case of the second its true moral issues are usually a free vote, but that’s more because in the case of the Tories and Liberals they know making it a whipped vote would tear their party apart no matter what.

    1. Iraq War which Labour party under Tony Blair supports. Labour traditionally being a centre-left party and skeptical of US foreign policy a large number of MPs opposed the war, many even going to protests. Had it been a whipped vote, I suspect a large number would have quit the party causing them to lose their majority. But because it was a free vote, the party survived in tact and thanks to the support of the Conservatives it passed despite not having enough support from Labour alone.

    2. Same sex marriage in Britain under David Cameron. A slim majority of Tory MPs opposed it and many quite strongly, but by making it a free vote it allowed the party to stay united. Had Cameron made it a whipped vote, probably a number would have defected to the UKIP and with representation in parliament that would give them more credibility thus increasing the chances of them splitting the vote next time around. Also Cameron supporting SSM showed the party was modernizing and also was a way to reach out to younger voters who are fiscally conservative but socially liberal. While at the same time allowing backbenchers to vote against kept the social conservative element within the party.

    In the US likewise party discipline is much weaker so I’ve long said only money bills or straight votes of confidence should be whipped votes. On all other issues, cabinet should be required to vote with the party, but backbench MPs should be free to vote against. I mentioned EI earlier and another example is the gun registry.

    Had the Liberals allowed a free vote on it, I suspect they would not lost as many rural ridings in the past elections as they have. In fact a number of defeated Liberal MPs stated that was the primary reason they lost. By contrast the NDP allowing a free vote allowed them to retain most of Northern Ontario, Skeena-Bulkley Valley, and Northwest Territories where the gun registry is extremely unpopular but on most other issues people are generally supportive of the NDP.


  11. Wilson – If PP were used, I suspect you would get a left wing coalition next time around. True if they went too far left and the economy tanked, then the Tories would likely get over 50%. Also had we used PP from the beginning the PCs and Alliance would have never united and you would likely have two Liberal as well as two NDP parties. You would have a Blue Liberal type party and a more progressive Liberal type (In Denmark and Netherlands they have two liberal parties VVD and Venestre are more your pro free enterprise fiscally conservative ones while D66 and Det Radikale Venestre are your centre-left progressive types) while the NDP would have one who are moderate social democrats much like the mainstream parties in Europe and another more hardline sort of along the lines of the Waffle or some of the smaller fringe left wing parties in Europe that usually get between 5-10% of the vote as opposed to being competitive. In that case the PCs + Alliance + Blue Liberals getting over 50% would be realistic but you would also need a consensus builder as opposed to autocrat to lead such coalition.

    As for ridings over 50%, the Tories got over 50% in 107 ridings out of 308 so a large number for sure but not a majority while it was only 80 in 2008, 55 in 2006 and only 40 in 2004 meaning outside the Prairies there are very few ridings where the Tories are guaranteed to get over 50% while much of rural Ontario, outerlying 905 suburbs, Lower Mainland suburbs, BC Interior, urban ridings in the Prairies, and a few pockets in Atlantic Canada could go either way (not in winning under our current system but Tories getting over 50% vs. not). By contrast Vancouver proper, more dense, diverse, and poorer Lower Mainland suburbs, Vancouver Island, inner city Winnipeg, Northern Ontario, urban Ontario, inner 905 ridings, Quebec, and most Atlantic Canadian ridings the Tories at best will win with a plurality. If a ranked system was used that’s a bit more difficult but they probably would have won all the ridings they got over 45% which was 134 but considering how long they’ve been in power and how much most Liberals and NDP hate them, I suspect the majority but not all would rank the other higher than the Tories. Now if either the Liberals or NDP had been in power for a long time and become quite unpopular, in that case I think the Tories would pick up a lot of second choice votes from both. For example in 2006 I think they would have gotten a lot more second choice votes than in 2011.


  12. Monkey — Please keep your comments shorter as the long winded ones can be a turnoff for other commenters. Besides yours tend to be long enough and thorough enough to be posts themselves. If you don’t have your own blog, you should have.

    For example, your response to Wilson on PP is such that there is not much she can say to keep a discussion going. And, that is the thing. Blue Like You. BC Blue and Crux of the Matter and other BTs are forums where people can vent.

    So, since you suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the last few days, I will put you on full moderation until you get the hang of this blog site.


  13. Fair enough. My point is Britain and the US have far less party discipline than Canada and despite some issues, the parties have stuck together.

    Also the Tories should stop demanding blind adherence. As long as one supports them on most issues there is nothing wrong with disagreeing occasionally. No two people are every going to agree on any issue and I think their demand for blind adherence is turning away many who agree on most issues but not all.

    BTW I don’t have a blog as I usually don’t have time so my comments are erratic due to varying schedule.


  14. Agree Monkey re the strict party discipline. This blog, for instance, does not always agree with the capital “C” conservatives.

    I’m one individual and a volunteer blogger so I write as I please. However, most who visit here are supporters of the PM and the CPC, including me, so there are few major disagreements. Lord willing (since I am not getting any younger), I will definitely be voting for them in 2015.


  15. Pingback: Pros and cons of an empowered caucus | Blue Like You

  16. Monkey — I am puzzled. I noticed you used your real name in another BT post by “Bear.” I also noticed your comment was quite different from what you have written here. Call me suspicious but that blog is most definitely not a conservative blog, no matter what the blogger contends, since he is always anti the Harper gov’t.


  17. Bill C-559 was released to the HOC yesterday. Read Daniel Dickin for full details. For the most part, everything we talked about on this thread were correct assumptions. However, there are even more worries. As I said in my update, we should nickname this the “Can of Worms Bill” because if it ever passes, it would definitely be opening a can of worms.


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