Prescription for undemocratic pandemonium
Conservative Member of Parliament Michael Chong tables his private member's bill aimed at giving MPs more power, in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa December 3, 2013. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie)
Look, I like Michael Chong, too. In fact, I’ve probably liked the Conservative MP longer than anyone else.
Way back in November 2006, when we were being urged by elites to recognize Quebec as a “nation,” Chong objected, and resigned his cabinet seat.
In another newspaper, I called him an “anti-nationalist hero.”
A bit later, in December 2008, I ran into Chong at the Sikh wedding of a mutual friend. I opined that he was still “very impressive.”
In recent days, lots of other folks have been lauding him as a hero, too.
They like him.
In particular, they like his democratic reform bill.
Chong wants elected party leaders to have less power.
He wants leaders to lose the power to approve candidates in elections.
He wants committee bosses elected by MPs.
And he wants leaders to hold their jobs at the pleasure of MPs, not party members.
There are some other things in there, but you get the drift.
Essentially, he wants to denude party leaders of their ability to be, you know, leaders.
So, to reiterate: Michael Chong is likeable. But his bill is not.
It is, instead, a prescription for precisely the sort of undemocratic chaos he professes to oppose.
We know whereof we speak.
In 2000, after several million registered voters gave him a bigger majority government than he had previously enjoyed, Jean Chretien was the target of a caucus mutiny led by his defeated leadership rival, Paul Martin.
Depending who you are talking to, Martin was fired or resigned from cabinet in June 2002.
What is not in dispute, though, was what happened next: Martin’s supporters — who had previously contented themselves with wearing black armbands to protest Chretien’s leadership, hissing “Judas” at him in public, or passing around rumours that he was dying — dramatically accelerated their campaign to dispose of the duly elected Liberal prime minister.
To them, it did not matter that Liberal party members had overwhelmingly voted to make Chretien leader in 1990, and more than 90% of them had ratified his leadership twice thereafter.
It did not matter that more than five million voters had re-elected him in 2000.
It did not matter that about 60% of Canadians approved of Chretien’s leadership in serial public opinion polls.
No, what mattered to Martin’s mutineers was getting “P.C.” appended to their name.
That is, they all wanted to be in cabinet, and get ferried about in limousines.
Led by luminaries like Joe Fontana — the mayor now facing fraud charges in London, Ont. — Martin’s people agitated to drive Chretien out. Peace, order and good government effectively went by the wayside.
With Chong’s bill, this sort of constitutional chaos will be rendered permanent.
It will render garden-variety MPs — who most Canadians could not identify in a police lineup — as the bosses. And it will render the bosses eunuchs.
Whether Michael Chong and his editorial board cheerleader squad approve or not, the fact is this: Most Canadians make important political choices based upon who the leader is.
Not policy, and certainly not backbench nobodies.
Some will argue the position of prime minister is not referred to in the Constitution, and that is true.
Some will say party leaders are not elected directly by the people, and that is also true.
But leadership, and leaders, are the things that mostly determine how they vote.
So, if Michael Chong doesn’t have confidence in Stephen Harper, there is nothing stopping him from getting up in caucus next Wednesday — nothing — and asking for a leadership confidence vote.
Like the Martinites, Chong wants to do indirectly what he apparently lacks the nerve to do directly.
That makes his bill eminently dislikeable.
And (sadly) it makes Michael Chong a little less likeable, too.