The Reform Act — Reviewing The Leader

I very much support the idea behind Bill C-559 “The Reform Act, 2013.” Ultimately, it’s about continuing Canada’s long standing tradition of devolving power away from the few and toward the many. In the era of Rob Ford, having the ability to distance oneself and one’s party from your leader is probably a good thing. The Reform Act allows this.

Leadership Review

If a leader is being too autocratic, too divisive, coercing the other elected members or has become a political liability (i.e., is wildly unpopular), the caucus can approach their caucus chair with 15% of elected MPs of that party asking for the leadership review. Then, they vote for or against the elader. If they vote to remove that members as leader, the caucus then votes on who will become the interim leader until the party can choose a new leader.

To this end, the bill defines what a leadership review is:

“leadership review” means a process to endorse or replace the leader of a registered party.”

Then, all parties are required to change their constitution to make this one of the ways that their leader can be removed:

(k) the extract of the party by-laws that provides that

(i) a leadership review may be initiated by the submission of a written notice to the caucus chair signed by at least 15% of the members of the party’s caucus,

(ii) a leadership review is to be conducted by secret ballot, with the result to be determined by a majority vote of the caucus members present at a meeting of the caucus, and

(iii) if a majority of caucus members present at the meeting referred to in subparagraph (ii) vote to replace the leader of the party, a second vote of the caucus shall be conducted immediately by secret ballot to appoint a person to serve as the interim leader of the party until a new leader has been duly elected by the party.

Chair of the Caucus

In order to accomplish all of the above, you need a legal definition of caucus and to legally define the caucus chair. We use the standard definition of caucus, which pretty much means the elected MPs of a party:

““caucus” means a group composed solely of members of the House of Commons who are members of the same recognized party.”

 The caucasus is defined to have a caucus chair. The caucus chair must be elected by the caucus. And if events should happen that there suddenly is no caucus chair, the longest serving MP becomes the chair long enough to carry out the vote for a caucus chair.

Election of chair

49.4 (1) After every general election or following the death, incapacity, resignation or removal of the chair of a caucus in accordance with subsection (2), a chair shall be elected by a majority vote by secret ballot of the members of that caucus who are present at a meeting of the caucus.

Removal of caucus chair

(2) The chair of the caucus of a party may only be removed if

(a) the chair has received a written notice signed by at least 15% of the caucus members requesting that the occupancy of the chair be reviewed at a meeting of the caucus; and

(b) the removal of the chair is approved by a majority vote by secret ballot of the caucus members present at that meeting.

Senior caucus member

(3) Any vote that is taken under subsection (1) or (2) shall be presided over by the caucus member with the greatest number of years of service in the House of Commons.

Bar against judicial review

49.5 Any determination of a matter relating to the internal operations of a party by the caucus, a committee of the caucus or the caucus chair is final and not subject to judicial review.

This will give MPs the power the remove a leader and kick the question back to the party membership. With the growing centralization of power in Canadian politics over many decades this check against the party leader is very important. Lately there have been fewer and fewer checks against party leaders — including the prime minister — while at the same time giving her or him more direct power.

I believe that this leadership review process, along with the the removal from and readmission to the caucus of members are the two strongest parts, and most important parts, of this bill. I think it’s very important that the leader of a party not be able to sway MPs away from serving the interest of the voters. But I stand by what I said at the end of my last post: the funniest part of the coming in to force bit.

More reading:

  • 2013-12-11: Added the more reading section with a link the next article in this series.