Samara's cameo in the Reform Act debate

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Political News Wednesday, May 28, 2014 View Count = 2082

Samara's cameo in the Reform Act debate

MP Michael Chong's Reform Act was debated in the House of Commons last night. We were both excited and proud to hear Samara mentioned twice during debate. 

First, by Michael Chong: 

I have spent a quarter of my life in this institution, and I believe there are three reasons for the problems we face today.

First, party leaders approve party candidates. In fact, to my knowledge, Canada is the only western democracy where by law party leaders have the power to approve party candidates in an election. To my knowledge, no other western democracy has given party leaders this enormous power over their party candidates.

Second, the unwritten conventions that have governed parliamentary party caucuses have changed over the decades, and they have changed and evolved in a way that has advantaged the caucus leadership and disadvantaged caucus members.

Third, the role of the caucus in reviewing the leader has been little used and the rules are opaque. This has weakened the accountability of party leaders to their respective caucuses in a system of parliamentary democracy wherein caucuses once elected the party leader.
As a result, Canadians are losing confidence in the ability of their elected MPs to represent them in Ottawa and increasingly feel that MPs represent Ottawa to them. Voter turnout has declined and many feel disconnected from politics and political parties. In the last federal election, four out of 10 Canadians did not vote. According to Samara, a democracy think tank, 50 years ago, nearly 80% of Canadians voted in federal elections. Today voter turnout is closer to 60%, and the most dramatic declines have taken place in the last 25 years. According to Nik Nanos, the pollster, just over 60% of eligible voters cast their ballots in the last federal election, and among those under 30 years of age, fewer than 40% bothered to vote.

And again by NDP MP Craig Scott: 

Mr. Speaker, if you would allow me, on this debate on Bill C-586, I would like to begin with a very short quotation:

Canadian party leaders today enjoy a remarkable amount of power when measured against their peers in Canadian history, or against leaders in similar parliamentary systems around the world.

That is taken from a remarkable new book that I think many in the House are beginning to read, by Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan, Tragedy in the Commons: Former Members of Parliament Speak Out About Canada's Failing Democracy.

It is important to note that, in addition to party leaders, party leaders as prime ministers have a particular power in Canada. A 2007 study quoted in the book I just cited, by Irish political scientist Eoin O'Malley, compared 22 parliamentary democracies and found that the Canadian prime minister ranked as the most powerful of all 22.

Last night's debate was the first hour of Second Reading debate. Later this year, there will be one more hour before the Act is put to a vote. Members will vote to either send it to committee or kill it. If you weren't able to watch the debate yesterday, you can read it here

For more about the Reform Act, see this great explainer from Aaron Wherry in Maclean's. Samara also had an op-ed on the Act in the Globe and Mail

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