Conservative Deepak Obhrai expands assault on Tory MP’s Reform Act to opposition inboxes

Conservative MP for Calgary East Deepak Obhrai rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Thursday February 2, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Adrian Wyld. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA – Tory MP Deepak Obhrai has expanded his email critique of fellow Conservative Michael Chong’s Reform Act to the inboxes of opposition MPs.

Obhrai, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, said he reached out to both the NDP and Liberals about the bill, which would give party caucuses more power including the ability to vote out their leader.

The Calgary East MP already wrote to Parliamentarians in his own caucus earlier this month imploring them to reject the bill.

In an interview, Obhrai said he felt compelled to write to the opposition because the bill applies to all political parties.

“I thought my views should be shared with my colleagues in the House of Commons as to the impact it will have on all political parties, and henceforth it is important that everybody knows my point of view,” he said.

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NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus called the move “bizarre” and said it points to infighting in the Conservative caucus.

“It’s very surprising,” Angus said.

“A backbencher’s right to bring a private members’ bill, bring it for a vote. This is what we do….this is a bill that’s worthy of merit and it’s worthy of study.”

Obhrai said his criticism is based on his own experience seeking the Reform party nomination. Obhrai said the local riding association tried to make all supporters carry citizenship cards, a rule that would have had a “devastating impact” if it weren’t for national party guidelines.

“This bill, in my view, is a direct attack on the rights of grassroots Canadians,” his email reads.

“Under this bill, Elections Canada would have the power to become involved in the caucus of a political party.”

The bill, which has garnered support from Conservative backbenchers, proposes that MPs could call a leadership review with 15 per cent support. It would also allow a majority of caucus to eject a leader and takes away the requirement for a party leader to sign nomination papers.

Chong wouldn’t comment on Obhrai’s actions but said the current voting system does not accurately reflect the number of visible monitories in Canadian society.

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“The Reform Act will ensure that we move towards a House of Commons that is more reflective of the new Canada,” he said.

He said he anticipates the bill will be debated in May and voted upon for the first time in early June.

Both Liberal and NDP offices confirmed they received Obhrai’s note.

Dear Colleague:

During my long political career, I have faced numerous political battles. From nominations to leadership campaigns to general elections. The most important lesson I have learned is to seek and respect the support of our party’s grassroots. Respecting and listening to the views of the membership of our party, and in fact the general public, is the nectar of political life.

During my extensive travels, I have also seen disastrous consequences when this important principle is ignored. That is why, today, I am writing to you about a Private Members’ Bill being proposed by our colleague Michael Chong, C-559 (Reform Act, 2013). This bill, in my view, is a direct attack on the rights of grassroots Canadians.

Under this bill, Elections Canada would have the power to become involved in the caucus of a political party; the bill would give Elections Canada the mandate to force by-laws on parties to allow just 15 percent of the caucus to launch a leadership review; it would allow Members of Parliament to kick out a leader who was voted in by large numbers of the party’s membership; and it would completely ignore the views of the loyal membership.

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During the last leadership race, Conservative Party of Canada members from all across the country voted for a leader. Yet, under Bill C-559, party members who do not have a sitting MP would have no vote on removing a leader. As C-559 is written, only a selected group of individuals would have any control or ability to influence a leadership decision.

During our recent convention in Calgary, Mr. Chong’s EDA presented something similar to this bill, and it was defeated –because this proposal overrules the desires of the grassroots.

Yes, some Commonwealth countries do have this rule but it is important to note that it is entrenched in the party’s rules, with the approval of its general membership. Not in government law. There is no country in the world I am aware of that has a law that tells parties how to remove a leader. Also, Bill C-559 would create a two-tiered political system as there is no province in Canada that has this kind of undemocratic provision.

Clause 7(3) of this bill says a party must satisfy the Chief Electoral Officer that the party is following the new rules. So, under Bill C-559 we would have a government agency with the power to regulate what happens in a caucus. Elections Canada bureaucrats could attend caucus meetings, administer votes and punish the caucus leadership if they fail to follow their interpretation of the law.

The bill would also ban parties from having nation-wide rules for nomination and, according to Clause 3, nominations would be held according to rules established by the association.

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Based on my own experience in my first Reform nomination, this provision would have prevented me from running. At the time, the local association wanted their “preferred white candidate” to win and, as such, barred me from running. It was the national office that ensured the nomination was open and transparent, and that it was the membership who decided who their candidate would be. Of the seven candidates that ran, I was chosen by the grassroots despite the fact that the association urged I not be considered.

This bill tries to correct a perceived flaw but it should not be at the expense of disenfranchising the membership. They must have a say in how their party is to be run. Colleague, there is always room for improvement and, with wide input, especially from membership, ideas can come forward that will strengthen democracy. Therefore, I suggest that all EDAs be consulted and their views sought – my EDA has informed me that they oppose this bill.


Hon. Deepak Obhrai, PC, MP


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