Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A communication from Mathew Carrol, Leadnow.ca

2015 is underway and, while we’re working hard to build our people-powered election campaign,we wanted to follow up with you on an important campaign you participated in last year.

Over 26,000 members of the Leadnow community joined you in supporting the Reform Act, a bill designed to challenge the growing centralization of power in the hands of party leaders.  Last month, I was invited to Ottawa to present to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC), the committee that's currently holding hearings into the Reform Act.

To prepare for my presentation, I compiled feedback from the 4000 survey responses we received from people who had participated in this campaign. It was so great to be able to tell the MPs studying the bill what our community thinks about reforming our democracy - not just my own ideas. 

We've been to parliament a number of times for Leadnow's campaigns - to deliver petitions, give press conferences, and meet with MPs - but this was actually the first time we've been asked to formally present to a committee.

It was a fascinating experience. The government MPs sat on one side of a huge rectangle of tables, opposition MPs on the other side, with the chair of the committee at one end and the "witnesses" at the other. Along with myself, representing the Leadnow community, three other witnesses were there: Lori Turnbull, an Associate Professor at Carleton University; Former Speaker of the House of Commons, Hon. Peter Milliken; and Ned Franks, Professor Emeritus in Political Studies, Queen's University.

First we all presented a short opening statement (and you can read my remarks below at the end of this email), then the MPs asked questions. It was a thoughtful discussion of the merits and challenges of various parts of the bill, which tries to restore more power to MPs and local ridings, while balancing the needs of the parties centrally. What surprised me most was how different it was to the hyper-partisan and confrontational nature of - for example - question period. I think in part that's due to the hard work of Michael Chong, the Conservative back-bench MP who introduced the bill and has worked to build cross-party support for it.

I wish more of our politics could be deliberative and thoughtful, rather than brash and confrontational; perhaps the Reform Act will be a first step in the right direction. It will be interesting to see where the bill goes from here.

Thank you again for your participation in this campaign, and we'll be in touch soon.

Enjoy your week,

Matthew, on behalf of the Leadnow team

P.S. If you're interested in more details, below you'll find links to the audio recording of the hearing, and also the official transcript, as well as tweets from the CBC's Kady O'Malley who was covering the hearing and my opening remarks.


[1] Audio Recording: PROC Meeting No. 60 (Parliament of Canada) http://parlvu.parl.gc.ca/parlvu/ContentEntityDetailView.aspx?contententityid=12375&date=20141202&lang=en

[2] Transcripts: PROC Meeting No. 60 (Parliament of Canada) http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=6812548&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=41&Ses=2

[3] Tweets from Kady O'Malley, CBC Parliament Hill Reporter https://twitter.com/search?f=realtime&q=from%3Akady%20since%3A2014-12-02%20until%3A2014-12-03

[4] Leadnow's campaign in support of the Reform Act http://www.leadnow.ca/reform-act/

[5] My opening remarks to the committee:

Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC)Reform Act, 2014 (Michael Chong)Opening Remarks: Matthew Carroll, Leadnow.ca

Good morning everyone, and thank you for inviting me.

I'll say a few words about Leadnow in just a moment, but I'm going to begin with a couple of quotes.

The first is from Bruce Woollatt, a Leadnow member from London, Ontario:

"I'm tired of the MP for my riding being the representative of his party in his constituency, rather than my representative in Ottawa."

And this next quote is from Lori James in Yorkton, Saskatchewan:

"I've had enough of MPs waving talking points rather than debating issues and working together to resolve them. I want my representatives to work together for the good of the country NOT the good of their party."

Leadnow is an independent advocacy organization. We're working to bring Canadians together from coast to coast, and across party lines, to take action on the issues that matter.

Since our launch just before the last federal election our online campaigning community has grown to include over 360,000 Canadians.

Together, through online consultation and face-to-face gatherings, our community has decided to focus on three areas: building a fair economy, action to protect our environment and address climate change, and democratic reform.

What we keep hearing over and over again from our community is a grave concern about the state of our democracy, as well as a deep desire for positive change.

Democracy isn't an end in itself, it's a means by which we can come together to make progress on the major challenges we face as a society, and that's why when Mr Chong introduced the reform act, we felt compelled to act. There are issues that we believe Canadians want to make progress on, but the reality is that action to improve the functioning of our democracy and to empower MPs to better represent their constituents truly cuts across all issues and cuts across all party lines.

Over 26,000 Canadians have now signed on to Leadnow's campaign in support of The Reform Act. Yesterday I sent out a survey asking all of them for their opinions on the issues this bill encompasses, as well as their thoughts on democratic reform more broadly. In just a few hours, over 3,000 had responded. That's where the quotes I opened with come from - the voices of regular Canadians across the country who care about these issues.

These are Canadians who self-identified as being supportive of The Reform Act, as opposed to a random public poll, but I do believe it will be useful to the committee get a sense of the reasons why many Canadians support the bill.

First we asked about the freedom MPs have to represent their constituents over the interests of their parties. 91% told us it is "very important" for MPs to be able to disagree with, speak out, or vote against the official positions of their party.

One of the issues we've seen debated within the context of this bill is the ability of parties to ensure a diversity of Candidates. That's a goal that is in tension with the aims of increasing MPs' freedoms to represent their constituents. Despite that tension, it is something that is important to the Canadians we surveyed: 75% said it is very important for parties to be able to ensure a broad diversity of candidates.

My understanding is that Mr Chong's latest proposed amendments would give each party the power to decide what mechanism it puts in place for the approval of candidates. We asked people who they thought should have the final say in whether a candidate gets to run for a party. This was more varied, but 53% said it should be the sole control of the local riding association. 37% were in support of regional nomination officers, chosen by the local riding assocations. Only 6% were in support of nationally appointed nominations officers, and less than 2% believe the status quo of the party leader signing nomination papers is a good idea.

The last point I want to make is that while we believe the Reform Act is a useful first step towards democratic reform, and one we very much hope to see passed into law, it is just that - a first step. We have a very, very long way to go if we're going to meaningfully restore Canadians' confidence and trust in our democracy. At the end of our survey we asked what other reforms - that are outside of the scope of this bill - they would support. It's notable that over 96% believe our current first-past-the-post voting system is broken, and that we need electoral reform.

Catriona Sinclair, a Leadnow member from Millbrook, Ontario summed this up. She says:

"I believe the Reform Act is extremely important. I also very much want to see Proportional Representation brought into our voting system."
On behalf of everyone who signed on to our campaign, thank you again for inviting me this morning, and I look forward to the discussion.

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