Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. It's a pleasure to be here and to see many former colleagues again.
I think this bill is a very interesting one, and certainly one of the things I've been speaking about in the course of lectures, and so on, that I've been giving since my retirement is the importance of the control that leaders are exerting over parties. It's something that has shifted during my time in Parliament. When I was first elected in 1988, I don't remember all these controls being in place or being enforced in such a vigorous way as they seem to be now. It causes me concern because we've switched to a system where party leaders are elected now by all the members of the party voting nationally. So the leader is claiming greater authority than any of the other elected members of the House because he or she was elected by a group of voters who were all members of the party, admittedly, but were national in scope. So it's hundreds of thousands of voters instead of a smaller number that's the situation in every constituency in our country.
Because of this leadership vote, they're saying, we have authority over the party and we'll decide who's in and who's out, and we'll decide who's going to be the candidate and who isn't. I don't think this is something a leader should be doing. In my view, our system has worked as a successful parliamentary system, as does the British one, by the fact that we have members elected by their constituencies. The candidates are chosen by members of the riding associations in each constituency, which choose the candidates and then put them against one another, and we have our electoral battle on a local level in a constituency. I think that's made our system work extremely well.
I think it's really important that the party not dictate who the candidates are in these ridings; and by the party, I mean the leader or any person under his or her control who then can say that this is the only person who can run in this riding. If anybody else wins, we won't allow them to be the party candidate.
I think the bill is beneficial in that respect. Now, there may be arguments as to whether it could be improved or whether there are other solutions to it, but I think it's important that the local association have the right to choose. I don't know why the president of the local association couldn't certify to the Chief Electoral Officer that so and so is the selected candidate at the nomination meeting they held in that riding. To me, that's the way it might reasonably work, rather than have some official in the party doing this on a provincial or a national basis—or whatever geographic basis we want. The riding presidents could do it, and I believe the ridings—and I'm not an expert in the law in this regard—are registered as part of the electoral process and are allowed to work with the candidate during the election campaign and all that sort of stuff, in terms of fundraising and all that sort of thing.
I think Elections Canada should be able to tell who the president is and then accept a certificate from the president rather than the party leader as to who the candidate is.
Similarly, I believe the right of the party to have the caucus have some say in who would be the leader is also important. Now, whether it has to be embodied in statute is another matter, but there's certainly an argument for it because I think if we're going to have this national election, the caucus ought to have a veto if the person who is chosen is unacceptable to the caucus for some reason. For example, suppose someone's elected leader who isn't an MP, runs to get a seat, and doesn't make it. How's the party going to continue without that person in Parliament, if that's the situation? Stuff like that can go on, and I don't know why the caucus shouldn't have the right to say, okay, you're no longer the leader because you're not an effective person for us and we need somebody who can do the job here, and we'll appoint an interim and the party can have a convention and choose someone else. To me, that's reasonable. It's just a matter of whether it has to be in the law or not.
I'm not an expert in this. It might be something that could go into party constitutions, but it could also, I suppose, be part of the law. So those aspects of it, to my mind, are important for furthering a more democratic operation for our Parliament, because I don't think members should be dictated to by a party leader on every issue and told, if you don't vote this way, you're out of the caucus.
Yes, we need some independence of voice for members because the interests of our constituents do differ from place to place, never mind party to party, and members may sometimes feel they have to represent those interests and vote in a different way. But we can do it, in my view, without incurring the position where we're thrown out of the party and not allowed to be a candidate in the next election.
I think it's important that members have that kind of independence. I don't think it's offensive to our system, and never has been. I know some leaders may think that it is, but I think we should be looking at that, and if we have to embody this in law to do it, away we go.