From Rob Ford to Brent Rathgeber in a single day – talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous! Or is that the other way around?
I confess that I was gobsmacked by the revelation yesterday Brent Rathgeber, the Conservative Member of Parliament for the Alberta community where I live, has pulled the plug on membership in the Harper Conservatives because of his erstwhile party’s determined commitment to opacity in government.
Mr. Rathgeber put it the other way, of course. He complained in a resignation Tweet about the “lack of commitment to transparency and open government” by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Reform Party, which does business under the name of the Conservative Party of Canada.
Mr. Rathgeber told the Globe and Mail he would sit as an independent. A spokesthingy for the PM swiftly demanded that he quit right now, so that a more compliant individual can be put up for by-election in Edmonton-St. Albert, which in recent memory has reliably voted Conservative.
Mr. Rathgeber also told the Central Canadian media he was flying home today to brief the local press – leaving your faithful St. Albertan blogger seething with curiosity in a convention hotel room in Toronto, surrounded by members of the Laurentian elite, not one of whom cares a whit about St. Albert. Oh well, as previously noted in this space, stuff happens!
Mr. Rathgeber has always been pretty outspoken for a member of Mr. Harper’s cowed and quiet caucus. He even voted against the supposedly unwhipped Bill C-377, a (Private Member’s) Bill To Tie Up Labour Unions in Red Tape and Keep the NDP Opposition Off Balance. Last week he was complaining about the outrageous behaviour of certain well-known government members in the Senate.
All of this must have had the latest minions in the PMO fuming and grinding their molars.
But what seems to have tipped the unexpectedly independent minded MP over the edge was the fact some of his fellow conservatives in committee watered down a private member’s “transparency bill” he’d tabled.
Mr. Rathgeber wanted even mid-level civil service salaries to be a matter of public record, an idea that is pretty hard to argue with – or that, leastways, probably has more advantages than disadvantages and would certainly appeal to the kind of voters that the Conservatives want to keep on side. He also wanted to make the CBC, of which he is a long-time and outspoken foe, reveal more about its spending.
Perhaps distressed that the thought that voters might compare what Mr. Rathgeber was proposing for government officials with what Mr. Harper actually does, the most secretive government in Canadian history told him to forget it, and what was Tweeted next made history.
Well, as any old journo can tell you, it’s always annoying to have your work busyfingered by someone you disagree with, but most of us feel we have no choice but to put up with it. Mr. Rathgeber, who has now served two terms in the House of Commons, sufficient to qualify for a nice Parliamentary pension, is in the happy position not to have to knuckle under like most of the rest of us.
So at this point, there are more questions than answers:
Did Mr. Rathgeber jump, impetuously or otherwise, or was he pushed? Our sourpuss prime minister is known not to tolerate even the mildest dissent. It’s guessed here that this was a case of Mr. Rathgeber picking the time and place to go over the side because he knew he was going for the high jump regardless.
Will he run again – right away, as demanded by the PMO, or in the next general election? I’d put money on the answer to that one being no.
If he runs, will he run as an independent, or will he seek the nomination of some other party?
Most likely, it is said here, Mr. Rathgeber’s dramatic departure will be followed by a few enjoyable months in semi-opposition, and followed in turn by a long and comfortable retirement – he is, after all, only 48.
Of course, there are many in St. Albert – which boasts an atypically large number of both Liberals and New Democrats for an Alberta community – who would now encourage Mr. Rathgeber to run again. After all, this might split the Conservative vote just enough to encourage a more uplifting outcome than we have come to expect.
This is likely too much to hope for, as was the dream that Mr. Rathgeber, a former provincial MLA who was once beaten by a New Democrat, could make history by being the first Alberta Conservative to duplicate that feat.
For now, Mr. Rathgeber has nothing more to say than that he’ll be sitting as an independent. Remember, though, he will be an independent conservative. He is no liberal, nor even a Joe Clark Conservative, and is as likely to attack the Harper government from the right as from the left.
Stay tuned, though. It might be entertaining.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.