Independent MP Brent Rathgeber takes aim at Tory opacity. Now that he’s incurred the PM’s wrath, though, it’s not so likely they’ll let him dress up as a sailor in a real Canadian Navy uniform. Below: Mr. Rathgeber tries out another branch of service, Restored Tory Peter Goldring and Alberta Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk.
So, for his next act, does Brent Rathgeber plan to take up the Wildrose banner and challenge Alberta Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk in the Edmonton-Castle Downs riding?
Now that we’ve all had a few hours to ponder the meaning of the Edmonton-St. Albert Member of Parliament’s unexpectedly Tweeted announcement Wednesday that he was pulling the plug on his membership in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s federal Conservative caucus, the Wildrose scenario is clearly the most entertaining possibility.
For his part, Mr. Rathgeber had nothing to say, although the word from his office was that “nothing’s been decided and nothing’s been ruled out.” Which sounds to me like a political confirmation that something is definitely in the works.
For now, the newly independent MP’s staff confirms, Mr. Rathgeber will remain in the House of Commons with no party affiliation and ignore the hypocritical screeches of his former Alberta caucus mates that he should immediately step down because the voters of Edmonton-St. Albert elected a Conservative – unlike the voters of Vancouver Kingsway, say, who simply must’ve been mistaken when they elected a Liberal in 2006.
Whatever he plans to do, Mr. Rathgeber’s assertion in his blog yesterday morning that “I stand alone,” quitting on a question of principal about government transparency, will most certainly play well with Wildrose supporters – not a group known for either their sense of irony or resistance to cognitive dissonance.
Never mind that Mr. Harper’s federal Conservatives and Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party are essentially the same people, served by the same operatives, motivated by the same philosophy and dedicated to the same neoconservative goals.
A plan to return to provincial politics would certainly explain Mr. Rathgeber’s soaring rhetoric in his blog yesterday: “I joined the Reform/Conservative movements because I thought we were somehow different, a band of Ottawa outsiders riding into town to clean the place up, promoting open government and accountability. I barely recognize ourselves, and worse I fear that we have morphed into what we once mocked.”
It’s said here there was precious little morphing. Anyone who has studied Alberta conservatives of various stripes for the past few decades knew pretty much what to expect when Mr. Harper’s legions got to Ottawa.
But Mr. Rathgeber’s resignation on principle from a job in Ottawa will almost certainly play well in Ponoka. The worldview there and elsewhere in Alberta can be summed up as follows: Ottawa bad, Alberta good, don’t make me read the fine print. Not that Mr. Rathgeber will actually run in Ponoka, of course, but readers should understand the nearly irresistible temptation of sophomoric alliteration to some bloggers.
Where Mr. Rathgeber would most likely run, if the Wildrose speculation is correct, is in the provincial Edmonton-Castle Downs riding now occupied by Mr. Lukaszuk, Progressive Conservative Premier Alison Redford’s bombastic deputy and all ’round tough guy. The provincial district occupies much of the same geography as Mr. Rathgeber’s current Edmonton-St. Albert federal riding, conveniently without the slightly more liberal St. Albert portion.
It would be an interesting fight. Both men are social media enthusiasts, Mr. Rathgeber a blogger and Twitterist whose posts have obviously riled up his former party’s brass, and Mr. Lukaszuk an inveterate Tweeter known for his frequently undiplomatic commentary – which at least once got far enough out of hand that he was been forced to publicly apologize, when he tried to make a joke out of a mudslide in British Columbia.
Mr. Lukaszuk is not well liked by the federal Conservative/Wildrose crowd, having famously been termed a “complete and utter asshole” by Mr. Rathgeber’s former caucus mate, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, in an email accidentally sent to everyone named on the cc. line. Mr. Kenney eventually apologized for pressing “reply all” when he should have just hit “send,” although one senses he wasn’t really sorry about his characterization of Mr. Lukaszuk.
For his part, Mr. Rathgeber has mainly whiled away his long boring hours as a backbencher in the nation’s capital taking potshots at the CBC, which he thinks should be run on a charitable basis, dressing up as a soldier, defending the right of law-abiding firearms owners not to be “treated like criminals” and drawing weird connections between the now thoroughly vandalized federal long-gun registry and the idea of the welfare state.
Unlike Mr. Lukaszuk, as far as anyone knows, Mr. Rathgeber has never gotten into a shoving match with a constituent while door knocking – if he’s ever gone door knocking.
So, in a way, any such fight would be a battle of the giants.
Still, with his previous experience in the Alberta Legislature and two terms in Parliament, Mr. Rathgeber would lend some depth to what is sure to be a rather shallow pool of talent if Ms. Smith manages to win the next Alberta election, expected in 2016.
On the other hand, considering some of the talent in the Redford cabinet – viz., Stompin’ Tom Lukaszuk – the same thing could probably be said of the PC government’s talent pool.
By re-entering provincial politics, especially as a Wildroser, Mr. Rathgeber might well be able to finally achieve an ambition that escaped him when he was a Progressive Conservative in Edmonton and as a Conservative in Ottawa, to wit, landing a cabinet post.
Turning back to Ottawa, there’s no way losing an MP over the idea the Harper Tories have turned out to be just another political party is going to make things look much brighter for our currently hard-pressed prime minister.
Mr. Rathgeber’s defection momentarily brought the number of Alberta MPs who are not members of the dominant caucus to an earthshaking three.
Still, it’s always darkest just before the dawn, as my mother used to say, and things immediately took a turn for the better from Mr. Harper’s perspective when an Edmonton judge yesterday acquitted Independent Edmonton East MP Peter Goldring of refusing to provide a breath sample to police in December 2011.
Alert readers will recall that Mr. Goldring, 68, was turfed out of the Conservative caucus in Ottawa for his sins not long after the police pulled him over on his way home from Christmas dinner at the Ukrainian Hall.
The police said he’d refused a breathalyzer. Mr. Goldring, long an opponent of roadside breath tests with fervour reminiscent of Mr. Rathgeber’s dislike of the CBC, testified that he was still thinking about whether to comply when the police decided he wasn’t going to and laid the charge.
That was good enough for the judge, who yesterday found Mr. Goldring not guilty.
No sooner was justice done than Mr. Harper, even Stephen, welcomed Mr. Goldring back into the Conservative family, restoring equilibrium to the state of Conservatism in Alberta.