Brent Rathgeber won't step down as MP, says Tories don't own his seat
Published Thursday, June 6, 2013 9:31AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, June 6, 2013 10:03PM EDT
Alberta MP Brent Rathgeber says he has no plans to step down as an MP, and calls for him to do so shows "a lack of respect for the democratic process."
One day after resigning from the Conservative caucus, Rathgeber held a news conference Thursday in his home riding of Edmonton-St.Albert, where he said suggestions he should have to run in a by-election were inappropriate.
Andrew MacDougall, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister's Office, had tweeted late Wednesday that voters in the riding elected a Conservative, and Rathgeber should resign and run in a byelection.
"The Conservative party doesn't own this seat just because I won it for them in the last election," Rathgeber told reporters. "I don't think they have any authority to make that kind of suggestion."
Rathgeber said he will sit as an independent and will use his new freedom to vote with his conscience, on behalf of his constituents, on a case-by-base, issue-by-issue basis.
"The government is intent on keeping members on script, online, and I don't fit well into that model. I like to represent my constituents, I like to speak up on matters I believe need to be spoken up on," he said.
In question period on Thursday, NDP MP Mathieu Ravignat accused MacDougall of “making up new policy” via social media.
“When the Conservatives had an opportunity to support my bill to ban floor-crossers and force them to face a by-election, Conservatives opposed it,” Ravignat said.
Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose called on Rathgeber to resign after quoting a recent blog post from Rathgeber in which he wrote that his constituents expect him to support the prime minister and his party.
“We do think he should do the right thing by him and by his constituents and run in a by-election as an independent,” Ambrose said.
Rathgeber resigned just hours after members of his own party pushed for changes to his private member's bill, which called for the disclosure of any public-sector salaries with earnings of approximately $188,000 or more upon request.
The committee instead decided to more than double the threshold, so only public servants earning more than $444,000 would be affected -- excluding all but a handful of the highest paid staffers.
Edmonton Journal columnist Graham Thomson said Thursday that Rathgeber’s decision was consistent with his tenure as a Conservative MLA, when he often spoke out against the Ralph Klein government, and his time in Ottawa in which he’s pushed for “the rights of backbenchers to represent their constituents.”
“I think it really is a matter of principle, and I say that because this is a man I think who has actually in a sense committed political suicide,” Thomson told CTV’s Power Play. “If he had just stayed quiet, stayed in the backbenches and kept quiet as a loyal Conservative MP, he could have been re-elected forever. But by speaking out against the Conservatives and by leaving caucus, he leaves that protection of the conservative caucus.”
Thomson said it is highly unlikely Rathgeber can win an election in Alberta as an independent.
'Lack of support for transparency'
“For a government that was elected on a platform of accountability, my constituents are gravely disappointed,” Rathgeber said in a blog posted Thursday morning.
"I have reluctantly come to the inescapable conclusion that the government's lack of support for my transparency bill is tantamount to a lack of support for transparency and open government generally."
He claimed that the amendments put forward to his bill were made by unelected staffers weeks before the committee hearings began, and MPs simply rubber-stamped the changes handed down by the PMO -- something he said has become a troubling trend.
Speaking in Edmonton, Rathgeber said staffers within the PMO have been delegated too much authority by the PMO and often end up making decisions that should be made by elected MPs.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said Rathgeber’s decision has raised “a really important issue, which is the rights of individual MPs not to be controlled and muzzled by political parties.”
May told Power Play that he should not have to resign.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel did not say directly whether Rathgeber should step down and run in a by-election.
“Regardless of when, Mr. Rathgeber will be accountable to his electorate, as we all are,” Rempel told Power Play.
Earlier, New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen said Rathgeber's comments reflect the views of other Conservatives and many Canadians who feel let down by the party that was elected on a promise to bring greater transparency and accountability to government.
"That level of hypocrisy, certainly for Conservative voters but I would suggest in a broader spectrum of Canadians is very much reflected in Mr. Rathgeber's very bitter disappointment with his own party. It's personal for him," Cullen said after caucus on Thursday.
NDP MP Pat Martin echoed Cullen’s sentiment during question period.
“When a political party abandons every principle on which they got elected, principled people will abandon them,” Martin said.
Heritage Minister James Moore said opposition parties should not be pointing fingers.
“What’s to read into the NDP leader’s track record,” he said. “There are three former NDP MPs who have left.”
'Straw that broke the camel's back'
In his blog, Rathgeber said he still supports and respects Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but will sit as an independent and vote on a "case by case, issue by issue basis."
He said the Conservative party’s decision not to support his bill as drafted was the "proverbial straw that broke the camel's back," but he added that the ongoing Senate expense scandal and the government's response has been "extremely troubling."
"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," he wrote.
In recent months, Senators Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau have faced criticism over their expense claims, some related to housing.
Duffy made headlines when it emerged he had repaid his improperly filed expenses with a $90,000 cheque given to him by Nigel Wright, then Harper's chief of staff. Wright has since resigned from his position, and Duffy is no longer in the Conservative caucus, though he is still a senator.
The payment is under investigation.