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Rathgeber targets his own government

By: By Ryan Tumilty

  |  Posted: Saturday, Jun 30, 2012 06:00 am

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Local MP Brent Rathgeber vented about his own government’s extravagance and called for more fiscal discipline from cabinet ministers as the government asks Canadians and public servants to sacrifice.

Rathgeber posted a piece on his blog this week raising concerns about the costs cabinet ministers rack up, especially looking at the cars and drivers they have at their disposal.

Rathgeber, who refused to speak to the Gazette on the topic, was focusing on the ministerial limousine service, which is made available to all cabinet ministers.

Earlier this year, stories about the service broke, revealing that some $600,000 in overtime had been racked up by the drivers of those limousines. Rathgeber said this was an extravagance that made no sense.

“The cabinet minister limousine service represents one of the most egregious displays of Ottawa opulence.”

He said he understands there are some situations where security issues demand a car and driver for ministers, but there was no need for them to be on standby.

“There is little justification for ministers being driven around the parliamentary precincts, especially when the House of Commons also operates a continuous shuttle bus service for MPs and all parliamentary staff.”

Rathgeber said it was a waste and bad optics at a time when the government is preaching restraint.

“Surely, as government preaches fiscal discipline such extravagance must be eliminated. Surely, having limo drivers on standby for hours is a waste of taxpayer dollars. Surely, there are taxis available in Ottawa.”

Rathgeber also singled out international co-operation minster Bev Oda, who upgraded her hotel at a recent conference in London, leading to added expenses for a driver to ferry her to the conference, as well as cancellation fees. Oda also charged taxpayers for a $16 orange juice at her upgraded hotel.

In the posting, Rathgeber said he had trouble explaining these extravagances on a recent trip to his hometown Grenfell, Sask., when he went for a family funeral.

“In Grenfell, most of the attendees have never ridden in a limo and none of them have ever drunk $16 orange juice. Surely, they would appreciate if government took more care in spending their money.”

John Church, a professor at the University of Alberta, said it’s unusual to have someone like Rathgeber speak out against their own party.

“I think Brent [Rathgeber] may find himself in some hot water for speaking out beyond party discipline.”

Church said party discipline is usually followed, but more and more MPs are finding they need to lend their own voices to debate.

“He is going against party discipline, but there also is a growing pressure in the party system for individual MPs to speak their mind, more than they have in the past.”

He said Rathgeber’s message about the need to show restraint is important, especially as the government eliminates jobs in the public service and makes other cutbacks.

“You can’t expect other people to take the pain, unless you are willing to share in that pain.”

Church said Rathgeber has relatively little to be concerned about if his comments aren’t welcomed.

“The fact that he is a backbencher means he doesn’t really have a lot to lose anyways; it is often the backbenchers who are the ones that do step out of line.”


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