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MP reflects on year when he broke with Tories

Brent Rathgeber looks back on 2013

By: Victoria Paterson

  |  Posted: Saturday, Dec 28, 2013 06:00 am

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It’s been a dramatic year for Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber.

“Obviously it’s been a very interesting year for me,” Rathgeber said.

In June this year, Rathgeber left the Conservative caucus, breaking with the party publicly over the amendments they tacked onto his transparency bill. Interviewed in mid-December, Rathgeber said at this time in 2012, he couldn’t have predicted the move.

“It has been an exciting and humbling and somewhat overwhelming experience,” he said, noting the sheer volume of letters and emails received in reaction to his decision.

The decision to sit as an independent has resulted in doors being opened he might not have expected, leading to a couple of other 2013 highlights for the maverick MP: a book deal and a speaking tour.

While he’s still working on the book, this fall Rathgeber went on a 13-stop speaking tour covering “broken democracy,” offering his stance that the executive branch of government has too much power compared to the legislative branch.

“My speaking tour was during the prorogation which was a good irony,” Rathgeber said. In addition to taking him to some places he’d never visited before in Canada, it also connected him with a younger generation of voters.

“It engaged me with people that are interested in democratic reform,” he said.

During the first half of the year, another highlight for Rathgeber was switching to the aboriginal affairs and northern development committee. He asked for the change after the Idle No More movement gained traction last winter.

“Being an urban MP … I was not as well-briefed on aboriginal struggles and potential solutions to the struggles as I might have been had I more first hand exposure,” Rathgeber said. “I developed a very keen interest.”

He’s hoping in 2014 the government will put more emphasis on aboriginal and veteran affairs.

This parliamentary session, Rathgeber has had chances to participate in question period as an independent for the first time.

“This fall I think I’ve asked five, five or six unscripted, un-vetted questions during question period and that’s something I never did in my four and a half years as a member of that caucus. I got very few questions, period … and those that I did were all, as government questions are, they’re planted,” Rathgeber said.

Since then he’s mainly focused on financial accountability topics.

Sitting as an independent has presented a challenge for him as the research workload increases.

“In the old days I was basically told when to speak and how to vote,” Rathgeber said. “It’s much more complicated and much more time consuming, but much more fulfilling to have to actually read the legislation and do some independent research and then decide on a bill by bill basis if I’m going to support it based on its effect on this riding or if I’m going to oppose it based on the effects on this riding.”

In 2014, Rathgeber will be keeping an eye on the race to replace him as the Conservative Party candidate locally. In the autumn he’ll start ramping up his re-election campaign preparations. He’ll recruit volunteers and while he can’t raise money till an election is called and he’s formally a candidate, he can start trying to get commitments from potential donors to offer funds when that happens.

The bill which caused him to leave the Tories, his transparency bill, will be back before the House of Commons on Feb. 7 and voted on shortly thereafter. Rathgeber has offered amendments that would bring the bill back to his original intent, which was to increase the range of government employees salaries and job descriptions that can be disclosed as part of access to information requests.

“If they allow a backbench free vote I am cautiously optimistic there will be enough support to amend the amended bill and undo the damage,” Rathgeber said.

If Rathgeber’s amendments are passed and the bill makes it through the house of commons and the Senate, it’s conceivable it could be law by the end of 2014.

“That would be a crowing achievement and the irony is not lost on me. If it happens the way I just described to you, I will have been able to do something as an independent that I could have never done as a member of the caucus,” he said.

Rathgeber expects to continue sitting as an independent and won’t be switching sides to join with another party.

“There’s these persistent rumours I’m going to join another political party. I’m not,” Rathgeber said.


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