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St. Albert MP in '14 spotlight

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  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jan 22, 2014 06:00 am

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Sparks are set to fly when Canadaís 41st Parliament resumes Jan. 27, and St. Albertís own Brent Rathgeber will find himself in the mix.

Of course, the Senate expense scandal will again dominate Question Period. And the budget will garner some headlines (although not as much as it should, as Rathgeber pointed out recently. It will likely come down during the Sochi Winter Olympics, when Canadians will be more focused on gold medals than federal affairs).

But what most Canadians have likely forgot about is Bill C-461. They will be reminded during this session, likely to the chagrin of the Prime Ministerís Office.

Local voters will remember C-461, as it is the bill that precipitated Rathgeberís departure from the Conservative caucus. The CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act, to make senior civil servantsí salaries public, along with closer examination of how the taxpayer-funded CBC conducts its affairs, is Rathgeberís private memberís bill. The crux of his original bill proposed to make public the salary of any federal employee earning more than $156,000 (Rathgeber later agreed with the Prime Minister's Office to increase it to $188,000). It also proposed the CBC not be allowed to use ďjournalistic integrityĒ to obscure the operations of the publicly-funded corporation.

Unfortunately, the Conservative-dominated Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics got hold of Rathgeberís bill and completely changed its intent. The committee cranked the salary threshold to $440,000, meaning only the most senior federal staff would be affected.

Rathgeberís bill comes back to the House of Commons Feb. 12, and he hopes to reverse the changes and see his private memberís bill passed in a version close to the original. With the politics surrounding C-461, however, itís almost certain to be a whipped vote. Because the Conservatives have micromanaged and gutted the bill, thereís likely no way Prime Minister Stephen Harper is going to allow the original version to pass. Itís a government tactic that particularly irks Rathgeber, calling it the straw that broke the camelís back when he resigned.

He believes a majority of MP's agree with him that transparency and disclosure is in the country's best interest, but it's been frustratingly difficult to nail them down. Many MP's attended the committee meetings as observers, yet fear of reprisal from the PMO means few may want to go on the record supporting him.

If our MP finds the process frustrating imagine how taxpayers must feel. After all it's their money paying those salaries and precious few earn even half the salary Rathgeber's bill proposes to make public for them. Parliament should accept that the public has the right to know and pass the bill with Rathgeber's amendments.

Rathgeber feels, if the vote was free, open and un-whipped, the original version of his bill would pass because itís in the best interest of the country that it do so.

And on this point the St. Albert Gazette agrees.


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