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MP Rathgeber promotes value of independence

By: Viola Pruss

  |  Posted: Saturday, Mar 15, 2014 06:00 am

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In the nine months since he resigned from the Conservative caucus, Brent Rathgeber has made it his mantra to explain to Canadians that the current government suffers from overreliance on talking points and party discipline.

But there’s no room for cheerleading in responsible governance, he said.

Rathgeber reviewed the nature of his new role as an independent member of Parliament before members of the St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce Wednesday.

“The difference between being a member of a caucus and an independent conservative is the difference between partisan cheerleading and attempting to hold the government to account,” he said.

Canadian taxpayers and citizens are increasingly shut out of the government’s decision-making process, he said. Meanwhile the country has become a welfare state reliant on the ruling of bureaucrats.

The system of checks and balances has become obscure, he says. Parliament has lost its role in holding the executive accountable. Yet it is this elected Parliament, the provincial legislature and municipal councils who must represent the taxpayers, he says.

“What we have is a prime minister’s office that is accountable to no one, not even the prime minister,” he says. “Sadly this has evolved to the point where the executive regards the legislative, or the Parliament, as an inconvenience and frequently without any respect.”

Despite his criticism, Rathgeber makes it no secret that he remains a conservative at heart. He supported the 2014 budget and the Conservatives’ substantive legislative agenda. He voted against the government 16 out of 46 times during this parliamentary session.

The values that brought him to the party remain the same: accountability, transparency and respect of the taxpayer. Except now, they have all but disappeared or been compromised “on the altar of electoral expediency,” he said.

He voted against C-23, the Fair Elections Act, and now supports slightly more private members’ bills and motions than he opposes. He also wants to make decisions based on how they might affect his constituents, he said.

Yet Rathgeber says constructive criticism is the opposite of a lack of loyalty.

“As the yes-men will blindly cheer at bad policy development, the constructive critic, who is not shy of speaking truth to power, does the government that he or she serves a favour by advising his colleagues of the proposed policy shortcomings,” he said.

While Rathgeber admonishes other Conservative backbenchers whom, he said, cannot represent their constituents while they’re cheerleading for their party, he admits that there are disadvantages to his role.

Too much freelancing puts one up against the government, he said. He found himself sitting on obscure committees with heavy workload but no profile (in 2012 he was moved from the public safety committee to the Library of Parliament committee) and was stripped of his committees after he left the caucus. He has also played all of his cards when it comes to introducing another private member’s bill, he said.

But following a year of various crises for Parliament, Rathgeber said there may be some benefit in having an independent sitting in for his constituents after the next election.

“I am not absolutely convinced that the Conservative government is going to be the government after Oct. 19, (2015),” he says. “So if the government falls, and if it’s a coalition government or if it’s a Justin Trudeau-led government, you might be better off having an independent member of Parliament.”


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