MP pens book in quest to fix democracy

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Brent Rathgeber book Irresponsible Government: The Decline of Parliamentary Democracy traces decline of democracy in Canada

Members of Parliament are failing to perform their constitutional duty to hold the prime minister and his cabinet to account, says local independent MP Brent Rathgeber.

To explain how that came to be, and how to possibly remedy the balance of power in Canada, Rathgeber has now written a book.

Irresponsible Government: The Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada will be released in September by Toronto-based publisher Dundurn.

“I am on a mission to convince Canadians and to convince St. Albertans and people in northwest Edmonton that our democratic values are being threatened and that we have excess control in the centre and it’s time to address that,” Rathgeber said.

The idea for the book first came up after Rathgeber quit the Conservative caucus on June 5, 2013, following the axing of his private member’s bill that would have allowed disclosure of government bureaucrat and CBC salaries higher than $188,000,

That month he received an email from Patrick Boyer, a former Progressive Conservative MP who’s now an academic at Guelph University. Boyer approached him about writing a sequel to his own 1994 book Just Trust Us: The Erosion of Accountability in Canada.

“The premise of that book was that parliamentary authority over financial oversight and over the executive had diminished,” said Rathgeber.

“But it was his position that it had gotten worse, not better, in the 20 years since he wrote his book and it was time for somebody to write the next chapter in the loss of accountability and the demise of Parliament.”

Irresponsible Government starts out with a history of parliamentary traditions, he said.

This includes a look at how Canada inherited the Westminster democratic parliamentary system and how the government, being the cabinet and the prime minister, is supposed to be accountable to the elected parliament.

“There were rebellions fought over this very issue where we had elected parliaments and all the power was rested in the governor,” said Rathgeber. “And after the rebellions Lord Durham was dispatched and his solution was responsible government.”

That responsible government has now gone amiss, said Rathgeber.

The book traces the beginning of delegated parliamentary powers in the 1960s and ’70s to today, when parliamentarians are more interested in “cheerleading for the government in hope of advancing their careers” than being accountable to their constituents, he said.

“I believe that our democracy is reaching a critical point,” he said. “It’s close to the precipice, in my view, where if we don’t begin to address some of these democratic deficits we will reach a level of executive control that we will never reverse.”

Irresponsible Government, written on airplanes and during parliamentary breaks, was created for an audience that is interested in democracy and politics in Canada, said Rathgeber.

While the majority of the book focuses on the history of the executive and legislative branches, the concentration of power in the executive and financial recklessness, there are also chapters in which Rathgeber sets out to provide some possible solutions on how to remedy the balance of power, he said.

“This is about reaching a wider audience than I can reach with my blog and about trying to convince Canadians that they should be concerned about the state of their democracy,” he said. “And that they can still reverse what soon may become irreversible.”

How to buy

Irresponsible Government: The Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada will cost $19.99 and will soon be available for pre-order. More information is available at dundurn.com.

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