Rathgeber to run as independent

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Local MP plans to defend his seat in next federal election

St. Albert’s renegade MP is planning on running in the next federal election.

“It’s my intention to defend the seat as an independent,” said Brent Rathgeber at his office on Oct. 28. Rathgeber broke with the Conservative caucus in early June and has been sitting as an independent since. The next federal election is expected to take place in fall 2015.

Running as an independent will present some procedural challenges, Rathgeber said. He said he will only be able to raise money for his campaign once the election is called and he’s officially a candidate.

It is challenging to run as an independent, Rathgeber said, but if the level of “overwhelming and quite unexpected” support that came in for his break with the Tory government sticks around long enough for his campaign, he’s intending on defending his seat.

“I have heard from thousands of principled conservatives in the days and weeks following my decision,” Rathgeber said. Most of those have been positive responses to his move to resign from the Tory caucus, he said.

Rathgeber was elected to the House of Commons in 2008 and won again in 2011 under the Tory banner. Now that he’s no longer with the party, he said the Tories will work “tirelessly” to win this riding back.

Potential Conservative candidates are already throwing hats into the ring to win the nomination. Michael Cooper, a lawyer from St. Albert and a long-time political participant, announced his intention to seek the nomination last week. Cooper said while he’s friends with Rathgeber and respects him, the area will be better served by a Conservative caucus member. That’s something with which Rathgeber disagrees, noting it’s entirely possible in 2015 the Conservative caucus will not be the governing caucus.

“They may very well be the opposition,” he said, noting the Tories haven’t been polling as well lately. As a member of that caucus it could be difficult to represent Edmonton-St. Albert, Rathgeber said: whipped votes and toeing the party line made it hard. There’s a “top-down command and control structure” in the Prime Minister’s Office, Rathgeber said, where the “hyper-partisan” staff are given an ear while “lip service” is given to the elected MPs.

Rathgeber spoke highly of Cooper, noting he’d be a good candidate, and a smart one, if successful in winning the nomination.

“Michael will be a great candidate,” Rathgeber said. “Michael will be the type of candidate the party machine gets behind.”

Cooper was the president of the local riding association for much of Rathgeber’s initial nomination run and election campaigns, Rathgeber said. But, he added, whoever wins the nomination to run as the Tory standard-bearer here will continue to defend Stephen Harper’s decisions.

“There is grave concern about the direction of this government and the direction of the party,” Rathgeber said.

His own campaign will attempt to make this the ballot box question: whether or not voters want an independent representative who will be guided by “small-c” conservative principles, or if they want a Conservative MP who is “a blind supporter of the party.”

“My ability to hold onto this seat as an independent are going to be framed in those terms,” Rathgeber said.

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