Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber slams ‘Ottawa opulence’

·Politics Reporter

The theory that Stephen Harper is a 'dictatorial' leader who doesn't allow public dissent within his caucus is being put to the test.

On Tuesday, Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber wrote in his blog that he was in Grenfell, Sask., a town of around 1,000 people last month and found that the champagne tastes of senior Tories were at the top of people's minds.

Specifically, he said, people are upset with the perks given to cabinet ministers, things like the $600,000 overtime bill for their limo drivers, or Bev Oda's $16 glass of orange juice.

[ Related: Oda's travel expenses cause dissent in Tory caucus ]

"The Cabinet Minister Limousine Service represents one of the most egregious displays of Ottawa opulence," Rathgeber wrote.

"[Most people] have never ridden in a limo and none of them have ever drunk $16 orange juice. Surely, they would appreciate if government took more care in spending their money."

In an interview with PostMedia News, Wednesday, he didn't back down.

"I see the role of a backbench MP to hold the government to account," he said.

"It doesn't mean that I'm disloyal or that I'm a maverick or that I'm going to vote against the government or cross the floor. It just means that from time to time I feel an obligation to point out to the government that they need to respect the taxpayers' dollars."

[ Related: No apologies for pricey limo tab for ministers attending swank retreat ]

Rathgeber isn't the only Tory MP to criticize his government in recent months.

Last month B.C. MP James Lunney's condemned the government over the Canadian Coast Guard cuts on the West Coast.

And in January, Tory backbencher Brad Trost questioned the "ironclad" party discipline that prevails in Ottawa, saying it stifles debate and prevents independent thinking.

Has Harper loosened the reigns on his MPs?

Ipsos-Reid pollster Darrell Bricker suggests that backbench criticism may continue.

He told PostMedia that given that an election is still three years away and some MPs have realized they will never get into cabinet.

"When they've got nothing to lose, this stuff just happens," Bricker said in an email.

Whether the Prime Minister's office allows it to continue remains to be seen.

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