In what might be another hit to the Conservative brand, Brent Rathgeber has resigned from the Tory caucus.
The maverick backbench MP made the announcement via a series of tweets on Wednesday night, after his Conservative colleagues watered down his private member's bill — Bill C-461 — meant to shine a light on public sector salaries.
— Brent Rathgeber, MP (@brentrathgeber) June 5, 2013
I just notifed the Board of Directors of the Edm-St. Albert CPC Association and the Speaker that I have resigned from the CPC Caucus.
— Brent Rathgeber, MP (@brentrathgeber) June 6, 2013
My decision to resign from the CPC Caucus is because of the Government's lack of commitment to transparency and open government. — Brent Rathgeber, MP (@brentrathgeber) June 6, 2013
Rathgeber's intent for the bill, was to make the salaries and expenses of all federal public service workers, who make over $188,000, subject to access to information requests.
But the Tories in committee changed the salary threshold to $444,000 which, as explained by the Globe and Mail, rules out most of the civil service. Rathegeber alleges that change was made at the request of the party elites — at the justice ministry or the PMO.
Rathgeber's dissent shouldn't come as a huge surprise to anybody; he was, after all, a free thinker. In his blog, Rathgeber was never afraid to ruffle the feathers of his party's leadership.
On Thursday morning, he took to his blog, again, to explain why he quit caucus:
Clearly, the Government’s decision not to support my Private Member’s Bill on CBC and Public Sector disclosure and transparency in Committee was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back; however, this decision and my comfort level in caucus has been evolving for at least a year when I first spoke out against Ministerial opulence in a blog entitled “Of Orange Juice and Limos.”
Recent allegations concerning expense scandals and the Government’s response has been extremely troubling. I joined the Reform/conservative movements because I thought we were somehow different, a band of Ottawa outsiders riding into town to clean the place up, promoting open government and accountability. I barely recognize ourselves, and worse I fear that we have morphed into what we once mocked.
Also on Thursday, in an interview at the Ottawa airport with CBC News' Laura Payton, Rathgeber added that he believes that there is some angst in the Conservative backbench but that he wasn't sure that any of his now-former colleagues would make the same decision to leave.
"The more popular feeling certainly at PMO and the whip's office is that caucus members should essentially be cheerleaders for the government and spread the government's message as opposed to being some sort of legislative check on executive power," he said.
"I don't accept their premise."
At least one backbencher came to his defence, on Wednesday night.
@brentrathgeber Brent, you are a man of integrity and will be missed.
— Mark Warawa (@MPmarkwarawa) June 6, 2013
But it appears that the rest of the Tories are circling the wagons, so to speak.
Here's a tweet from the prime minister's director of communications:
The people of Edmonton-St. Albert elected a Conservative Member of Parliament. Mr. Rathgeber should resign and run in a by-election. (2/2)
— Andrew MacDougall (@PMO_MacDougall) June 6, 2013
And one from his former director of communications:
— Dimitri Soudas (@D_Soudas) June 6, 2013
Rathgeber called those suggestions hypocritical, especially since the Conservative Party didn't have the same philosophy in 2006 when they asked David Emerson to leave the Liberals and join their cabinet.
Regardless, Rathgeber's defection is the latest 'negative' for the Conservatives in a quarter where they've had to deal with backbench strife, a Senate expense scandal and a $90,000 gift from the prime minister's chief of staff to a sitting legislator.
For the Tories, the summer break can't come soon enough.
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