The news that Alberta MP Brent Rathgeber has decided to resign from the Conservative party is the first bit of common sense I’ve heard emerging from the ivory towers of the Parliament Buildings in a long time.
I’m sure he isn’t the only MP to feel this way and perhaps his exit might spur more elected officials to realize they are in Ottawa to speak on our behalf, not repeat written handouts by public relations types who are more interested in keeping their jobs than representing Canadians.
More importantly I applaud Rathgeber’s decision to sit as an Independent. That immediately proved to me he’s not out to make any grandstand move by symbolically walking across the floor and joining another political party.
This isn’t the same move as Lise St. Denis made when she left the NDP party to join the Liberals.
And it’s nowhere near the audacity that David Emerson had when he left the Liberals for the Conservatives less than two weeks after an election.
Those two decisions were based more on personal motives and advancing their respective political careers than it was out of respect for Canadian voters.
But Rathgeber’s decision comes from listening to his constituents and the moral obligation he has, as an elected representative, to stand up for his riding first and foremost.
I must admit much of what comes out of Ottawa in the last few decades has been greeted with obvious skepticism and mistrust.
After all, we’ve heard about a former Prime Minister accepting an envelop stuffed with cash.
Another Prime Minister secretly funnelling funds to fight a referendum in Quebec.
So when an MP, backbencher at that, stands up for what he believes and what he believes his party should be about, it’s bound to resonate.
The fact that he didn’t accept the comfort of an opposing party tells me he’s also confident in the support his constituents have in his decision.
Imagine that, a federal MP, in the ruling party, listening to the voters rather than the spin masters.
The recent scandals surrounding our political system have driven our respect for the institution to an all-time low.
But perhaps Rathgeber is the canary in the coal mine.
Perhaps his standing up to the scripted response from the Prime Minister’s Office and the vetting of his comments is the start of something bigger.
Will other elected officials dare to stand up to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his backroom buddies?
Or will they weigh the benefits of a fat pension, cushy expense account and chauffeured limousines as a reason to just keep their mouths shut.
Look at Revelstoke MP David Wilks who complained about the Conservatives omnibus budget bill last year. He told his constituents that he had “no choice,” but to vote with his party.
Rathgeber has proven that he does have a choice. It’s up to Wilks to have the backbone to follow it through and trust voters will respect him for that.
I don’t expect a mass exodus from the Conservative Party but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few more Tory backbenchers speak up.
We’ve already seen two Conservative MPs, Mark Warawa and Leon Benoit, complain that their voices were silenced by their own party. Is it a matter of time before they actually have the courage to do what Rathgeber did?
I don’t think this issue is solely the domain of the Conservative Party. In the past Jean Chretien held an iron fist over the Liberal MPs of his era and Brian Mulroney was so cunning that he’s been shunned by today’s incarnation of the Tories.
No doubt members of the current opposition parties also keep tabs on what their members are saying and try to steer the narrative into exposing the party in power rather than constructive concerns on the state of the nation.
Watching NDP leader Thomas Mulcair hammer away at the Prime Minister over the Senate scandal makes for great court TV but does little to shorten the employment line or put food on a struggling family’s table.
Greedy senators and backroom deals should be dealt with by the justice system and the politicians should get back to doing what they promised to do – deal with the issues that impact Canadians.
Rathgeber’s anger boiled over when his private members bill to disclose salaries of top public servants was altered.
To me, finding out what those civil servants make would only make me angrier at the fat-cat system we have allowed to flourish.
However, his frustration at the controls hovering over elected members by the Prime Minister’s staffers is one that should concern all citizens interested in democracy.
Rathgeber’s move has provided a little bit of light at the end of the dark tunnel that is the current state of Canadian politics.
What unfolds over the next little while will tell us if his move actually had an impact or it will be business as usual in the Ivory Tower.