MP takes courageous step to bolt

I do wonder if voters would prefer to be treated as seals in a circus, rather than as individuals with the power to make change.

By Mary-Ann Barr

Red Deer Advocate

I do wonder if voters would prefer to be treated as seals in a circus, rather than as individuals with the power to make change.

Last week, Alberta MP Brent Rathgeber was dumped by his Conservative riding association because he made a decision of conscience.

There was a time this country accepted thousands of people because they were “conscientious objectors.”

Depending on one’s view, American draft dodgers who came to Canada were either cowards, or individuals who truly didn’t believe in war and the killing that comes with it.

On Wednesday, Rathgeber decided that he could no longer live with carrying out the wishes of unelected officials in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office.

He feels that backbencher MPs such as himself have become nothing but “trained seals.”

He said that he was quitting the Conservative caucus because of a lack of government transparency.

It was over for him, he said, when the government diluted his private member’s bill to expose the salaries of senior federal civil servants.

His bill would have seen salary disclosure at $188,000. The committee reviewing it changed it to $400,000.

Rathgeber, 48, said the committee was ordered by the Prime Minister’s Office to raise the amount, so he could no longer accept that employees in Harper’s office were dictating the agenda, leaving no room for dissent in public or even behind closed doors, according to a Canadian Press story.

Hell has no fury like a party constituency association scorned.

By Friday, Rathgeber’s riding association (Edmonton-St. Albert) had essentially given him the boot and was actively seeking a replacement.

That replacement won’t come until the next election.

If voters find themselves agreeing with Rathgeber, the Tories might lose the seat if he runs again, but as an Independent. He is in his second term as an MP. He also served one term as a Progressive Conservative MLA from 2001 to 2004.

For a long time, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed promising politicians have headed off to the historical halls of Parliament Hill, believing that even as backbenchers they can make a difference for their constituents and their country.

But as many voters know, often backbenchers simply become the flagbearers of the inner circle, and when not being used to float trial balloons, they get to attend an insufferably amount of public events as the government’s representative.

And once in a blue moon, they get to see one of their “private” bills make the rounds, coming out usually revised if it ever gets approved.

The problem of uniformity, of always being compelled to fall in line, is that it causes people to stagnate, and also, obviously, doesn’t necessarily allow politicians to follow their conscience.

I wonder — do the voters of Edmonton-St. Albert prefer to have a representative that always follows the party line and/or the unelected that work for the party, and by default, the wishes of the constituency association.

If voters themselves don’t want to be treated like “trained seals,” why should they expect their member of Parliament to be?

Rathgeber isn’t just any Conservative. He’s a Conservative from conservative Alberta.

He’s taken a great gamble that his future as a MP will get past the next election.

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