Brent Rathgeber Watch

Adventures in MP independence
Sean Kilpatrick /CP
Sean Kilpatrick /CP

A few months back, I wondered whether the future of Parliament could (or should?) look something like Brent Rathgeber, the Conservative-turned-Independent MP for Edmonton-St. Albert. As I asked awhile after that, would we be better off with a few more Rathgebers or could our MPs be somewhat more Rathgeberian?

So what has Brent Rathgeber been up to?

He’s been critical of the government’s temporary foreign worker moratorium, he’s caught the government improperly attempting to amend a bill (both challenging the substance of the amendment and compelling the government to send the bill back to the committee), he’s twice blogged about the government’s dispute with the Chief Justice, he’s asked the government to “publicly apologize to the Chief Justice and abandon its petulant policy of attacking any individual or institution that does not agree with it or does not kowtow to it,” and he’s called on the government to “simplify the tax code by eliminating boutique tax credits for special interests, reduce the number of tax brackets, and cut tax rates for all Canadians.”

He’s proposed amendments to the Fair Elections Act to make it easier for independent candidates to compete with party candidates. He’s voted in favour of an NDP MP’s bill to expand access to information laws and an NDP motion on warrantless disclosures, , but he’s also voted with the Conservatives on a Liberal motion about the temporary foreign worker program and an NDP MP’s bill to enforce bilingualism on the Supreme Court. And he’s now asking the public to vote on whether he should support the Fair Elections Act.

Those are the highlights of the last two weeks.

“I think generally my questions reflect the concerns a conservative from Alberta likely holds,” Mr. Rathgeber tells me via email.

He remains an interesting comparison point, or at least thought experiment. There is, it should be noted, plenty to say for being a party MP, even in the current situation. Even if less obviously interesting, most MPs are rather interesting. And the average party backbencher could probably make a very good case for the good they are achieving despite not being so easily interesting. If I took two weeks in the life of a random party backbencher, I’d likely find more questions in QP, more contributions to House debate, more participation in committee studies (without a party, Mr. Rathgeber doesn’t have a seat on any parliamentary committee). But is this something like what more MPs should act like? Is Brent Rathgeber any better off? Is Parliament any better off? Are his constituents? Could Brent Rathgeber have done and said the things he’s done and said the last two weeks if he had remained in the Conservative caucus? If not, why not? At what point would he have crossed some line?