The Backbench Spring moves into summer

Brent Rathgeber’s independence and a backbench revolt

Greg Rickford would rather you not think of him as a trained seal, Brent Rathgeber might vote for Thomas Mulcair’s bill on the Parliamentary Budget Officer and “senior figures in the Conservative movement” say Government Whip Gordon O’Connor and Government House Leader Peter Van Loan have to go.

Senior figures in the Conservative movement are warning that unless Stephen Harper moves his House Leader, Peter Van Loan, and the Government Whip, Gordon O’Connor, more MPs will follow the unlikely rebel, Brent Rathgeber, out of the caucus door. The changes must be accompanied by reforms to the way the Prime Minister’s Office treats backbenchers, according to one former Cabinet minister. And the Prime Minister needs to draw into his inner circle people who are prepared to tell him things he may not want to hear…

The finger of blame has been pointed squarely at Mr. O’Connor, a former brigadier-general used to his orders being obeyed without question, and Mr. Van Loan, described by one Conservative as “the most reviled member of caucus.” But they are merely the enablers of a command and control structure where the word is written by the Great Helmsman and interpreted by the cadre of youthful Blue Guards in his office.

Mr. O’Connor has been whip since 2008. Mr. Van Loan has been House leader since the 2011 election, though he served in the role from 2007 to 2008 as well. (Possibly of note: complaints about the PMO’s relations with caucus date to at least February 2012 when I spoke with Brad Trost.)

Beyond the remaining internal strife of the Conservative caucus, Mr. Rathgeber might become an interesting external measure of conservative/Conservative thought. By his own account, he still supports the Prime Minister will continue to “generally” support the government and so he might be seen, depending on where he goes from here, as a Conservative MP in exile—a government backbencher without any of the commitments that otherwise bind a government backbencher. It would be unfair to put too much significance on the words and deeds of a single MP, but, presuming he remains, for all intents and purposes, a conservative, his existence will beg comparisons.

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