What to make of Brent Rathgeber?

The ramifications of a resignation
Edmonton MP Brent Rathgeber speaks about his decision to quit the federal Conservative caucus in St. Albert, Alberta on Thursday June 6, 2013. Rathgeber says there is a lack of commitment to transparency in the government. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

The Conservative riding association in Edmonton-St. Albert is disappointed in Brent Rathgeber.

The Edmonton-St. Albert Conservative Association (“EDA”) was not consulted by Mr. Rathgeber respecting his decision to resign as a member of the Conservative Party caucus and is disappointed with both Mr. Rathgeber’s decision and the lack of consultation. The EDA expresses its full support for the policies of the Conservative Party of Canada and its full support for the party’s leader, Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The former Conservative MP for Edmonton-St. Albert congratulates Mr. Rathgeber.

The riding’s former Conservative MP, John Williams, congratulated Rathgeber for standing up and “having the courage to say enough is enough.” Williams said he doesn’t think that the people of St. Albert will have any problem with Rathgeber’s decision. “I think they will see that they have a member of Parliament who is prepared to stand up and represent them, rather than just being an anonymous backbencher.”

Conservative MP Brad Trost considers life in a political party.

Trost said there are pressures to conform. He’s experienced them first hand. “There was my friend (MP) Mark Warawa, and myself on pro-life issues. There have been pressures, don’t talk, don’t rock the boat. Some people don’t like it when you talk about those sorts of things. So I understand those sorts of pressures,” said Trost. But he said, as an MP, he has a duty to stand up for what he believes his constituents want and “what you believe is what your conscience requires you to say.”

Conservative MP LeVar Payne considers Mr. Rathgeber’s decision.

Payne believes Rathgeber will find he is limited even more in his current position. “Being part of the caucus helps, you get support for what you’re trying to do,” said Payne. “Collectively we can achieve more.”

Conservative MP Bob Zimmer, who seconded Mr. Rathgeber’s bill, wishes him well.

“I’ll just be real straight forward with it, I respect Brent and his opinions and appreciate what he’s doing for his constituents and I wish him well with his future and I’ll see him again.”

Conservative MP Larry Miller says Mr. Rathgeber is wrong to say the Conservative party hasn’t changed.

“That’s totally wrong,” Miller said. “I’m sure that Brent said some things when he was not in very good humour and that’s fine. But I totally disagree with that and that’s all I’m going to say.”

The Globe talks to three former Reform MPs.

All told, it led to Mr. Rathgeber questioning what his former party had become – and quitting. He was applauded by some who share his concern. “There’s a lot of truth, I think, in what he’s saying. And I think there’s a lot of MPs that are just holding their noses to what’s going on, and haven’t spoken up,” said Cliff Breitkreuz, a former Reform MP from Alberta. “The government has certainly strayed from Reform principles,” former Reform MP David Chatters added.

Others say Mr. Rathgeber should have stuck with his party. “I think when you’re a member of a team, you have a responsibility to the team,” said Ian McClelland, a former Reform MP who also served in the Alberta legislature with Mr. Rathgeber. “… I like Brent, but I think he was wrong.”

Alison Loat sees a challenge to the system.

Rather than an attempted palace coup, Rathgeber’s choice can be seen as a challenge to the culture of political party dominance at the expense of the voice of the MP, a trend that’s persisted, largely unchecked — including by MPs themselves — for decades.

MPs don’t enter politics expecting that they will agree with their party colleagues on every issue. After all, the push and pull of opinions is integral to the healthy functioning of any organization, particularly a political party. Rathgeber’s decision underscores a deeper point. What appears to be missing in politics today is any clear sense of how MPs should go about expressing opinions or voicing dissent within their parties. What one MP considered appropriate dissent could be tantamount to party treason for another.

Peter Loewen sees a challenge for the Prime Minister.

Most importantly, the Prime Minister may finally find himself confronted by a more assertive caucus. It is there that the balance between MPs’ preferences and the agenda of the executive is struck. The Prime Minister has for some time had his hand firmly on the scale. His greatest challenge is in letting up and allowing his MPs a looser reign. If he does not, Mr. Rathgeber’s resignation may be one that other MPs may be well inclined to follow. If it signals little about the functioning of our Parliament, it still warns the Prime Minister that darker days lie ahead.

Colin Horgan looks ahead to the Conservative convention at the end of the month.

Perhaps, too, the Conservatives from the Mount Royal EDA will have something to say on this entire matter. That riding association has proposed a resolution (2-25-001) for the convention that would have Crown corporations, federal agencies, semi-public institutions and others “produce a sunshine list annually reporting its twenty best paid employees or all employees earning above $120,000 annually, whichever is greater.”

In other words, we could soon find out whether even Nicholson’s own party peers agree about this government’s apparent historic level of transparency. And, equally, what it might mean if they don’t.

Previous reaction, news and consideration here, here, here, herehere, here and here.