Tom Clark: But let’s be realistic though, if a backbencher votes against his own government, the future is not terribly bright for that backbencher. I mean the chances of you getting into cabinet or even being a parliamentary secretary become rather limited if you are seen as somebody who’s holding your own executive account and also from time to time, I suppose voting against them.
Brent Rathgeber: Sure but that’s premised on the suggestion that it’s only the executive that’s important in this city or in this country and I dispute that premise. I think legislature is important. We’re the ones that pass the laws. We’re the ones that pass the appropriation for the government to make and that’s Parliament as a collective. So I think the role as being a legislature is being a member of Parliament is important in holding the government to account and to assure that the executive pays attention to the tax dollars that they spend.
At the same time, Mr. Rathgeber acknowledged one of the natural tensions of the party system.
Well it’s difficult to serve more than one master and certainly my primary loyalty is to my constituents; they’re the ones that elected me. But I also have a loyalty to the prime minister and to the Conservative Party of Canada because after all, I was elected under their banner and I have no delusions that I would have been elected had it been under some other banner, certainly not Alberta.
So you have dual loyalties. So you look at it at a case by case basis.
That tension will probably always exist, no matter what is done to reform the House. And the goal of reform shouldn’t be to create 308 independent MPs. Rather, it should be to better balance the power between party and MP. The aim should be to make the individual MP more important, useful and interesting—more than merely a name on a ballot, more than a placeholder and more than a messenger for his or her political party.
Part of changing that is going to involve structural reform (amending the Elections Act, changing the way the House does its business), but another part of that could and should be nothing more than individual MPs acknowledging their individual responsibilities and asserting themselves. Consider Mr. Rathgeber. Why is he receiving attention and praise like this? Because he has a blog, on which he periodically conveys opinions that do not seem to have been vetted by the Prime Minister’s staff and variously expresses himself using phrases that do not seem to have been scripted for him.
This is not quite revolutionary. Or at least it should not seem the least bit revolutionary. But here we are. On the way to fixing everything, perhaps more MPs could start blogs. (Note: Ted Hsu has one too.)