Brent Rathgeber on the Senate and Mike Duffy -

Brent Rathgeber on the Senate and Mike Duffy

The free-speaking Conservative speaks out


Two hours after Nigel Wright resigned, The West Block aired an interview with Brent Rathgeber, the noticeably independent-minded Conservative MP. It seems this mess is not going over well with Conservative supporters.

Tom Clark: Is this hurting the Conservative brand in your area?

Brent Rathgeber: Well it is to a certain extent. I think the irony of this situation to some extent is, I hear from constituents all the time; daily, weekly and individuals for the most part that are calling or e-mailing me with respect to recent stories that are coming out of the Senate are not the normal people that are critical of the government or critical of me. These are actually more people that I consider to be our supporters, that they expect public officials to hold themselves up to an exceptionally high standard of conduct and it’s those individuals … Who I mean I identify with because I’m one of them. I do advocate for respect for taxpayers and for treating public resources effectively and legally, and respectfully. So, it’s among individuals who I consider to be my supporters who seem to be the most upset as this story continues to roll out.

And then there is this from Mr. Rathgeber.

Tom Clark: You’re going to be back here in Ottawa next week when the House resumes, you’re going to have an opportunity to speak to the leaders of the party, to the prime minister. What do you want to ask Stephen Harper about this whole situation?

Brent Rathgeber: Well my biggest concern and it has been my concern for some time, even before this story broke in the last few weeks, and that’s what I see as an inadequate degree of separation between the legislative and executive branches of government. The senators in question and myself, we are parliamentarians. We are legislators and our job is to vet and ultimately vote on, yay or nay on legislation that’s before the respective houses. And most of that legislation is government sponsored and government drafted legislation. And when there’s inadequate separation I would suggest between the executive and of course the prime minister’s office is at the very apex of the executive. When there’s inadequate separation between those two institutions, it appears to me that both are compromised. I mean I don’t … as a legislator I don’t want to be beholden or indebted to individuals from the executive at any level.


Brent Rathgeber on the Senate and Mike Duffy

  1. Amazing and refreshing. A Con who not only seems to understand the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy but, unlike the autocrat in the PMO, actually respects its integrity.

  2. I think it’s notable other threads on this topic today are at 150+ posts, and I am only number two here. Perhaps a good sign that some of our more frequent posters here are being a little more introspective with Mr Rathgeber’s words.

    • I’m sure they’re only waiting to be given their talking points from the PMO and then they’ll be here with a deafening clapping of their flippers

  3. Mr. Rathgeber is right, IMO. The legislative and executive branches shouldn’t be in bed together. The fact is that our British Parliamentary system has become warped here in Canada. It’s been called an “honour system”. It works based on tradition, understanding of the system, the institutions, and respect for them. When people have only disdain for the traditions, or don’t understand them, or are cynical, it doesn’t work.

    We are very influenced by American politics here. If a Canadian PM seems to be operating like an American president, it looks normal. Two big parties taking turns at majority governments looks familiar and right. Minority and coalition governments look unstable and foreign. The PM being surrounded by some huge band of unelected people in the PMO looks sort of like what US presidents do. The PM gaining control of virtually all parts of government through his appointees is kind of like what a president does also.

    The difference is that the American system was designed based on the same original model as ours, the British Parliamentary System. But, the American founding fathers, being skeptical but rather conservative revolutionaries, worried about unscrupulous or ideologically fringy radicals getting control of the government so they built in the famous checks and balances. Our system is closer to the original British model. It does not have nearly so many of those automatic checks and balances that keep the executive, legislative and judicial wings clearly independent, and act to ensure accountability to the people. The British system is known as an “honour system”. The checks and balances are in the form of traditions. They are cultural in nature.

    Our checks and balances are in the form of MP’s like Mr. Rathgeber and his constituents just knowing when something has gone wrong, and understanding that if the PM exercises all the power he CAN in a majority situation over time, it will lead to corruption, as in the famous quote about power corrupting.

    Remember, because the monarch and her representative in places like Canada have become entirely symbolic, the PM has enormous potential power in practice. His advisory power on paper can become actual power. It’s really only if he remembers that the monarch’s power was supposed to become the power of the PEOPLE, through their elected representatives, not his personal power, that he will exercise it cautiously. In effect, a PM has to remember he is neither a monarch nor a president. He has to be respectful of the institutions and traditions and he has to know them, and he has to know his place.

    And Canadians have to know that, as I think one Stephen Harper once perhaps suggested, our system actually works most democratically when we have minority governments, and coalitions are good too, but any majority government runs the risk of becoming corrupt, arrogant, unaccountable, secretive and unresponsive, over time.

    The Senate could probably use reform, but it should be done respectfully and thoughtfully about its role, considering why it was set up the way it is. It shouldn’t be done in some haphazard, piecemeal or self interested way. I hope the Court will give a cautious answer on what can be done without full consultation with provinces and public debate. We could end up with an even more powerful and unaccountable PM.

    Hope Conservative MP’s like Mr. Rathgeber will speak up about their concerns, and his constituents too.

  4. Totally agree – should start with caucus. Senators should not be members of political caucuses, neither should ministers.