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The independent MP for Edmonton-St.Albert and his bill

The unsettled matter of Brent Rathgeber


 

Brent Rathgeber tells Postmedia about what happened when he indicated some degree of support for an NDP motion at the justice committee.

Brent Rathgeber, the Conservative MP for Edmonton-St. Albert, had been instructed by the party to vote against Boivin’s motion. The party didn’t want the committee to study Schmidt’s complaint, and in a majority Parliament, what the governing party wants, the governing party gets. But Rathgeber went off script. “I am very sympathetic to your motion and to your desire to make sure the legislation is charter-proof,” he told Boivin. He was concerned that the committee might be interfering with a matter before the courts, though, so suggested that they think about it for a few days.

All hell broke loose. “You’ve never seen so much activity between the minister of justice’s minions, and the whip’s lackeys,” Rathgeber said Friday. “People were running in and out of the room and making phone calls. I think it was unprecedented.” Rathgeber was summoned for a meeting with Gordon O’Connor, who, as chief government whip, is in charge of enforcing discipline on the Conservative caucus. “We were told unequivocally that the government doesn’t want the study to be done,” Rathgeber said.

And Mr. Rathgeber tells CTV he will now be able to hold ministers to account in Question Period.

“I was never able to ask unscripted, unvetted questions of ministers of the Crown. Now I can. It’s my intention to use that opportunity to hold ministers to account,” he said, calling his newfound freedom “liberating.” “It’s my intent to vote on pieces of legislation how I believe my constituents would want me to vote rather than how I know the party wanted me to vote.”

Meanwhile, Terrence Corcoran mounts a decent argument for amending Mr. Rathgeber’s bill as the government did. Thing is, it’s not clear that the government has bothered to mount such an argument. During debate in the House, the two parliamentary secretaries to the minister of justice addressed the bill here and here. Robert Goguen came closest to making an argument against the salary disclosure set out in the bill.

In the public sector, job classifications are accompanied by a salary range within which someone is paid. Where they specifically fall within that range depends upon a number of factors, including time spent in the position and performance reviews.

Until now, the only information regarding salaries that could be made available to an access requester was the salary ranges of individuals enquired about. This salary range, along with other disclosable information, was enough to give a requester a good idea of how much an individual was remunerated by the government. We believe that being able to obtain salary ranges for the majority of public servants pursuant to an access to information request is appropriate.

In 2006 the coverage of the Access to Information Act and Privacy Act was expanded to a number of crown corporations. This change was brought forward with the Federal Accountability Act. Information on parent crown corporations and their wholly owned subsidiaries is now accessible under the Access to Information Act and Privacy Act. As a result, the Access to Information Act and Privacy Act now include a number of government institutions whose employees and officials are much higher paid than the vast majority of civil servants. We support the idea put forward in Bill C-461, that the highest paid individuals in the public sphere should have their exact salaries disclosed.

However, we propose an amendment to permit the disclosure of the exact income of those individuals that exceeds the highest level of the deputy minister level. This is a more practical level to administer than pledging the threshold in the middle of the deputy minister classification as is currently in Bill C-461. It also better reflects the intention of disclosing the income of the very highest paid individuals.

This is a sensible amendment as it crystallizes the fundamental idea that if an individual, in the course of their employment, incurs an expense and is compensated for that expense by the government, then that information should no longer be treated as personal information. The more noted expenses, when they are paid back to the employee, will be known by all. It is important to be transparent because we want the government to be money wise and only spend money where it is necessary.

Conservative MP Brad Butt reportedly didn’t explain the amendments to Mr. Rathgeber’s bill when he moved them at the ethics committee last week and he wouldn’t comment when I asked him about the changes after Mr. Rathgeber’s resignation. Mr. Butt’s only explanation offered so far is that he didn’t want to create a “big bureaucracy” to deal with requests for salary information. When Justice Minister Rob Nicholson was asked about the amendments during QP last Thursday, he deferred, without explanation, to the current salary ranges.

As I seem to recall someone arguing last week—Kady O’Malley, maybe?—if the government opposed Mr. Rathgeber’s bill, it might’ve aimed to defeat the bill when it returned to the House from committee. The Prime Minister, for instance, could’ve whipped the cabinet and presented an argument—perhaps the one made by Corcoran—for why the bill should not be supported.

Instead, by Mr. Rathgeber’s reckoning, the Prime Minister’s Office had Mr. Rathgeber’s fellow backbenchers make substantial changes to the bill at committee—note that Mr. Butt told me he was not ordered to amend the bill—without much in the way of an argument.


 

The independent MP for Edmonton-St.Albert and his bill

  1. This whole Rathgeber affair, resignation and all, is first and foremost about communications deficiencies. Absolutely no doubt in my mind about that.

    I think Wherry is doing us all a great service here to shed some more light on what may or may not have transpired regarding the private member’s bill.

    When I listened to CPC Chris Alexander just about a week ago when he spoke on P&P about the bill and about the reasons for changing the bill and about the reason why the amount had been lifted up to $442,000 instead of what Rathgeber’s bill had originally suggested or has come to agree to, it was clear to me at that point that there was another side to this private members bill story.

    Chris Alexander was explaining things as clearly as he could under the circumstances. I mean, it must be difficult to explain complicated issues in just one minute flat and at times being constantly interrupted. But part of the revealing part for me, was that when Alexander was explaining some of the reasons why the bill had been altered, he was not interrupted by the NDP and LPC member sitting on the very same panel; in fact, the two opposition MP’s took careful notice of what Alexander had to say and then, afterwards, did not counter Alexander much. Yes, there were some grumblings about it all, but not an outright attack on Alexander after he was said and done. Which made me sit up and take notice.

    But here is the thing: Why did Rosemary Barton not follow up on what Alexander was trying to explain? Is it not the duty of a political panel’s host, to remain as neutral as possible and to find out what the real sources are when controversies arise? Is it not THE role of a political reporter to find out what it is exactly what the politicians are referring to? But alas, I was very happy that everyone on the panel that day, including Rosemary not interfering, remained quiet when Alexander gave his explanations. At least that day some sense could be made of it all!

    Communication then is the key for solving all of these mis understandings, and it is just as much up to each and every individual elected MP to communicate toward each other as well as to the public at large.

    In regards to Kady O’Malley: on Friday afternoon when she and Greg Weston and one Macleans writer (sorry, I cannot remember his name) sat around Rosemary Barton’s table, they were extremely cynical about this current government and were holding up Rathgeber as the best hero they had ever encountered. The silliness that went over the airwaves that Friday afternoon was a tell tale sign for me, that something was not quite right. The Harper-bashing, by means of using Rathgeber’s comments about Harper, was just too much. Not too much for me to take; I’ve heard the Harper bashing for years and years now, no big deal anymore. No, what got to me was the fact that it was so obvious that Friday afternoon that something else was amiss. It seemed to me that by overly concentrating on Ratgeber’s side, it made it possible for O’Malley and Weston and the other Macleans guy, to let a lot of other things be unsaid.

    And many other things remain unsaid!

    Perhaps Kady will, at some point, give us answers as to how many times CBC has taken the government to court over access to information, in that CBC is not willing to disclose!

    And how many more times will the CBC take this government to court? CBC has threatened to take this government to court over Bill C-60. Would the CBC have taken this government to court had Rathgeber’s bill been left as originally suggested?

    Time to let the truth come out on all sides. Thank you Wherry, for at least be willing to open the door to such investigation.

    • You may be right – in this instance, the problem may have been a breakdown in communication. Did anyone explain the rationale for the changes to Rathgeber? It doesn’t sound like it. The changes as set out above seem reasonable; it sounds to me like they just bulldozed over Rathgeber rather than discussing it with him. And – based on prior experiences such as the one he detailed above – it became the straw that broke the camel’s back.
      This seems all too typical of this government; even when I agree with the changes they want to implement, I usually find myself disagreeing with the way they go about it.

    • If you believe that spin I have a bridge to sell.
      20000 is about 4 times what the average canadian makes. We have the right to know who the government is paying that much, and why.

  2. Brent Rathgeber is all about self promotion. He likes seeing his name in headlines, and being a backbencher, figured he could elevate his personal brand by “sticking it” to the PMO. Whatever. He’s got his 15 minutes of fame, and come the next election, nobody will remember his name…. except perhaps all the campaign workers, volunteers, and donors who he betrayed.

  3. I support Brent, I think we need more MPs like this.

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