What to make of Brent Rathgeber?

The ramifications of a resignation


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.


What to make of Brent Rathgeber?

  1. I would be really angry if I was on his riding assocation and he hadn’t told us. And I would have been really angry if I had been on Emerson’s riding assocation too, the traitorous wretch. That’s who gets you elected: your riding assocation.

    • So I don’t find THAT particularly principled.

      • He did tell them before the fact (hours or even minutes, but still). What he didn’t do was CONSULT with them. Which, of course, would then bring the lie to his “principled stand” on an issue of conscience.

        Besides, if you give your EDA enough time to call a meeting and hash out the response they want to give, you’ve essentially resigned via rumour, which is hardly going to play out as taking a strong stand.

        • Hi, Jenn; I’ve been meaning to send a note to say to you lately. Thanks for pointing out that he had given them some notice. That’s fair then.

          Hope all is well and I may throw a note into your inbox one of these days. Things are a little different since last time we corresponded.

          Best to you.

          • I shall look forward to it :) Best to you as well.

    • I don’t see much in common between Emerson’s defection and Rathgeber’s. Emerson jumped ship before the ink was dry on the election results because he suddenly realized he wouldn’t have a limousine anymore. Rathgeber served his party for several years and only quit when it betrayed him.

      • I agree, but I would be upset eithe way: I do think the guy should have told the EDA, at least a heads up.

        • Absolutely. And Rathgeber should have given notice to the PM as well.

          If it were not for Harper having united the right, Rathgeber would never have been elected an MP to sit in a CPC government.

  2. I believe the party betrayed him first, patchouli.

    • Yes, but the riding association are the locals who work really hard and believe in you; they deserved a heads up. Nothing more, but you know, those volunteers work really hard and raise the money, right? In all parties, Doran.

      • “Late last night I notified the Board of Directors of the Edmonton-St.
        Albert Conservative Association of my difficult decision that I was
        resigning from the Conservative Caucus to sit as an Independent in the
        House of Commons.”

        So he gave them 12 hours or so because he resigned the next morning. I think.

  3. Mr. Rathgeber has clearly not challenged the Prime Minister, personally. He has challenged the methods by which the party leadership, (collectively, anonymously and largely without election), manage government policy and the actions of duly elected representatives of the people.

    Our electoral candidates align themselves with one party or another because their personal and collective beliefs are similar. If, over time, one or the other finds that the actions don’t match those beliefs then they must not feign allegiance. Just as a job sometimes turns out to be quite different than it had been advertised, so can an elected office.

    We become part of a team of people who are on the same wavelength; we don’t pretend to be on the same wavelength as other people just because we’re part of the same team.

    Being elected to office isn’t a victory over the enemy, it’s willing acceptance to serve your electors as best you can..

    • Good points. My question would be, if a party cannot speak with one voice all of the time, how then could a constituency ever hope to speak with one voice??

      Of course, we all know the answer to that one; not ANY constituency can speak with one voice. Therefore, when ANY MP says that they must speak for their constituencies, what does that mean?

  4. Much of Harper’s problem with many of his backbenchers is that he knows what they might say won’t square with his (and hence the CPC) vision. Many have extreme views that are out of sync with the majority of the country and the fear is that their statements would just confirm suspicions held by the majority, even if some held their noses and voted for this pathetic government.
    So stifle them and should they stray, come down on them like a bag of hammers.In fact, I’m surprised there isn’t more in the nosebleed section of Parliament.

    • I don’t think there is evidence that it works at all the way you describe it.

      Parties are formed along ideological lines. The ideology cannot be too limited, because then all hope of being elected would be for naught. And so parties and ideologies start off independently, and then merge as one, in the sense that people all across this country will choose to line themselves up with one ideology or another, along the lines being possible.

      What I mean by that is, the stricter the ideology, the less participation, and the wider the ideology, the more participation. But what such wider paticipation and such wider ideology brings about is more discontent because the ideology cannot be kept pure enough for all the participants to remain happy. But too narrow an ideology would leave the party with not much participation at all.

      So from the grass roots up, by means of parties and elections, some sort of ideological lines are being drawn. Not narrow ideological lines but wider lines.

      On top of forming parties along ideological lines (the wider the more polluted if you will) there is the immense geographical entity we call Canada to take into consideration; each ‘region’ of the country brings with it its own baggage of history, local concerns, natural resource potential, population density etc, etc.

      Now, to try and keep ALL of that together and get something done while being the government, a party, any party, must have some form of discipline in mind for it to work.

      And so tensions arise and MP’s feel left out. But here is what I think. 1. To be a representative of the people will require some sacrifice. Each and every politician must decide when that sacrifice is enough. 2. If one feels that particular concerns are not being heard or met, then creativity has to help out. By creative means, a lot can be accomplished. Creativity such as trying to find original ways to get more members of the party on board when an issue is really that important to you, but also knowing what support is real and what is not. But I do believe that there are more ways to skin a cat than resign the party. I cannot give you a specific example because each scenario would have to create its own unique solution, but if MP’s feel they are not being heard enough, they need to get creative in their thinking and not just blame it all on Harper. I am sure that if the backbench MP’s would get creative and original enough, that Harper might even greatly appreciate that. It’s about attitude as well as discipline. It’s about so much more.

      • Knowing that you’re capable of a thoughtful and observant comment like this… it only makes all the word pollution you generally spew across these pages that much more tragic. :(

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