Why was Brent Rathgeber’s bill amended?

‘I think that’s a lack of respect for the legislative process’


Jason Franson/CP

Colby Cosh looks at the seven Conservative MPs who were responsible for amending Brent Rathgeber’s bill at the ethics committee yesterday and what those changes mean. Here, for the record, are the amendments that were made—the relevant changes are those that apply to clause four.

I emailed Conservative MP Brad Butt to ask if he had any comment on the amendment he sponsored or Mr. Rathgeber’s resignation and Mr. Butt wrote back to say he had no comment on either. I asked Mr. Butt if he was ordered to make the amendments by someone in his party’s leadership and he said “no.”

Mr. Rathgeber has alleged that Conservative MPs were told what to do by staff in the Prime Minister’s Office. The PMO apparently defers to the “normal parliamentary process.”

In a news conference at his constituency office in Edmonton just now, Mr. Rathgeber expanded on his version of what happened to his bill.

I’ve always been concerned about a lack of separation between the legislative and executive branches of government. And we saw it yesterday, where the legislative members of the committee were basically dictated by political staffers how they were going to vote. I mean, I know that there was wide spread support for my bill, but the government for its own political reason decided that they weren’t going to support the bill and disclose salaries above $188,000, so the Conservative members on the committee, and there’s a majority, and they were dictated or told how to vote. And I think that’s inappropriate, I think that’s a lack of respect for the legislative process. The members of that committee are duly elected by their constituents to represent them and appointed by the various parties to sit on that committee and they ought to be able to hear the evidence, hear the arguments and make a decision based on what they think is best for Canada and what they think is best for their constituents. Not be told how to vote by unelected staffers in Langevin Block…

I’ve known since late January, early February, that it was the government’s intent to protect its highest paid civil servants. And, of course, that’s what I find so frustrating. The bill passes at second reading, goes to committee, there are five two-hour committee meetings scheduled to vet this bill, witnesses are called to testify. Not a single witness supports the proposition that $188,000 is too low. In fact, the taxpayers federation and the National Citizens Coalition testify that it was too high and should have been lowered to $100,00 to match Ontario’s Sunshine List, but in the absence of any evidence, the government introduces an amendment, moving the salary disclosure bar to make sure that no deputy minister is covered by it. So I find that process very, very troubling because it was pointless. I think I called it a charade in my blog today. The decision had been made well before the hearings to vet this bill had ever commenced.

Update 3:37pm. Huffington Post apparently caught up to Mr. Butt in an elevator after yesterday’s meeting of the ethics committee.

Caught in an elevator after the committee meeting, Butt told HuffPost that he moved the Conservative amendment to decrease disclosure because he didn’t want to create another “big bureaucracy” to handle a possible influx of Access to Information Requests for people’s salaries. “I think it will probably catch many of those who are senior executives in Crown corporations, and obviously it will capture deputy ministers at the highest levels,” he said. “I think we should start at that level. … Let’s see how the system works at that level, and I would hope if it is successful at that level, (if) it’s not a massive administrative burden for the people who have to process this request …, we can always relook at it down the road and adjust it downward.”

Butt said he did not see any paradox in the Conservative party’s moving these amendments. “This is disclosure,” he insisted. He didn’t explain his amendments at committee, he said, because he does not have to.

Update 5:14pm. During QP, the NDP’s Mathieu Ravignat asked the government to explain why Mr. Rathgeber’s bill had been amended. Here is that exchange.

Mathieu Ravignat. Mr. Speaker, I have a very simple question for the Prime Minister. Why did the government amend Bill C-461 to keep secret salaries below $ 480,000?

Rob Nicholson. Mr. Speaker, in fact, all salary ranges for public servants are already disclosed. That being said, we have expanded access to information to an additional 70 agencies and crown corporations, including the CBC. Nobody has done more for transparency than this government.


Why was Brent Rathgeber’s bill amended?

  1. It’s an interesting question.
    Personally, I think it’s to hide names of party organizers who are now “working” for the government, and to hide the names of the various people they’ve “fired” for whatever ethical breach the bus was carrying as it drove over them, and have since been quietly hired back.

    • That is the most sensible take I have heard regarding this and I wonder if someone with expertise on the matter might be able to point out how difficult/easy that information is to come by as things are now.

  2. It’s a daft bill to begin with. Cons have just gone from snooping in other people’s bedrooms to snooping in their wallets. It’s another abuse of power.

    You can’t be asked how many bathrooms you have, but you can have your paycheck published! Stupid.

  3. ‘I emailed Conservative MP Brad Butt to ask if he had any comment on the amendment he sponsored or Mr. Rathgeber’s resignation and Mr. Butt wrote back to say he had no comment on either. I asked Mr. Butt if he was ordered to make the amendments by someone in his party’s leadership and he said “no.”’

    That’s a good way to combat the impression that your government is not transparent: when you’re asked why you made a decision, refuse to comment. Way to be accountable, guys. Way to foster trust.

  4. When you consider that, in the absence of any supposed profit motive, 15% of Ontario government employees are in the top 5% of individual income and 3% of feds are in the top 1%, a “sunshine list” that starts somewhere around 1.5 times the average Canadian household income would seem a no-brainer to me. Think about it; in a employment/social environment that eschews profit, and employing a workforce that is, essentially, a cross-section of Canadians and their skills and abilities, what most people would consider very high earnings are three times as prevalent as in the private sector. Can anyone explain why a job in government should have a higher chance of a financial windfall than working in the private sector? There is not a shred of evidence that supports the notion that govt. workers are more diligent, skilful, and motivated than the rest of us, so that leaves us with few explanations that pass the sniff test as to why so many who work in the public sector out earn those of us that they purportedly work for.

    Let’s face it, if you owned a business and paid your employees more than you could afford to pay yourself and still keep the doors open, you would be stupid to do so. We who pay taxes are in the same boat. We routinely pay way above market value for literally thousands of govt. jobs, plus we have been snookered into pension obligations that are obscenely out whack with earnings.

    Frankly, we have every right to know what we pay virtually any position at any level of government, but I would settle for a list that starts at 1.5 times the average household income, a hard cap on any salary at 4 times the average household, as well as a pension cap of 75% of the average Canadian family income. That would be a good start

    • Farm gossip stuff….amazed that some people take a huge pay cut to become an MP…..you like to snoop.

      Shocker for ya…..100K is not a big salary. Just probably more than the snoopers make, so you can count on ‘jealousy’ and ‘class envy’ to work up indignation and an election issue.

      ‘Nother shocker….if you don’t pay the same in govt as the private sector does….you won’t have a civil service.

      • Fine. Pay them like the private sector. That would trim the federal payroll by a solid 20% a year. I could make good use of a 5 or 6 thousand dollar reduction in my taxes. Trim the pensions back to a 4% matching contribution and we could raise the level at which low income earners start to pay federal taxes by another 2-4 thousand per year. At what level would you demand sunshine on federal pay, there Em?

        • You have been sold the same old snakeoil Bill…..leaders have been telling followers this they’re-all-thieves-BS for eons. Remember Mulroney promising that the civil service would need running shoes as he’d fire so many? It’s always the fault of some poor bugger’s pension in the civil service.

          It’s just a way to get elected.

          I don’t freakin’ care what Fred in accounting makes, Bill. Or Sam in veterans affairs, or Susan in the health dept. Whatever is suitable for their education and other qualifications.

          It’s not the old days where civil servants got paid less, but had guaranteed jobs. They can leave anytime and often do if they get a better offer elsewhere. That kind of education and expertise is hard to come by.

          You wanna save money on your taxes?…..don’t vote for F-35s….or any other goofy WWII crap. And get rid of the Senate…and dozens of other things.

          Lots of ways to save money….if that’s all you want to do.

          Mind you, that’s never built a country yet….but that’s another story.

          • Relevant point- “whatever is suitable for their education and other qualifications”. The point you keep missing is that we are paying upwards of 25% above “whatever is suitable for their education and other qualifications” (i.e “market value”). We are paying a premium on salaries over and above benefits and intangibles such as job security, lighter demands, little competition, etc.

            The central point here is the sunshine lists, though. All money that govts pay their employees is taken, quite literally, at gunpoint from the citizenry. Therefore we retain the right of examination as to how it’s spent. Payroll accounts for half or more of all tax expenditures. We have the right to see who earns what, if only to give ourselves a gauge of how well govt manages its operations.

            Plus, let’s be real, here. There is no circumstance imaginable whereby we should be paying anyone, and I mean anyone, close to half a million dollars a year to work in any level of govt. I personally know people who own multi-million dollar companies that don’t pay themselves 40K per month. If you think you’re worth that much, get thee to the private sector and PROVE it.

          • We are? Really? We are paying people 25% extra for no reason at all? You have a source for that?

            No money is taken from anybody at gunpoint….stop being silly.

            We vote in a govt, and the govt regulates taxes. And the govt publishes budgets and financial reports all the time. No you don’t need to know who earns what…..you’re just snooping. It has to be balanced with privacy.

            Salaries of half a million are common m’dear….CEOs, lawyers, doctors etc make more than that.

            And you might remember your recent Con appointee Larry Smith who said he had taken a “dramatic, catastrophic” pay cut to be a senator.

            Like I said, you want to save money …..stop spending it on F-35s and the like…..

          • Here’s a test for you Emily. Stop buying Pepsi. Just stop. Will anyone from PepsiCo show up at your door demanding money? Nope. Ain’t happening. Now, stop paying taxes, or even just a portion of them. Tell the feds you won’t pay for this, this, and especially that. When CRA comes, tell them to get stuffed. At some point, men with guns will arrive at your door and deprive you of liberty AND your property. That’s as close to “taken at gunpoint” as the Pope is to being Catholic.
            And yes, we are paying our public servants 25% and more above the private sector for similar work.

          • I would be in violation of a contract then….the contract between me and the state over the obligations on both of us. (although no one with guns would show up)

            I agreed to the contract you know…..we all do, just by staying here.

            I could move to a country that doesn’t have taxes you know….so could you. I hear Somalia is nice this time of year.

            Or do you want something for nothing? That’s the trouble with Libertarians…..they’re mooches.

            Look, humans have been paying taxes for thousands of years, and you are just wasting time grousing about the amount. It varies depending on the country, the need and the times. But it is always necessary and you know that.

            And no, we aren’t paying our public servants 25% over and above the private sector….why on earth would we do that?….that’s rubbish, and I notice you have no source for it.

      • 100 000 is a pretty bit salary to me Emily. Considering the average Canadian makes about 50 000 a year, I think most Canadians would agree (although you see m to be one of the privileged ones). Brent’s bill didn’t start until almost 200 000, 3-4 times the average taxpayers income. We have the right to know why people are being paid so much.

        • May seem a lot to you, but it’s a huge pay cut for others.

          Even factory workers here made 100K…..so lawyers, CEOs, engineers etc make far more.

          Generally speaking, you’re paid on your education.

  5. “I’ve always been concerned about a lack of separation between the legislative and executive branches of government.”
    But it took him 5 long years as a loyal Harper MP to do anything about it. I call BS.
    Rathgeber has found a convenient way to leave the Harper Party as it spirals into a sewer of it’s own making. His was not a point of principle as it has been clear since day one of Harper’s time as PM just what a secretive and un-transparent person he was. And it is only now Brent has had enough??

    Rathgeber is either really slow mentally speaking or he sees the writing on the wall and has baled to preserve himself.
    Canny opportunist or dim-witted, but certainly not principled.

  6. This is merely a shining example that the conservatives in ottawa today bear no resemblence to the ones who took power from paul martin. They are more focused on staying in power and having their entitlements than they once were on eliminating entitlements.

    This happens to most governments when they get too cozy in ottawa. It happened with the liberals, before that the conservatives, before that the liberals.

    Maybe the blind sycophants who are cheering for harper when hes been good, bad, or ugly will start looking at things for themselves.

    • I disagree, the Conservatives gave up what they stood for when Stockwell Day took over the reform/alliance. It became about the religious right where global warming does not exist.
      The Conservatives need to get back to the values of fair, accountable and transparent government that only spends the money it has. Thats ALL they need to do. It’s all any party needs to do.

  7. There was NO justification for amending this legislation.
    This kind of accountability and transparency is a cornerstone of the Reform Party movement. It’s what Harper ran on during so many elections. amending this legislation just proves harper never intended on making any real change.