Alberta MP Rathgeber quits Conservative caucus, cites 'lack of transparency'

PM calls on MP to resign and run in byelection

OTTAWA – Alberta MP Brent Rathgeber says he quit the Conservative caucus on Wednesday night to become an Independent because he fears the Tories have lost their way.

In a new blog posting, he said he had thought of the Conservatives as a band of outsiders going into Ottawa to clean things up and promote open government and transparency.

“I barely recognize ourselves and worse I fear that we have morphed into what we once mocked,” he wrote.

He said the party ideals have been sacrificed to political expediency.

“A return to balanced budgets, limiting the size and scope of government, the aforementioned open and transparent operation of government, belief in markets and eliminating corporate subsidies are all matters of importance to my constituents but have all been sacrificed to the altar of electoral calculation.”

The MP, first elected to the Commons in 2008 and re-elected in 2011, says the last straw was the Harper government’s decision to water down his private member’s bill to expose the salaries of senior federal civil servants.

If passed, the bill would have raised the transparency bar for salary disclosure to $188,000. But the committee reviewing the legislation instead decided to raise the threshold to more than $400,000.

“I have reluctantly come to the inescapable conclusion that the government’s lack of support for my transparency bill is tantamount to a lack of support for transparency and open government generally.

He said he’s had doubts for a year about the government’s commitment to transparency.

Rathgeber said he will continue to support the Harper government when warranted

He said he still has confidence in Stephen Harper, but questions the decisions of the prime minister’s advisers.

“I will continue to support the government generally, but not unequivocally. I will deploy my independent vote on a case by case, issue by issue basis.”

Rathgeber’s decision to leave the caucus drew a quick response from Andrew MacDougall, a spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office.

He said voters in the Edmonton-St. Albert riding elected a Conservative and Rathgeber “should resign and run in a byelection.”

Rathgeber dismissed MacDougall’s comments this morning in an interview with CBC at the Ottawa airport before leaving for Edmonton.

“I’m elected and I’m entitled to leave the caucus if I so choose. I’m entitled to join another caucus (if I so choose) … I’m not going to, but I’m entitled to,” he told CBC.

Dimitri Soudas, the prime minister’s former spokesman, suggested Rathgeber’s dissatisfaction was obvious after the 2011 election.

Soudas, now head of communications for the Canadian Olympic Association, tweeted that Rathgeber’s behaviour made it “obvious it was coming to this.”

Newfoundland Liberal MP Scott Andrews, however, praised Rathgeber for “taking the high road and standing up for your convictions. This place (House of Commons) need more like you.”

On Thursday, Canadian Taxpayers Federation condemned the government’s treatment of Rathgeber’s sunshine bill.

“It’s absolutely disgusting that the government would gut a piece of accountability legislation in order to keep taxpayers from finding out what senior government employees do and make,” said spokesman Gregory Thomas.

“What are they trying to hide?”