When a Conservative resignation woke up Ottawa

Tease the day: MP Brent Rathgeber resigned his caucus via late-night tweet

Last night, Brent Rathgeber made a big decision at 10:18 p.m. The Edmonton MP decided to tell the world, via Twitter, that he had resigned from the Conservative caucus. Four minutes later, in another tweet, he explained why: the government’s “lack of commitment to transparency and open government.” Shockwaves, in the form of thousands of retweets, reverberated.

Earlier in the evening, the House of Commons’ ethics committee had voted to amend a private member’s bill that sought to disclose salaries of highly paid public servants. The bill was Rathgeber’s, and it included measures to disclose the salaries of public servants who earn more than $188,000. All seven Conservative MPs on the committee, many of whom aren’t permanent members, voted to raise that bar to $444,661—a salary earned by only the most senior public servants. The bill, so amended, was sent back to the House of Commons. Rathgeber, duly frustrated, quit his caucus.

Just another headache for a party that’s already on its heels in the wake of the Wright-Duffy affair, a simmering scandal that has the opposition feeling more confident than at just about any point since Stephen Harper became prime minister. The government didn’t try to nuance its reaction to Rathgeber’s departure, however. Not by a long shot. Andrew MacDougall, the PM’s director of communications, tweeted that the Edmonton MP should resign his seat and run in a by-election; after all, he was elected as a Conservative, not an independent. No word on whether that was a PM-sanctioned tweet or the rogue work of a spokesman, but the effect was the same. Twitter howled.

MacDougall’s call for a by-election was arguably a few things: a losing strategy; a gift to the opposition; and blatant hypocrisy.

Why is it arguably a losing strategy? Bill Casey, a former Conservative MP, quit caucus over disagreements with respect to the 2007 budget’s impact on the Atlantic provinces. He sat as an independent. He won re-election in 2008 by a wide margin over all comers.

Why is it arguably a gift to the opposition? The NDP’s called for by-elections for floor-crossers for years; i.e. if an MP wants to represent another party, they should face the electorate under that party’s banner. Aaron Wherry points out that in February 2012, the party’s latest effort failed—with all other parties, including the Conservatives, voting against. Of course, Rathgeber never crossed the floor; he chose to become an independent MP. But nevertheless, the logic is similar, and the Conservatives are on the record against it.

Why is it arguably hypocritical? Legions of government critics on Twitter pointed out that the government has, since its first win in 2006, accepted floor crossers with open arms. David Emerson switched sides from the Liberals just days after the 2006 election. Wajid Khan and Joe Comuzzi, both formerly Liberals, joined the government side in 2007—nary a peep, at any point, about byelections.

Or maybe none of that matters. Maybe it also doesn’t matter that the defence minister is musing about leaving the party if its leadership rules change—unlikely, but a topic of discussion at the party’s upcoming policy conference. Maybe it doesn’t matter that Elections Canada has called for the suspension of two MPs who filed improper election returns—an “administrative” disagreement, if you ask the Conservatives.

The government’s spun its way out of worse. The team always survives. The fun continues.

UPDATE: Rathgeber elaborates.

What’s above the fold this morning?

The Globe and Mail leads with an independent review of the XL Foods crisis that concluded the recall was completely preventable. The National Post fronts Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s musings about leaving the Conservative Party if its leadership rules are amended at an upcoming party convention. The Toronto Star goes above the fold with a photo of the house where Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was photographed with two men who were shot—and one of whom died. The Ottawa Citizen leads with top provincial Liberals in former premier Dalton McGuinty’s office deleting emails related to the expensive cancellation of a pair of gas-fired power plants. iPolitics fronts the Canadian Wheat Board’s call for low-level acceptance of genetically modified wheat, a measure that could save the country from trade disruptions. leads with MP Brent Rathgeber’s resignation from the Conservative caucus over changes to his private member’s bill. CTV News leads with Rathgeber’s resignation. National Newswatch showcases CBC‘s story about Rathgeber’s resignation.

Stories that will be (mostly) missed

1. Safe injection. Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq will introduce a bill in the House of Commons that sets rules for new safe-injection sites, including conditions under which they can be rejected. 2. Aboriginal cuts. Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, says the federal government’s funding cuts to several aboriginal organizations illustrate a broken system.
3. Mob wars. Italians want the RCMP to investigate an unidentified Quebec lawyer who was apparently in communication with victims and accused killers in a Mafia murder in Sicily. 4. Cooperation. Geneticists launched a new international organization that will help them work together more on research that could understand ailments hidden in the human genetic code.