Daniel Veniez: Let's get real about the resignation of Brent Rathgeber from the Conservative caucus

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      Like most Canadians, before last week I had never heard of Alberta Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber. How downright refreshing it was to hear a member of the House of Commons talk fervently about the vital role of the legislative branch as a check on executive power.

      Too bad that conviction didn't surface earlier. Much earlier.

      It sure would have come in handy as colossal omnibus bills were dumped on the House of Commons and as manifold occurrences of contempt of Parliament and its officers were taking place. Or as rigorous scrutiny was needed of spending on such important items as gazebos in the name of "Canada's Economic Action Plan", record deficits posted, and an orgy of patronage appointments made.

      Rathgeber's eloquence and so-called "principle" was necessary quite a while ago. Instead, he and his fellow government backbenchers have been thoroughly obedient. His sortie would have also carried a bit more weight had he not accused Stephen Harper's young staffers ("people half my age") of intimidating him—an experienced legislator and lawyer—into years of backbench compliance.

      On the one hand, Rathgeber said that the "openness, transparency, and accountability" chant—the cornerstone of the Harper Conservative brand—is a sham. On the other, he professes respect and veneration for Harper, the grand architect himself, who designed and led the subversion of the House of Commons he so laments.

      In his mini civics lesson, Rathgeber correctly explained that MPs are supposed to be legislators charged with scrutinizing government spending and bills, and propose amendments to legislation. In his lucid statements, Rathgeber discussed how MPs are responsible for keeping the executive branch accountable so that its already considerable powers don't render impotent the very tenets of democracy.

      All true. Still, Rathgeber and his colleagues have been blind adherents, enablers, and mindless cheerleaders of the ways of the iron-fisted prime minister who did precisely the opposite, yet professes his unwavering admiration for. 

      For seven long years, Rathgeber and other Conservative MPs willfully, faithfully, and with apparent enthusiasm, carried out instructions and parroted numbingly preposterous talking points given to them to read.

      At least he had the good sense to acknowledge that it has all been a charade. Better late than never, I suppose.

      Indeed, MPs are not "trained seals"; they are paid to think. They are elected representatives of their constituents, their province, and their individual consciences. At the same time, MPs are elected and serve under a party banner, as Rathgeber did. They have a responsibility to support their party and its leadership to advance an agenda and ensure unity of action, purpose, and message. Good governance in a democratic society requires it.

      That assumes, of course, that there is a coherent agenda.

      At the core of the Harper government's DNA is an opposition mentality. It stems from its Reform Party roots, a grievance- and protest-based "movement" that was anchored on a few very basic principles: honesty and integrity, competent fiscal management, and accountability to Parliament.

      Seven years later, has the dial been moved in the right direction on any of these?

      Two years into its zealously hunted majority, and there's still no substantive policy agenda in sight. 

      One of the reasons why Brian Mulroney was able to keep his large and divergent caucus together for as long as he did was because of a deep sense of shared purpose. Besides an empowering and open style of leadership, the Mulroney government's agenda was big, substantive, ambitious, and demonstrably in the national interest. Caucus knew they were there for something important, even historic.  

      There is no such anchor in today's Conservative party under Stephen Harper's leadership. The government has made a deliberate decision to vacate the fields where national leadership is most urgently required, such as health care, education, the environment, aboriginal issues, and strengthening our economic and social union.

      Harper has chosen not to work with the provincial premiers as a group to tackle many of our common challenges that can only be addressed with national leadership. Under Harper, Canada has signalled impatience with international institutions, such as the United Nations, and this has negatively impacted our voice, standing, and effectiveness internationally.

      The only thing left for Conservative backbench MPs is the incessant warfare of partisan politics and the nit-picky pettiness and small-minded isolationism of a group devoid of a compass. That is what leads to a resignation over an earth-shattering question like publicizing the salaries of senior public servants.

      Eclipsing Rathgerber's newfound concern over the role of MP's is the competence of the government he has just left. The culture, tone, and management of a government has been  meticulously nurtured by Stephen Harper. It is that—and only that—that is fundamentally at issue. And that, for both Conservatives and Canadians, is the essential and unavoidable inconvenient truth.

      Daniel Veniez is a former Liberal candidate in West Vancouver–Sunshine Coast–Sea to Sky Country. Follow him on Twitter @DanVeniez.

      Comments

      7 Comments

      HellSlayerAndy

      Jun 10, 2013 at 2:09am

      Daniel Veniez says: "One of the reasons why Brian Mulroney was able to keep his large and divergent caucus together for as long as he did was because of a deep sense of shared purpose."

      Ahem...excuse me...Sir...oh great one...um... that's only true if you completely forget Luc Bouchard quitting and forming a whole new party called the Bloc Quebecois?

      BUT Other than that everything is else ...utterly incoherent.

      So Rathgeber should have broke ranks sooner and bitched about Harper's perverted sense of spending and abuse of Parliamentary procedure or "have a responsibility to support their party and its leadership to advance an agenda"?

      And so MPs should stick with the home team? or not stick with the home team if they feel it's wrong...oh but they should have done it sooner, instead of waiting...but then they wouldn't know about the future...and so...um...like...Mulroney's Conservatives...which...well?

      I'll just go ahead and assume it all makes sense coz your a rich guy from West Vancouver!

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      DavidH

      Jun 10, 2013 at 10:11am

      This article is so pointlessly partisan that it's juvenile.

      Yes, in a perfect world, we would all deal with "workplace conflict" in a more timely way; and yes, we would all quit our jobs when such conflicts pile up.

      But in the real world, many people - like me - have to reach a breaking point. The straw on the camel's back sometimes has to get very heavy before drastic action is taken.

      As a lifetime "left winger", I expect more thoughtful criticism from liberal columnists like Veniez. For example, criticism of Rathgeber's proposed private member's bill would have made perfect sense (designed, as it was, as another childish attack on senior civil servants).

      Going after Rathgeber for doing the right thing, at possibly the wrong time, is pointless party spite. And pointless party spite, on both sides, has weakened our political system in an alarming way.

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      HellSlayerAndy

      Jun 10, 2013 at 12:32pm

      DavidH

      That is interesting because as a lifetime left winger and a critic of capitalism, I think the opposite. If senior civil servants salaries aren't revealed, then there is absolutely no way for either the public or employers to establish whether those salaries are a result of what Campbell always claims ("You got to pay the best to get the best") under some elegant free market supply and demand determinate and not simpleminded cronyism.

      Strange I as a lifetime left winger I consistently think the decade after decade gap between in wealth between the rich and poor and the lack of income distribution downwards is essentially a result of 'insider' trading and not a some fraudulent 19th theory that falsely claims it's based on merit or high demand?

      So as a lifetime leftwinger -- do you find yourself in agreement with the Harper government a lot or just on this score?

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      DavidH

      Jun 10, 2013 at 1:53pm

      @ HellSlayer: The notion that Reform/Alliance/Conservative adherents (e.g. Rathgeber) care about the real merits of salary scales for senior civil servants is silly.

      People like Rathgeber and his former boss are Tea Party Libertarians who would like to see the vast majority of civil servants fired, because that is the goal of small-minded "small government" morons.

      Sadly, they know that their small-minded supporters will bellow in protest when they learn that a deputy minister is earning what he or she might earn in the private sector, doing less. These are the same small-minded dimwits who bellow about "government waste", but use miniscule examples to support their protest. They simply have no clue about the real world.

      I dislike the principles and practices of Harper and his "government". But please don't ask me to climb on a moral high-horse because some thoughtless cabinet minister ordered expensive orange juice. That's what stupid people do. It produces nothing.

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      HellSlayerAndy

      Jun 10, 2013 at 7:42pm

      DavidH

      So let me get this straight -- you read what I wrote and concluded that someone who thinks capitalism is a
      19th century faith-based pseudo-science and the worst possible way to distribute wealth because it's laughably used as a justification to reward bankers that rob their own banks and civil servants that loot the treasury and then conclude the fellow must be a fucking Teabag Libertarian?

      Now I'll just go ahead and assume you're party just lost an election.
      Correct?
      I won't mention that one of the reasons they lost was the complete lack of political acumen and their inability to gauge public opinion and actually THINK that there is any appetite anymore for warmed over Reagan-era Third Way Bullshit where large piles of cash are no longer spent on some notion of the public good, but to prop up a failed economic system.

      Robbing the many, to give the good life to the few is no longer viable DavidH.

      Now let's cut to the chase and since you love name calling because you think that is the moral high ground -- if Krusty, Stockboy, PigHarpy, Herr Mitt, Chimpy, Gordo, CamOron, etc etc had run around for two years barking about child poverty and then turned around and offered a single mother struggling on 25k a year a crummy 70 bucks a month per kid, you and your hypocritical little friends would have photoshopped a Hitler mustache on them faster than you can say 'Moe Sihota'

      No your not the Left -- you're an aristocrat.

      But don't worry people on the Left have been called morons and stupid for the last century by the Right -- and especially by their Worker-Comrade buddies aping their privileges and trashing the working classes in order to prove their loyalty as a willing partner in their rape of the less privileged and the planet.

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      Ali Said

      Jun 11, 2013 at 4:48pm

      So many words to say so little and yet Veniez is back here, after no one held his feet to the fire of accountability on the Dix taxes lie...

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      Ali Said So

      Jun 11, 2013 at 5:31pm

      What on earth are blabbering about Ali Said?

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