CFN – I admire politicians who are respectful, honest and principled. It doesn’t matter which party they represent or whether they are a simple backbencher or hold the highest position in the country. Nor does it matter if their position on an issue is the direct opposite of mine. If they have those three qualities they have earned my respect.
Perhaps that is what I find so fascinating about the Brent Rathgeber affair. As a Conservative his departure disturbs me deeply. From everything I have seen and read he is the type of politician we would want in our party. He is certainly articulate. The blog he wrote on his departure was excellent. He expressed himself in a way that most people could understand his reasons for leaving. Certainly the media jumped on a few key phrases that some continue to highlight a few days later.
Those who follow my blog know that I often advocate for more freedom and power for backbench MPs. This is especially true for their committee work and Private Members Bills (PMBs). I do believe MPs and the work they do should be given more respect by PMO. I get where Rathgeber is coming from on those issues.
I can also understand why any hardworking and dedicated MP including Rathgeber would feel that he wasn’t being given enough respect by the staff in PMO (including the ones that he referred to as being half his age). He isn’t the only MP (or minister) feeling that way in the Conservative caucus, but he is the only one to take this extreme step of jumping ship.
I am grappling with what would make him leave with just a couple of weeks to go before the break. He would have had the summer to talk to his constituency association and more importantly the voters in his riding. Also, there is a new Chief of Staff in the Prime Minister’s Office and he will make the staff changes that he thinks are necessary. There would be plenty of time for Rathgeber and other MPs to meet with him and raise their concerns. My first question is did he ever speak to the Chief of Staff or the Prime Minister about his issues and the way he felt MPs were being treated? If that is one of your primary reasons for leaving, wouldn’t you do that?
Perhaps it all boils down to how his Private Member’s Bill (PMB) was treated and the lack of government support that he felt he got from Conservative committee members?
It is true that sometimes PMO or a minister’s office will have problems with a Private Member’s Bill. I have seen instances where the government side won’t support them, and other occasions when they do. I have even seen PMBs rejected the first time, but get passed after being rewritten.
Rathgeber has said that he was surprised by the last amendment that pushed the salary cap on his bill well above the threshold he had advocated. That tells me that somewhere there was a disconnect.
He has stated that he spoke a few times with PMO policy. That is pretty normal. If there was a problem with his PMB, they would have told him what it was. They would have suggested he amend it or drop it. Either way, he would have known at that early stage whether or not he had government support for his bill.
Rathgeber would then have gone to “Bill Review.” At this meeting he would have met with the House Leader and his staff and a member of the minister’s staff under which that bill would fall. There would have been an extensive review of the pros and cons of the bill, the wording, clauses etc. If they had a problem with his bill, they would have told him about it right then and there.
To me that raises a couple of questions:
Did the House Leader’s Office tell Rathgeber that there were problems with his PMB?
- After leaving that meeting, did he know there was a problem?
- So far I have not seen any reference that he met with the respective minister to get the minister on side, although I assume he did as that is a pretty basic step. Did he meet with the minister?
- If there were problems with his bill, did he ask for a meeting with the Chief of Staff or the Prime Minister to discuss his bill?
It doesn’t make sense to me that he was blindsided by a last minute change to his bill. Surely someone told him why it was necessary to do so. If not, why not?
For someone as principled and articulate as Rathgeber, I am surprised he never spoke directly to the Prime Minister on the night he decided to leave the caucus. It would have been an opportunity for him to communicate directly to Harper his frustrations both with PMO and the way he saw his PMB being treated. I am sure there are a lot of Conservatives who would like to know why he didn’t take that last step before announcing he was leaving caucus.
I expect more will come out in the next few days and we will be further enlightened. But for now I am left wondering exactly what went on that caused Rathgeber to leave.
Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails. To sponsor this column please email firstname.lastname@example.org!