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MP quits Tory caucus over 'lack of support for transparency'

Brent Rathgeber, MP for Edmonton-St. Albert, last night announced he was quitting the Conservative caucus because of the Harper government's "lack of suport for transparency and open government generally."

In a June 6 post on his blog, Rathgeber wrote:

"Late last night I notified the Board of Directors of the Edmonton-St. Albert Conservative Association of my difficult decision that I was resigning from the Conservative Caucus to sit as an Independent in the House of Commons.

"Clearly, the Government's decision not to support my Private Member's Bill on CBC and Public Sector disclosure and transparency in Committee was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back; however, this decision and my comfort level in caucus has been evolving for at least a year when I first spoke out against Ministerial opulence in a blog entitled "Of Orange Juice and Limos."

"Recent allegations concerning expense scandals and the Government’s response has been extremely troubling. I joined the Reform/conservative movements because I thought we were somehow different, a band of Ottawa outsiders riding into town to clean the place up, promoting open government and accountability. I barely recognize ourselves, and worse I fear that we have morphed into what we once mocked.

"My constituents demand better. My constituents simply do not care what somebody, who they hope will never become Prime Minister, did or didn't do seventeen years ago. They do care, however, about the relations between a sitting Senator and Langevin Block (PMO). For a government that was elected on a platform of accountability, my constituents are gravely disappointed. They appreciate human frailty but when a group misses its self-proclaimed standards, a little contrition and humility not blust and blunder, is the expectation.

"... I appreciate the important role of compromise in politics. In fact, I compromised significantly in the drafting of my disclosure Private Member's Bill by setting the salary disclosure benchmark significantly higher than necessary in order to minimize institutional resistance. However, even setting the benchmark significantly higher than any of the provinces that maintain "Sunshine Lists" was apparently not supportable by a Cabinet intent on not disclosing how much it pays its senior advisors.

"I can only compromise so much before I begin to not recognize myself. I no longer recognize much of the party that I joined and whose principles (at least on paper), I still believe in. Accordingly, since I can no longer stand with them, I must now stand alone."

Responses from Conservative bloggers have so far been supportive of Rathgeber's decision.

At BC Blue, Dean Skoreyko wrote: "I don't agree with Rathgeber quitting the Conservative caucus ... over this (you stay and fight for things you believe in) but there is no justification that I can think of for Harper raising the 'Sunshine List' level from $188,000 to $444,000. This cuts to the heart of what we as Conservatives believe.

At Dr Roy's Thoughts, Roy Eappen wrote: "Brent Rathgeber stood up for his convictions and gave a rebuke to the Conservative party. The party would be wise to listen."

The Canadian Press promptly picked up the story, as did many other Canadian news media, and it is being discussed extensively under the #cdnpoli hashtag.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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