August 1, 2015


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Capital Chronicles

An MP scorned, an independent made

Parliament Hill is all a-Twitter today as news sinks in MP Brent Rathgeber has jumped the good ship Conservative for independent waters.

Rathgeber said his discomfort with the Conservative caucus was more than a year in the making, but the direction of party brass to water down Rathgeber's private members' bill on accountability and transparency was the end of the road.

Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber

SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber

He quit the Tory caucus late Wednesday night.

The first response of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office was to say Rathgeber should resign and run in a byelection.

"The people of Edmonton-St. Albert elected a Conservative Member of Parliament. Mr. Rathgeber should resign and run in a byelection," tweeted Andrew MacDougall, director of communications for Harper.

Rathgeber practically scoffed at the suggestion, calling it "a little bit rich" considering Harper's history.

He was referring to the fact two weeks after Harper was elected prime minister in 2006, he wooed Liberal David Emerson over to the Conservatives with the promise of a cabinet seat.

The ink was barely dry on the votes electing Emerson as a Liberal before he was shedding his red Grit jacket in favour of a blue Tory cabinet coat.

As well, last year most of the Conservative caucus voted against an NDP private members' bill which would have required any MP who was elected to represent a particular party, to resign and run in a byelection before he or she could represent another party. The bill, however, would have allowed an MP to leave their caucus and sit as an independent, as Rathgeber has done.

The NDP voted for the bill, while most of the Conservatives and Liberals voted against it. Three Conservatives -- including Manitoba's James Bezan -- voted in favour of it.

The NDP have tried repeatedly to get such a bill passed for a decade. In 1999, Reform MP Mike Scott introduced a similar bill but it went nowhere.

The Manitoba NDP enacted such a law in 2006, with then Premier Gary Doer saying it was in response to reaction over Emerson's floor-crossing and that of Belinda Stronach. In 2005, Stronach was wooed to the Liberals from the Conservartives with a cabinet offer, which helped save the Liberals from going down to defeat over their budget.

Since the last election, two MPs have left the party they were elected with to sit with another party. Quebec MP Lise St-Denis left the NDP in January 2012 to become a Liberal, and Quebec MP Claude Patry, left the NDP this past February to sit with the Bloc Quebecois.

Rathgeber is the third to leave and sit as an independent. Thunder Bay MP Bryce Hyer left the NDP in April 2012 because he refused to vote with the NDP to keep the long-gun registry. He has since said he prefers the freedom being an independent gives him.

In 2011, Edmonton MP Peter Goldring was arrested and charged with refusing a breathalyzer and was forced to leave the Conservative caucus pending the outcome of his case. He is listed by Parliament as an Independent Conservative.

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