April 17, 2013 9:05 pm
Updated: April 18, 2013 7:25 pm

On muzzled MPs and an NDP ‘carbon tax’, Rathgeber’s a Tory backbencher who speaks his mind

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You’ll never hear Conservative backbencher Brent Rathgeber using his precious time in the House of Commons to talk about the NDP’s $21-billion carbon tax.

“I will absolutely guarantee you that I won’t be talking about the carbon tax,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

For one thing, he doesn’t think it’s accurate.

So what does he think of fellow Conservative MPs’ repeated statements about said “job-killing” tax?

“I don’t like them at all.”

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The backbencher, part of a small but vocal group speaking out recently against party control, said such statements are part of a “marketing strategy” cooked up by young staffers in the Prime Minister’s Office to win votes from casual political observers.

“The kids that work over in Langevin Block [which houses PMO offices], they believe – and they believe rightly – that that type of politicking is ultimately effective,” said Rathgeber.

“You’ve got to really, really, really repeat a simplistic point over and over and over again in order to get it to resonate with somebody who thinks about politics about 14 seconds a day.”

That’s who the statements are for? “They vote,” he said.

Rathgeber added, over a bacon cheeseburger and diet Coke with lime, that the PMO once tried to get him to alter some of his blogs that were critical of the government – for example, when he criticized overtime for ministerial limousines, a practice that has since changed.

“In the early days of my blogging, junior staffers at PMO would phone with all sorts of reasons as to why they should be the editor of my blog,” he said.

Rathgeber is one of nine Conservatives who have spoken out against control in Parliament, in light of fellow Conservative Mark Warawa’s recent battle over his sex selection abortion motion and the subsequent fallout: He tried to speak about it in the House during a member’s statement last month and was shut down by his own government. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he doesn’t want to reopen the abortion debate.

On Wednesday, Warawa said he won’t appeal a Parliamentary committee’s decision – twice – to reject his motion. He said he’ll still address the issue at speaking engagements, but instead of his sex selection motion he’ll present a bill that addresses the issue of sexual offenders who serve house arrest near their victims.

In the meantime, Speaker Andrew Scheer has yet to rule on whether Warawa’s Parliamentary privilege to speak in the House was taken away.

Rathbgeber thinks the answer is yes. And if the Speaker disagrees, “I think it will cement firmly the House leader’s ability to vet private member’s statements. And I think that would be a very very sad day for our Parliament.

“I’m confident that that’s not going to happen.”

All that said, Rathgeber insists this isn’t an all-out revolt in the Conservative backbench – “overblown nonsense.”

“I’m calling it Members of Parliament standing up for being Members of Parliament,” he said.

He says the practice of having House leaders determine which party members get to speak goes beyond the Conservative Party.

“To the extent that is it is a revolt – and I’m not prepared to concede that, although I see how some people see it that way – to the extent that it is a revolt, it’s not a revolt against the leadership, it’s a revolt against the Parliamentary practice.”

He added that the members of the public – and many back benchers themselves – can forget that Members of Parliament are there to hold government to account.

“Yes, I do sometimes challenge the government’s legislation or the government’s decisions. But it’s not being disloyal. In fact I would suggest it’s quite the opposite,” he said.

“Some people think that they’re a good backbencher and a loyal and noble foot servant by taking the talking points home on the weekends and telling all their constituents what a great job the government’s doing. I don’t see that as my role. I don’t see that as necessarily the best use of backbenchers’ intelligence or time.”

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