Watch: Brent Rathgeber’s full news conference on his resignation from Conservative caucus
ST. ALBERT, Alta. – Alberta MP Brent Rathgeber says he no longer answers to the Prime Minister’s Office and the government can’t force him to resign his seat.
Rathgeber quit the Conservative caucus on Wednesday night to become an Independent over what he calls the Harper government’s “lack of transparency.”
“I have reluctantly come to the inescapable conclusion that the government’s lack of support for my (private member’s) transparency bill is tantamount to a lack of support for transparency and open government generally,” he said.
If passed, the bill would have raised the transparency bar for federal civil servants salary disclosure to be set at $188,000. But the committee reviewing the legislation instead decided to raise the threshold to more than $400,000.
Speaking at a news conference in his riding of Edmonton-St. Albert, Rathgeber said he finds it “rich” that an official in Harper’s office has said he should resign and run in a byelection.
Video: Conservatives call on Rathgeber to run in by-election as indepedant
Rathgeber said the government doesn’t seem to understand that it has no parliamentary authority to force him to step down.
“The Conservative Party doesn’t own the seat simply because I won it for them.”
He said he will do what his constituents want.
“I’m accountable to my constituents and if I sense that my constituents are unhappy with my decision, then I’ll have to deal with it. But the preliminary emails and tweets that have come into the office show anything but unhappiness.”
“I suspect I’m safe with my constituents,” he said.
“I’ll answer to them. I won’t answer to the PMO anymore.”
In a blog post Thursday, Rathgeber said that recent allegations concerning expense scandals and the government’s response has also “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,” wrote Rathgeber.
“I barely recognize ourselves, and worse I fear that we have morphed into what we once mocked.”
Rathgeber said that he feels the Prime Minister’s Office “doesn’t seem to be accountable to anyone, including the Prime Minister.”
“With an organization that big, nobody can know what every part of the operation is doing at a given time,” he said during the conference Thursday.
Still, Rathgeber said that despite his resignation, he respects Harper “as a man, leader and the Prime Minister.”
“I support the Prime Minister, I respect the Prime Minister, I think he’s been a very great leader for the party and for the country. I sometimes question the decisions of those who work for him and under him.”
“I will use my now unchained opportunity in Question Period to ask the government pointed but fair questions on principles I believe in and I believe most Conservatives believe in.”
He said he’ll support the government on a case-by-case basis now.
“I will continue to support the government, but no longer unconditionally.”
He shared why he struggled personally with his role.
“It’s difficult,” said Rathgeber Thursday. “It’s difficult as a lawyer and a Member of Parliament to find my role being subservient to masters half my age at the Prime Minister’s Office who tell me how to vote on matters, who tell me what questions to ask.”
“It’s personally challenging to be a free-thinking – I would like to think of myself as a semi-intelligent individual – to constantly be directed by unelected staffers about half my age.”
When asked if he will run again, Rathgeber responded explaining there are challenging with running as an Independent.
“I am most mindful of the difficulty of being elected as an Independent… I’ll have to assess the political landscape sometime in 2015 to determine whether or not it’s realistic that an Independent might have a shot at maintaining a seat.”
He added he will “never say never,” but wouldn’t likely run under another party’s banner.
“I’ve only resigned from the Conservative Party about 12 hours ago. So, I can’t rule anything unequivocally out. I can only tell you that my intention to sit as an independent for the duration of 41st Parliament.”
Shortly after news of his resignation, several political members shared their views on Twitter.
On Wednesday, PMO communications director Andrew MacDougall tweeted that voters in Rathgeber’s riding elected a Conservative and “he should resign and run in a by-election.”
Dimitri Soudas, the prime minister’s former spokesman, tweeted that Rathgeber’s behaviour made it “obvious it was coming to this,” while Newfoundland Liberal MP Scott Andrews praised Rathgeber for “taking the high road and standing up for your convictions. This place (House of Commons) need more like you.”