When former Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber left the Tory caucus last week, he made an interesting point — one was proven by the Prime Minister’s Office moments after his announcement.
Rathgeber left saying that he felt his job as a member of Parliament was to bring the views of his constituents to Ottawa, rather than to deliver Ottawa’s message to voters in his riding. In other words, he feels an MP’s job is to represent constituents with the government, rather than government to constituents.
Moments after his announcement, a PMO staffer tweeted that Rathgeber should resign and run in a byelection as in independent.
Andrew MacDougall wrote: “The people of Edmonton-St. Albert elected a Conservative member of Parliament. Mr. Rathgeber should resign and run in a byelection.”
Ironically, that’s exactly the point Rathgeber was making: we elect politicians, not brands.
It was quietly revealing that a spokesmen for the brand almost immediately said that someone elected by the people should run against — and presumably lose to — the brand itself.
It raises an interesting point in the way that politics, both at the federal and provincial level, has changed. Ordinary MPs and MHAs are now viewed as ancillary to the decisions made by the executive branch. Stop and think for a moment about the last time an individual MHA voted against a government bill — good luck finding an example. It used to be that MPs and MHAs were “whipped” by the party to vote in support of issues that were considered confidence motions — money bills that, if lost, would mean the defeat of a government were always supported. Now, everything is treated as if unanimity is required.
And the decision? At best, they’re made by the cabinet. At worst, they are imposed by the premier or prime minister. At the very worst, they’re dictated by a group of back-room apparatchiks who are neither elected nor required to publicly explain their actions.
MPs and MHAs now speak with the party’s voice, and often mouth the party’s words, sometimes words that are written out and handed to them. It’s an ignominious role for the kind of Type-A, confident extrovert who’s willing to throw themselves and their reputation into the political fray.
Rathgeber sums up that frustration well.
“I think legislators like myself need to take a stand that we’re not going to read these talking points that are written by PMO staffers and we’re not going to vote like trained seals based on how they tell us,” Rathgeber said when he left.
It’s a good point, and one that the old Reform Party, one of the precursors to the new Conservatives, felt was an important obligation for party members.
After all, Rathgeber was elected. MacDougall, the PMO staffer who so quickly tweeted about the need for Rathgeber to resign and run in a byelection?
He neither ran for election nor won. Maybe he should try that before he tells Rathgeber what he should be doing.