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Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Gutting transparency bill will hurt Conservative brand, Rathgeber says Add to ...

The committee broke around 6:30 p.m., and the seven Conservatives darted for the door. Brent Rathgeber slowly packed up his things. His private member’s bill – one of the precious few outlets that a Conservative who is not in cabinet has – was just gutted by his party. It was Wednesday evening, and he was at a crossroads. After the meeting, before adjourning to his office with two staff members, he spoke to The Globe about his frustration, the lack of transparency in government and the long-term damage his party, which he quit hours later, was doing to itself.

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“I’m obviously very, very disappointed both with the government position and certainly with the [committee’s Conservative] colleagues, many of whom philosophically support this legislation unequivocally, but seemed powerless to resist the instructions that were given to them by the PMO [Prime Minister’s Office], by the whip or wherever the final instructions came from. So, there’s no big surprises here.

I knew this was coming down for a very, very long time, and that’s part of the frustration with this process, is that I knew that the salary bar was going to be raised to the upper level of deputy minister before second reading was even finished in the house, much less these hearings.

So, not a single witness testifies that $188,000 was inappropriate [as a level of salary disclosure], except for those who said it should be lowered. Not a single witness testifies that $329,000 or $444,000 is the appropriate benchmark. Not a single [Conservative] government member spoke in favour of the motion [to overhaul the bill], which was interesting. And it’s carried on a vote of seven to four.

So, again, it’s complete disregard for the evidence and really, in many ways it makes a mockery of the whole committee process. If the decision has been made and the members have been instructed how to vote prior to the hearing of the evidence, it really begs a rhetorical question as why we bother dragging witnesses – some at great distances and great expense – to have them give expert testimony when the decision’s already been made up. I mean, that’s the way justice has been done in China, where the outcome of the trial is determined before the evidence is even presented.

So, it’s very, very frustrating but I’m not surprised. I knew this was coming, I knew this was inevitable. We put up a really, really good fight. I had allies in the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, who rallied. I’m sure we got over 1,000 emails over the last 24 hours or so,” he said, looking to an aide who said over 850. “Close to 1,000, and we’ve been out of the office for over three hours, so we’ll say 1,000 emails supporting us and telling us to keep up the fight. And you know, I’m flattered by that.

I think we fought the good fight, but we’re simply dealing with a government that is not interested in transparency. And I believe it’s really short-sighted, quite frankly.

Yes, I’m quite aware that, had my bill passed unamended, there would have been some bad news stories about specific executives, specific directors, specific bureaucrats, who make salaries that appear to be above the market value or appear to be aberrant for one reason or another. And I understand it would have been awkward for the government to have to defend some of the salaries that it pays some of its top people. But I think that’s a very short-sighted concern.

I think the more lasting problem, the more lasting damage, especially given all of the problems with the Senate, and all of the problems between the PMO and the Senate, and the allegation of backroom deals. I think the more long-term problem is damage to the [Conservative] brand. The brand, which the party and government was elected on a promise of accountability and open government.

And, in light of everything that’s going on in the Senate, to just completely gut a bill trying to bring transparency to the public sector. I think even from a policy perspective, it’s unarguable that the government made a mistake, in my view. But even from a political perspective, I don’t think they’ve done the right calculation.

The avoidance of a few stories – or maybe more than a few stories, but it doesn’t matter – of some bureaucrats who have salaries that appear not to be aligned with the specific functions, because remember they also gutted the job description part [which would have required detailing each bureaucrat’s role]. I think the long-term damage to the brand is actually going to be worse."

 

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