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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

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All but a few federal bureaucrats will continue to have their specific salaries kept secret if Conservative amendments to a backbencher's bill are passed.

The amendments leave Stephen Harper's government in a precarious position – watering down a transparency bill tabled by one of its own MPs at a time when questions remain about Senate spending and, separately, backbenchers have pushed for more autonomy.

Before a Tuesday deadline, Conservative MP Brad Butt tabled three amendments to Bill C-461 on behalf of his party, according to two sources who've seen the amendments that will be made public Wednesday. One in particular would raise the bar for salary disclosure from the proposed $188,000 to anything above the "total annual monetary income" a deputy minister can earn. With bonuses, that's about $444,000.

By definition, the amendment would therefore exclude top departmental staff, as well as judges and the chairs of boards and commissions, and ensure their specific salaries remain secret, said Brent Rathgeber, the Alberta MP who tabled the private member's bill. Only chief executives of certain Crown corporations would be affected.

The amendments have not been passed, others can still be suggested and the bill hasn't passed. But the majority government's changes make "such a mockery of disclosure transparency legislation," Mr. Rathgeber said, that he is now considering pulling support for his own bill, dubbed the CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act.

"If the government hollows it out by raising the bar to $444,000, I don't think it deserves that title and is arguably not supportable at third reading," Mr. Rathgeber said.

The changes appear to largely extend the status quo, where only salary ranges are made public. The amendments "will respect the traditional disclosure of salary ranges for departmental positions, deputy ministers and ministerial staff below the new established threshold for individual disclosure," a government source said.

But Liberal Scott Andrews, who said he submitted one amendment asking bonuses be included in disclosure, said the proposed Conservative changes mean the bill is "being gutted."

"It makes this bill only cover a handful of people, where it should have covered a few thousand. And I don't think Mr. Rathgeber is going to support the bill either if they gut it," Mr. Andrews said.

The bill is supported by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a watchdog group with many ties to the Harper Conservatives. Now, the group is slamming the changes.

"It's shocking the lack of subtlety. They would actually let the bill pass second reading in the House of Commons, and then turn around and gut it in such a cynical and overbearing manner. Basically, making an elected Member of Parliament for Alberta bow down before them in a demonstration of institutional power," said Gregory Thomas, the CTF's federal director. "…We'll see how much of an appetite voters out there [have] for this culture of entitlement."

He cites the City of Toronto and province of Alberta as leaders in expense disclosure. Ontario has a Sunshine List that publishes any salary over $100,000 for any agency that receives provincial funding. New Brunswick discloses salaries about $60,000.

Mr. Rathgeber said he remains committed to the bill's original wording.

"I'm very disheartened that the Conservative government is choosing to eviscerate this bill. I need to be true to my principles, as opposed to doing what they would have expected me to do, and that is to cave in to their pressure and to actually support these amendments," he said, later concluding: "The government is just very concerned about disclosing these salaries. "

Mr. Rathgeber's bill also includes changes to the CBC, which he argues makes the agency more transparent by allowing the Information Commissioner greater freedom to investigate it. But the CBC and various groups have said it seriously threatens the public broadcaster's autonomy, and that the salary disclosure angle of Mr. Rathgeber's bill is a distraction. The Canadian Journalists for Free Expression has called, for instance, for the bill to be withdrawn or defeated. Both the NDP and Conservatives have tabled amendments rewording the CBC changes contained in the original version of Bill C-461. The Conservative amendments will ensure "journalistic protections are in place," according to one MP, speaking on condition of anonymity because the amendments aren't yet public.

The amendments will be presented Wednesday to the House Of Commons Ethics Committee. The Conservative members are Mr. Butt, Dean Del Mastro, Patricia Davidson, Blaine Calkins, Earl Dreeshen, John Carmichael and Colin Mayes. Another Conservative MP, Chris Warkentin, sat in on the committee's previous meeting.

Mr. Thomas, the CTF director, suggested those MPs will be under pressure to not push for amendments.

"It is unbelievable that MPs from western Canada, places like Alberta, are simultaneous contemplating gutting this bill and getting nominated as a Conservative candidate in the next election. Unless they're planning to leave office, I have no idea what's going through these people's heads," he said.

Josh Wingrove is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa.