Inside Politics

'Constructive criticism' not the enemy of party or government: Rathgeber

Earlier today, I noted -- with an exclamation point, no less -- the presence of former Conservative turned Independent MP Brent Rathgeber on an evening discussion panel on the future of parliamentary democracy in Canada, courtesy of the Springtide Collective, a Halifax-based advocacy group committed to increasing citizen participation in politics.

How, I wondered, did a previously obscure government backbencher from Alberta wind up talking party discipline and dissent in front of a Nova Scotia audience -- alongside Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, no less?

Intrigued, I fired off an email asking him for more details on how he got involved in tonight's event, as well as what he's been doing over the summer -- and, of course, how he plans to spend his time over the next month of prorogation-imposed parliamentary hiatus.

Here's what he had to say -- very lightly edited for clarity, with my questions in italics, and his answers in bold.

How did you get involved in the Springtide Collective/'Saving Democracy from Politics' event?

They asked me to participate (the organizers of the event).

What do you plan on emphasizing during tonight's discussion?

Imbalance between the executive and legislative branches of government. Electorate elects MP's/MLAs to hold government to account, not to be a mouthpiece for the government. Constructive Criticism is not the enemy of the party/government . Constructive Criticism and debate is healthy--holding government to account constantly challenges the government of the day to perform even better. Constructive criticism is not the opposite of loyalty--especially in the current Parliament, where the current government desperately needs a fiscal conservative to hold it to account.

Democracy is imperilled when bureaucrats and staffers (gov't) control the process and elected legislators rubber stamp rather than hold to account.

Time to rebalance legislative vs. executive clout and influence.

Do you see yourself as representing a small-c, if not a big C Conservative perspective on tonight's panel, which also includes representation from the NDP, Liberal and Green parties, or do you think of yourself as an Independent MP at large -- as far as this issue, at least -- without partisan/ideological concerns?

I think of myself as representing the legacy of the Reform Party/Movement--democratic reform seems to be missing from the current CPC Playbook.

Any other speaking engagements/panels on deck for the fall?

I spoke at Concordia University (Edmonton) last Thursday. I take my "Broken Democracy" Tour to St. FX tomorrow and U of Winnipeg Thursday (each format is different).

[Former NDP turned Independent MP] Bruce Hyer will be on the Winnipeg panel.

Next week I speak in Edmonton and Calgary twice but those are at Access to Information Conferences--specific to my bill and the dismal state of our access laws generally.

Freedom to Information is a niche category of "Broken Democracy"

As usual, the opposition parties will be engaged in various and sundry political activities throughout the month-long prorogation. What will you be doing to fill the time?

I hope to add a few more dates to my "Broken Democracy" tour (Queen's has got wind and has been in contact).

There is a municipal election in Edmonton on October 21, and I will be assisting a conservative candidate in Ward 2, where I live and I have to write some amendments for Report Stage to try to undo some of the damage the CPC did to my Access Bill at Committee (good luck with that--I know)!!

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