Inside Politics

MP Rathgeber makes final bid to salvage salary disclosure bill

Independent MP Brent Rathgeber will get one more chance to salvage his bid for more extensive salary disclosure requirements for government employees after his original bill was gutted at committee earlier this year -- a move that so frustrated the soft-spoken Alberta MP that he promptly quit the Conservative caucus in protest. 

Later this afternoon, Rathgeber will present a series of amendments that would, if adopted, undo the changes forcibly imposed upon his original bill by the Conservative majority at committee, which raised the threshold for individual salary disclosure to just over $400,000 -- the equivalent of the maximum income payable to a deputy minister.

Rathgeber had initially suggested that the bar should be set at just over $100,000.

Under his new proposal, it would that threshold would be reset to the very same level as the standard salary for a Member of Parliament, which is currently $160,200.

Those who earn less than that amount would still be required to disclose salary range, as well as "classifications and responsibilities of the position" and all expenses reimbursed by the government.

Rathgeber will also make an attempt to scrap another provision that would rewrite the current CBC access to information exemptions, after being persuaded during committee hearings on the bill "may have been too narrow," as far as protecting journalistic independence.

"We heard cogent evidence that "artistic expression" could be compromised, and something like a freedom of expression exception should be added," he explained via email.

"I agreed, but the committee was disinclined."

He also disagrees with the move to add explicit protection for confidential sources.

" Everyone understands the need to protect sources," he stresses.

"But by making it an exclusion, it takes away the commissioner's power of review, with the inevitable result being litigation."

The end result, he believes, are provisions that are "actually worse" than the flawed section that he had hoped to fix.

Instead, he plans to focus on the specific salary disclosures -- which, he points out, would also apply to CBC employees, and everyone else employed by a government institution -- except for Parliament itself, which is entirely exempt from the Access to Information Act, which Rathgeber notes is "another big problem that needs fixing!!"

Of course, he won't be able to apply any of his hoped-for fixes unless the can convince colleagues on both the opposition and government benches to back his amendments.

If he fails, and the bill proceeds to the Senate as-is and against the express wishes of the sponsoring member, he'll have to take his case for a rewrite to an Upper House committee.

UPDATE: Now that the first hour of debate has wrapped up, it's fair to say that Rathbeger seems to have his work cut out for him: although he was able to rouse general support from the opposition members on House duty this afternoon, the official response from the government made it clear that, as far as the executive is concerned, the bill is just fine as amended by committee.

Still, it looks like Rathgeber may be able to count at least one of his former Conservative colleagues when it comes time to vote on his proposed fixes: New Brunswick MP John Williamson indicated that he'll be supporting Rathgeber's effort to reset the salary threshold to a less stratospheric level.




Tags: blackberry jungle, brent rathgeber, private members business

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