Friday, April 19, 2013

"I do not work for the Prime Minister's Office"

Tory MP seeks more freedom on the Hill

Edmonton's Brent Rathgeber gives us a back bench primer on democracy.

He is one of the 10 Conservatives who has asked the Speaker to look at the recent democratic lock-down on Parliament Hill.

Here is some of what he said as reported by the Ottawa Citizen:

Q. What's the role of an MP, and how do you balance that role with the responsibilities to party?

The role of the MP is to represent his or her constituents in the Parliament of Canada. However, we are elected under party banners. So you owe a significant loyalty with respect to the party and the party leader under whose banner you ran. It's a difficult compromise.

Q. Does that necessarily mean that caucus always has to speak with one voice?

I don't believe so. It's a moving line and a constant struggle of tug of war. I'm elected as a Conservative member of Parliament. My constituents expect me to support the prime minister and the cabinet. I don't have a problem doing that. Confidence motions, budgets, throne speeches - anything that could compromise the ability of the government to have the confidence of the House and therefore govern, I have an absolute obligation to support the government.

With respect to private members' business, I think it's a very different set of considerations.

Q. You've written that the last thing a government needs is sycophants and yes-men.

Well, absolutely. Different members of Parliament view their role here differently. There are those who believe an appropriate role for a backbench member of the government caucus is to be part of the communication machinery of the government. To use the talking points.

Q. When you write in your blog, have you ever had the PMO come down on you?

In the early days, individuals from Langevin (the building that houses PMO staff) - very, very junior individuals - would call me and suggest that they should become the editor of my writing. And although I was flattered that they wanted to become involved in my project, I was not convinced that that was going to be a workable relationship.

Q. How polite were you in telling them it was none of their business?

I was diplomatic. I think anybody who understands the Canadian Constitution knows that I do not work for the Prime Minister's Office. I am not a member of the prime minister's staff. I am a member of Parliament.

Q. Do you consider yourself a rogue member?

Not at all. In fact, quite the opposite. I don't believe I am the rogue at all. I am standing up and acting the way parliamentarians have acted for 800 years. They represent their constituents and they hold government to account. Loyal to this government, but not a simple yes-man.

I absolutely dispute the notion that constructive criticism of the government is somehow equivalent of rogueism.

Being a constructive critic of the government leads to better legislation, whereas a yes-man or a sycophant will continue to cheer blindly on the advent of imminent policy derailment.

Q. Is Parliament turning into bad theatre?

With more and more reliance on talking points and speeches written by someone else, you are seeing bad theatre where people are just reading their lines as opposed to actually debating.

It's no different than a play or a movie. You have a series of writers who write the lines and a series of actors who go into the House and read the lines. All parties are doing it. And that's not what Parliament was intended to be.

Dear Prime Minister's Office,

Are you paying attention? What's happening is not the way Parliament is supposed to be. Our Honourable Members do not work for you. They work for us. It's not really that difficult to understand. Okay?

Thanks for listening and looking forward to the necessary changes soon. How about tomorrow? Does that work for you?


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