After talking about the problems that Prime Minister Harper has had with his backbench MPs speaking out, I suggested that Conservative MPs who felt that their party was no longer serving their constituents' interest should put their money where their mouths were and leave the party caucus.
Last week, Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber did just that. Citing concerns over how the Prime Minister's Office seemed to be watering down his private members' bill to publicize the salaries of federal civil servants, he quit the Conservative party and now sits as an independent.
In response to Rathgeber's resignation from the Conservative caucus, spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office Andrew MacDougall tweeted "The people of Edmonton-St. Albert elected a Conservative Member of Parliament. Mr. Rathgeber should resign and run in a by-election."
This forces me to ask one question: does the Prime Minister's Office think that we're idiots?
If MacDougall believes that all MPs who reject the party line and leave caucus should resign their seats and run in by-elections, where was he when newly elected Liberal MP David Emerson crossed the floor to join the Harper cabinet two weeks after the 2006 election?
This is blatant hypocrisy from a party that has accepted not one, but two opposition MPs into its caucus without requiring them to resign and face the voters in a by-election. Or does MacDougall forget Wajid Khan, Liberal MP for Mississauga-Streetsville who switched sides in 2007?
While, in my opinion, David Emerson abused the trust that voters placed in him in the 2006 election, I am not as upset at the idea of floor crossing as, say, the NDP is. In fairness to Khan, he tried to do a job advising the prime minister while serving as a Liberal MP and only switched when Liberal leader Stephane Dion asked him to pick a party.
I believe that, in an idealized Canadian democracy, we vote for individual representatives who will take our concerns to parliament rather than trained seals wearing party logos who'd squeal the party line. I don't criticize the Conservatives for accepting Khan or Emerson. My issue is with the Conservatives demanding that Rathgeber resign when they didn't require Emerson or Khan to receive the same treatment.
Then there's the fact that nobody asked John Nunziata to resign his seat after he broke ranks with the Liberal government in 1996 and voted against a budget that still contained the GST. But Nunziata didn't switch parties like Emerson or Khan did. He sat as an independent, and was rewarded by the voters in York South-Weston with re-election.
Until Rathgeber switches parties - which he has shown no indication of doing - this seems the most applicable example. When voters in Edmonton-St. Albert look at Rathgeber and see a man willing to risk his political future for something he believes in, it does not surprise me the to see the respect that Rathgeber has earned. When the same voters look at a Conservative party that will say anything in order to stay in power, it will not surprise me if Rathgeber runs in the 2015 election as an independent, and wins.
The question is, will other Conservatives with integrity will be joining him?