One of the worst things that can happen to a political party is when a member leaves because he or she can no longer back the party on moral or ethical grounds. Brent Rathgeber did just that.
Why is Rathgeber Dangerous?
Because he’s an example. A lot of Reform Party backers were never really happy with the merger with the Progressive Conservatives which birthed today’s Conservative Party of Canada. A lot of Progressive Conservatives weren’t happy with the merger either.
A small group from each original party has tried to keep those parties alive. The vast majority of Reformers and Progressive Conservatives went along with the merger. They were tired of years of Liberal majorities, and felt that this was the best way to end them, even if they had to give up on some of their goals.
Now Rathgeber, and elected Member of Parliament is saying that it went too far, and that the principles that led him into politics won’t let him go along with it. That’s dangerous. There have been noises from Conservative backbenchers over the last year or two that some of them were unhappy.
One Hundred and Fifty-Five seats is a majority. The Conservatives currently hold One Hundred and Sixty-Four seats. If they loose ten seats, they don’t hold a majority.
Does Rathgeber Mean What He Says?
That’s a hard question to answer. Up till now, Rathgeber has been a nonentity outside of his own riding.
Unless you are a Cabinet Minister, a Shadow Cabinet Minister, get arrested for a major crime, or do something spectacularly stupid, it is almost impossible for the average Member of Parliament to get noticed by the media. You can show up every day in the Commons, work hard for your constituents, and no one will know about it outside your riding.
This is a bad thing. Over the last fifty years control of Parliament has become centralized in the Party Leaderships. The amount of impact an individual Member of Parliament can have now is virtually nil, no matter how hard they work.
Each Member is supposed to represent their constituents. Because of centralization, each Member represents the Party instead.
So outside of his constituents, and his fellow Members of Parliament, almost no one knows Rathgeber well enough to judge his actions. He could be doing this for personal gain. We wouldn’t know.
I’m not saying that he is doing it for personal gain – just that those of us who don’t know him by reputation have no way to judge his actions.
The Other Parties
If Rathegeber is sincere, neither the New Democratic Party, Liberals, or Greens will have any attraction to him (since his seat is outside of Quebec, the Bloc is not an option). Nor is his action likely to have that big an immediate impact.
If he gets re-elected, that could really change things.
Could Reform, err, Reform?
That’s the big question. Reform was a populist party, which was against “Business as Usual” politics. That seems to be the stance that Rathgeber is taking.
He could end up being the center of a Reform Party resurrection. If he took half of the remaining Conservative Party members of Parliament for Alberta and Saskatchewan with him, it would change the balance of power in the House of Commons.
In a lot of ways, Reform had far more in common with the New Democratic Party than it did with the Progressive Conservatives. Preston Manning said, “If Canadians want change, they have two options, Reform or the New Democratic Party.” This could cause the Liberals some real problems, as they could find themselves backing the Conservatives when they’d really rather not.
And that would get a lot of play in the next election. I can see the ads now.
I have no idea how this is going to play out. My only hope is that in the end, Democracy wins.
Thursday June 13, 2013