Thursday, June 6, 2013

Stephen's Choice

In the wake of the tale swirling around Edmonton-St Albert MP Brent Rathgeber, one thing is becoming crystal-clear:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a choice to make: the Conservative Party of Canada -- his very own creation -- can live or it can die. And he has to make that choice pretty much right now. Yes, it is that simple.

The story is alarming: Rathgeber had a private member's bill before Parliament that would require the government to publicly list any federal government employee who earns $144,000 or more. Seven Conservative MPs voted in committee to bump that threshold up to $400,000. There wouldn't be very many public servatns on that list. In terms of determining what it costs to pay the wages of Canada's public service it wouldn't be spectacularly useful information.

So Rathgeber decided to resign from the Conservative Party caucus. He insisted that the seven MPs who voted to gut his bill did so under instructions from the Prime Minister's Office. But apparently the Prime Minister himself may never have been involved. The directions -- effectively orders followed by seven elected Members of Parliament -- are said to have come from appointed PMO staffers.

That is so backward it isn't even funny. Since its inception as a country Canada has ostensibly been a democracy. That means that appointed staffers in the office of the head of government should, if anything, take their direction from elected officials. Not the other way around. Otherwise, it isn't democracy.

That's a big part of the principles that the modern Conservative Party was supposed to have been founded on. And if Prime Minister Stephen Harper cannot find it in himself to -- as hinself an elected official -- set this balance of power right, he will have so thoroughly lost sight of the most fundamental principle that justified his leadership not only of his party, but of this country. And if that's happened there's not a single reason for any Conservative MP who continues to cherish the principles on which this party was founded to continue following him.

Can the Conservative Party survive in its current form without Stephen Harper's leadership? At this current time, I don't think so. Even if Harper were no longer party leader his leadership -- in some form -- would still be integral to the party's continuing ability to function. If Harper undermines his own credibility, he will be undermining the party's prospects of survival.

So Harper has a choice: he will either work this issue with Brent Rathgeber out, restoring the balance of democratic power, or he won't. In doing so he will choose whether the Conservative Party, in its current form, will live or if it will die.

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