Late last night I notified the board of directors of the Edmonton-St. Albert Conservative Association of my difficult decision that I was resigning from the Conservative caucus to sit as an independent in the House of Commons.
Clearly, the government’s decision not to support my private member’s bill on CBC and public sector disclosure and transparency in committee was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back; however, this decision and my comfort level in caucus has been evolving for at least a year when I first spoke out against ministerial opulence in a blog entitled “Of Orange Juice and Limos.”
Recent allegations concerning expense scandals and the government’s response have been extremely troubling. I joined the Reform/conservative movements because I thought we were somehow different, a band of Ottawa outsiders riding into town to clean the place up, promoting open government and accountability. I barely recognize ourselves, and worse I fear that we have morphed into what we once mocked.
My constituents demand better. My constituents simply do not care what somebody, who they hope will never become prime minister, did or didn’t do 17 years ago. They do care, however, about the relations between a sitting senator and Langevin Block (PMO). For a government that was elected on a platform of accountability, my constituents are gravely disappointed. They appreciate human frailty but when a group misses its self-proclaimed standards, a little contrition and humility, not bluster and blunder, is the expectation.
To say that we are somehow better than the other guys is similarly woefully inadequate. If we are measuring our ethical performance against the sponsorship scandalized Liberals, perhaps we need to set our ethical bar a little higher.
I have reluctantly come to the inescapable conclusion that the government’s lack of support for my transparency bill is tantamount to a lack of support for transparency and open government generally. The government chose to gut my transparency bill despite not a single witness testifying at the access committee in support of either eviscerating amendment. The committee hearings (as all are) were a charade. The decisions on amendments were made by unelected staffers weeks before the committee hearings even commenced. Compliant MPs just do what they are told by PMO staffers. That the PMO operates so opaquely and routinely without supervision is an affront to the constitutional requirements of responsible government and is also the genesis of the current Mike Duffy/Nigel Wright debacle.
I still support and greatly respect the prime minister; I continue to question the decisions and actions of many of his advisers. I will continue to support the government generally, but not unequivocally. I will deploy my independent vote on a case by case, issue by issue basis. I will support the government when warranted — which incidentally was always my understanding of the proper role of a government backbencher, save for in matters of confidence.
I will use my now unchained opportunity in Question Period to ask the government pointed but fair questions on principles I believe that most conservatives still believe in but seem to have been abandoned or at least compromised by this government in the name of political expediency. A return to balanced budgets, limiting the size and scope of government, the aforementioned open and transparent operation of government, belief in markets and eliminating corporate subsidies are all matters of importance to my constituents but have all been sacrificed to the altar of electoral calculation.
I appreciate the important role of compromise in politics. In fact, I compromised significantly in the drafting of my disclosure private member’s bill by setting the salary disclosure benchmark significantly higher than necessary in order to minimize institutional resistance. However, even setting the benchmark significantly higher than any of the provinces that maintain “sunshine lists” was apparently not supportable by a cabinet intent on not disclosing how much it pays its senior advisers.
I can only compromise so much before I begin to not recognize myself. I no longer recognize much of the party that I joined and whose principles (at least on paper), I still believe in. Accordingly, since I can no longer stand with them, I must now stand alone.