The biggest problem in politics is how quickly those we elect forget where they came from and whom they were elected to represent.
But maybe one of the problems is that we don’t give enough credit to those that do remember. In that vein, Saskatchewan’s Conservative MPs could certainly learn a lesson from their Alberta caucus colleague MP Brent Rathgeber.
Rathgeber’s name is likely unfamiliar to most of you, but the backbench Conservative MP for Edmonton-St. Albert is actually a Saskatchewan boy who hails from the Melville area and received his law degree from the University of Saskatchewan.
And in a recent posting on his website entitled “Of Orange Juice and Limos” Rathgeber made it clear he hasn’t forgotten his Saskatchewan roots.
“Last month, I returned to Grenfell, Saskatchewan for a family funeral,” Rathgeber stated in his June 26 post. “The event was, of course, tragically sad. However, returning to small town Saskatchewan is always an eye opening experience...
“There is a certain amount of common sense amongst prairie folk, an instinctive wisdom and moral compass that is frequently absent in the hustling city of Edmonton and in the Ottawa Bubble.”
The Edmonton-St. Albert MP said in the posting that he really had no explanation for the hometown folks that could justify the recent story of a $600,000 overtime bill limousine drivers racked up in 2011 while waiting for cabinet ministers. “The $600,000 in limousine driver overtime did not play well with the small prairie town sensibilities,” Rathgeber wrote.
Also of concern to the Grenfell residents, Rathgeber wrote, was the “well publicized reports of the misadventures of CIDA Minister Bev Oda, who on a Business Trip to London, charged taxpayers for $16 orange juice, $1000 a day limousine service and an upgrade to a hotel that allowed smoking.”
The Alberta MP said he had no problem “with Ministers being chauffeured to events around the Nation’s Capital” for reasons of security. “But he said there is little justification for ministers being driven around the Parliamentary Precincts, especially when the House of Commons also operates a continuous Shuttle Bus Service for MPs and all Parliamentary Staff,” he wrote.
Rathgeber added that “the worst waste of taxpayer money” involved the 6,548 hours of standby service limo drivers.
“Surely, as government preaches fiscal discipline such extravagance must be eliminated,” he said. “Surely, having limo drivers on standby for hours is a waste of taxpayer dollars. Surely, there are taxis available in Ottawa.”
He concluded that most of the people in Grenfell “have never ridden in a limo” and “none of them have ever drunk $16 orange juice”.
“Surely, they would appreciate if government took more care in spending their money,” he said.
The sad reality is that the best one can expect from Rathgeber is continued obscurity on the Conservative backbenches. Such honesty will not unseat from cabinet the likes of Alberta colleague Jason Kenney, whose nasty recent description of the Alberta deputy premier seems to fit the style of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet ministers.
But Rathgeber makes an excellent point about a Conservative government preaching fiscal discipline while practicing extravagance. Remember Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz’s explanation for things like closing community pastures and the tree farm at Indian Head? “Canadians gave us a mandate to get back to balanced budgets continue to focus on jobs and the economy,” said Ritz, who rang up $270,000 on travel last year — the highest bill of anyone in cabinet.
Saskatchewan Conservative MPs like Ritz were first elected as Reformers, promising to clean up the mess left behind those Liberals who claimed to be “entitled to their entitlements.”
But are any of our Saskatchewan Conservative MPs — all of whom represent common sense, small town folk like the people of Grenfell — saying anything about these outrageous federal spending decisions?
Sadly, too many of our own Saskatchewan MPs have forgotten the small towns from where they have come.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 15 years.