| OTTAWA, June 6
OTTAWA, June 6 A legislator from Canada's ruling
Conservatives has quit unexpectedly and accused the government
of being secretive and overly controlling, boosting pressure on
Prime Minister Stephen Harper as he tries to contain a scandal
And Defense Minister Peter MacKay, who is potentially one of
Harper's biggest rivals, suggested he also might quit if the
party adopted new rules for electing a leader that would crush
his chances of taking over one day.
The Conservatives have a majority in the House of Commons
and the next election is not scheduled until October 2015. But a
growing number of legislators are unhappy with both the scandal
and what they see as excessive control from Harper's office.
Harper has been on the defensive since last month, when news
broke that his chief of staff had given a large check to help a
member of the Senate repay expenses he had improperly claimed.
Brent Rathgeber, a member of Parliament from the
Conservatives' western stronghold of Alberta, resigned from the
caucus late on Wednesday night.
"My decision to resign from the (Conservative) caucus is
because of the government's lack of commitment to transparency
and open government," Rathgeber said on Twitter.
His accusations were a clear swipe at Harper, who took power
in 2006 on a promise to boost accountability after a series of
scandals helped bring down the previous Liberal government.
Rathgeber's departure from the caucus cuts the
Conservatives' majority in the House of Commons to eight.
Another six or seven legislators are known to be unhappy with
Harper, who could be in danger if the rebels abstained from key
Recent opinion polls show the opposition Liberals would
easily take power if an election were held now.
Rathgeber, who says legislators are supposed to hold the
government to account, quit after a Conservative-dominated
Parliamentary committee weakened a bill he had proposed to
reveal the salaries of senior bureaucrats.
"I'm not trying to lead a mass revolt ... I'm doing what I
need to do for myself and for my constituents. I don't think
that I can continue to represent them when I am told how to
vote, what to speak," he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Andrew MacDougall, Harper's chief spokesman, called on
Rathgeber to resign his seat and campaign in a special election
as an independent.
The Conservative Party was created in 2003 by merging the
right-leaning low-tax tough-on-crime Canadian Alliance party
with the more centrist Progressive Conservatives.
But there are still tensions between the Alliance wing and
the Progressive Conservatives, who were led by Peter MacKay at
the time of the merger.
MacKay, who is from Nova Scotia in eastern Canada, insisted
at the time of the merger that the Conservative leader be
elected by membership associations in each Parliamentary
district, which means no one region would dominate.
A party convention later this month will discuss whether to
change that to a one-member one-vote system, which would give a
much bigger voice to Conservative strongholds in western Canada.
Asked about the implications of the proposed changes, MacKay
told the National Post: "People would leave the party."
Asked if he would leave, he replied: "I'd think about it. It
would be a very different party with a very different future."
Although MacKay has helped fight off previous attempts to
change the voting system, his comments underline the stresses
inside the Conservatives.
Harper brooks no dissent inside the party and none of his
potential challengers has talked about a challenge. MacKay is
widely considered to be a leading contender.