Saturday, August 26, 2017

Book Review: 'Irresponsible Government' by Brent Rathgeber

Mr. Rathgeber learns about Government

Peace, Order and Good Government is the guiding trinity of Canada. Well, two out of three ain’t bad, according to Brent Rathgeber, MP. But while Canada the country might not be in rough shape day to day, the federal government has been seized by his Conservative Party, and runs roughshod over Parliament and even its own MPs. “The current Conservative government treats Parliament as an inconvenience at best and with contempt at worst,“ he says. The federal cabinet is like an all-star team: there for show, ineffective as a team, with nothing at stake. All real decisions come from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). No independent thinking or action is allowed. 

He is shocked that the government spends freely on “blatantly partisan” advertising, cripples commissions and agencies by illegally denying them the data they have the right (and the need) to examine, and gives civil servants annual bonuses in six figures, secretly. The various scandals ignored by the Harper Government would have felled any responsible government long ago. Most of all, he is incensed that mere MPs are relegated to the chorus, told what to say, when to say it, and how to vote on everything. No deviation is permitted. This is why Rathgeber now sits as an independent.
His education in Ottawa has led him to a litany of complaints, very much like those of Canadians who are daily offended by the Harper Government’s disrespectful treatment of everyone beyond total loyalists. It’s the George Bush model of compassionate conservatives:

-Government uses omnibus bills to ram through unpopular acts hidden within
-Scientists are asked to alter or delete facts that go against policy
-Whistleblowers are harassed
-MPs are given scripts to read into the record, or questions in Question Period 
-MPs are required to vote against anything at all proposed by any opposition member
-Junkets and house seating depend on how well MPs suck up
-Riding nominations are based on demonstrated ability to sell party memberships and raise funds
-PMO staffers are fresh out of college, with little or no experience, nothing at risk and nothing to risk, so they’re arrogant “partisan zealots”.
-Despite naming the majority of Supreme Court justices, the Harper Government continues to carp about “judicial activism.”
-Cabinet ministers no longer resign in scandals. They serve at the pleasure of the Prime Minister, not Canada.

Irresponsible Government starts out well, with a historical summary of the various checks and balances Canada’s early leaders built in to keep government from doing precisely this. MPs are supposed to criticize, supposed to represent their constituents, and supposed to make the government accountable for its actions and particularly, its spending. Even backbenchers. A lot of this, he acknowledges, is not new, and has been developing for a long time. 

Unfortunately, the book becomes annoyingly repetitive. Rathgeber keeps making the same criticisms over and over. He even points out where he said something earlier, several times. He gets wordy. He does try to go deeper, showing how other governments take different approaches to prevent the Harper Government problem. 

At bottom, Irresponsible Government is a repetitive, helpless cry in the wilderness, more for pity than a call to action.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of David Wineberg. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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