Canada government pressured as MP quits, defense minister grumbles

Thu Jun 6, 2013 2:54pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A legislator from Canada's ruling Conservatives quit unexpectedly and on Thursday accused the government of being secretive and overly controlling, boosting pressure on Prime Minister Stephen Harper as he tries to contain a scandal over expenses.

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 - who came to power vowing to clean up government - 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 and complained the government was not really interested in transparency.

"I fear we're morphing into what we once mocked," he told reporters on Thursday, slamming officials in Harper's office who he said were accountable to no one, not even the prime minister.

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 votes. Rathgeber said around a dozen Tory legislators had sent e-mails of support.   Continued...

Canada's Defence Minister Peter MacKay speaks during the fourth plenary session of the 12th International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Asia Security Summit: The Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore June 2, 2013. REUTERS/Edgar Su