Editorial — Troubling times for Conservatives

The one thing the federal Conservatives have in their favour is that the next election is more than two years away.

The federal Conservative government is in serious trouble, but it has one thing on its side — time.

The scandal over Senate expenses, and most crucially, over the prime minister’s chief of staff writing a $90,000 cheque to embarrassed Senator Mike Duffy, has shaken the Stephen Harper government deeply. There are more questions than answers, and investigations and resignations have not reduced the clamour for more detail.

However, there are other issues that are causing trouble for the government. One that may not seem major at the moment is the resignation of MP Brent Rathgeber from the Conservative caucus, to sit as an independent.

His tipping point was the same issue that Langley MP Mark Warawa came up against earlier this year — a private member’s bill was eviscerated by the unelected staffers in the prime minister’s office. In Warawa’s case, the bill was rejected by a parliamentary committee on orders of the PMO.

He chose to pursue it to a number of levels, but eventually agreed to substitute another bill in its place — a bill that is moving its way through the House of Commons.

In Rathgeber’s case, the bill was allowed to stand, but it was so fundamentally altered that it bore no resemblance to what he had proposed.

For Rathgeber, who has a maverick streak (as an Alberta Conservative MLA, he voted against his government), it was too much. He left the party, while emphasizing that he still respects Harper and is quite likely to vote with the Conservatives on many issues.

Rathgeber could be the tiny pebble who begins a landslide, or his stance may go unremarked and unnoticed by the public and other MPs.  A lot will depend on how other issues unfold.

However, the Conservatives do have a few things going for them. The House of Commons is set to adjourn for the summer, and most people will completely tune out federal politics.

In addition, the two major opposition party leaders, Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau, are unlikely to cause much damage to the government when Parliament is not sitting. They have no effective soapbox to stand on.

The biggest thing in the government’s favour is the fact that an election isn’t scheduled until October, 2015.