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Brent Rathgeber may not be a Tory, but he still supports the Harper government's worst ideas

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Brent Rathgeber

ST. ALBERT, Alberta

Notwithstanding his much-publicized break with the Harper Conservatives, Independent Edmonton-St. Albert Member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber continues to rhapsodize enthusiastically about the alleged benefits of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in the local press and his Parliamentary blog.

This is just another hard-right Harper government policy that Rathgeber, his book contract and the fawning attention of the national media notwithstanding, continues to advocate.

He is presumably wooing local business types in his long-shot effort to win re-election as an Independent, and thus demonstrate to Prime Minister Stephen Harper that the PM really ought not to have let him languish in the backbenches before his fit of supposedly principled pique last year.

The breach seems to have been prompted by the government's refusal to pass the MP's private member's bill, which was designed in significant part to undermine the CBC but has been repeatedly portrayed by Rathgeber and a pliant national media as a defence of "transparency and open government."

So Rathgeber claimed in a recent post on his blog that "in Alberta, restaurant owners, without access to the TFW Program, would have to scale back their businesses, reduce operating hours, close 24 hour drive thrus or even shut down stores due to acute labour shortages."

But that dough won't rise. As we have seen demonstrated by the conservative C.D. Howe Institute, there is little empirical evidence for this fairy tale, even though it is repeated with such frequency by the fast food industry, industry touts and sympathetic right-wing politicians like Rathgeber that many of us are starting to accept it as fact.

Indeed, there is evidence of the other kind. On Monday, the Globe and Mail reported on its front page the Alberta Federation of Labour's discovery that Ottawa has approved thousands of requests for TFWs to work at minimum wage -- strongly suggesting there is no genuine worker shortage, only a shortage of employers willing to pay market rates for work.

Predictably, yesterday, fast-food restaurant owners screamed that a shortage of TFWs would hurt the tourist season and demanded an audience with the PM -- something they are far more likely to get than AFL President Gil McGowan is! Presumably if this were the fall, the would have claimed a lack of TFWs was about to kill hockey!

Yes, there is a regional shortage of some categories of skilled worker in Alberta, but young people right here in St. Albert continue to have trouble finding jobs, and one of the reasons is the TFW Program that Rathgeber advocates for so tirelessly, against the interests of his own constituents.

He also repeats complaints by fast food employers about the inadequacies of Canadian citizens as workers -- as with his suggestion in a recent blog post that many of his own constituents who apply for fast-food jobs are merely cheats who would rather be getting Employment Insurance payments than working -- as well as the fantasy that it is more expensive to hire TFWs than foreign workers.

Students who want part-time and summer jobs, by the way, don't qualify for EI anyway.

If fast food owners are having trouble finding employees, the answer lies in the market, which is normally touted so enthusiastically by the beneficiaries of the TFW Program, the organizations that represent their interests, and right-wing politicians like Rathgeber.

Yeah, the cost of burgers might have to rise or the profits of the companies that flip them might have to decline a trifle. Let them! You can start helping this market process right now by paying a little more and getting a better product from the local businesses that hire kids from St. Albert and have a real commitment to our community and its families.

The lesson that should be taken from this TFW situation by Liberal and New Democrat voters in St. Albert is that Rathgeber is no friend of the causes or the approach to government that they support.

When the federal election comes, they should resist the temptation to vote strategically for Rathgeber in the mistaken belief that because he has broken with the Harper Conservatives he therefore does not support most of that party's worst excesses.

If he could split the conservative vote sufficiently to land a New Democrat or a Liberal in the House of Commons, while unlikely, that would be a wonderful thing.

But if Rathgeber's equally unlikely re-election results in one less Conservative MP, that is essentially meaningless because he will still support the government on all of its worst ideas, and quite possibly campaign to be readmitted to its ranks if his Parliamentary vote turns out to be a decisive one.

So whenever we get the opportunity to vote, progressive people in St. Albert should vote with their hearts and their minds for the parties they believe in.

And that means they should not vote for Brent Rathgeber.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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