In Ottawa shorthand, Brent Rathgeber is known as the Rebel. But such is the state of rebellion in the national capital, the only MP to ever have resigned from Stephen Harper's caucus can sit in a booth in a packed restaurant across from his office, unrecognized, unremarked upon.
More importantly, though, he is also undaunted and unbowed.
The Edmonton MP has spent a year outside looking in.
How many of his Conservative colleagues would follow his path to independence we all asked a year ago. The answer? None.
Rathgeber knows he will face a well-funded Conservative next year when he will run as an independent, but he has a principled message about transparency, accountability and a broken democracy he wants to bring to the people of his riding and he will sleep well if he can convince 8,000 or 10,000 of them that they should take another look at our democracy.
The fundamental role of the MP needs a rethink, Rathgeber says, a rethink that held no interest for Stephen Harper.
Harper's office wanted their MPs to return home on weekends and parliamentary breaks with their PMO-supplied talking points and stump speeches as an extension of its communications branch, he says. While in Ottawa, MPs are to clap in the Commons when told, laugh when a Conservative says anything remotely clever.
"My job was not to sell the government's message to my constituents," he says, "my job was to tell the government how my constituents felt about their message."
He wanted to act as a check, Harper wanted a cheerleader.
The tragicomic events that led to Rathgeber's departure from caucus are known, but a year later he ladles out new details.
It didn't begin with a contentious blog post, but that hastened his journey to the exit door in the Conservative caucus.
Entitled "Of Orange Juice and Limos," Rathgeber wrote of the government waste involving former Harper minister Bev Oda's infamous $16 glass of orange juice, but he was more offended by a CTV report detailing $600,000 spent on overtime for cabinet ministers' drivers, the same ministers Rathgeber would ride with in the elevator, before he jumped in a parliamentary shuttle bus and they would hop in the cars for a half-kilometre ride to the Centre Block. There they sat, engines running, so the ministers would stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
"It drove me bananas," he says.
The crucial call came from David Parker from the PMO's Alberta/Saskatchewan desk to Rathgeber's constituency office.
The blog had to come down, Parker said. Only Rathgeber can tell me to do that, said the MP's staffer.
"You don't understand, I'm calling from PMO," said Parker.
"No, you don't understand, I work for Mr. Rathgeber," said his staffer.
Parker warned the next call could come from Nigel Wright, Harper's now former chief of staff who later resigned over the Mike Duffy affair, but the call actually came from Wright's then-deputy, Derek Vanstone. If the blog didn't come down, it would bode poorly for Rathgeber's future, Vanstone told him.
It stayed up and when Rathgeber returned in the fall of 2012 after summer break, his desk in the Commons was gone.
"I go to find my desk, and it's not there," he recalls. "It was kind of awkward. I didn't know where I was supposed to sit down."
He had been busted down to the Library of Parliament committee - "the equivalent of sitting in the corner with a dunce cap" - and moved to the metaphorical attic of the House of Commons, where he remained for almost three months. Finally party whip Gordon O'Connor asked Rathgeber in early 2013 if he knew why he was sitting in the corner. Rathgeber told him he didn't mind. He could concentrate on his blogging there, he said, and nobody bothered him. They moved him back to the government side.
"The irony of all these so-called disciplines is that unless you really believe in playing the games by their rules, being compliant and deferential to authority, which I don't, the punishments are all ineffective," Rathgeber says.
Then came the caucus meeting.
Harper spoke against Rathgeber's private member's bill, one that would allow public disclosure of the salaries of government bureaucrats and CBC employees earning more than $188,000. Harper told his MPs there would be a different story by a different journalist about bureaucrats' pay every day until the next election.
Rathgeber rose and told the prime minister that his interpretation of the law meant he had been improperly briefed by Rachel Curran, the PMO policy director.
Curran understood his bill, Rathgeber now says, but it appeared it was being purposely misrepresented.
"You could have heard the air being sucked out of the room," he says. It got worse.
Rathgeber sat there as one by one former allies who were supporting his bill rose to back the prime minister, praising his view and "generally sucking up to him."
The die was cast. Conservatives were ordered to gut Rathgeber's bill at committee and they did and he left caucus.
He is writing a book, to be published in September, entitled, Irresponsible Government: The Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada.
Rathgeber believes there is too much power in an unaccountable PMO, that MPs should show more deference to their constituents instead of the party leadership, and that there should be less time allocation on debate on government bills. MPs often don't even know what they are voting on, he says.
These are brave words from a man who won't play on the team in a political system that is a team game.
He will likely be defeated by a member of the Conservative team pledging loyalty next year, and Rathgeber's defeat will, ironically, prove his point.
Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. firstname.lastname@example.org