Conservatives provide more protection for a pet MP

Don Martin: Conservatives provide more protection for a pet MP
Posted: February 09, 2010, 12:29 AM by Kelly McParland

He’s done it again.

An MP widely considered invisible at best, and horrible at worst, has been saved from local rejection after party headquarters denied his own riding directors the chance to shop for a better Conservative candidate.

For reasons the national office will not explain, the Conservatives have thrown blanket protection over Calgary West MP Rob Anders to enforce his apparently unalienable right to carry their banner into the next election.

Not only did the party shut down any risk of the incumbent suffering a pre-election dumping, but last weekend it seized control of local membership lists, the cash box and the power to call an annual general meeting, shutting down a volunteer association elected only last March by Conservatives at large.

The only crime committed by these mutineering rascals was to request a vote among paid-up members on the possibility of contesting the re-nomination of Mr. Anders.

Fending off challengers might be understandable if the MP was a cabinet minister or MP with a hefty workload, but Mr. Anders is a zero-impact MP who only flares in the headlines when he opens mouth and inserts foot.

It’s true the Conservative constitution, as does all federal parties, permits national officials to annoint a candidate over local preferences. And there’s no denying party leadership the right to screen applicants vying to be its flagbearers for quality control.

But this heavy-handed move denies a local riding the right to even ask the question about contesting an incumbent of questionable quality. And that burns to the populist roots of a party whose first MP in that particular riding was named Stephen Harper.

Local sentiment is clearly against Mr. Anders as their preferred candidate. No other Conservative MP had a non-partisan website dedicated to defeating them in the last vote and no other association is so antagonistically divided over the merits of the local MP.

The Conservative party refuses all comment on the Calgary West fiasco, which only increases confusion on why it takes such a keen interest in keeping Mr. Anders on its backbench.

The hard-right, deeply pro-life Anders is an awkward fit with the upscale cosmopolitan voters of Calgary West, which boasts the eighth highest average family income in Canada.

“Rob is a true reformer and a true conservative,” Mr. Harper declared after saving his candidate from a challenge two years ago. “He has been a faithful supporter of mine and I am grateful for his work.”

Work? Really? Mr. Anders, 37, has spent his entire adult life as an rarely-seen MP, his only apparent profession being a paid heckler for a right-wing U.S. Republican candidate.

His main claim to political fame in the Commons was to deny the required House unanimity to bestow former South Africa president Nelson Mandela with an honorary Canadian citizenship.  His only contribution to Commons discourse last fall was to congratulate a local couple on their 55th wedding anniversary. His total verbal contribution to Hansard in 2009 was less than 600 words, making him the 302nd least talkative MP out of 308.

Even Alberta Conservatives are publicly complaining about Mr. Anders for his open flirtation with the upstart Wild Rose Alliance.

So why protect such a weak candidate when strong contenders would undoubtedly emerge to seek a seat which automatically delivers 50% of the vote to the Conservative?  Search me.

It would be a stretch to link the domineering nature of party managers to leader Stephen Harper, who is now suffering a backlash for dismissing Parliament on a whim and retaliating against opposition complaints by demanding longer sittings upon their return.

But Mr. Harper would undoubtedly have to sign off on this unprecedented act of national retaliation against locals whose only interest was to land the best possible candidate for their riding.

For the prime minister to treat rival parties with disdain is part of the political blood sport.

But to stomp on his own party members for daring to peep in protest at their low-calibre representative is freakish example of excessive control when member choice should prevail, particularly in a riding where being the ballot box Conservative is spelled M.P.

National Post