Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A half-million dollar Conservative boondoggle in the making

Much has been blogged in recent days about newly elected Conservative MP Brian Pallister mulling a return to provincial politics so I’ll skip right to my question. Who is going to pick-up the $500,000+ tab for the unnecessary by-election if he does?

Pallister said on election night that a return to provincial politics was the furthest thing from his mind:

“I can’t even begin to consider a provincial option right now,” a jubilant Pallister said from his election headquarters in Portage last night. “Tonight I’m just celebrating 10 years of hard work.”

Now that the jubilation of victory has faded however, he already has his eye on another job. Just days later, Pallister told Stephen Harper not to consider him for the federal cabinet as he was considering going after the top job in Manitoba.

In a written statement to Global News, Pallister says the following:
“...I will be returning to Manitoba and consulting with Manitobans as to whether they wish me to enter the race for the Provincial PC leadership.
Following these consultations I will announce my intentions.”

This job opening in Manitoba didn’t just materialize overnight. Can anyone seriously contend Pallister hasn’t been thinking about jumping-ship for some time now? The question is if he knew he would likely be resigning to run provincially why did he still run federally instead of stepping-aside for someone who actually wanted the job?

Stephen “accountability if necessary but not necessarily accountability” Harper doesn’t have any trouble with Pallister’s willingness to ask the voters of his riding for a job as their representative in Ottawa for up to five years one day and then consider quitting the next, triggering an expensive by-election.

“I appreciate Brian's contributions in the House and to the Conservative party," Harper said Saturday in a statement. He has been an important part of our success. I understand the difficult decision he is undertaking and we will support whatever choice he makes.”

Pallister won his seat quite handily with nearly 70 per cent of the vote so it’s likely the Conservatives would hold the riding in any by-election, and the Canadian taxpayers may well be getting their first (of no doubt many) Conservative hosings. The best official estimate I can find on the cost of a by-election is $500,000 and that was in 2001. No doubt inflation has carried the cost higher since then.

So I ask Mr. Pallister, Mr. Harper and their fellow Conservatives who ran on a platform of returning integrity, accountability and trust to Ottawa: Why should the people of Canada be on the hook for that $500,000+ by-election tab?

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Chris said...

I have to agree here. What the hell was Pallister doing? I assume Harper had no idea what this man was thinking, as it appeared as though a bomb was dropped last night. Looks like Brian's out for himself, right now.

Dan McKenzie said...

I read in the Winnipeg Free Press that a byelection costs at least 60,000$ and that the taxpayer picks up the tab for 60% of his election expenses because they received more than 10% of the vote.

Steve V said...

Okay, this may sound crazy, but what if all the other parties refuse to run candidates in the by-election as a protest. Let the Conservative candidate stand alone(they will win anyways), propose only one poll opened to make the vote official and in turn save the taxpayers money. This tactic could be a great public relations coup, demonstrating the bad faith Pallister campaign, while embarrassing Harper.

Anonymous said...

Fair comment, but then, do you feel the same about Sheila Copps' vanity by-election? Remember her resignation when the GST wasn't ditched and by-election in Hamilton where the Liberals could have run a ham sandwich and won? I agree Pallister should have made up his mind before running, and Harper shouldn't be happy with this kind of stinky action, but indignation by any party on this is hypocritical.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Dan, I'm pretty sure it would cost a lot more than that to run a by-election. I got my figure from Elections Canada. You're right on the reimbursement, I believe that is factored into thr $500k figure. I think $60k may be the approximate spending limit per candidate during a campaign. The limit varies by riding and is determined by population size, density and other factors.

Steve, it sounds interesting on the surface but there's one big reason I think it won't happen: $. With the $1.75 a vote (I'm guessing when there's a byelection the new figures are used afterword to determine party financing) no party would be willing to give up the cash. It would be a neat stunt though, I agree.

Anon, while I thought the Copps by-election thing was foolish it was slightly different, being a matter of principle. If she hadn't resigned I'm sure the Reformers would have been all over her for not resigning and breaking her promise. Dammed if you do, and so on. It was still dumb though.

But the fact is that was, what, 13 years ago? Sheila won that by-election, and two more elections after that. I think the people of her riding forgive her.

I think the statute of limitations has expired, so it's not hypocritcal for me to critizize this Pallister affair. Otherwise, next time I hear about sponsorship I'm just going to just come back with John A. MacDonald and the CPR scandal. :)

Scotian said...


Copps didn't pull that with days of just winning her seat in a general election either as I recall. That seems to have been the point of this blog post by BC, that on election day Pallister was talking about how committed he was to his federal job and now looks like he wants to run for a Provincial leadership which he knew was coming for some time. That he can be reelected as an MP and then immediately decide to go to Provincial politics is more than a little sleazy. That this does not appear to bother Harper is also a bit troublesome.

Pallister should not have run federally this time out if he was considering a run for the Provincial leadership. He should have made that decision before running again as an MP, not right after winning and looking like he is going back to Provincial politics.

Chris said...

Myself being a Tory, I knew Pallister was self-serving.

Sheila played a game, let's not kid ourselves. It was to save face. When someone "resigns", they don't normally run in a by-election. Resigning is resigning.

But I'll be honest and save the rhetoric. Becoming a potential Premier is more important to Pallister than sitting as an MP or Cabinet Minister in a party that he would never be able to lead, or have a chance to lead, in a long time. He's an opportunist. But such is politics.

Harper cannot be impressed.

Anonymous said...

13 years, is 13 years. And the reasons and timing are different. Still, the cost is the issue you are highlighting, and Sheila caused an unnecessary by-election for personal reasons. Being principled is nice but not when it costs the Canadian taxpayer $500,000 in today's dollars. Palliser is wrong to do what he has done, not because of the money issue, but because he should not have run if he was considering the provincial leadership. He has (potentially) betrayed his constituents, his party, and harper. This isn't a money issue, it's an ethics issue. It doesn't look good on Harper and there's not much he can do, he didn't know. Do any Liberals want to say he SHOULD have known? I thought not.

Chris said...

Well said, anonymous. Hopefully these blowhards get it.

Dave said...

This isn't about Sheila Copps. It's about Pallister and an obvious lie. Or do we get to haul out more of Harper's past speeches as a demonstration of his "real" character.

buckets said...

Personally, I think that such costs are just part of the cost of having a democracy. If we want to save ourselves the money, why not shed the silly notion that he has to resign his seat before he knows whether or not he is successful? Or that that popular city councillor has to resign city council before running for the NDP, Liberal, or Conservative campaigns.

I think as a nation we'd have better candidates in more elections if we didn't demand them to commit hari kari in order to serve the country in other jurisdictions.

Scotian said...

Isn't it amazing how one the one hand Conservatives excoriate the Liberals for not following through on their pledge about the GST elimination, yet say Copps did what she did out of personal reasons instead of the fact that she said she would do so if that pledge was not followed through with. Look, I'm not saying there wasn't a bit of showboating in what Copps did, but what she did was follow through on a campaign commitment to her constituents, an expensive one yes, but she did make that promise and she did follow through. Pallister on the other hand is not fulfilling a commitment he made to his constituents, he is doing the opposite, he is breaking his word to represent them literally days after getting their support to be their MP.

To try and equate what Copps did and Pallister did shows yet again the love of context stripping by far too many CPC supporters. Understand something, I do not take any pleasure in defending Copps, she is not a politician I had much respect for. But the facts are what they are, and to pretend that her by-election was nothing more than a personal whim and not the follow through of a commitment to constituents is a bit dishonest.

My only problem with what Pallister did is the timing, well that and the fact that he campaigned saying he would be staying in Ottawa only to suddenly reverse right after winning. That also bugs me in terms of breaking faith with one's constituents. However, to try and equate this with Copp's actions really doesn't work when you look at each in their respective context. Then again context is something I find many partisans prefer to ignore, which is why I tend to distrust any blind partisanship regardless of to whom it is given.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Buckets I agree there's not much we can do, elections are the price we pay for democracy. I just think Pallister was dishonest, and it pisses me off that we'll be on the hook for this. Plus, I've pledged post-election to use the word boondoggle as much as possible. Boondoggle.