MP Russ Hiebert in 2011 (above)

MP Russ Hiebert in 2011 (above)

MP Hiebert keeps low profile after announcing he won’t seek fifth term

"It has never been my ambition to be a career politician," says South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale MP.

Conservative MP Russ Hiebert (South Surrey-White-Rock-Cloverdale) is keeping mum following his surprise announcement Thursday morning that he won’t be seeking re-election for a fifth term in 2015.

Hiebert spokeperson Peter Stock said the MP “will not be making further comment to any media” further to the initial news release, although “he will be happy to comment on any other issues.”

“It has never been my ambition to be a career politician,” the 45-year-old – first elected to the riding in 2004 – states in the news release, offering it as the primary reason for his decision.

“While I am proud of the difference I have been able to make in Ottawa, both as an MP and as part of the Conservative government, it will soon be time for my family and me to move on to new challenges,” he says.

Hiebert notes he intends to renew his licence to practise law, serve in some corporate directorships and pursue “other opportunities in the private sector.”

Hiebert familyAs a representative of the Conservative government in a riding traditionally considered a right-wing stronghold, Hiebert has not had the smoothest ride over the past decade – even within his own ranks.

There have been rumblings for years within the community that support for Hiebert had been shaky among some longtime Conservatives ever since allegations he’d been “parachuted” into the riding as a candidate when he first ran for the seat.

Although the Conservative Electoral District Association proclaimed strong support for Hiebert in 2011, some former senior members indicated they were unhappy with the MP’s alleged unwillingness to admit error or listen to advice, his reliance on “spin” and on communications with constituents that some said resembled an ongoing election campaign. The refusal of the party’s national office to entertain a nomination process in which Hiebert could be challenged by other candidates was also a concern expressed locally.

He weathered a storm of criticism over personal spending, after his 2008-’09 expenses claim – $637,093 – was the highest for a B.C. MP and the second-highest for an MP in Canada. At the time, he explained the total was due mostly to the costs of flying himself and family members to Ottawa and back while Parliament was in session.

More recently, Hiebert has come under fire for his private member’s bill, C-377, which calls for  extensive disclosure of labour-organization finances. Labour leaders and other opponents termed the bill “unconstitutional” and characterized it as an attempt at union-busting by the Conservatives.

That bill, still under consideration in the Senate, came close to being “gutted” (to use Hiebert’s own term) by Senate opponents last year, until Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament, effectively turning the clock back on the bill and nullifying the Senate’s attempts to amend it.

Hiebert in CambodiaThursday’s announcement has already led to speculation that the redrawing of electoral boundaries for the next federal election – including the creation of a new Cloverdale-Langley riding – has literally and figuratively changed the political landscape, with the possibility that some of the five candidates currently seeking the Conservative nomination there may be encouraged to run in the new South Surrey-White Rock riding.

Hiebert’s news release states he has been happy to serve in government for eight of the past 10 years, “delivering on promises we made to cut taxes for families and businesses, and to reform our criminal justice and immigration systems.”

Hiebert says he is grateful for the “strong leadership” of Harper, “especially as he has led Canada out of the global economic downturn.”

Among his accomplishments in office, Hiebert cites delivery of major federal infrastructure funding, including $38 million for the twinning of Highway 15, an $18-million expansion of Highway 10, $53 million for overpasses along the Roberts Bank rail line and $54 million for expanded border crossing facilities.

Other funding includes construction of a seniors’ centre and upgrades to several community centres, parks, museums and libraries.

His parliamentary posts have included terms on House of Commons committees such as finance, international trade, defence, natural resources, ethics and international human rights, and terms as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Western Economic Diversification.

Hiebert also founded and co-chaired the all-party Border Caucus to improve movement of people and goods between Canada and the U.S. and served seven elected terms as the Canadian chair of the 53-nation Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, as well as two three-year terms as a director of its international executive committee.

Former Conservative EDA president Erv Dusik told PAN Monday that Hiebert has “done a great job” for the constituency, citing the MP’s private member’s bill and securing federal funding for highways projects as two of the highlights of his terms in office.

“Some people criticized him because he could be very demanding of people, particularly within the EDA (electroral district association),” Dusik said. “He has been active in so many areas, and serving on so many committees he has had limited time to waste. He’s a straight-shooter politically – he wanted to get things done and he wanted to get them done in a hurry. With some people you need to use a little softer approach, I suppose.

“He’s done a great job overall and I wish him well – and a lot of people feel the same.”