COLUMN: Little fuss over MP’s farewell

Russ Hiebert kept low profile during time in office

There has been surprisingly little reaction to the announced departure of Russ Hiebert, four-term Conservative MP who represents Cloverdale, White Rock and South Surrey in the House of Commons.

The lack of reaction may be due to the fact that Hiebert has been generally quite low-profile, and has refused to speak publicly about his decision to step aside. It was announced in a brief statement sent to media on Feb. 20.

“It has never been my ambition to be a career politician,” he said in his statement.

Hiebert was first elected in 2004, as he unseated incumbent MP Val Meredith to win the nomination for the new Conservative party. Meredith had angered some of her supporters when she temporarily left the Canadian Alliance over the leadership of Stockwell Day, and some former Progressive Conservatives also wanted her gone.

They remembered her trash talk about popular longtime MP Benno Friesen, when she ran in the 1993 election for the Reform Party.

Hiebert was a fresh-faced young lawyer with limited background in the community. Originally from Manitoba, he was living in Vancouver when he won the nomination.

He had solid credentials with many in the party and eventually convinced enough of them to vote for him at the nomination meeting.

In that riding, that’s the equivalent of winning the election.

He has been solid in his constituency work and spoke up a number of times about border-related issues, which are important ones in the riding.

He also has introduced a private member’s bill which calls for greater transparency in disclosing the finances of labour groups.

That bill was in the Senate but was caught up when Parliament was prorogued last year. It remains under consideration there, and the Conservative caucus has generally backed it.

Perhaps his greatest notoriety came when it was revealed that his 2008-’09 expenses were the second-highest of any MP – at $637,093. Much of that was due to flying his young family back and forth to Ottawa at taxpayers’ expense.

The criticism highlighted a fact which likely played a role in Hiebert leaving politics – it’s very tough to be a B.C. MP and have a young family. MPs must spend a great deal of time in Ottawa, and travelling to other commitments. To go back and forth on weekends, as most do, involves two jet lags each weekend.

The Hieberts now have four young children. Twin boys born in 2011 expanded their family to four children, joining two daughters.

For a father or mother, these are important times in family life, and being a B.C. MP, 3,000 miles from your workplace, isn’t conducive to good parenting.

Who is likely to replace him? There are five candidates for the Conservative nomination in the new Cloverdale-Langley City riding, and it is certainly possible that one or more of them may make the switch to the new South Surrey-White Rock riding.

The riding should be a cakewalk for the Conservative candidate, even if the party falters nationally.

There will also be some interest from people who weren’t necessarily thinking of the 2015 federal election. Some may have spots on White Rock or Surrey councils, but the most likely candidates are people who have been actively interested in federal politics for some time, and don’t mind the back and forth trips to Ottawa.

Hiebert, meanwhile, can concentrate on doing his job in the next 18 months and pay little attention to who will succeed him. I’m sure he is looking forward to spending more time with his family and taking up a career that is far removed from politics.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.