ALBERTA

Jim Hillyer, Conservative Tory, Called Out By Alberta Conservative Colleagues

10/08/2015 06:49 EDT | Updated 10/13/2015 12:59 EDT
Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

A unified Conservative front is certainly not holding up in southeastern Alberta.

Two Conservatives singled out a colleague this week for his track record, dissing him as a "no-show" through his four years as a Lethbridge MP.

Jim Hillyer was elected to represent the city in 2011, but has opted to run in Medicine-Hat-Cardstone-Warner because of riding boundary changes and the retirement of incumbent LaVar Payne.

Hillyer earned a reputation from the last election as "The Man Who Wasn't There" because of his absentee campaigning.

Rachel Harder, who is running for the Tories to succeed Hillyer in Lethbridge, told an all-candidates forum on Tuesday that the constituents in the riding "have suffered for the last four years," according to the Medicine Hat News.

She said residents need "stronger representation," reported The Lethbridge Herald.

On Wednesday, departing Medicine Hat MP LaVar Payne tweeted his displeasure with his Commons colleague, describing him in a tweet as "no-show Hillyer."

Payne already stated in 2014 that he would not endorse Hillyer, telling CHAT TV: "I have no problem saying that I won’t be endorsing Jim just because of the fact that I know he hasn’t served his own riding, and I don’t want that to happen here."

Hillyer defended his track record, telling CJOC Radio that he regularly consults with constituents throughout the year.

He firing back at Harder, pointing out that she's being painted with the same brush: "They’re saying the same things they said about me. Not attending forums, she’s not listening, she’s not there, and so she’s facing those criticisms, you know, it’s natural to try to deflect those criticisms."

Regular no-shows at debates

Conservative candidates across Alberta are increasingly absent from public debates and forums.

According to data from 1VoteMatters, 14 Conservatives have bailed on Alberta events to date. The strategic voting organization has been tracking debate no-shows, missed meetings, and rejected media interviews by Conservative candidates. It's found more than 80 absences by Tory representatives across Canada.

Candidates refusing to show up or to confirm attendance are forcing forums to be cancelled or put on hold, while others are simply pushing forward without everyone present.

“All of the political parties have been very keen on participating except for one," Brian Lee, a former Progressive Conservative MLA, told the Calgary Herald. "I’ll let you guess. It starts with a 'C.'"

A Conservative party source told the Toronto Star in August that candidates across the country have been advised to skip debates.

Andrew MacDougall, a former director of communications for Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, explained to the newspaper that knocking on doors and meeting voters is a better use of candidates' time.

Conservative spokeswoman Meagan Murdoch told Metro News that there's no strategy behind some candidates lack of attendance, pointing out that Liberal and NDP candidates have missed debates as well.

Regardless of the reason, absent candidates can be frustrating for voters hoping for a better understanding of their positions.

Rahim Virani showed up at Calgary Skyview's all-candidates' debate on Sept. 29, hoping to ask Conservative incumbent Devinder Shory about his position on the refugee crisis, Bill C-51 and Bill C-24. But the Tory did not appear.

"I was hoping maybe he could clarify some of that stuff for us, because it's really hard to get an idea of what's going on," Virani told CBC News.

CORRECTION - Oct. 13, 2015: Rachel Harder did not say that residents had endured “four years of non-representation by Hillyer," according to the Lethbridge Herald; rather, the phrase was used by a questioner at the debate. Harder replied that "Lethbridge needs stronger representation." This story has been updated.

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