Back in 2008, while running as the Progressive Conservative candidate for the Alberta Legislature, Carl Benito made the spectacular promise to donate his entire MLA salary to create a scholarship fund for students in the Edmonton-Mill Woods riding.
“Carl’s personal pledge is to DONATE the salary allocated for his MLA position to a Scholarship Fund/Program to provide opportunities to our Youth with financial limitations who has the passion and determination to pursue higher education,” Mr. Benito’s campaign literature stated, without qualification.
The pitch worked – for a while, anyway. Leastways, Mr. Benito was elected and served as MLA until 2012.
Now, I admit, I haven’t thought about Mr. Benito for years, but was reminded last weekend of his short career in Alberta politics when a number of stories in local media reported that the former southeast Edmonton MLA had been sentenced Friday to two years of house arrest for immigration fraud.
Mr. Benito, 68, along with his 28-year-old son Charles, pleaded guilty to charges under the federal Immigration and Refugee Protection Act of illegally employing eight unauthorized foreign citizens in Edmonton and Calgary and paying them a pittance between 2016 and 2018, the Canadian Press and other news organizations reported.
Mr. Benito will have to pay a $75,000 fine and serve another two years of probation after his house arrest ends.
But since it’s Mr. Benito’s political activities that interest us here, let’s return to 2008.
Once elected in the March 3, 2008, general election, Mr. Benito revised his promise. He told the Edmonton Journal he didn’t mean to donate all of his salary every year. “Basically one year salary is my commitment,” he informed the newspaper.
In 2009, he did in fact donate $500 each to 12 high school students from his riding, which was generous, although considerably less so than giving up his entire MLA salary would have been.
Not long before he lost the PC nomination he needed to run for the PCs in the 2012 provincial election, Mr. Benito was involved in another controversy in which he failed to pay municipal taxes on four rental properties he owned.
He blamed his wife for the oversight when the matter came to public attention.
That did not go over well, and may have contributed to Mr. Benito’s loss of the Tory nomination to businessman Sohail Quadri, who served one term as the MLA for the riding until the election of the NDP government in May 2015. Former NDP labour minister Christina Gray now represents the riding.
Readers with particularly sharp memories for unwise political promises may also recall that Jason Kenney – who until a week ago was premier of Alberta – once promised to give 100 per cent of his Parliamentary pension to charity as long as he was still being paid a public salary after his superannuation kicked in.
That was in 2016, when Mr. Kenney was campaigning to replace then premier Rachel Notley, partly on his reputation as a sometime anti-pension crusader, and he must’ve felt as if he’d not only win government but restore the 43-and-a-half-year Conservative Dynasty and enjoy decades more of power.
“I’ll give 100 per cent of the proceeds to poverty relief related charities,” Mr. Kenney confidently pledged.
While Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative Party handily won the next election in 2019, it turned out that a province like Alberta is considerably harder to lead than it is to sit as second fiddle in an Ottawa orchestra conducted by Stephen Harper.
Alas for the relief of poverty, it looks like Mr. Kenney is now off the hook.
Presumably to his surprise – and without doubt that of the many political observers, this one included, who overestimated his political talents – Mr. Kenney met his Waterloo last May at the hands of party rebels displeased with his refusal to completely ignore the COVID-19 pandemic and let ’er rip.
As a result, he wasn’t able to remain in office long enough to have to deliver on his promise. Just the same, it was close.
Mr. Kenney will be 55 and able to start collecting his Parliamentary pension on May 30, 2023.
The next Alberta general election, in which Mr. Kenney has said he will not run, is scheduled to take place on May 29, 2023.
As the Duke of Wellington famously said of the real Battle of Waterloo in 1815, it was “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life!”