Happy New Year!
Welcome to 2023!
Oh, and say goodbye to Calgary Heritage Member of Parliament Bob Benzen, who announced last fall he’d be resigning his seat in Parliament on the final day of 2022 to return to private life.
In his mostly undistinguished Parliamentary career, Mr. Benzen was probably best known for being one of the Conservative MPs who started the ball rolling to skid former federal Opposition leader Erin O’Toole last January.
While he’d initially supported Mr. O’Toole, Mr. Benzen later complained the Conservative leader had supported “a de facto carbon tax,” flip-flopped on opposing gun control during the federal election campaign, and failed to “stand up for the Charter rights of Canadians during a pandemic” – by which he obviously meant the right to be a vaccine refusenik, which is not actually protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
He also voted against the federal ban on conversion therapy, which, since we don’t have a Conservative government in Ottawa, passed anyway.
Reasonably enough, I suppose, in his farewell tweet last night, Mr. Benzen didn’t mention any of that controversial stuff, but merely thanked his constituents for electing him in the 2017 by-election after former PM and Calgary Heritage MP Stephen Harper quit, and in the general elections of 2019 and 2021.
But enough about Mr. Benzen! His resignation, though, has resulted in a small oddity worth keeping in mind by those of us who pay attention Alberta politics.
The resignation, naturally, leaves residents of the southwest Calgary federal riding without representation in Ottawa until either a by-election or a federal election takes place.
Since despite the federal Conservative Party’s profound wish for an election before even more Canadians grow to dislike their new leader, Pierre Poilievre, a by-election seems more likely assuming the confidence and supply agreement between the federal Liberals and New Democrats holds.
The oddity is that Mr. Benzen’s resignation has left a couple of corners of the riding without either federal or provincial representation.
Most egregiously, a small block of Calgary’s North Glenmore neighbourhood is also the southernmost part of the provincial Calgary-Elbow electoral district, which once upon a time was represented by Progressive Conservative premier Ralph Klein.
That provincial riding has been without a Member of the Legislative Assembly since United Conservative Party MLA and cabinet minister Doug Schweitzer resigned effective Aug. 31, 2022.
As readers will recall, residents of the provincial riding were outraged when Alberta’s new UCP premier, Danielle Smith, refused to call a by-election to replace Mr. Schweitzer on the fatuous grounds it would cost too much – even though she immediately called a by-election in the Brooks-Medicine Hat riding for Nov. 8 to ensure she had a seat in the Legislature.
Former Books-Medicine Hat MLA Michaela Frey had quit to give Ms. Smith a safe seat in which to run. Mr. Schweitzer, a former UCP leadership candidate, gave no explanation for why he was quitting – although it was pretty obvious he wanted nothing to do with any government run by Ms. Smith.
“There has been a convention that when a leader is chosen who does not have a seat there’s an expectation that she will seek a seat at an early opportunity, so I think the exception can be made for this by-election, but there is also a convention as well that if you’re within a year of having a general election that you don’t need to call by-elections,” Ms. Smith glibly told reporters at the time.
The real reason, everyone understood, was that Ms. Smith knew the NDP had a good chance of winning a by-election in Calgary-Elbow, which in turn would have entrenched the narrative that an NDP victory in the next general election was inevitable.
Notwithstanding Ms. Smith’s chatter about Parliamentary conventions, there is also a law in Alberta that a by-election to fill a vacancy like the one left by Mr. Schweitzer must take place within six months of the member’s resignation.
Presumably, the Smith Government could eventually be in violation of that law, or have to hastily change it, if the premier decides she daren’t risk the scheduled May 29, 2023, election.
In the meantime, though, it’ll be interesting to compare how the residents of the 250 or so homes in the little square of Calgary-Elbow, illogically located on the south side Glenmore Trail, have to wait to be represented again in Parliament and to be represented in the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton.
An even bigger hunk of the Calgary-Lougheed electoral district is also now in the same state, although only since former Alberta premier Jason Kenney resigned his seat at the end of November.
Don’t count on Ms. Smith calling a by-election there either, although it would probably be a somewhat safer bet for her.
By-election results can often be interesting, as former Globe and Mail managing editor Geoffrey Stevens pointed out in a recent column, but the one in Calgary Heritage isn’t likely to be. Calgary-Elbow has more potential in that department, and even Calgary-Lougheed might have the potential for a surprise.
Regardless, my money’s on the folks in both provincial ridings having another MP long before they get an MLA from whatever party.
While they wait, I suppose, they can take some comfort that their City of Calgary councillors remain in office.