A Peace Arch News article this week – in which disaffected Conservatives aired their view that South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale MP Russ Hiebert is losing support in the electoral district – has revealed a deep rift in the community.
Letters and emails to PAN in response to Wednesday’s front-page story suggest a polar divergence of opinion about the MP’s performance in Ottawa.
On one side are loyal Hiebert supporters and electoral district association (EDA) members, who say the MP has performed valuable work for the community and suitably represents a government that has provided strong leadership for Canada.
On the other are people of all political stripes – including Conservatives such as former White Rock mayor Hardy Staub – who question Hiebert’s return on local taxpayers’ investment, and his chances of being re-elected.
(Hiebert himself remains mum on the issue, continuing to defer comment to EDA president Andrew McVie, who defended Hiebert and contested claims of the former EDA members in the article.)
For years, the electoral district has been considered a conservative stronghold. As a sitting MP, Hiebert cannot be removed or replaced by the EDA.
Among a selection of letters on the issue to be printed in next Wednesday’s Peace Arch News, (to read them online, click here) EDA member Peter Hogendoorn takes issue with recent comments of former EDA president Jim Scott and communications chair David Wiens, who expressed their disenchantment with Hiebert, along with opinions expressed by other Conservative party members who did not want to comment for the record.
“When did newspapers become corporate hatchet men for hire?” Hogendoorn asks.
“This appears to be more about airing gripes for a few people that, because they couldn’t control Mr. Hiebert, it must therefore be assumed that he is controlling everyone else, and this is their parting shot back at him…
“This article is a lose-lose proposition. The party looks bad, the MP’s integrity is questioned without facts, the complainant looks bad and the paper looks bad.”
EDA member Bill Taylor, of White Rock, writes that “the adverse comments… do not reflect the views of the majority of the members (of the EDA board).
“The commenters are entitled to their views, but some of the statements were not accurate and were demeaning to the 30 very capable volunteers who serve on the board.”
But Staub – clearly on the other side of the fence – does not pull any punches in his letter, citing the issue over Hiebert’s high expenses, his alleged predilection for ‘spin’ and his belief that Hiebert seldom “champions any of our concerns.”
“He always appears to be in a campaign mode, bringing Ottawa’s issues to us, instead of taking our concerns to Ottawa,” Staub writes.
Staub says that when he asked for Hiebert’s support in an application he was submitting to the federal government, he was told by Hiebert that “he would deliver it personally to the responsible minster with his recommendation, and later learned he did not do so.
“That’s simply a lack of integrity,” Staub writes.
“He and his advisers (employ) a spin that shows little evidence that he gives a hoot about the concerns of our citizens. In my many years in public life I have observed a few politicians who give politics a bad name, and it’s my firm opinion that our MP appears to fit in that category.”
Staub also predicts that if Hiebert runs in the next federal election, the Conservative Party will lose the district, in spite of a success record of 25 years.
Staub calls on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reinstate a nomination process for Conservative candidates in the district, so that Hiebert could “face citizens of this community who might want to run against him.
“Mr. Hiebert, a number of us are ready to take you on,” he says.
Longtime Conservative Edie Williams contrasts the recent EDA general meeting at Hazelmere – complete with lavish spread of food, a band and the swift acclamation of board members – with economical AGMs she remembers that featured voting and nominations from the floor.
“Needless to say I will not attend another AGM,” she writes.
“Things are different now and I don’t like the smell of it.”
In contrast, EDA members Mary T. Harrington, L. Wright and C.M. Fergusson all write that those local Conservatives who do not support Hiebert should accept that he has the support of the majority of members, and move on.
South Surrey resident Hannah Newman, who writes that she is not affiliated with any party, also questions Hiebert’s response to constituents.
Newman describes Hiebert and his office as “mostly unresponsive and, if there is a response, it is only to tell me all the wonderful things he has done.”
“Why this riding continues to vote for this particular MP is beyond me. We are very poorly served by him and we deserve better,” Newman writes.
Hiebert-supporter Gordon Hammond, of White Rock, defends the MP’s spending, particularly in comparison with Liberal Sukh Dhaliwal and the NDP’s Nathan Cullen.
“Russ has also brought substantial government spending to the South Surrey-White Rock area with the highway divider on Highway 99, the new health centre in White Rock’s Centennial Park which has created a number of new jobs in the area, plus better health for a number of residents in the area,” Hammond writes.
But Allan White, of South Surrey, says he has long felt Hiebert “is more concerned about his own welfare than that of constituents and this riding.”
“There are the constant self-serving mail-outs ad nauseum, the media-seeking ‘town hall meetings’ and don’t get me started on the photo ops,” he writes.
“It’s all ‘spin’ and performed with your tax dollars.”