Seasons change, cabinets shuffle and federal Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Anders misplaces the half-dozen or so brain cells left in his possession long enough to embarrass himself in public. It’s an almost soothing rhythm in Canadian political life.
Devoting another editorial to Rob Anders may seem like picking scabs, but lately it feels as if he has saturated the political landscape with so many head-scratching sound bites that he is beyond reproach for any of his sins. Whether Anders is falling asleep on television, telling Canadian troops in Afghanistan “when in doubt, pull the trigger” or belittling an attempt to include protections for gender-related hate crimes as a “bathroom bill,” Rob Anders has certainly made a name for himself in parliament.
At this point, it would surprise few if Anders revealed to the nation that his whole political career has been some sort of bizarre performance art satirizing the state of politics.
On October 1 — when Anders infamously stated that NDP leader Thomas Mulcair hastened the death of former leader Jack Layton — Anders was called a “dickhead” by Peter Stoffer, a member of the opposition, on national television. Exasperation is the newly adopted strategy when dealing with Anders’s latest misbehaviour. However, even by Anders’s standards, this last outburst was a significant departure from what should be expected from a drunken relative, let alone an elected official.
The problem seems to be that everyone has just come to expect a public relations nightmare every few months from Anders and few have actually stopped caring what kind of punishment — if any — is doled out. The antics of Anders have truly posed the question, What does it take to get thrown out of parliament? What does it take to have the Prime Minister distance himself from this black hole of public sympathy? Despite Anders’s antics, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has publically thanked him for his work, loyalty and service. Truthfully, there is no way to remove an elected official from office unless they are convicted and sentenced of an indictable offence. Sadly, blatant stupidity is a tough case to indict these days.
The MP from Calgary West — which includes the University of Calgary — has had his seat since 1997 when the then Reform Party MP Stephen Harper abruptly resigned in 1996. Despite numerous controversies, Anders saw his share of the popular vote increase every election until 2006. However, his highest vote totals have come in the last four federal elections in a riding that boasted the highest voter turnout in Alberta in the 2006 election.
In February 2010, 19 members of the Calgary West riding association resigned when they were prevented by the Conservative Party of Canada from holding a nomination contest to challenge Anders’s seat.
Clearly, there have been several serious attempts to remove Anders from his riding and yet the entrenched voters of Calgary West have decided that they would rather have a man who called Nelson Mandela a communist and a terrorist represent them than explore an alternative.
Perhaps it is the attention span of the voting public that allows Anders to consistently get elected, and not just by a slim margin. Last election, Anders won by a staggering 28,622 votes. In fact, if Anders’s four closest competitors were to combine their votes, they would still have been 15,646 votes shy of Anders’s total. To put these statistics in perspective, in the last three federal elections, Anders has never had a competitor reach the 15,000 vote mark and has not been below 34,000 votes himself. In other words, he isn’t winning — he is rolling over his competition.
Ultimately, Anders seems to slink through each and every scandal knowing full well that the devil himself could appear on the ballot for the Tories and win a massive majority in Calgary West.
It is high time that the voters in that riding stand up for themselves and demand more out of their seat in parliament. Simply acquiescing to whichever Conservative warm body is presented on the ballot is a practice all too familiar to many ridings in Calgary, but Calgary West voting in particular has become merely a formality. The fact that the public seems to have already forgotten about his latest outburst is a troubling sign that he may be able to wriggle off the hook again if he is able to keep quiet until the next election.