The Class of 1993 is mostly graduating this fall — 15 years after it delighted its supporters and frightened its detractors by getting elected.
Yes, most of the members of Parliament initially sent to Ottawa under the Reform Party banner are calling it quits.
Among those leaving are Red Deer’s Bob Mills, Sundre’s Myron Thompson, Medicine Hat’s Monte Solberg, Calgary’s Art Hanger, Sherwood Park’s Ken Epp and St. Albert’s John Williams.
Members of the Class of 1993 seeking re-election are Calgary’s Diane Ablonczy and Vegreville-Wainwright’s Leon Benoit.
Another early Reformer, Edmonton’s Deb Grey (the party’s first MP), left a long time ago.
Most class members were not politicians to begin with, but they sure jumped on the gravy train when they got the chance.
After some of them initially refused to accept Ottawa’s gold-plated pension plan, the Canadian Alliance MPs decided to do so (the Reform Party had morphed into the Alliance, and later merged with the Conservatives).
In fact, arguably, the most memorable thing about the Reform/Alliance is that its MPs flip-flopped on the pension issue.
Needless to say, no one needs to shed a tear for this group. They will all enjoy extremely generous pensions — thanks to the taxpayer.
Reformers fuelled voter cynicism by lining up at the trough after promising not to do so. Because of that, they have probably damaged democracy in Canada.
Of course, when pressed, the MPs (who are all now Conservatives), will say they really didn’t have a choice.
And to some degree, that’s true. As noted by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), political parties of all stripes voted to force all members of Parliament to take the pensions, whether they wanted them or not.
The ex-Reformers, on principle, could have donated the money to charity, but they don’t appear to have done that.
And why would they? After all, the pensions are rather sweet with taxpayers kicking in about $4 for every buck the MPs contribute.
Parliament created a loophole to let the former Reformers go back on their 1993 promises concerning pensions and buy back in for future retirement benefits; not surprisingly, that’s what they did.
Even Grey, who had described MPs who accepted the money as “pigs,” went back on her word.
That said, the Class of 1993 is not without its accomplishments.
Mills has represented his constituents well and it would be hard to find a person in Red Deer who speaks ill of him.
Political commentator Don Martin hit the nail on the head when he lamented that Mills never got “the chance to put his environmental expertise to ministerial use.”
However, Martin also observed something that many Central Albertans have conveniently forgotten: “While not a climate change denier, (Mills) was skeptical about the effectiveness of Canada’s emission reduction commitments and was among the first MPs to warn about the economic distress it would cause if implemented.”
As for Thompson, Martin wryly noted: “It’s a great relief to see Thompson leaving office in an upright position and spared the half-masted obituary on the Peace Tower, a very real risk given he’s suffered a handful of heart attacks during his political life and still seems to consider a hefty slab of marbled beef with extra gravy as health food, usually followed by a smoke.”
It’s amazing Thompson and Hanger have had such long political careers given their early propensity to put foot in mouth and offend virtually everyone on the left side of the political continuum.
Solberg and Grey are probably the most skilled early Reformers, along with Reform Leader Preston Manning and Prime Minister Stephen Harper (years ago, he worked for Grey).
Certainly they did the most for the Reform Party, helping Canadians to see beyond the organization’s extremists and paving the way for its transformation into the Alliance and later co-operation with the Conservatives.
Ablonczy has been effective in both opposition and government, though it’s a little surprising that a born-again Christian would enjoy the dirty partisan side of politics so much.
Epp has been a disappointment. Appropriately enough, Martin characterizes him as “the personification of a ‘nobody,’ the sad-but-true definition of a backbencher bestowed on MPs by Pierre Trudeau.”
Williams is utterly forgettable, though he does have a funny way of saying goodbye.
“I have other agendas that are now demanding so much of my time, I can’t be successful at being both a member of Parliament and chair of GOPAC (the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption),” he says.
A politician against corruption, eh?
Can’t argue with that. Now, if only all politicians were so high minded — especially about their pensions.
Lee Giles is an Advocate editor.