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Newly-elected Jim Hillyer stands with his family as he thanks supporters on election night after winning the Lethbridge riding seat for the Conservative Party at his campaign headquarters on Monday, May 2, 2011 in Lethbridge, Alta. (David Rossiter/David Rossiter/The Canadian Press)
Newly-elected Jim Hillyer stands with his family as he thanks supporters on election night after winning the Lethbridge riding seat for the Conservative Party at his campaign headquarters on Monday, May 2, 2011 in Lethbridge, Alta. (David Rossiter/David Rossiter/The Canadian Press)

Lethbridge's 'Man Who Wasn't There' heads to Ottawa as Tory MP Add to ...

He was dubbed The Man Who Wasn't There - Jim Hillyer, a first-time Conservative candidate in the southern Alberta city of Lethbridge.

Mr. Hillyer replaced a popular outgoing MP in the Tory stronghold, but set about a quiet absentee campaign that stirred an uproar in the tightly knit community, which is accustomed to meeting its candidates.

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He earned his moniker from a local newspaper after failing to show up at a pair of debates, repeatedly refusing interview requests and declining to speak to a local blogger who used Twitter to track him down while he was door knocking, an activity he said was more important. (In a video of the encounter posted online, Mr. Hillyer said he couldn't talk because he had to use the bathroom.)

"All campaigns, they gather their [supporters]and encourage them to go vote. That's what the main purpose of a campaign is," Mr. Hillyer told the blogger, Rod Leland, in declining to answer a question.

Protesters gathered outside Mr. Hillyer's office, pressing him to make a public comment. He declined, and his campaign manager offered the crowd pizza.

It's perhaps the most brazen of cases in Alberta, where several Tories were criticized for keeping a low profile. Lethbridge voters noticed. Despite higher voter turnout, Mr. Hillyer's constituency was the only one of Alberta's 28 ridings where the Conservative Party got fewer votes than in 2008. It dropped 14 per cent.

Nevertheless, Mr. Hillyer won, and will represent a city where he remains an enigma. (His campaign manager said on Thursday that Mr. Hillyer is busy moving to Ottawa and unavailable for comment, adding the MP may begin doing interviews in "a few weeks.")

Mr. Hillyer's public profile amounts to little more than a website that says he has an "MA in political economy" from an unspecific institution. During the campaign, it was revealed he studied at George Wythe University in Utah, an unaccredited school where he received a master's in political economy six years ago. The school offers degrees by correspondence, but Mr. Hillyer studied at the Utah campus, a school official said.

His biography also says he's a husband, father of four and an "educator, business consultant and personal advisor," but doesn't specify any firms.

"Lethbridge knows very little about Jim Hillyer," said Lisa Lambert, a member of the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs, a nonpartisan group that holds a debate each election. Conservatives traditionally attend, but Mr. Hillyer cancelled minutes before the debate began. The crowd booed when told.

"I think there are some very justifiable concerns about whether Hillyer has his ear to the ground of what the public is concerned about here," Ms. Lambert said.

The controversy gave hope to New Democrat Mark Sandilands, who doubled his 2008 vote total, but still lost. He said people simply voted for the party, as they did in Quebec, where New Democrats won several ridings with little or no local campaigning.

"A lot of people voted NDP because of the party banner in that [Quebec]case," said Mr. Sandilands, 68. "And our feeling is that a lot of people voted the party banner in Lethbridge, in spite of the controversy."

Follow on Twitter: @josh_wingrove

 

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