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Members of Russ Hiebert's riding association resign after expense controversy

BC MP Russ Hiebert, then Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, speaks to Afghan Mr. Ramazan through an unidentified interpreter, who will receive a Canadian donated wheelchair, Thursday Jan. 4, 2007, in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Bill Graveland/Bill Graveland/The Canadian Press

Federal Conservative MP Russ Hiebert's riding association continues to be roiled by controversy arising from his extraordinary expense claims of $637,093. Mr. Hiebert's expense claims, as reported last May, were the highest for a B.C. MP and second highest in Canada in 2008-2009. Several long-time Conservatives of the association board have resigned in part because Mr. Hiebert - who represents South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale in the House of Commons - has failed to speak clearly about how he spent the money, reports the Peace Arch News. Election District Association past-president Jim Scott said he, the event chair, the communications chair and the secretary had resigned by the end of last year. Key board members did not come back onto the board this year, such as the scholarship chair and the first vice-president, he told the newspaper.

Former communications chair David Wiens, associate dean of the school of business at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, said he quit when Mr. Hiebert tried to pass off his MP cost overruns as a family matter, the Peace Arch News reported. It could not be the main reason, as only 25 per cent of the overrun had to do with travel involving Mr. Hiebert's wife and children, Mr. Wiens said in his letter of resignation. He felt Mr. Hiebert had deliberately spun it as a family matter because it would appeal to his base of support. "I was prepared to ignore the poor quality of his communication to the riding - essentially a self-serving, continuous campaign rather than messaging that informs and encourages the people he represents - but this spinning of the budget overrun is simply too much to stomach," Mr Wiens wrote.


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The federal NDP is using robo-calls - computer-generated phoning - in Revelstoke to organize a telephone conference call with leader Jack Layton and Kootenay-Columbia candidate Mark Shmigelsky, party organizer Robin Steudel told the Revelstoke Times Review. The dinner-time calls were to reach every household in the riding with a registered voter. Ms. Steudel told the newspaper she expected 5,000 people to participate. Listeners could pose questions directly to the politicians and the calls would not be screened, she said. Conservative MP Jim Abbott, who has represented the riding since 1993, is not running again.


Meanwhile, in provincial politics:

Solicitor General Rich Coleman upset Kelowna Mayor Sharon Shepherd with the announcement that the city was not in the running for the location of a new prison. Ms. Shepherd felt the decision was completely contrary to what she's been told by the three previous Solicitor Generals, she told the Kelowna Capital News. The city has expected a government-owned site in north Kelowna that was zoned for a prison would be used. "The Lumby mayor asked me last fall, and I said I don't know why you are going after a site, because there is one in Kelowna already," she said, referring to the village 75 kilometres northeast of Kelowna. The Okanagan Indian Band opposed construction of the prison in Kelowna, on a site near its reserve, but she had planned to speak with them and expected to win their support.


However Penticton was thrilled to hear the news from Kelowna. The prison proposal has a lot of community support in Penticton, Mayor Dan Ashton told the Penticton Western News. The Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen has expressed unanimous support and the Penticton Indian Band was expected to show its support in a vote slated for Monday Feb. 21. "I think it is incredibly important that we will all work together and we do it regionally," Mr. Ashton told the newspaper. "I know that we are all working hard to do that." Lumby is holding a referendum on bidding for the prison on April 30.


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With the prospect of a 50-per-cent hike in ferry fees to Salt Spring Island within five years, islanders were looking more closely as the provincial government's support for the ferry service. Brian Hollingshead, chair of the Southern Gulf Islands Ferries Advisory Committee, questioned whether the province is putting in $200-million as it claims. "We don't dispute they're spending that money, but it isn't going to BC Ferries to help them reduce fares," Mr. Hollingshead told the Gulf Islands Driftwood. "They include things in their numbers that we don't believe are appropriate for the setting of fares," he said. He cited the inclusion of $27-million of federal funding and $24-million in funding for student, senior and patient fares, which he says does not go to BC Ferries. Salt Spring Ferry Advisory Committee chair Harold Swierenga told the newspaper the province's attitude to BC Ferries has shifted from seeing the ferries as a generator of economic activity to viewing the ferries "as a nuisance, a utility that should be nickled and dimed, to keep costs and services down."


Recall organizers managed to find a silver lining as they called off the campaign in Cariboo-Chilcotin against MLA Donna Barnett even before they had started collecting signatures. The campaign group achieved most of what it wanted, organizer Eric Freeston told 100 Mile House Free Press. "We've been able to be part of B.C.'s political history, and we've forced out a premier who lied to us, and who implemented a tax shift without a mandate to do so," Mr. Freeston said.

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