He called Nelson Mandela a terrorist and a communist. He was the only parliamentarian to vote against making Mandela an honorary Canadian citizen. He suggested South Africans were better off under apartheid.
He traveled south to act as a “professional heckler” for a Republican candidate in Oklahoma. (He was labeled a “foreign political saboteur” for this by CNN.)
He assailed Ralph Klein as a “cocktail Conservative,” soft on Ottawa and not nearly far enough to the right.
He refused half a million dollars worth of grants for students who live in his riding on the grounds they would unfairly interfere in his beloved free market.
He voted with the Bloc Québécois to support a proposition that said Quebeckers could form a nation any time they darn well felt like it and could withdraw from any federal initiative. His was the only non-Bloc vote for the proposition.
He boasts about how women throw themselves at his feet, explaining that as a consequence he’s taken a vow of chastity. (Just the same, he once explained to a no-doubt astonished and appalled reporter, he had “gone as far as kissing and kind of ‘massaging,’ if you will.”)
Say hello to Rob Anders, 37, Member of Parliament for Calgary West, Canada’s most embarrassing parliamentarian. (A columnist for the normally lickspittle Calgary Herald once dismissed him as “Canada’s worst MP.” Maybe, but we’re reserving judgment on that one.)
Even good Harper Conservatives roll their eyes and look for an exit to sidle through when the topic of Mr. Anders comes up. Indeed, he has a sort of unifying quality, uniting everyone – hard right Conservatives, parlour pinks, citizens of Calgary and Canadians coast to coast – in cringing embarrassment.
Other than the far-right crowd that bankrolls his campaigns, only two groups seem to have much time for the guy: supporters of opposition political parties, for whom he is an excellent caricature of everything that seems vile and un-Canadian about the Harper Conservatives, and the voters in Calgary West, to whom his appeal remains a mystery.
Mr. Anders got his start as part of the so-called Reform Party Snack Pack, back in the day when Conservatives were still Tories and today’s Conservatives were bent on “Reform.” The term was a play on the lean and hungry Liberal “Rat Pack” of the Mulroney era – as well as a cute observation that, whatever the three young Albertans were, it wasn’t lean and hungry.
Despite lightweight intellectual credentials that hardly matched their girth, this group of Alberta MPs – which also included Jason Kenney, now Canada’s Censor in Chief, and Rahim Jaffer, recently sent packing by Edmonton New Democrat Linda Duncan – were treated with breathless credulity by the mainstream media when they were first sent to Ottawa in 1997 by inattentive Alberta voters.
Notwithstanding Mr. Anders’ five electoral successes, every year or so about this time, embarrassed Conservative voters in his riding launch an effort to skid him. Another such attempt is now under way.
This time, it would seem, his opponents have enjoyed some success. Supporters of challenger Donna Kennedy-Glans, at least, managed in March to knock off Mr. Anders’ backers on the riding’s constituency board, setting up a potential nomination challenge. Mr. Anders responded with a letter to constituency association members, the contents of which were revealed by the media yesterday, suggesting “now is not the time to open up a long, bitter, drawn out nomination battle.”
Well, good luck to Mr. Anders’ foes. He may seem like a clown to most Canadians, but he is a veteran campaigner with a history of winning elections.
As perhaps the MP farthest to the right in Mr. Harper’s caucus, he has well-heeled supporters with deep pockets whose interests he serves. Embarrassing or not, Mr. Harper himself seems to support him. In the prime minister’s own words: “Rob is a true Reformer and a true Conservative. He has been a faithful supporter of mine and I am grateful for his work.”
Mr. Anders has other, secret supporters, too, of course. Anyone who hopes to see a government led by Michael Ignatieff in Ottawa soon wishes Mr. Anders success in this latest fight. So does anyone who delights in seeing Calgary voters make the “New West” look like a monkey.