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Say what? PC candidate to serve as unpaid Edmonton city councillor while running for MLA

Tony Caterina

Is it just me, or is there something distinctly weird about Tony Caterina's revelation that, seeing as he's now running for the Progressive Conservatives in the provincial election everyone expects to be announced tomorrow, he's not going to take any pay for continuing to do his job as an Edmonton city councillor?

Say what?

I mention this only because there's a sinister dearth of political news this long Easter weekend, which if you ask me is a sign better connected pundits likely have it right and the early election nobody wants but everyone expects is very much in the offing.

Lacking anything much else to commentate upon profoundly, let’s look first at Caterina's decision to, as the CBC put it in its report of his appointment by Premier Jim Prentice as the PC candidate in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview, "suspend his salary, but continue to participate in council meetings."

Now, it seems to me that a legitimate case could be made -- and often is by opponents in such circumstances -- that Caterina, who has lately represented the same general area on city council as the provincial riding, should resign his current elected position on the grounds he's obviously not interested in the doing that job any more anyway.

That would solve the problem of his taking pay for a job he's not doing, which, if there's an ethical issue, would be it.

Let it be acknowledged, however, that Caterina is entirely within his legal rights not to do so. There is no law in Alberta against holding one elected position while running for another, and, as we all know, "no laws were broken" is the gold standard of political conduct under the 43-year-old Progressive Conservative regime.

Anyway, there are plenty of precedents for city councillors in this province keeping their council positions while running to become Tory MLAs -- the names Richard Magnus and Yvonne Fritz, two PC MLAs who were Calgary aldermen elected to the Legislature in 1993, spring to mind in this context. Fritz will depart the Legislature in a few days with, we are told, an $873,000 MLA transition allowance in hand.

Now, obviously, a case could also be made that Caterina should simply stay the course on council till he's landed a better job. It would hardly be unreasonable for him to take the paycheque if he's going to do the job anyway.

Finally, an argument could be made that he should quit taking his salary and also quit going to council meetings for the duration of the campaign, but not formally resign, just in case things don't go the way he wants them to in the general election -- which could well happen, since Deron Bilous, the capable New Democrat who now holds the seat, may very well emerge victorious again.

But, for the life of me, the logic of not taking the salary but still doing the job escapes me, unless Caterina is proposing to do the same thing when he becomes the MLA…

This too is not entirely without precedent. Alert readers will recall the strange case of Carl Benito, the PC MLA for Edmonton-Millwoods who in 2008 promised if elected to donate his entire MLA salary to a scholarship for young people in his constituency.

"Carl's personal pledge is to DONATE the salary allocated for his MLA position to a Scholarship Fund/Program to provide opportunities to our Youth with financial limitations who has the passion and determination to pursue higher education," said Benito's campaign literature.

In the event, alas, Benito, who failed to get the PC nomination in 2012 and no longer sits as an MLA, explained that he hadn't meant to donate all of his salary to scholarships, and, to his credit, he did give $500 scholarships to a dozen students from the riding in 2009.

But, je digresse.

Caterina, a former successful haberdasher and a city councillor since 2007, is a journeyman local politician who seldom misses a community event, and as such is well known in the riding and thus a clever choice by the PCs to confront the popular Bilous, a schoolteacher who is serving his first term as MLA.

That would explain why Prentice at the last minute gave Harman Kandola, who had been the PC candidate in the riding, a gentle shove in the direction of either Edmonton-Centre, where reigns the formidable Laurie Blakeman, the Legislature's longest sitting opposition member, or Edmonton-Ellerslie, for the moment home to PC Naresh Bhardwaj, who stepped aside as a candidate after allegations of bribery were made against him. Bhardwaj forcefully denies the allegations.

That said, back in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview, Caterina is no sure thing. He also ran in 2004 for the Alberta Alliance against Blakeman and, having garnered only 280 votes, lost.

In fairness, while Caterina is a capable campaigner, he is not quite the "star candidate" he's been billed as being by the PC publicity machine, presumably because he was persuaded to run by former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel, now Prentice's health minister.

Preston Manning would be a star candidate. But then, Manning hardly needs to seek public office, does he, as he's already the éminence grise behind all of this province’s conservative parties?

Now, was that convoluted enough for you on a slow news night, or what? Happy Easter!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

NOTE: Mr. Caterina ran in 2004 for the Alberta Alliance, which became the Wildrose Alliance (sort of), which became the Wildrose Party, much of which returned to the Tory fold in December. So while I feel sort of bad about saying he ran then for the Tories in an earlier version of this story, readers will understand why it's easy to get confused when writing about long-ago fights between conservative fringe groups and the One True Conservative Church in Alberta. Just saying. DJC

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