By Peggy Revell on December 31, 2016.
An untimely death, a byelection that caught the nation’s eye, and Medicine Hat staying steadfastly true Conservative blue.
It’s this chain reaction of events in 2016 that has been selected by the News as story of the year.
The story unexpectedly began when Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner MP Jim Hillyer was found dead from a heart attack in his Ottawa office on March 23.
“He never mentioned anything about being in poor health,” George Bohne told the News in March. Bohne, who lives just a block from Hillyer’s home in Raymond, had just exchanged emails with Hillyer to arrange a meeting in the constituency. Hillyer had struggled with his health â€” among many things, he was a cancer survivor â€” but Bohne said that the 41-year-old had never complained about his own issues. “He believed in soldiering on. He was really good that way.”
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Interim Conservative Party Leader Rona Ambrose stated that Hillyer “was a valued and hardworking member of the Conservative team, and a passionate advocate for those he represented. More than that, he was a dedicated husband and father, and a man of strong faith and conviction.”
Then there was one big question: Who would fill Hillyer’s shoes in parliament?
Six people stepped forward seeking the CPC nomination, selling 5,000 memberships. Some 3,300 people voted over the span of a summer weekend.
It was Glen Motz, having just retired in December of 2015 after decades with the Medicine Hat Police Service, who won the nomination.
With the abundance of Conservative support in the region, it would be easy to coast to a win on Oct. 24.
But Motz didn’t take anything for granted.
“We always felt we were in last place, whether the election campaign or the candidate campaign,” he said. “We felt it was something that was not deserved, it was earned.”
And adding fuel to the election fire was local well-known businessman Stan Sakamoto stepping up to the plate for the Liberals.
The big guns were brought in. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to be exact. His brief touchdown and rally marked the first time a sitting PM had visited the Hat since Kim Campbell during the 1993 federal campaign. With national media in tow, the byelection became a litmus test for the freshly elected Liberal government, and whether they could make more headway into Alberta.
Trudeau’s appearance drew a crowd of 2,000. Many were supporters, but many were simply there to catch an historic glimpse of the country’s leader. An extremely vocal contingent of protesters made sure to let Trudeau know he wasn’t in the good graces of many Albertans.
Ambrose arrived a few days later to rally Conservatives, with charges that the Liberals were only feigning interest in the riding, and voters wouldn’t be swayed.
And they weren’t.
Sakamoto garnered 25.6 per cent of the vote â€” up from his party’s 17.94 per cent during the previous federal election. Other candidates â€” NDP candidate Bev Waege, Christian Heritage Party candidate Rod Taylor, Libertarian party candidate Sheldon Johnston, and Rhinocerous Party candidate Kayne Cooper â€” trailed far behind.
In the 2015 election, Hillyer had won with 68.8 per cent of the vote. This time around, Motz improved on that margin with a 69.9-per-cent share.
Motz also received calls from Preston Manning and former PM Stephen Harper congratulating him. The 45-per-cent turnout in the byelection was well above the average turnout other byelections across the nation experience.
“We sent a very strong message to Trudeau and the Liberal government,” said Motz about the turnout and the resounding win. Albertans want solid fiscal planning, new pipelines, no carbon tax and no new or raised taxes, he said. “These things spoke volumes across the riding.”
And now, it’s a matter of taking these concerns to Ottawa and being part of the official opposition and holding the Liberals to account.
“It’s an incredibly humbling experience,” said Motz.
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