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The Mysterious Case of the Political Promise: Vote for me and you can have my salary!

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With Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach doing a pretty good job for the moment of keeping his Legislative caucus from spontaneously combusting, politically engaged Albertans have only the bizarre case of Carl Benito, Conservative MLA for Edmonton-Mill Woods, to chatter about.

Well, at least it makes for entertaining chatter.

According to his official biography, Benito, a former real estate agent and passionate martial artist, is the first Philippine-born MLA to grace the Alberta Legislature.

But like many other politicians over the eons, Benito is becoming better known for his promises than for his homeland, his ability to fight with sticks or his talent lining up homebuyers. Specifically, he's in the news for a spectacular 2008 promise that, according to his detractors, has been spectacularly broken. For his part, Benito has another explanation.

It seems, you see, that when he was running for office, Benito promised his constituents that he would donate his entire salary to create a scholarship fund for students in his southeast Edmonton riding, which is home to hundreds of new Canadian families.

Writing in a local arts weekly, former Edmonton Liberal MLA Maurice Tougas first drew attention to Benito's promise, quoting his campaign literature, which said: "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." (The eccentric capitalization is Benito's own.)

And, indeed, according to the more respectable of the local newspapers, Benito in fact donated $500 each last year to 12 high school students from his riding. But, uh, for readers who may have missed the lively recent discussion about Alberta MLAs' compensation, members of the Alberta Legislature are in fact paid more than $6,000 per year.

For his part, Benito now says he didn't mean he'd donate all of his salary every year. "Basically one year (of) salary is my commitment," he told the Edmonton Journal. This would still leave Benito somewhat in arrears on his commitment to the promising youth of Edmonton-Mill Woods.

Regardless, Tougas -- who in a reversal of the natural order of things apparently quit being a politician in 2008 in order to pursue a career as a journalist -- followed up his revelations about Benito's promise with a hilarious account of his efforts to get the reluctant politician to return his calls.

In a tale reminiscent of Michael Moore's Roger and Me, Tougas tries to enlist the assistance of Premier Stelmach, the Speaker of the House, and even the Conservative party whip, all to no avail. In the end, all he receives from Benito is a note that says: "I have attached a copy of my May 26, 2010, newsletter which includes information relative to awards handed out on behalf of the Carl Benito Scholarship Fund, please feel free to contact me with any questions."

For this, Tougas concludes of Benito: "Worst. MLA. Ever."

Well, as anyone who has lived and voted in Alberta understands, this is far from a foregone conclusion. There are many candidates for that particular title, depending, presumably, upon which Conservative riding one inhabits.

Regardless, what is truly bizarre is that any voter would have believed an election promise of this magnitude.

Indeed, the very idea is such a reach that we can only assume Benito's supporters elected him on the basis of his other qualities, the principal one presumably being, as in the vast majority of other Alberta electoral districts, that he was the only candidate for the natural governing party.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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