'Man Who Wasn't There' surfaces on Hill as new MP
Alberta Conservative MP Jim Hillyer leaves the centre block as newly-elected members of Parliament take part in an orientation session on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, May 19, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, May 19, 2011 5:40PM EDT
OTTAWA - "The Man Who Wasn't There" in Lethbridge, Alta., has surfaced on Parliament Hill as a newly minted MP.
Conservative Jim Hillyer acknowledged Thursday that he's followed an unusual path to public office but insisted he hasn't misrepresented himself in any way.
Hillyer is a bit like Western Canada's version of Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the young NDP candidate who won a seat in Quebec without ever visiting her riding.
Disgruntled local Conservatives in Lethbridge have been grousing about the unknown Hillyer's candidacy since he was nominated in April 2010. But that didn't stop the self-described "educator, business consultant and personal adviser" from easily winning a landslide election victory in southern Alberta's Tory heartland on May 2.
He dodged cameras Thursday on Parliament Hill but in a half-hour interview with The Canadian Press, the 36 year old cheerily attempted to put to rest the myriad questions over his remarkably wide-ranging but frustratingly vague resume.
"Because of the nature of my work, being an entrepreneur ... people are used to pigeon-holed terms, right? Accountant. Lawyer. Doctor. Teacher. Plumber. Whatever," said Hillyer, a married father of four from Raymond, Alta.
"If I had been an electrician, people wouldn't have said, 'Well, what companies were you an electrician for? Or who did you weld for?' "
Hillyer was dubbed "The Man Who Wasn't There" by Lethbridge media after he avoided interviews and refused to participate in public forums during last month's election campaign. In that respect, Hillyer followed the playbook of a number of Alberta Conservative candidates.
"It was endemic out here," said Faron Ellis, a political scientist at Lethbridge Community College and city alderman.
But the elusive Hillyer -- a survivor of leukemia and a bone marrow transplant in 2003 -- proved chatty and amiable in his new Ottawa surroundings, where he took part in rookie MP orientation sessions Thursday.
"When you're making a (campaign) brochure, people are looking for three bullet points," Hillyer said of his breezy biography.
"But we were very careful to make sure we weren't making any claims or even insinuations that were misleading."
His official party biography says he's held "many upper-management positions with different companies."
Asked for details, Hillyer cited past work seeking investment capital for a small oil and gas outfit, Ten X Gas Corp., helping open a sales office for Reusch Motor Sports in Cedar City, Utah, sales training for Pinnacle Security, and student recruiting for the DeVry Institute of Technology.
"I've only had one company where I had (taxable income) T-4s, and that was DeVry. The rest has just been entrepreneurial pursuits and self employment," said Hillyer.
"I put on seminars, so that's educating people."
Hillyer said he also worked as a Mormon missionary for two years in Quebec in the mid 1990s, where he picked up some French.
A local student group revealed during the campaign that his "MA in Political Economy" and "advanced PhD studies in Constitutional Law" came from tiny George Wythe University. It's located off the side of a highway in Cedar City, Utah, and is not accredited to grant recognized degrees.
The school was founded in 1992 by a man who argued that The Book of Mormon contains "all the necessary fields of study, at levels from kindergarten to doctoral studies ... both for religious and secular education."
Hillyer, who also has a BA in philosophy from the University of Lethbridge, said the complaints about his credentials come from "bitter people grasping at straws and finding anything."
He said the notion of university accreditation is misunderstood and overrated: "Theoretically, a school could form it's own accreditation body and call itself accredited."
The Wythe school's constitutional law program is no longer accepting new students, and one of the program's most recent PhD recipients did her thesis on the 19th century novel The Scarlett Letter, according to a website that critically monitors the university.
Hillyer's most recent work has been as a certified LifeSuccess Consultant, an association he said he maintained up until the election call.
A product of positive-thinking guru Bob Proctor who wrote "The Secret," the business boasts on its web site it can "show you how to earn tens of thousands of dollars as a certified LifeSuccess Consultant."
Another online pitch describes how "virtually all seriously wealthy people" such as Proctor have "multiple streams of passive income."
"This is about doing some work once and then setting up an automated system which brings you in income, week after week, month after month, year after year," says the pitch for LifeSuccess Consultants.
Hillyer, ensconced in Ottawa at an MP's salary of $157,000 annually for at least the next four years, said he's not just "a placeholder."
"Sometimes southern Albertans over the years felt alienated and taken for granted," he said. "I just want to make sure they're not ignored just because we're little old southern Alberta who have always voted Conservative."