Fed­eral can­di­dates have a hard slog

The Compass - - EDITORIAL - Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Media’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@tc.tc Twit­ter: @Wanger­sky. Rus­sell Wanger­sky

Pity the poor can­di­date in the cur­rent fed­eral elec­tion — from any party.

Pretty much the only way you can ac­tu­ally make a name for your­self is by burn­ing your own cam­paign to the ground.

There’s been plenty of that so far this cam­paign: can­di­dates quit­ting over Tweets and Face­book posts, over bozo erup­tions past and present.

But take a look at what can­di­dates ac­tu­ally face, and you’ll see that, even for the best of can­di­dates, it’s hard to make a mark.

First, there’s the sheer size of po­lit­i­cal rid­ings: a lo­cal can­di­date, well or­ga­nized or not, has lit­tle or no chance to phys­i­cally reach even a small frac­tion of po­ten­tial vot­ers. We’re talk­ing hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres of roads per rid­ing, and in ru­ral ar­eas, homes that are of­ten dis­tant from one another. Then, there’s the media. The media is al­most ex­clu­sively fo­cused on the na­tional cam­paigns: day by day, read­ers and view­ers hear about the latest struc­tured plat­form an­nounce­ments by party lead­ers, and the in­evitable re­ac­tion from other lead­ers. Lo­cal can­di­dates are ap­pendages, great as part of the back­drop from Win­nipeg or Sur­rey or Hal­i­fax, but not ex­pected to even do so much as speak, ex­cept for maybe a quick welcome.

See­ing elec­tion signs? Even a party with as few re­sources as the Green Party isn’t nec­es­sar­ily go­ing out to ask peo­ple to put up a sign to sup­port a can­di­date: they’re us­ing a data­base of names and ad­dresses for those who had Green signs on their lawns in past elec­tions, and ask­ing them to take signs again.

Add to that the pre­vail­ing situ- ation that in­di­vid­ual MPs in all ma­jor par­ties are com­pletely hemmed in by their lead­ers, and not only when they’ve been elected and are depend­ing on the party es­tab­lish­ment for any sort of promi­nence. I’m freshly back from ask­ing a num­ber of can­di­dates to talk to me, only to have those re­quests founder on the ad­vice of na­tional cam­paign staff.

In­di­vid­ual can­di­dates have been keen to get their own mes­sages out: the na­tional of­fices have no in­ter­est in that. (The cam­paigns al­ready have bizarre struc­tures to pick can­di­dates: not to pick on the Tories, but in New­found­land, they re­jected an es­tab­lished lawyer with a huge Tory pedi­gree, Ches Cros­bie, while se- lect­ing a drop-in tele­vi­sion re­al­ity host from On­tario as one of their New­found­land can­di­dates.)

So how can lo­cal can­di­dates leave a mark? Truth is, even if you do, the ef­fect of that mark is pretty darned small.

Here’s Univer­sity of Toronto pro­fes­sor Peter Lowen, writ­ing in the Ot­tawa Citizen about a study on the im­pact of in­di­vid­ual can­di­dates by the Lo­cal Par­lia­ment Pro­ject; “We find that, on av­er­age, lo­cal can­di­dates ex­er­cise a small but mea­sur­able in­flu­ence over vote choice. In the case of Con­ser­va­tive can­di­dates, the ef­fect is about two-thirds of a per­cent­age point. For Lib­eral can­di­dates, the ef­fect is 2.8 points. It is just over three points for NDP can­di­dates. … When the re­sults of the 2011 elec­tion are trans­posed onto new con­stituen­cies, 37 rid­ings (or 11 per cent) were de­cided by 3.2 per­cent­age points or less. Even if we view that num­ber as small, imag­ine the an­swer to the fol­low­ing ques­tion: which party would be will- ing to give up those three per­cent­age points across the whole coun­try?”

Imag­ine that, though: you put your­self for­ward for elec­tion be­cause you be­lieve you can make a dif­fer­ence, be­cause you think you have skills to add, be­cause you’re good at what you do.

Un­for­tu­nately, your skills are not needed — you can ar­gue that they’re not even re­ally wanted, un­less you’re skilled enough and on-side enough to make it into the cab­i­net. And even then, though you’re al­lowed to think on your feet, the leash is very short in­deed.

It was called the House of Com­mons for a rea­son: not the House of the Prime Min­is­ter, not the House of the PMO, not even the House of the Gov­ern­ing Party. Maybe it’s time to rec­og­nize that.

So how can lo­cal can­di­dates leave a mark? Truth is, even if you do, the ef­fect of that mark is pretty darned small.

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