Beyond the Ballot: The impact of running high-profile candidates
Rhys Sandner looks at the power of star candidates and how they might affect the 2019 federal election.
A party’s ability to recruit star candidates can be a barometer for success, with the quality of a party’s candidates often indicating its momentum in the lead-up to the campaign. Some star candidates come with ‘celebrity’ factor, some with high-profile experience in other levels of government, some are ‘gets’ from the upper echelons of business, media, the not-for-profit sector.
Two recent elections provide some insight along these lines:
Justin Trudeau’s 2015 majority government win
Following the collapse of the Liberal Party in the 2011 election (with the party losing over 40 seats and for the first time in Canadian history coming to Parliament in third-party position), Justin Trudeau began to show his mettle early in his tenure as his party’s new leader. When Bob Rae resigned his seat in the House of Commons in 2013, Trudeau had an early opportunity to recruit a star candidate to replace him in Toronto Centre. On July 26, 2013, Chrystia Freeland, then the Global Editor-at-Large for Reuters announced her candidacy for the Liberal Party’s nomination in the riding. Her nomination (and eventual election win) was an early foreshadowing of the 2015 Liberal majority wave that was to come.
As the Liberals moved forward towards the 2015 general election, more star candidates joined the Liberal roster. Bill Morneau, President and CEO of Morneau-Shepell, an international pension fund, ran in Toronto, as did Bill Blair, the city’s former Police Chief. Andrew Leslie, former Commander of the Canadian Army and Chief of the Army Staff, ran in Ottawa. As more and more high-profile candidates joined the Liberal Party nationwide, the oncoming wave of Liberal support became increasingly apparent.
Doug Ford’s 2018 majority government win
In the run-up to the 2018 provincial election in Ontario, the PC Party recruited several star candidates – many of whom now serve in Premier Ford’s cabinet. Patient Ombudsman and former MPP Christine Elliott, lawyer and investment banker Caroline Mulroney and Postmedia Chair Phillips all left their careers to (re)join the PCs – again foreshadowing Ford’s victory on Election Night.
At the Local Level
Star candidates can have some effect at the riding level. Local celebrities especially may perform well in elections, like Richard Martel in Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC. Martel was a renowned local hockey coach before running for the Conservatives in a 2018 by-election. In most cases, star candidates may marginally increase the local vote share – between 0-4%. But as Canadians still tend to vote for the party and leader first, the local effect is limited. Nonetheless, in a tight race, a star candidate may make the difference between a win and a loss.
Looking to the 2019 Election
As we approach the 2019 election, both the Liberals and the Conservatives have a modest slate of star candidates. Let’s look at five of the bigger name candidates being put forward by the parties on October 21:
Liberal Party of Canada
- Terry Lake – Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, BC
A former mayor of Kamloops, Lake subsequently served as Minister of the Environment and Minister of Health for a six-year period during the government of BC Premier Christy Clark from 2011 to 2017. Following his time in government, Lake was active in the emerging cannabis industry.
- Helena Jaczek – Markham-Stouffville, ON
Jaczek previously served as the provincial MPP for a large portion of this riding from 2007-2018, serving in the Kathleen Wynne cabinet as Minister of Community and Social Services and as Minister of Health and Long-Term Care.
- Adam Van Koeverden – Milton, ON
Adam Van Koeverden is a professional athlete and won a gold medal for rowing at the 2004 Summer Olympics. He will run against Conservative Deputy Leader Lisa Raitt in Milton.
Conservative Party of Canada
- Sylvie Fréchette – Rivière-du-Nord, QC
A double medalist from the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, former synchronized swimmer Fréchette brings some star power to the Conservative ranks in Rivière-du-Nord, where she will be facing the current Parliamentary Leader of the Bloc Québécois, incumbent MP Rhéal Fortin.
- George Canyon – Central Nova, NS
This Canadian country music star and Juno Award winner will be returning from his home in Alberta to his roots in Pictou County (where he was born and raised), a riding that was formerly held by long-time Conservative Minister Peter McKay.
At this stage, too many nominations remain open to determine momentum from the number of star candidates each party has recruited. Expect this to change, as the Liberals, Greens, and New Democrats have many open nominations left, and the parties may yet nominate more star candidates. Look especially to the Liberals, who have many nominations left to fill before the election.