Floor crossings older than Canada itself

I had never heard of Leona Alleslev before she switched from red to blue. The Member of Parliament for Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill becomes the latest in a long line of Canadian politicians who have crossed the floor to sit with a different political party than the one they were elected with.

sept-1701592-crop

MP Leona Alleslev with her new leader, Andrew Scheer. (iPolitics)

Most of the time, the end is nigh for that politician. Some are pushed by desperation. Some are motivated by pique. Others for genuine policy and ideological reasons. I’m not sure which category Alleslev belongs to.  Unlike some examples, it was not expected, it was not a public journey, and she didn’t lay any track or provide signals.  Thus, it’s fair comment to point out that she seemed like a happy Liberal not that long ago.

Floor crossing is older than Canada itself. Wikipedia informs us that, in 1866, an anti-Confederate politician in New Brunswick switched sides when he did not receive a desired cabinet post.  We could go back to WWI when many Liberal MPs left Wilfred Laurier and joined with the Unionist government under Robert Borden. Or to 1935 when British Columbia’s H.H. Stevens bolted the Conservative barn to form the Reconstructionist Party.

At times, a floor crossing can signal a sea change in politics. In the past few weeks, we saw Maxime Bernier jump out of Air Scheer without a parachute. The impact of this Xtreme floor crossing is yet to be known.

Some floor crossings precipitate or reflect foundational change. Réne Lévesque leaving the Quebec Liberal Party in the 1960s to form the Parti Quebecois is one of the most momentous moves in Canadian political history. It led to the election of the first Péquiste government in 1976 and a referendum on sovereignty-association in 1980.  Watch the documentary Champions to see Lévesque’s impact and his enduring rivalry with Pierre Trudeau.

a_365

Réne Lévesque: probably the most impactful floor-crossing in Canadian history (CBC)

In 1990, Lucien Bouchard spectacularly left the Mulroney government after the collapse of the Meech Lake accord, forming the Bloc Quebecois, and taking other Quebec PC and Liberal MPs with him, including Liberal MP Jean Lapierre. Bouchard led the Oui forces to the brink of victory in 1995, and shortly thereafter became Premier of Quebec.

The 1993 election saw the collapse of the Progressive Conservatives to two seats with Preston Manning’s Reform Party dominating Western Canada.  After Jean Chretien continually swept up in Quebec, PC Senator Gerry St. Germain was one of the first to attempt to unify the Conservative parties and changed his allegiance in the Senate from PC to become the first Canadian Alliance senator in 2000.  Later, eleven Canadian Alliance MPs left caucus to sit as the “DRC” – Democratic Representative Caucus when they couldn’t get along with Alliance leader Stockwell Day, and included some political heavyweights like the first Reform MP ever elected, Deb Grey.  The DRCs would morph into a coalition with Joe Clark’s (second-coming) PC caucus: the PC-DRC.  Ultimately, most everyone got back together under the leadership of Stephen Harper after new PC leader Peter Mackay agreed to merge the PCs with Stephen Harper’s Alliance.  Harper became the leader of the new Conservative Party and held Paul Martin to a minority in 2004 before winning his own minority in 2006.  (Joe didn’t cross, he stayed PC until the end). The key point is that floor crossing influenced the course of events between 2000 and 2004.

Some floor crossings reflect the ebb and flow of political tides.  Scott Brison was elected as a Progressive Conservative, but left when that party merged with the Alliance to form the modern-day Conservative Party. Brison is a senior Liberal cabinet minister today. One can argue that he represented a shift in Canadian politics where some Progressive Conservatives migrated to the Liberals.  Many politicians, like Bob Rae and Ujjal Dosanjh, sat for one party, then came back to run for another party later, reflecting how they had migrated through the political spectrum.

Provincially, MLAs in both the Saskatchewan PCs and Liberals crossed the floor to the new Saskatchewan Party in 1997, which has governed the province since 2007. The PCs were extinguished and the Liberals are in the wilderness.

In 2002, Yukon NDP MLA Dennis Fentie left his party to join the Yukon Party. A month later he was leader and later that year he became Premier, serving until 2011.

BC has had three significant floor-crossings that led to a restructuring of political support bases.  Leading up to the 1952 election, Conservative MLA WAC Bennett left that party and migrated toward to the Social Credit Party. The leaderless party won the plurality of seats in 1952 and Bennett became its leader (and, ultimately, Premier) after the election. Bennett governed for 20 years.

mcgeer-williams-bennett-and-gardom

Seismic shift in BC politics when three senior Liberal MLAs join Bill Bennett and the Socreds in 1974 (Vancouver Sun)

Then following his defeat in 1972, his son Bill Bennett, the new leader, recruited former Liberal leader and MLA Dr. Pat McGeer, Allan Williams, and Garde Gardom to join the Socreds, along with PC MLA Hugh Curtis. All four floor crossers would play major roles in Bennett’s government, which lasted 11 years. He also attracted former Liberal leadership candidate Bill VanderZalm to run as a Socred in 1975 too. Then in the 1990s, there was a two-step process. First, four Social Credit MLAs left the former dynasty in ruins when they turned away from the fledgling BC Liberals under Gordon Campbell, to join the BC Reform Party in 1994. Their defection ultimately benefited the ruling NDP – Glen Clark would win a majority in 1996 while losing the popular vote. Campbell corralled the Reformers after 1996 and remaining Reform MLA Richard Neufeld crossed the floor to the BC Liberals, marking the formalization of a de facto coalition.   Neufeld served as BC Liberal minister for seven years (now a senator) and the BC Liberals governed continuously for 16 years.

(A footnote to the 1975 example above is that Frank Calder, British Columbia’s first indigenous parliamentarian, lost his NDP nomination in the riding in Atlin.  Having been first elected in 1949, Calder brought his winning ways to the Socreds and was elected yet again. Four years later, he lost by one vote to the NDP’s ‘Landslide’ Al Passarell.  Passarell would later cross the floor from the NDP to the Socreds as well.)

Some floor crossings backfire spectacularly. Arguably, the WildRose defections to the ruling PC’s under Jim Prentice destroyed the political careers of those MLAs, like former leader Danielle Smith, and boomeranged on the Prentice government. It looked too cute, too orchestrated – the overdog overdoing it. Belinda Stronach’s floor crossing to the Liberals in 2005 helped save the minority Martin government for a time, but arguably galvanized Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in the forthcoming election in 2006.

Some leave and come home again. The most famous example is Winston Churchill going Conservative-Liberal-Conservative. The aforementioned Jean Lapierre left the Liberals to join the Bloc Quebecois upon the election of Jean Chretien as Liberal leader. He returned to the Liberals under Paul Martin and was a senior cabinet minister in his government. Then there’s Joe Peschisolido who was a Young Liberal that was elected as an Alliance MP then crossed the floor to the Liberals. After a stint out of politics, he’s back again as a Liberal MP. There to stay, presumably.  Gordon Wilson was Liberal leader in BC from 1987 to 1993.  He left, with fellow MLA and wife Judi Tyabji, to form his own party, the PDA, and won his seat again in 1996 under that banner.  He was recruited by NDP Premier Glen Clark to join the NDP cabinet in the late 1990s and then ran for the leadership of the NDP, unsuccessfully.  Since 2001, he has been out of elected politics, but he did go ‘home’ again in 2013 when he made an intervention in that year’s election campaign in favour of BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark (who once worked for him) and against NDP Leader Adrian Dix (who once recruited him).  Never dull in BC.

Some floor crossings weren’t mean to be. BC Liberal MLA John van Dongen left the BC Liberals over unresolvable disagreements. He joined the fledgling BC Conservatives, but within months, left them over unresolvable disagreements. Conservative MP Eve Adams defection to the Liberals on the eve of the 2015 election reeked of desperation.  Her career was soon over, at least for now.  A husband and wife both crossed the floor from the New Brunswick PCs to the Liberals in 2007, but by 2010 they were both out of politics.  One-term West Vancouver Liberal MP Blair Wilson got into some hot water and would eventually leave the Liberal Caucus to sit as an independent.  Just before the 2008 election, he migrated to the Greens to become their first ever MP in Canada.  He failed in his bid for re-election, as a Green.

Some cross and never look back, like Scott Brison. Dr. Keith Martin was elected as a Reformer in 1993 and ran for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance. He crossed the floor to the Liberals in 2004 and served as a Liberal until 2011. David Kilgour was a longtime Progressive Conservative MP. Even though John Turner was his brother-in-law, he stayed as a PC, but after Turner left, Kilgour crossed to the Liberals and continued from there.

Some floor-crossers are peripatetic.  Paul Hellyer was elected as a Liberal MP in 1949 and went on to be Minister of National Defence under Lester Pearson and a major contender for the leadership of the Liberals in 1968, placing second on the first ballot.    He fell out with Pierre Trudeau the following year and tried to form his own party.  He then crossed the floor to the PCs and in 1976, he ran for the leadership of that party.  He would return to the Liberals in 1982 and ran unsuccessfully for a nomination in his old seat in 1988.  He then formed another party, the Canada Action Party, and would try to merge it with the NDP.  At the age of 95, he may have another run in him, but for which party?

Countless others have gone to sit as independents only to return later.  Some are sent because they were naughty, others leave because they’re mad but come back once they’re happy. BC MLA Blair Lekstrom left caucus over the handling of the HST but came back after a leadership change.  MLAs and MPs who never leave, and feel that they are team players, can often be annoyed and upset when those that leave are welcomed back.  If handled properly, it can be seen as beneficial to the greater good that they return.  Alternatively, it can be seen as rewarding bad behaviour.

Surrey MP Chuck Cadman was elected as a Reform MP and carried on as an Alliance MP, but prior to the 2004 election, he lost his nomination.  He ran as an independent and won.  In 2005, battling cancer, he was pivotal in keeping Paul Martin’s minority government in power during critical votes, against the wishes of his former colleagues.

In the ‘timing is important’ category, David Emerson’s defection to the Conservatives days after the 2006 federal election effectively marked the end of his career in electoral politics.  The ink was barely dry on the ballots when he reversed course, causing much consternation among his former Liberal supporters. But it provided Stephen Harper with experience and depth in cabinet for two years and demoralized the Liberals, who sat out of power for nine years.  Alberta PC MP Jack Horner crossed over to Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals in 1977, joining the Trudeau cabinet.  There has rarely been a good time to be a federal Liberal in Alberta and this wasn’t one of them.  His constituents did not reward him for his efforts in the subsequent election.

Many, many, many more floor crossings happen in the imaginations of political back roomers.  There is always the threat of a disgruntled MLA or MP taking off.  Most of the time, that representative is governed by some restraint.  The voters elected him or her largely on the basis of their party label.  Imagine you worked hard in support of your party only to find that the recipient of your hard work crossed no-man’s land to sit in enemy trenches?  Many would-be floor-crossers have surely taken a step back when realizing they would have to explain their actions to the volunteers who backed them.

To be accepted by the voters, the conflict usually has to be real and substantive and/or that representative must have a lot of personal credibility.  If it’s opportunistic, and imposed from the top, it’s not likely to go down well with the voters or the supporters of the sending and receiving party.  Not many like a turncoat, especially when they weren’t part of the process.

What floor crossings can demonstrate is the dynamic state of our political system.  In the ‘first past the post system’, parties are always in a state of constant movement.  Parties continually search for a plurality of votes and seats, and attracting someone who represents a set of ideas or representative of a community of interest is a way to grow a party’s base.  A floor crossing can give a tiny party a foothold in Parliament. Parties that fail to unify their members behind a common purpose can disintegrate, with floor crossings one such manifestation.  Unlike the United States, Canadian parties can rise and fall (and rise again).  There is much more fluidity.  Real policy differences – such as Quebec independence – can lead to dramatic changes and fracture coalitions.  Strong leadership glues coalitions together, unifying disparate elements.  When it comes down to it, elected representatives are just people, unbound to their party label.  They have the ability to exercise their free will.

Many floor-crosses vaporize without causing any major effect.  Will the departure of Leona Alleslev amount to much? Will Maxime Bernier accomplish anything? History tells us that we will have to wait to find out.  There are many possibilities.

Update: (Feedback from Rosedeer.com contributor @Jay_Denney)

1) James Armstrong Richardson: Winnipeg Cabinet Minister from the Pierre Trudeau era, who he clashed with over patriating the Constitution. Notable in that one day, he just up and crossed the floor, telling the desk clerk “I’m sitting over there from now on”

2) John Nunziata: though technically he was kicked out, he essentially crossed the floor to be an independent by voting against a Budget. Notable in that he is a rare example of winning reelection, like Chuck Cadman, as an incumbent independent (as opposed to the numerous losers, most recently former Conservative MPs Brent Rathgerber and Inky Mark, John Van Dongen, and former BC NDP MLAs Bob Simpson and Chris Darcy)

3) Thank you for not mentioning the man who crossed from blue to red federally and was subsequently drubbed by Lisa Raitt in 2008. (I will mention him because it’s a good example – Jay would be referring to Garth Turner – the one-time PC leadership candidate and former Conservative MP who, after harshly criticizing David Emerson’s defection to his own party, crossed the floor himself to sit as a Liberal.  He lost in the subsequent election.)

There are many more colourful examples.  As University of Manitoba Political Science professor Royce Koop puts it, “When an MP crosses the floor, it’s a beautiful reminder that in Canada we cast our votes for candidates, not parties”.

Advertisements

Federal Leaders in By-elections and the Burnaby battleground

Updated (August 17th)

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh announced his bid for a federal seat today in the riding of Burnaby South, vacated by Vancouver mayoralty aspirant and NDP incumbent Kennedy Stewart.

Burnaby South is over 4,000 km from Singh’s former riding in the Brampton area, but he’s certainly not the first federal leader to leave his home province to seek entry into the House via a by-election.

Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 3.06.07 PM

Will Jagmeet Singh ride on to victory in Burnaby-South? [Cycling Magazine]

Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney was elected in 1983 as MP from the riding of Central Nova in Nova Scotia.  He gave the seat back to Elmer MacKay when he led the 1984 election from his hometown riding of Manicouagan in Quebec.  Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper found a seat close to home in 2002 when he re-entered the House from Preston Manning’s seat of Calgary Southwest. Rebel founder Ezra Levant had secured the nomination but was evidently persuaded to step aside for the new leader of the Canadian Alliance (this was before the Alliance and PC’s merged).  Of note, both the Liberals and the PC candidate, Jim Prentice, stepped aside to make way for Harper.  The NDP fielded a candidate.

Rt. Hon. Joe Clark made a political comeback to return as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1998 and sought election to the House of Commons in early 2000 when then-PC MP Scott Brison stepped aside in Kings-Hant to make way.

As for Liberals, the longest-serving Prime Minister of all-time, Rt. Hon. William Lyon Mackenzie King, lost his seat in York North in 1925 and sought a new seat in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, winning a by-election there in February 1926.  An interesting side note is that Rt. Hon. John Diefenbaker encouraged an independent to run against King in the by-election, then Diefenbaker himself ran unsuccessfully against King in the subsequent 1926 general election. King would continue to represent Prince Albert until the 1945 election when he lost to a CCFer.  He sought re-entry into the House via Glengarry in Ontario and retired while representing that seat.

Rt. Hon. John Turner was the newly appointed prime minister, without a seat, when he announced he would contest the 1984 election from Vancouver-Quadra.  While he had attended UBC and had a longstanding family connection to BC, he had lived in Eastern Canada for decades and did not pretend too hard that he would actually move to Vancouver.  Despite the disastrous national campaign, Turner held on to claim Quadra from the PC’s and the Liberals have held it for the past 34 years.

Jean Chrétien’s return to the House of Commons in 1990 came via the New Brunswick riding of Beausejour. He returned to his home riding of Saint-Maurice

The NDP can look back at the experience of Tommy Douglas.  Douglas was defeated in his first attempt to win election to the House of Commons from the riding of Regina-Centre in 1962.  The former Saskatchewan premier, and first elected leader of the NDP, had to find a seat out-of-province in… Burnaby.  He was elected in Burnaby-Coquitlam in 1963 and 1965.  In 1968, he contested Burnaby-Seymour (similar to MP Terry Beech’s current riding) and lost to Hon. Ray Perrault.  Perrault was a former leader of the BC Liberal Party and a gritty, grassroots politician.  While he would only serve one-term, he went on to a distinguished career in the Senate.  As for Douglas, his opportunity to regain a seat was borne from tragedy when Nanaimo-Cowichan-The Islands MP Colin Cameron (grandfather of NDP strategist Robin Sears) passed away not longer after the 1968 election.  Douglas won a 1969 by-election there and represented the seat until 1979.

Topical in the news these days is Rt. Hon. John A. Macdonald who was elected in Victoria in 1878.  I assumed it was a by-election victory, but he actually contested three separate ridings in the general election that year, and, having lost in Kingston, he chose to represent Victoria where he had defeated Liberal Amor de Cosmos (!).  Sir Wilfred Laurier also contested multiple districts and won in both Quebec-East and Saskatchewan provisional district in 1896, choosing to represent Quebec-East.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May announced on August 16th that due to  “longstanding parliamentary tradition” she would extend ‘leader’s courtesy’ to Jagmeet Singh by not fielding a Green candidate.

Longstanding tradition?  That’s a selective interpretation of history.  Here are the by-elections contested by leaders:

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 9.53.50 AM.png

Every leader has above has been contested in a by-election, and since 1962, every leader has been contested by at least one other main political party.  The NDP have never extended Leader’s courtesy in a by-election.  Even the Greens contested Harper’s by-election.   And certainly on a provincial level, neither the Greens nor the NDP honoured the “longstanding parliamentary tradition” of leader’s courtesy to Hon. Christy Clark in her two by elections (Point Grey in 2011, West Kelowna in 2013).

Courtesy aside, leaders need a seat in the House and sometimes have to go far afield to find one.  When they are ‘adopted’, sometimes they stay put.  Singh says he will move to Burnaby.

But can Jagmeet Singh win Burnaby-South?  Presumably, the NDP have polled the riding and believe they can win it.  It would be a huge risk, otherwise.  It does not appear to be a slam-dunk seat for the NDP though.

In 2015, Liberal Adam Pankratz won election day.  It was Kennedy Stewart’s margin-of-victory in the advance polls that saved his bacon.  This was a result of two factors – Liberal momentum was still building during the advance polls and the NDP had a superior GOTV machine.

Table 1: Burnaby-South in 2011 and 2015

Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 3.11.42 PM.png

Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 3.33.33 PM.png

Liberal Adam Pankratz (left) with PM Trudeau and MP Terry Beech [Burnaby Now]

Liberal gains in 2015 came at the expense of both the NDP and the Conservatives.  Pankratz himself, a young, educated multilingual candidate whose father was a well-known BC Lion football player, presented well for the Liberals.

There are other variables to consider.

The federal NDP typically does not do well in British Columbia when there is an NDP government in Victoria.  The 1974 election was a disaster for the federal NDP, in the height of the Dave Barrett government.  The federal NDP were decimated in the 1993, 1997, and 2000 elections in BC while a parade of NDP premiers governed (though Svend Robinson held his Burnaby riding).  Will it be a factor this time?  At this point, I don’t think the provincial NDP have angered voters in the manner of previous NDP governments.  It’s early days.  However, being in power can demotivate activists who are accustomed to fighting the establishment rather than being a part of it.

Singh’s connection to BC is not apparently strong.  He will have recruited support during his NDP leadership run in BC, especially from the South Asian community.  But he lacks the personal ‘story’ that Mulroney had in Nova Scotia (he attended university) or Turner had in BC.  Maybe there is one that I haven’t heard yet, and it may not matter that much anyway.

Another factor is Kinder Morgan.  On the surface of it, the NDP have this field to themselves.  The NDP Mayor of Burnaby, a formidable force, strongly opposes the pipeline.  The Liberals and the Conservatives are on the other side of the debate.  Assuming the Greens can be kept at bay (a big assumption), the NDP may have room on that issue.  But is the worm turning on this issue? The protest camp has been drawing negative attention.  Are people ‘worn out’ on all of the Kinder politics? We’ll see.

Municipally in Burnaby, Mayor Derek Corrigan has ruled since 2002.  He has built a strong political machine.  For the first time in a long time, he faces a credible challenge this October.  Will that divert energies away from Singh’s campaign? Will the winds of change blow away from NDP candidates?  Opponents hope, but I know from experience that the NDP machine in Burnaby is real.  It will take a lot to defeat them.  Singh has to get the most out of the local organization.

About 46,000 residents voted in 2015.  In a by-election, the turnout is almost always lower.  GOTV will be a huge factor.  Not just the ‘machine’ but the motivation of voters to vote.  Will they turn out for Jagmeet Singh? He will have to build a connection with them.

Kennedy Stewart’s departure may be another factor.  Vancouver mayoralty candidates will be taking shots at Stewart for leaving his post as a Burnaby MP to run in another jurisdiction.  It turns out Stewart was living in Vancouver – how is that going over in Burnaby? Issues like “demovictions” are being raised in Burnaby which could make life uncomfortable for NDPers.  It may all amount to nothing and the status quo may well prevail.  We’ll see how the opposition approaches it.

Singh obviously has the most to win and lose.  A win gets him into the House while getting a weight off his back.  A loss could be curtains for him.

Some Liberals may want Singh to win, preferring his leadership to an unknown alternative that could present itself in the aftermath of a Singh by-election loss.  Liberals ought to be concerned about the Conservatives winning though.  As the 2011 results show, the Conservatives were not far off.  The Liberals could consider not running a candidate, as was the case with the Stephen Harper by-election in 2002.  This would be a bit surprising given their narrow margin of defeat in 2015.  They might also yield the seat to the Conservatives if they fail to contest it.  We will most likely see all parties in it.

It will be an interesting test of the three parties.  We have seen the Liberals steal a Conservative seat in White Rock and the Conservatives steal a Liberal seat in Chicoutimi in recent by-elections.  Local factors played a big role, but this by-election will take on more of a national dimension.

The upshot is that Singh is the favourite but there are a lot of reasons why this may not be an easy ride.  It’s not a slam dunk.  He does not have the advantages of being a sitting prime minister and not especially well-known in British Columbia. The riding was a close call in 2015.  It’s a risk, but politics often rewards the risk-takers.  Or buries them.

 

Taking a look at Chicoutimi

This week’s by-election made me a bit curious about Chicoutimi.  It’s a long way from my perch on the west coast and probably even further in cultural terms. Turns out to be a pretty interesting riding in terms of its political history and volatility.

The riding boundaries have changed over time but I have gone with the main Chicoutimi riding to see the overall trends (purists alert – this is not precise, just directional).  Since Diefenbaker, Chicoutimi has gone Creditiste, Liberal, PC, Bloc, PC, Liberal, NDP, Liberal, and, now, CPC.

Chart 1: Chicoutimi federal election results since 1962

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 12.00.12 PM.png

Here’s a closer look at elections since 2000…

Chart 2: Chicoutimi federal election results since 2000 only

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 12.06.39 PM.png

As the charts show, there has been huge volatility over time.  Parties swing from domination to destruction.  For the NDP, they managed to go from 8% to winning with 38% and back to 9% over four elections.

The Liberal percentage held fairly steady compared to 2015.  Before 2015, the prior Liberal win was with Andre Harvey who had been first elected as a federal PC MP in 1984.  Harvey won in ’84, ’88, and ’97 as PC, but crossed over, and won as a Liberal in 2000. Harvey’s nemesis was the Bloc Quebecois which won in ’93 and again in 2004, 2006, and 2008 before giving way to the one-and-done NDP MP.

The Conservatives were lower than a snake’s belly in 2000 and 2004, and only at 17% last election, but clearly their candidate in the by-election did an excellent job drawing support.  The question is: are we also seeing a consolidation in Quebec between the Liberals on one side and the Conservatives on the other, feasting from the remnants of NDP and Bloc support?

I will leave that to others to judge. Quebec politics is definitely above my pay scale.

On a national basis, if the NDP collapses in Quebec, it will have an impact on their national effort.  The NDP had one-quarter of the vote in Quebec in 2015, with Quebec representing about one-quarter of the national population.  That’s good for about 6% nationally in the popular vote.  Chicoutimi-Le Fjord dropped from 29.7% (above Quebec average for NDP in 2015) to 8.7% in the by-election.  Not to read too much into by-elections, but if the NDP slip to 10% province-wide in the next election, that drops their national share of the vote by about 4%.  That means they are going to look more like a third party that can’t keep up with the Liberals and Conservatives, whereas in 2011 and 2015, they were at the main table.  The Layton legacy is in real jeopardy and that will have consequences across the country unless they can find new voters elsewhere. The Tom Mulcair days are looking pretty good right now.

The Trudeau Liberals unwrap a new seat

Monday’s by-elections can be viewed as a win for the governing Liberals.  They held two seats and won a third from the Conservatives.  In answer to my November 20th post, the voters in South Surrey-White Rock gave like Santa to the Liberals and passed out votes like Scrooge to the Conservatives.

b5kff47cqaeq2op

That present is from South Surrey-White Rock

By-elections are a great opportunity to send a message.  If the government is screwing up, why not vote against them and shake it up?  Evidently, there’s not a lot of voter anger in South Surrey-White Rock.

In Monday’s by-elections, the only riding where the Liberal popular vote actually went up was South Surrey-White Rock, which was the only place the Conservative vote went down.

Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 10.39.35 AM.png

Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives can take some consolation that they reduced the margin-of-victory in Scarborough-Agincourt from 13.9% to 8.9%, and they scraped themselves off the basement floor in Newfoundland, though they haven’t found the stairs yet.  In Saskatchewan, like Alberta, they ran up the score, which is nice, but not very meaningful.  As for the Liberals, I doubt they are too concerned about the ridings where they slipped.  In all three cases, the result looked inevitable, and tough to motivate voters in that case.

South Surrey-White Rock should sting a bit for the Conservatives.  This was a safe seat in 2011 and for decades before that.  In 2011, a backbench Conservative MP edged the Liberal 53% to 19%.  That’s a remarkable turnaround in six years.

The notion of a Liberal win was unthinkable in the summer of 2015.  Liberal strategists had a hard time believing the numbers they were seeing from that riding, against Dianne Watts no less.  They almost beat her despite sacking their candidate halfway through the campaign.  The Liberals had no history of winning there.  They couldn’t even win in Surrey during Trudeaumania I when they took two-thirds of the seats in BC – and the Liberal candidate was “nursery man” Bill Vander Zalm.  Trudeaumania plus the Zalm?  How could they lose?

Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 11.03.39 AM.png

So, there has been a change in South Surrey-White Rock and it remains to be seen if it will be a sea change.   Liberals may have a bit of deja vu when it comes to winning federal by-elections in BC.  In 1998, a Reform MP resigned in Port Moody-Coquitlam and, very similar to South Surrey-White Rock, the Liberals ran a popular mayor, Lou Sekora, while the Reform Party ran a parachute candidate from Langley.  Sekora won in a riding the Liberals had not held in a long, long time.  In 2000, a young whippersnapper by the name of James Moore defeated Sekora and went on to hold the seat for 15 years.

Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 11.39.49 AM.png

Lou Sekora: lost to a young whippersnapper

Let’s not forget about the NDP.  In Monday’s by-elections, their share of vote dropped in all four races.  While none of these seats were NDP targets, they certainly did not demonstrate any grassroots enthusiasm for the new NDP leader.

Congratulations to Gordie Hogg and the Liberals.  We’ll see if success in South Surrey-White Rock is fleeting or not.  Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives did not collapse, on the contrary, they made some incremental progress.  But where it mattered, they could not rally their base to withstand a vigorous effort by the Liberals.  Now that the government is in the back nine of its mandate and showing its resilience, Scheer will not be able to count on the government losing the election – he will have to try to find a way to win it.  A tall order for any Opposition.

NDP between a ROC and a hard place

Until 2011, the NDP was scarcely a factor in Quebec.  Jack Layton redrew the federal political map in that election.

The NDP had been on a slow but steady climb in Quebec under Layton, starting with barely 1% of the popular vote and reaching double digits (barely) in the 2008 election.  The meteoric rise in 2011 masked the fact that NDP gains in the Rest of Canada (ROC) were not as spectacular.  The NDP had nested in the 15% to 20% range from 1965 to 1988 before crashing in the 1990s.  Their historic vote was almost entirely in ROC.

The general elections of 2011 and 2015 are the only two in the NDP’s history where the popular vote was higher in Quebec than ROC.  In 2015, ROC fell back to 18% – in its traditional zone as third party.

Chart 1: NDP popular vote (%) in Quebec and Rest of Canada (ROC)Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 10.43.22 AM.png

Now, with Thomas Mulcair on his way out, does the NDP have a future in Quebec?  It was Mulcair’s by-election victory during the Layton era that helped spark NDP growth.  What will be left of the NDP post-Mulcair?  It risks turning its back on what has become, in the past two elections, a key base of support.

Layton’s high water mark in ROC was 26% (2011).  In order to govern, a new leader will need to eclipse Layton in ROC while renewing support in Quebec post-Mulcair.

A tall order indeed.  Though governing does not appear to be on the NDP’s mind.

 

 

 

 

View from the Left: The Liberals had a better campaign

By Richard Tones and Brenton Walters

There is a litany of perspectives out there on the poor showing of the NDP and Thomas Mulcair in the recent federal election. They range from not being ‘left’ enough and corporate conspiracies to specific moments such as the niqab controversy and debate performances.

orange_crush_cs_open

The Orange Crush came up empty on Election Night.  Why?  Read on.

The problem is that although some have some of these theories have merit, the issues identified were symptoms and not the illness. We suspect our perspective will be seen as simplistic – but it might be just that simple.

The Liberals had a better product.

The Liberal machine put together a campaign that was just shy of perfect in political terms, and New Democrats know it. They had some particular advantages such as a leader with incredible notoriety, an enviable vote efficiency, manageable expectations, and a campaign just long enough to bring it all together.

On election day, voters that had identified as NDP supporters five weeks earlier voted Liberal. That is why Mulcair has 44 seats instead of ’just 35 more than the NDP had in 2011’.

The Niqab

With all due respect to Mulcair, the niqab didn’t matter in terms of electoral fortune – it was just a bump in the road. The results speak for themselves: the Conservative’s numbers barely moved from 2011, the Bloc dropped five points, and the Liberals went up over 20 points.

If the niqab mattered, it was only for a moment, and it wasn’t a vote-determining issue. In Quebec, the NDP finished a full 10 points behind the Liberals, who arguably had the same position.

More than 60% of Quebeckers voted for the two parties (Liberal & NDP) who had a position that apparently 93% of Quebeckers disagreed with. The Bloc started the campaign at 17% according to Nanos and ended at 19.3%, popping up over 20% briefly a full three weeks after the niqab story broke.

More Quebeckers voted for the Liberals and NDP in 2015 than in 2011. They just seemed to be attracted to the Liberals more – niqab be damned.

The NDP Economic Anchor

What has become the traditional attack by Liberals and Conservatives (or the litany of provincial coalitions of the two) is that the NDP doesn’t understand business, will increase taxes, and generally can’t handle money.

We have now seen three elections in a row where the NDP spent an entire campaign trying to prove they were up to the challenge: the 2015 Federal, the 2014 provincial in Ontario, and the 2013 provincial in British Columbia.

In each case the central message of the NDP was, “you can trust us with the bank card.”

The NDP is in the unenviable situation where they are in constant danger of being cut by both edges of the fiscal sword. If they don’t campaign on fiscal responsibility they fail to counter the primary attack on them, and if they do campaign on fiscal responsibility they are said to be saying whatever it takes to get elected – not to mention causing heartburn for their long standing base in labour and other social movements.

We’ve spoken to a lot of folks from within the party who agree that it is a frustrating position to be in and don’t have a particular answer on how to deal with it. Most (including your author) say that they would have run the same economic campaign – with only minor changes.

Our new theory? Ignore it.

In Layton’s speeches and debate performances he rarely rattled off economic data, and when he did bring it up it was always in the context of direct family finances such as bank fees. In contrast, you can’t find a speech from Mulcair (or Horwath, and Dix) that doesn’t talk about big economics.

This will irk some folks, but Trudeau talked about emotional issues at around 30,000 feet while Mulcair spoke about financial planning at about 100 feet. There is an interesting parallel to Layton v. Ignatieff.

In 2011 our roles were reversed

Jack Layton was an amazing leader and that helped greatly, but the product itself was superior to that of the Liberals in 2011.

In 2011, the NDP had a campaign with the same feel as Trudeau’s: it was high level with a larger message, one that appealed to voters without getting stuck in the trenches. We had a budget and lots of numbers, but it never got in the way of the larger discussion of values. We were much better at ignoring our largest negative, fiscal management.

If you want to test this yourself just go ask your ‘average voter’ friend to give you three adjectives on the Liberal and New Democrat campaigns in 2011 and 2015. You will find ‘average voter’ will use some of the same words to describe the Layton and Trudeau campaigns and conversely the same words to describe the Mulcair and Ignatieff campaigns.

Summary

Don’t mistake our mention of ‘product’ as meaning just Layton or Trudeau (or any other leader) alone. Having a leader that is naturally charismatic is incredibly helpful, but the package around them has to be just as dynamic, including a message that is more than a collection of policies – it has to all connect to a larger emotion. In 2015 we weren’t able to do that, while the Liberals were.

They presented voters with a near-perfect package: a charismatic leader, messaging that connected emotionally with a lot of Canadians, and (some) policies that supported that messaging. And so they won.

 

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 3.01.20 PM.png

Richard Tones is Director of Government Relations at Wazuku.  Previously, he had a successful career in the labour movement.  He’s a veteran NDP campaigner, a former aide to BC cabinet ministers, and one-time candidate.  He’s from one of the great hometowns: Maple Ridge, BC.  His full-length bio photo was too edgy for this blog.

 

epzcsrcz_400x400

Brenton Walters’ firm Civil Communications offers campaign and communication services.  He is a veteran campaigner including Tom Mulcair’s leadership and Vision Vancouver.  He was raised in a small logging town on an island and then a small farming/hippy community outside a bigger town on a bigger island on the coast of BC.  Diehard Whitecaps fan.

Thanks to both Richard and Brenton for contributing.  Looking to add more perspectives at Rosedeer.com in the months ahead.

When it comes to Leaders, BC is “Barely Chosen”

The Conservatives will be electing a new leader prior to the next federal election and, who knows, maybe the NDP too.

When it comes to electing Leaders, BC might as well stand for “Barely Chosen”.

I recently wrote on BC’s place in Cabinet since Confederation.  Now, I’ve turned my attention to our place at the head of the table.

In Canada’s history, I count 58 people who have led one of the contending national parties – Liberal, Conservative (including PC, Reform, Alliance), and CCF/NDP.  Only 23 became prime minister.

Of those 58, I count only three British Columbians among them.

Rt. Hon. Kim Campbell remains the only BC-born and raised leader to win a national leadership among the three major parties since parties (not caucuses) began electing leaders.

Not many British Columbians have their painting hanging in the Parliament Buildings

For the purpose of my analysis below, I’m designating John Turner as a British Columbian too.  Well, he has to belong somewhere, and given that he spent his early years in Rossland, was a star student and athlete at UBC, and sought election in Vancouver-Quadra twice as a Leader, I claim him as a British Columbian.  Aside from Campbell and Turner, BC’s performance in national leadership races has been very spotty.

Hold on, we do get in the back door sometimes.  Hon. John Reynolds served as Leader of the Opposition for the Canadian Alliance when Stockwell Day stepped down.   By my math then, three British Columbians have served as Leaders (elected or otherwise) in the past 148 years.

Then there are some on the bubble.  Stockwell Day?  He has as much claim to being a British Columbian perhaps as John Turner.  He spent some his early years in BC and represented BC ridings as leader, yet for the purpose of this analysis, I’m classifying him as Albertan given that he was fresh from serving in the Alberta Cabinet.  He might quarrel with that.

Deborah Grey also spent early years in BC, is related to former BC Premier Boss Johnson, and lives in BC now.  She served as Leader of the Opposition, in between Preston Manning and Stockwell Day.  But she was clearly representing Alberta at that time.

Liberals in BC might claim Justin Trudeau with his BC grandparents and work experience in the province, but you would have to put him in the Quebec column.

Then there’s John A. who represented Victoria for four years as prime minister, but, look, since he hadn’t built the railroad yet, he didn’t even see his riding so, no, he doesn’t count.

I’m tempted to add the federal Social Credit into this analysis to pump up BC’s numbers.  They had an interim leader from BC in the 1960’s.    Maybe the Greens should be considered too, but let’s stick to the major parties.  I don’t have all day here, and neither do you.

Therefore, that’s three leaders from BC, none elected in a general election as Leader.  That compares to 17 leaders from Ontario, 13 leaders from Quebec, 7 from Alberta and Nova Scotia.  The Yukon is breathing down our neck with 2 leaders.

When the time a BC Prime Minister has been in office compared to other provinces, it’s a bit humbling.   BC is at < 1 year combined (Turner and Campbell) while Quebec is 60+ years and counting.  Our neighbour, Alberta, has had three elected prime ministers elected totalling about 15 years.

Some might argue this type of analysis is pointless since national leaders embody more than their home-province.  In some cases, they are very much pan-Canadian and hard to peg regionally.  However, history does illustrate the challenge facing BC-based leaders.

The focus of this piece is regional, but it’s important to note that only 5 of 58 leaders have been women.  Three were NDP – Audrey McLaughlin, Alexa McDonough, and Nycole Turmel.  Two Conservatives: Kim Campbell and Rona Ambrose.  The Liberals have yet to elevate a woman as leader.

The following table shows the leaders (elected and interim) by province by parties.

Table 1: Leaders by party and province, as I see it:

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 1.25.03 PM

Did I miss any?   I bet you might be wondering who some of these people are that I have listed in the table above.  Some of the interim leaders are fairly obscure but, in their time, were important figures and judged by their colleagues to have the gravitas to lead their party in a troubled time, usually after death or a defeat:

  • Daniel MacKenzie from Cape Breton took over the helm of the Liberal Party upon Sir Wilfred Laurier’s death and contested the leadership against MacKenzie King, which he lost.  Hazen Argue acted as interim leader before losing a subsequent leadership convention to Tommy Douglas (Argue left for the Liberals shortly thereafter).
  • There’s Richard Burpee Hanson, a former Mayor of Fredericton and Trade Minister in the RB Bennett government, who served as interim leader after the Conservatives were trounced in the 1940 election.  Not exactly a household name.

    Richard Burpee Hanson: “I’m fading into history much like this photo”

    He gave way to the comeback-kid Arthur Meighen when he returned to national politics after serving as PM twice in the 1920s.  But Hanson had to stick around longer when Meighen lost a by-election, ending his brief return.  New Brunswick’s other leader, Elsie Wayne, also served as an interim when Jean Charest left the post of PC leader to lead the Quebec Liberal Party.

My brother was Leader ???

  • Erik Nielsen (“velcro lips”) was the first leader of a major political party from the North and was also a major force in the early years of Brian Mulroney’s government.  He was the brother of famous actor Leslie Nielsen (if you’re a Millennial, go see Airplane).

Rona Ambrose joins this illustrious list.  She may not be there for a long time but she has her job to do, as did recently Bob Rae, Nycole Turmel, and John Lynch-Staunton (whoever he is).

Leaving aside historical footnotes, when you look at leadership conventions, not only is BC’s winning percentage quite miserable, the lack of participation by BC candidates also stands out, at least in Liberal and Conservative races.  With the NDP, British Columbians keep running … and keep losing.

The Liberals

The BC story is not very compelling when it comes to the Liberal Party of Canada leadership races.  Again, I’m counting John Turner and he accounts for 67% of all BC candidates in the past 148 years.  Joyce Murray is the other in 2013.  That’s three candidates over 10 leadership races totalling 47 contestants.  Well, it could be worse.  Alberta Liberals haven’t found a way to show up at all.  Neither has New Brunswick, PEI or Newfoundland, despite viable leadership candidates over the years like Frank McKenna, Brian Tobin, and Joe or Rob Ghiz.

Table 2: Candidates listed by province for each Liberal convention (winner in bold)

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 3.39.50 PM

For a long time, the Liberals just didn’t have many conventions because their leaders were successful.  MacKenzie King served for 29 years !  He fended off two Nova Scotians in 1919 and never looked back.  Laurier lasted even longer – 32 years!  Aside from the interregnum after Laurier’s death, Laurier and MacKenzie King spanned over 60 years between them.  Incredible.

When WLMK finally retired in 1948, former Saskatchewan Premier Jimmy Gardiner sought the leadership losing to Louis St. Laurent.  Gardiner remains the strongest western candidate (other than Turner) to seek the leadership of the Liberals.

The elected Liberal leadership has been a story of alternation between English Canada (principally Ontario) and Quebec.  St. Laurent to Pearson to Trudeau to Turner to Chretien to Martin to Dion to Ignatieff to Trudeau.  Very few Maritimers or Westerners.  It’s the Upper-Lower Canada show.

In recent times, this reflects the woeful state of the Liberal Party in Western Canada from the mid 1970s to, basically, October 19th.  While there have been regional heavyweights like Lloyd Axworthy, their ambitions were thwarted, in part, by a lack of regional caucus colleagues and party infrastructure.  For many years, senators not MPs called the shot in western provinces for the Liberals.  That is not a good starting point for a leadership race.  John Turner, for all of his BC roots, drew heavily from his Bay Street and Montreal power bases.

Joyce Murray: representin’

Hedy Fry waved the flag in 2006, deciding to withdraw before the convention, choosing to endorse Bob Rae.

Joyce Murray finished second among six contenders in 2013, though Justin Trudeau walked away with over 80% support on the first ballot.  In both Fry and Murray’s case, they were putting a stake in the ground for British Columbia which no one, but for Turner, had ever done in the party’s history.

The Conservatives

This analysis encompasses the Conservatives, the Progressive Conservatives, the Reform Party, and the Canadian Alliance.  These are all parties that have governed or acted as the Official Opposition.

Table 3: Candidates listed by province for each conservative (all types) convention (winner in bold)

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 9.19.55 PM

Of the 16 leadership conventions among Canada’s conservative parties since 1927, there have been eight BC-based candidates – a much stronger showing by British Columbians than in Liberal races.  They make up 9 candidacies out of a pool of 75 contestants.

Howard Green: was said to walk the hallways with a Bible in one hand and a stiletto in the other

In 1942, two British Columbians challenged for the leadership, losing to incoming leader John Bracken from Manitoba.  HH Stevens had been a major force in RB Bennett’s government prior to a bitter break whereupon he led his own party – the isolationist Reconstruction Party – in the 1935 election, surpassing the fledgling CCF and gaining 8.7% nationally.  He split the vote in the process and decimated the Conservatives.  He won only one seat – his own.  Howard Green had a long career in Parliament ultimately serving as Minister of External Affairs under Rt. Hon. John Diefenbaker.  Both Stevens and Green were from Vancouver.

E. Davie Fulton from Kamloops challenged for the leadership twice, in 1956 against Diefenbaker and again in 1967, when he sought to succeed Dief.  He lost to Nova Scotian Robert Stanfield.  Fulton would serve as Justice Minister but returned to BC in an ill-fated stint as provincial Conservative leader where he was trounced by WAC Bennett.  In both conventions, he finished third and was probably BC’s best hope as prime minister material for decades.

Rt. Hon. John Diefenbaker and two-time leadership rival Hon. E. Davie Fulton

Fulton’s leadership runs deserve attention.  He was a national figure who, as Justice Minister, had attracted the best and the brightest.  A Catholic, and bilingual, he worked hard to develop support in Quebec.  As Minister, he unsuccessfully proposed the Fulton-Favreau formula to bring about the patriation of the Constitution.  In 1967, he had the support of future prime ministers Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney.  He was seen as a modern man when he lost to Diefenbaker, and perhaps missed his window when he lost in 1967, though still only in his early 50s.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 9.35.32 PMAn interesting footnote from the 1967 PC convention was the candidacy of Mary Walker Sawka.  Not much is written about her candidacy but it appears she was a filmmaker from Vancouver.  Her candidacy was last-minute and she garnered two votes.  The Globe & Mail cruelly reported that Walker Sawka “looked like a housewife who had mistakenly wandered on stage while looking for a bingo game”.  She is the first BC woman to seek the leadership of a major political party.

Moving on to the 1976 PC leadership convention, Vancouver South MP John Fraser was one of 11 candidates seeking to replace Robert Stanfield.  Stanfield had three runs at prime minister, losing to Rt. Hon. Pierre Trudeau each time, once by a hair.

Fraser, at the time, was in his early 40s.  He lasted two ballots, finishing eighth, and bringing his support to Joe Clark.  Clark started that convention third with 12% of the votes on the first ballot and prevailed when he garnered down ballot support, leaping past Quebec frontrunners Claude Wagner and Brian Mulroney.  Fraser went on to serve as the senior BC minister in both the Clark and Mulroney governments, prior to becoming Speaker of the House of Commons.

British Columbians sat out the 1983 leadership tilt.  Many BC Red Tories stuck with Joe, while a lot of ‘young turks’ from BC supported Mulroney.

The BC branch was very united behind Kim Campbell in 1993.  Campbell had resigned her provincial seat mid-term in 1988 to run federally.  She had had enough of the Vander Zalm government and sought to replace Hon. Pat Carney.  She won Vancouver Centre (back when PCs could win in the urban core) and was appointed Minister of Justice.  She built a considerable profile and went on to serve as Minister of National Defence.

The Mulroney government was deeply unpopular in its second term.  Following its 1988 re-election on the strength of Free Trade, it brought in the controversial GST (which no government will remove now) and paid a heavy political price.  Layered on was the ongoing constitutional quagmire following the failure of Meech Lake in 1990.  The 1992 national referendum to approve the Charlottetown Accord failed badly and sealed Mulroney’s fate.

Unfortunately for successors, he did not leave a lot of time for a leadership convention in advance of a general election.  Five years were almost up.  While there was some early hopes for Campbell following her convention win over Jean Charest, her support wilted over the summer and fall.  She was annihilated by the Chretien Liberals, and with that, her leadership of the party ended.

For once, a BC born (Port Alberni) and raised politician had climbed to the top in a party’s leadership process.  While the outcome was clearly a disappointment for her, Rt. Hon. Kim Campbell remains the exception in 148 years of Canadian politics not only as a BC prime minister, but also as the only female prime minister.

Two more British Columbians round out the slate of those seeking the leadership of conservative parties.  Keith Martin from the Victoria-area sought the leadership of the Canadian Alliance in 2000, finishing back in the pack.

The other contender is a bit of a stretch.  Stan Roberts sought the leadership of the Reform Party against Preston Manning in 1987.  He didn’t make it to the ballot but he was instrumental in the formation of the Reform Party.  I’m including him because he was an interesting character.  A Liberal MLA in Manitoba.  A head of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.  A VP of Simon Fraser University.  A candidate for the BC Liberal leadership in 1984, losing to Art Lee.  A federal Liberal candidate in Quebec in 1984 (unsuccessful).  And finally a contestant for the Reform leadership.  I will count him as a BCer for the purposes of this list.   We need all the help we can get.

Of the 16 total conventions across the conservative movement, Albertans have won 44% of them.  Rt. Hon. RB Bennett was first then a long wait until 1976 when Joe Clark won the PC leadership (and he would win it again in 1998).  Stockwell Day, Preston Manning, Stockwell Day, and Stephen Harper round out the list.  Alberta has had a strong run in modern times and possibly more to come.  Having Albertan Rona Ambrose as Interim Leader seems to be rubbing it in!

Unlike the Liberals, conservatives prefer to go outside Ontario and Quebec, only choose four of 16 from Upper/Lower Canada and not an Ontarian since 1948.

The CCF / NDP

British Columbians have been a part of seven of eleven CCF/NDP conventions since 1932.  The first two leaders – JS Wordsworth and MJ Coldwell – were elected unanimously. (Technical point: I’m counting leadership challenges to incumbent leaders in 1973 and 2001).

Table 4: Candidates listed by province for each CCF/NDP convention (winner in bold)

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 10.28.07 PM

Frank Howard reels in 50 lb ling cod near Klemtu. He reeled in a lot of votes over the years too.

BC’s presence at CCF/NDP conventions starts with Frank Howard, a strong Trade Unionist who hailed from northwest BC and served as an MP for 17 years and, later, MLA from Skeena.

Howard’s story is a fascinating one and is recorded eloquently by Tom Hawthorn in Howard’s obituary.  He was a fighter who rose from “Cell Block to Centre Block” – an ex-con from the humblest of roots who fought hard for his constituents.  He would lose the leadership race in 1971 to David Lewis.

The 1975 NDP convention that elected Ed Broadbent was the scene of the strongest bid by a British Columbian to lead a major party, at that time.  Rosemary Brown, then an NDP MLA  from Vancouver, finished second with 41% on the final ballot.  The first Black politician to seek the leadership of a major party, Brown received many accolades after she retired from elected politics in 1986, including an Order of Canada and Order of BC.  She was also featured on a Canada Post stamp.

Ed Broadbent had a long run as leader, but when he left, British Columbians jumped in.  The 1989 convention saw three west coasters jump in: former BC Premier Dave Barrett, MP Ian Waddell, and grassroots member Roger Lagasse.  Barrett is the only BC premier to ever seek the leadership of a federal party.

A great read on Dave Barrett’s government, by Geoff Meggs and Rod Mickleburgh

Barrett was a strong contender, but lost to Yukoner Audrey McLaughlin.  McLaughlin had been elected in a by-election to replace “velcro lips” and had a different style than Barrett,  setting up a classic showdown. Of 2400 votes cast, only 80 separated the two on the first ballot and even fewer after the second ballot (Waddell and Lagasse dropped after the first ballot).  This convention had some candidates, including MP Simon de Jong, wearing an invisible mic.  To the consternation of many participants, CBC TV revealed the inner workings including backroom negotiations between de Jong and Barrett.  de Jong was heard to say, “Mommy, what should I do?”  He went to McLaughlin, who defeated Barrett 55% to 45% on the final ballot.  Another close call for a BC candidate.

Svend got a lot of media in his day

McLaughlin tanked in the 1993 convention, hampered by unpopular NDP governments in BC and Ontario.  Of the two remaining NDP MPs in BC, one was the brilliant yet polarizing Svend Robinson.  Svend – any observer in BC would know who you were talking about – was at the forefront of major issues concerning the environment, aboriginal rights, and right-to-die.  He also had a reputation as an excellent constituency MP.  In 1995, he was 43 years old but had already served 16 years in Parliament.   Herschel Hardin from Vancouver was also a candidate in the process.

The 1995 convention had an incredible outcome.  For the first time in NDP history, a British Columbian led after the first ballot.  Svend had 38% to Alexa McDonough’s 33% and Lorne Nystrom’s 32% (Hardin was part of the process but didn’t make it to the first ballot).

Svend sized up the result and decided that there was no way he could win.  In an unprecedented move, he withdrew from the race – despite leading – handing the leadership to McDonough.  And so went another BC leadership candidate.

The 2003 NDP convention that elected Jack Layton did not see a significant BC presence, with only grassroots member Bev Meslo offering her name.

Nathan Cullen: Next up?

In 2012, MP Nathan Cullen emerged as a contender through the course of the campaign, taking on favourites Tom Mulcair and past-party president Brian Topp.  Cullen rose from 16% to 20% to 25% on consecutive ballots but that’s where it ended.  He couldn’t make it past Brian Topp to get to the showcase showdown.

BC’s immediate future in leadership races

As NDPers ponder their fate and their future, they may well grant Tom Mulcair another chance.  He delivered more seats than any other leader except Layton, but clearly fell far short of expectations.  If he does move on, BC may well be in the heart of another national leadership race with Nathan Cullen surely a leading contender.  MPs from BC make up almost a third of the NDP caucus which puts a BC candidate in a good position.

The Conservatives also face a choice.  Once again, Alberta is in a strong position having elected 29 of their 99 MPs, while BC’s Conservative caucus slipped to 10.  Albertans Jason Kenney and Michelle Rempel are two candidates that spring to mind as contenders, along with Ontario’s Kellie Leitch and Tony Clement, Quebec’s Maxime Bernier, and Nova Scotia’s Peter Mackay.  Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall ruled himself out.

But what about a BC candidate?  My view is that it would be good for Conservatives in BC to have an oar in the water in this race, if for nothing else but to show up.

If this lengthy analysis shows anything, British Columbians are less likely to show up to a Liberal or Conservative race, and when they do, the results speak for themselves.  While the Conservatives have been more active than Liberals, as the third largest province, there should be someone in that race.  And the next NDP race.  And when Justin retires in 2035 (because it’s 2035), there should be a British Columbian in that race too.

Ed Fast – you led the TPP negotiations.  What say you?  Dianne Watts – you led the fastest growing city in Canada – a strong urban, female voice – what your party needs.  Cathy McLeod – a former small town mayor who was re-elected in a tough seat.  Alice Wong – putting a Chinese candidate on the national ballot, and, frankly, a constituency where the Conservatives have a strategic advantage.  James Moore – c’mon, you wanna work at a law firm and miss this?  Now firmly ensconced as a British Columbian, Stockwell Day would be a major contender if he stepped up, but Stock would likely say that the Party needs renewal.  A business case can be made for many BC Conservatives to show up on the ballot, for BC’s sake, not to mention their own electoral hopes here.

In conclusion, BC is a tough place to represent in Ottawa.   The travel imposes a heavy toll on individuals let alone their families.  Serious kudos are deserved for anyone who strives to lead from British Columbia.  My hat goes off to those who have tried whether they were serious bids or quixotic ones.  Combing through history to write this piece, I am struck by the quality of candidates from BC who didn’t make it.

The ambivalence of British Columbians to federal politics may in fact be the greatest handicap to success.

When 148 years are counted up, among born and raised British Columbians, only Kim Campbell can truly say that she made it to the mountaintop, as brief as it was.  Hopefully we’ll see more try.