*Parts of this post were researched using Gnowit’s free parliamentary candidate-tracking tool. This tool can be accessed here.
For reasons that will soon become obvious, I considered calling this post “Top 5 Parliamentary-Candidate Scandals So Far”. It’s still August, and already there are more than a handful to choose from. That said, I’ve decided to focus my exploration of some the country’s most newsworthy candidates on a legitimate question. How much attention should government relations (GR) practitioners be paying to parliamentary candidates?
Of course, every Canadian planning to vote will benefit from getting to know the candidates in his riding. But from a professional perspective, it may not seem like a priority. After all, the power of an individual MP is somewhat limited, especially in a system where party discipline is paramount.
In reality, there’s good reason for GR practitioners to get to know those campaigning in this year’s election. Taking early steps towards connecting with relevant candidates – from the influential cabinet minister who’s running again, to the first-timer who is intently focused on a few specific issues – could be beneficial.
Good advocacy starts early
It only makes sense that practitioners who start strategizing now will be better prepared for advocacy work come October 19. In the meantime, there’s no shortage of potential clients wanting to build their own preemptive strategies; if you’re a consultant, you can take advantage of this opportunity by knowing this year’s election inside and out.
First off, to state the obvious, the current campaign will be long and unpredictable. Much has been written (on the Gnowit blog and elsewhere) about the lesson consultancy firms learned when the NDP took power in Alberta: no outcome can be taken for granted.
This is something to consider as the election date approaches. Many GR practitioners feel confident in the knowledge that they know who the government’s movers and shakers are. But things can change overnight – and, in a race like this one, they very well may. For this reason, a measured approach – one that considers the likelihood of several different outcomes – may serve practitioners and those they advocate for best.
Where might you start looking for the information on which to base these projected scenarios? The election of a particular MP can mean the difference between a party win or loss, so asking questions about these individuals seems as good a place to start as any.
What’s happening with the candidates in swing ridings? Are any of the most likely contenders controversial? Might they alienate the public or members of their own party? On the flipside, are they connected to highly-influential party members or bureaucrats? This information can help GR practitioners predict future appointments and begin to form strategies for building crucial relationships.
The MP’s complex role
Some GR practitioners don’t give parliamentary candidates much consideration. But a member of parliament is more than a single vote in a crowded house. Their voices carry a good deal of weight when it comes to issues affecting their ridings.
Say, for example, your advocating for a client who is looking to build a resort on land that belongs to the federal government. In order to lease this land, you and your client will probably have to prove that the project will meet certain criteria (that it will benefit nearby communities, that it won’t be devastating to the surrounding environment, etc). The MP for the riding in which this land exists could be your greatest supporter, or your biggest obstacle.
The complexity of interactions between different levels of government may also come into play. An organization that wants to build a structure with cultural value – a museum, for example – may look for funding from the relevant municipal, provincial and federal governments. If you were an advocate for this group, you would increase your chances of acquiring funding by contacting a variety of different decision-makers, which (as in the last example) would very likely include the MP for the riding that contains the potential site of the museum.
Many First Nations issues also necessitate interaction between different levels of government. Advocacy professionals working on behalf of First Nations groups may want to approach specific MPs, since many of the issues affecting these groups fall under federal jurisdiction.
My point is this: savvy practitioners look at every piece of the puzzle. Very often, this means learning about (and, subsequently, forming relationships with) members of parliament in the ridings where they do advocacy work.
Candidate’s we’ve been watching
Of course, keeping tabs on every candidate would be a daunting task. But following the political developments surrounding those in swing ridings and the ridings where you do advocacy work shouldn’t be too difficult.
Here at Gnowit, we’ve been following the political developments surrounding many different candidates by listening to what the media is saying about them. More than a few individuals have stood out. Some highlight national election trends; others are linked to unusual situations that could impact their parties.
In the spirit of learning as much as possible about parliamentary candidates this election season, we present information on 5 candidates we’ve been talking about around the Gnowit office.
Please note: to see a one-page overview of the news coverage surrounding a candidates (including analytics and clickable visuals), simply click their name below.
Not everyone was thrilled when Melanie Joly won the Liberal nomination for Montreal’s Ahuntsic-Cartierville. At least two of the candidates that ran against Joly accused the party of manipulating the democratic process, delaying the nomination meeting to give her an unfair advantage. Formerly, Joly was a popular mayoral candidate, and she has what some commentators have referred to as “star quality”.
Will the Liberals be hurt by their alleged attempts to oust dedicated candidates in favour of those who are the more high profile? Those with a professional stake in the election will be watching Liberal ridings across the country to see what happens.
In Ahuntsic-Cartierville, there are other specific considerations. News stories have shone a light on Joly’s friendship with leader Justin Trudeau, which should be of interest to many businesses, organizations, and GR professionals who will be working in the region.
Conservative MP Mark Adler has been criticized for calling attention to the fact that he is the “son of a holocaust survivor”. The York Center MP displayed the phrase on his recent reelection poster, causing reactions that ranged from amusement to offense. Many people – including journalists – took to social media to accuse him of exploiting a heinous tragedy.
Last year, the politician was criticized for his attempts to get into a Stephen Harper photo op at a holy site in Jerusalem. Adler reportedly called the picture a “million dollar shot”. This story has resurfaced in the wake of anger over his campaign materials.
How might this impact the big picture? There are several battleground ridings where Jewish voters could make all the difference. The Harper government’s policies regarding Israel have been wholeheartedly embraced by many people in these communities. Others have expressed anger over being treated as “one issue voters.” These attitudes will contribute to the outcomes of elections in these ridings, and similar debates will continue to occur in Canada and on the world stage.
Yet another Liberal candidate (former candidate, in this case) has been dealing with controversy. Ala Buzerba – who was running in the Calgary-Nose Hill riding – withdrew her candidacy after a series of offensive tweets she’d sent out as a teenager were unearthed. Buzreba, who’s 21, has apologized.
Since its creation in 1997, Calgary-Nose Hill has been staunchly Conservative. The probability that Buzreba would have won in the riding was therefore fairly low. But this story is interesting because it highlights the emergence of digital communications as a threat to politicians. Within days of Buzreba’s apology, a Conservative candidate (William Moughrabi) from another riding deleted his social media accounts when they were found to contain violent and sexist content. Consultants who specialize in government relations may want to study the public’s reactions to such events to understand their impacts on politicians and party hopefuls.
A recent scandal may have indirectly tarnished the image of Joe Peschesolidio, the Liberal candidate for B.C.’s Steveston-Richmond East. Wendy Yuan – another Liberal contender for the riding – claimed her candidacy was blocked by a Trudeau fundraiser to make way for Peschesolido. So far, two prominent B.C. Liberals have resigned in protest.
Steveston-Richmond East has a history of voting Conservative, and Peschesolido formerly belonged to the right-wing Canadian Alliance. These credentials could help the party within the riding; on the other hand, the surrounding scandal could have the opposite effect.
Another factor to consider – Yuan had the support of much of the sizable Mandarin-speaking population in the community. According to the Georgia Straight, any damage the Liberals may have incurred due to these events has likely spread to nearby ridings that have a Mandarin-speaking community (such as Richmond Centre).
What will this all mean for Steveston-Richmond East, the Liberal party, and (possibly) Canada? Stay tuned.
Strategic voting is a hot topic this election. While groups hoping to oust the conservatives are encouraging people to “vote together” (thus ensuring the non-conservative vote isn’t split), party leaders are discouraging this strategy.
This is exactly why Gary Beamish, Green Party candidate for Peterborough-Kawartha, made headlines when he announced his intention to drop out of the race to avoid splitting the vote in his riding. Beamish has encouraged his supports to vote NDP, but the Green Party association in his riding is having none of it.
Beamish isn’t the first to try this strategy, but given the reactions of party leaders during this campaign, it’s unlikely many other candidates will. Still, it will be interesting to see how much give-and-take occurs between the Liberal and NDP parties. Trudeau has nixed the idea of a coalition, but many Canadians have not forgotten Rachel Notley’s lesson. Never say never.
Please note: all candidate information was found through Gnowit’s free candidate-tracking tool. To see an overview for any parliamentary candidate’s news coverage – complete with analytics and clickable visuals – click here.
Feature Image: Alex Guibord