MACLEAN'S Canada Report

How to lose an election by trying very, very hard

October 1 1969
MACLEAN'S Canada Report

How to lose an election by trying very, very hard

October 1 1969

How to lose an election by trying very, very hard

EMERY BARNES loped along the beach at English Bay that day in August as if he were back on the football field, inviting the beards and bikinis to a Soul Rally of politics and music. More sedately behind him, his partner said to a bare back sunning against a log, “Hello, I’m Bill Deverell, your NDP candidate . . .” Bare back lifted, Joe Killoran grinned: “Yeah, I work for you . . . Poll 92 is tremendous, Poll 60 is poor.”

Barnes and Deverell were the NDP candidates in the two-member riding of Vancouver Centre, Killoran one of 6,000 unpaid NDP canvassers in British Columbia’s election campaign. The NDP is chronically short of money but not of enthusiastic young workers. It has developed relentless canvassing into a supremely efficient organization for getting the vote out, the NDP’s unique political “thing.” Vancouver Centre was an example.

The riding is downtown Vancouver. Its listed 46,362 voters are affluent AngloSaxons in English Bay penthouses, skidroad drunks in flophouses, pensioners in West End rooms, about 10,000 Chinese and 1,500 working-class Italian families. Social Credit MLAs Herb Capozzi, 44, club owner, and Evan Wolfe, 47, car dealer, were elected in 1966 with NDP opponents about 700 and 1,100 votes behind.

Capozzi, onetime general manager of the BC Lions football club, and Wolfe ran a lavish campaign. They donated a color TV to an old folks’ home, gave free ice cream and hot dogs to 2,000 in a park, put out 20,000 copies of a 45 rpm record extolling themselves, advertised, built a play park with 200 helpers.

Emery Barnes was a popular American defensive end under Capozzi. Now a Canadian, the first Negro nominated by any

party in BC, the friendly giant (six-foot-six, 240 pounds) was new to politics but a widely known social worker. Bill Deverell, 32, a lawyer known for defending hippies, was more experienced; he had lost in the last two federal elections. Their budget was $13,000. From a dingy former furniture store on Granville Street, Gordon Brigden, NDP organizer in Ontario, ran the 160-odd canvassers of the 154 polls. Mrs. Enid Page, of Ottawa, helped. Brigden’s miniskirted, sandaled army invaded skid road’s warrens and beachside highrises to canvass people’s intentions and to distribute literature, rather than to convert. They returned at least four times, until they had every possible voter sized up, on cards. They distributed 90,000 leaflets, in English, Chinese and Italian, 1,500 car-bumper strips, 3,000 lawn signs, 1,000 window cards.

Barnes and Deverell toured the beach, shook hands outside supermarkets and at bus stops. In Gastown, they toured seedy pubs, where sad, drunk people said, “I’m with you, Emery,” but were unlikely to re-

member. They lunched in Chinatown with Tom Berger, whose fortune cookie told him: “Realize conditions have changed.” Berger had privately predicted 27 NDP seats.

On election day, 12,000 volunteers were at work in BC, as drivers of 5,000 cars, scrutineers, runners. About 400 were in Vancouver Centre. They checked and rechecked on straggling voters. Clive Arnold was pressed to drink loganberry wine at 8.30 a.m. by a skid-road denizen who intended to vote but was worried that an NDP government might create a depression. Andy Miles found a man drunk in bed, got him to Poll 52, held him upright while he voted and took him home. Another threw clothes on a woman who answered her door bare from the waist up.

Barnes and Deverell lost, by about 1,200 votes. At a wake in the Fisherman’s Hall, the Vancouver Centre crew bought drinks at three for a dollar (Social Crediters drank free champagne at the Bayshore Inn) and sang We Shall Overcome. Twenty-six new members were enrolled, and Emery Barnes exhorted them all to “keep the faith.” At midnight he was telling the dwindling faithful: “Bill and I have a plan ...”

A bleary voice shouted emptily, “On to Saskatchewan” (where an election is expected in 1970 or 1971) but no one took up the cry. In the light of the province-wide debacle, Barnes and Deverell had done rather well. Their organization and people power were grand, but they were beaten by an idea — W. A. C. Bennett’s idea of the “Godless Marxists” — that was expertly, massively and expensively propagated. An idea well sold had beaten the best of organization, party president John Laxton admitted. It was a problem that the whole party would have to face in its Winnipeg debate. □