Run for parliament and you invite exhaustion, frustration. An ex-MP tells why people do it

August 1 1968


Run for parliament and you invite exhaustion, frustration. An ex-MP tells why people do it

August 1 1968


Run for parliament and you invite exhaustion, frustration. An ex-MP tells why people do it

ALTHOUGH I was not myself a candidate in the recent election, I could not help thinking, as the campaign progressed, of the 967 who were.

Why did they do it? Why did I, in earlier elections? There are easier ways of spending six or seven weeks than getting up at dawn, standing at factory gates and bus stops, ringing doorbells, attending coffee parties, giving speeches and pep talks, saying the same things over and over and over again, glassy-eyed, bone-weary.

Not that there aren't satisfactions in campaigning. If you enjoy politics (and you shouldn't be in it unless you do) then you enjoy meeting people, selling yourself and your ideas (or your party's ideas), even listening occasionally. But there really isn't much time for listening and I'm always suspicious of candidates who say they learn a lot about people and their problems on the campaign trail. You don't. You may get a general impression that taxes are high, or that working in a tannery is unpleasant, or that beef is down, but you don't have time for the careful probing and patient listening that constitute “learning about people and their problems." Weekends at home in your constituency — if and when you're an MP — teach you far more than the hellos and good-bys of an election campaign. Your job as a candidate is to get

Pauline Jewett. MP for Northumberland (Ont.) /963-65, is Director of the Institute of Canadian Studies at Carleton University. Ottawa.

exposure, to have as many people as possible see you and know who you are, able to identify you with your party or leader, maybe even identify you as a person in your own right. Exposure is the exhausting all.

To WHAT END? The chief reason. I think, why people go into politics is that they want (or need) the material and psychic benefits that come from being an MP. By material benefits 1 do not mean only the celebrated $18,000. There were just as many aspirants before the $18,000 as there have been since and there will probably be about the same number (and of about the same calibre) when the pay reaches $35,000 (as it certainly should). Nor do I think that more than a very few candidates are anticipating a time when their efforts will be rewarded by a seat in the Senate or membership on some board or commission. What many of them do anticipate, however, are the enhanced reputations and extra incomes that their forays into politics may bring their law practices, insurance businesses, and so on. Lawyers are particularly prone to this type of anticipation, which is one reason why so many of them are always in the running.

More important are the psychic rewards that come from being an MP — the prestige of having the initials after one’s name, the satisfaction of performing a wide range of services for one's area or people, the public recognition that may attend one’s efforts, the possibility of influencing government or party policy, of helping shape the destiny of the nation. For one candidate the dominant motive may be the desire to “run the country,” for another simply the wish to serve it, for yet another the hope of creating a better society. There may be a mixture of motives in any one candidate or the candidates of a particular party may lean more in one direction than in another. It is often thought, for example, that NDP candidates run from “purer” motives than do those of the two older parties.

THE CANDIDATES I find particularly interesting, in any election, are those who want to get into parliament to realize their policy views. 'They are what I call policy-oriented or idea candidates and they usually have fairly strong opinions about the direction they want their party and the country to move in. I am thinking of such people as Walter Gordon, Tom Kent, Maurice Lamontagne, prominent in the Liberal Party of the early 1960s. Such candidates may not always be an unmixed blessing to their leader (Mackenzie King must have been just as glad when J. S. Woodsworth said “no” to his wooing), but they do give their party a somewhat larger purpose than being simply a vehicle for the attainment of office. So let’s look at the idea candidates in the

recent campaign (excluding, in this article, members of the last House).

First, what were the expectations? For the Liberal Party they were high. Pierre Elliott Trudeau was himself a candidate of this type in 1965. As Minister of Justice after 1967 he vigorously pursued his policy goals, and when he became leader of the Liberal Party in 1968 he was still a policy-oriented man, particularly on the constitutional question. It was widely anticipated, therefore, that he would attract into the party a number of people who were as concerned about policy as he was. Indeed, he had already done so in his run for the leadership. The universities, at least in Englishspeaking Canada, were hotbeds of Trudeau Liberalism.

Robert Lome Stanfield, on the other hand, was at no time, by any stretch of the imagination, an idea man. His motives for going into politics, first provincially, then federally, must have been almost entirely public-service ones. Even during campaigns he could not bring himself to deal effectively with issues. How, then, it was argued, could he hope to attract to his party’s banner any fresh new candidates interested primarily in Conservative policy?

As for Tommy Douglas, the leader of the New Democratic Party, the expectation was that he would have trouble holding onto his old candidates, whatever their orientations, let alone attracting new ones.

EXPECTATIONS ARE usually belied, however, and in the case of all three parties they were. Trudeau did not, in fact, attract a new group of idea people. There was Eric Kierans, of course, an idea man through and through, but one got the impression that Trudeau was not very keen on Kierans’ running, even though he was by far the most exciting newcomer in the party. Other idea candidates — Mark MacGuigan and Martin O'Connell in Ontario, Otto Lang in Saskatchewan, Lloyd Axworthy in Manitoba — had, for the most part, been drawn into politics during the Pearson years and had run (albeit unsuccessfully), either federally or provincially or both, during those years. Few among the new Liberal candidates — men such as Ray Perrault in British Columbia, Nick Taylor in Alberta, James Richardson in Manitoba — seemed to have views on policy. They were all good men and true but hardly thinkers.

Meanwhile, in the Progressive Conservative Party, a veritable rash of new candidates, many deeply concerned about policy, appeared. There were Duff Roblin in Manitoba; Dalton Camp, M. W. McCutcheon and Earl Brownridge in Ontario; Marcel Faribault in Quebec. They may not always have agreed with one another —men of strong views rarely do—but they certainly exploded the idea that a non-policyoriented leader could not attract policyoriented candidates.

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Finally, the New Democratic Party was able to produce an even better slate of candidates than it had done before, with a “liberal” sprinkling of academics, Douglas Fisher for ballast, and Pierre Berton on the sidelines, cheering.

Why did the Liberal Party, in particular, belie expectations? It may be that a party in power is more likely to attract power-oriented candidates than policy-oriented ones. It may be, too, that with so many of the Liberal nominations hotly contested, the spoils inevitably went to the best - known, best - organized, best all - round men, and such men are not likely to be primarily policy-oriented. In the Toronto riding of Davenport, for example, the most “ideological” of the contestants, Stephen Clarkson of the University of Toronto, was thoroughly outstripped by a popular alderman, Charles Caccia (and a few others). Nor did Trudeau try, as Stanfield and Douglas did, to entice new talents into the field. On the contrary, he stated many times early in the campaign that he would be happy with whatever the local associations sent him through the wills of their convention majorities.

There is, of course, a great deal to be said for local autonomy and the people’s choice. But there is also a great deal to be said for a party leader taking some pains to ensure that the application of the principle of majority rule does not always squeeze out, in every constituency, the political “outsiders” — members of such important political minorities as Italians in Montreal, Negroes in Nova Scotia, women everywhere, Canadian Indians, the policy-oriented. Majorities can be persuaded to accept such candidates, but they do need to be persuaded and the potential candidates cannot always do it alone.

The crucial question, 1 suppose, is whether Pierre Trudeau really wanted to be surrounded by candidates with policy views. Lester Pearson rather enjoyed this, which is why he encouraged such people as Trudeau to run. Perhaps Trudeau had too fixed an orientation of his own to give similar encouragement. ★