Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Defeat doesn't have to spell heartbreak for wannabe MPs

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
August 27, 2008


The Prime Minister hints he is about to call a snap election.

If so, the hustings beckon. The writ will be dropped, hands shaken, babies kissed, ballots cast.

Lots of candidates can be expected to toss their hats into the ring.

The voters toss most of them back.

A total of 1,634 citizens put their names forward two years ago as candidates for the House of Commons. Only 308 won election as members of Parliament.

That means a lot of tears on election night for wannabe MPs.

The heartbreak does not have to be all bad.

“Running and losing narrowly is the best thing that could have happened to me,” says Bruce Hallsor.

Eight years ago, Mr. Hallsor was the Canadian Alliance standard-bearer in Victoria. His assignment: Knock off David Anderson, the Liberal environment minister.

Like so many novice candidates, Mr. Hallsor entered the political arena for idealistic reasons.

“I wanted to fight to improve our democracy,” he said.

A lawyer by profession and a monarchist by nature, he felt the political system needed to be reformed to better capture expressions of the public will.

Lawyers are about as popular with the public as reporters, and it's hard to think of a legal occupation with lower approval than politics.

So, he stepped onto the campaign trail with trepidation.

“I got a couple of nasty e-mails and a couple of cranky phone calls,” he said. “I was prepared for a lot more than I got.”

To his surprise, he found campaigning to be unlike what many might expect. Those who opposed his party more often chose to avoid confrontation, a typically polite Canadian response. Meanwhile, supporters slapped his back, offered high fives and told him he was doing a great job.

“It's a big ego boost for anyone who runs,” he said.

For five weeks of the campaign, he found every minute of every day scheduled, from a prayer breakfast to the opening of an art gallery to a gathering of a gardening club. To run for office was to be immersed in an intensive tutorial. He learned he did not know nearly as much about the city as he thought he did.

From its earliest days, the federal riding of Victoria has dispatched interesting characters to the nation's capital.

In 1872, electors sent 29-year-old businessman Henry Nathan and 46-year-old newspaper owner Amor de Cosmos (the former William Alexander Smith) to Ottawa. The two Liberals had been acclaimed in a by-election held the previous year when British Columbia joined Confederation.

John A. Macdonald was elected to Parliament by Victoria voters in 1878 during a campaign in which he placed his name on the ballot in three constituencies. He also won in Marquette, Man., but was defeated in his home of Kingston.

A life-sized statue of the first prime minister stands at the south entrance of Victoria City Hall.

Over the years, the riding has had long runs of Conservative and Liberal representation. Two years ago, former city councillor Denise Savoie won the seat in the wake of Mr. Anderson's retirement.

Ms. Savoie had defeated David Turner, a former mayor, for the NDP nomination. Mr. Turner had twice unsuccessfully contested the riding, describing Mr. Anderson as “Ottawa's man in Victoria, not Victoria's man in Ottawa.”

Mr. Hallsor, a centennial baby, was only nine months old when Mr. Anderson was first elected to Parliament. (Incidentally, Mr. Anderson won a silver medal in rowing at the 1960 Olympics. Will any of today's Olympians some day seek office?) The newcomer knew he was an underdog.

One late poll had him trailing by one percentage point. Another had him ahead by the same slim margin. Most pundits' verdict: too close to call.

He remembers lying awake in bed beside his wife on the eve of election day thinking, “One way or another, thank God it'll be over tomorrow.”

The next day, he voted early, addressed campaign workers at a pep rally and delivered a hot lunch to scrutineers at the poll, returning later in the day with cookies and juice boxes.

A room for the victory party was booked at the Holiday Inn, where he also rented a room to watch the returns with friends and family. No surprises. Early on, he knew he had not delivered an upset.

He made a concession speech, then paid homage at the victor's party.

The celebrating Liberals cheered their vanquished opponent. Mr. Hallsor drank one of Mr. Anderson's beers.

The sting of defeat was tempered by his own party's failure to win a majority.

“I would have been a lot more excited to be a government MP than an opposition backbencher,” he said.

He returned to his law office the next day to find a stack of work. The campaign “turned out to be great advertising.”

Mr. Hallsor continues to lobby for democratic reform as president of Fair Voting B.C., which promotes the adoption of the single transferable voting system.

He remains active in electoral politics, serving as a Conservative campaign co-chairman in the 2006 federal election. He has defended the party's controversial transfer of funds that led to an Elections Canada investigation.

National campaigns go negative because the tactic is effective, he said.

That's good for a national campaign, but not a local one.

“Win or lose, you're going to be a member of that community.”

His advice: Keep it positive.

2008 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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