Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Stars in their Ayes

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning, Golden Tacks (Monday November 28, 2005 at 3:58 pm)

Preaching to the choir isn’t just a waste of time. Apparently, it’s a sound political strategy. After all, why bother increasing your appeal if. . .it’s harder than doing nothing. The only danger, of course, is that they might start to resent it.

And so they do. Local Liberals in Etobicoke-Lakeshore are upset that Michael Ignatieff, Harvard professor, author, and proponent of 80’s cartoons, is going to be annointed as the riding’s candidate, despite the fact that several competitors have already been campaigning for the post.

It’s not the first time there’s been some controversy over internal practices at the Liberal Party of Canada. During the last leadership battle (which began, of course, long before the announcement of Chretien’s resignation), there was a furor over limits placed on the number of membership forms that could be requested at a time. Shady internal practices are nothing new.

Why does this matter?

Because we’re talking about a star candidate here. Doesn’t that make a difference?

A star candidate like Professor Ignatieff has one main quality on offer: recognition. People are more likely to vote for someone they’ve heard of or are familiar with than someone they don’t know at all (unless, of course, they don’t like him). So there’s one of two possibilities:

  • A star candidate brings added lustre to the party
  • or

  • A star candidate’s name means an easier victory in the riding

Or maybe both.

The Liberals had a few star candidates last time around, including Ken Dryden and Jean Lapierre. Unlike Scott Brison, whose presence on the Liberal ticket was an obvious strike at the Conservative party he’d left, the others didn’t have seats in which to run.

Where were they placed?

Ken Dryden was given former Toronto Mayor Art Aggleton’s riding of York Centre, a seat which was Liberal all but twice since its creation in 1952, and which granted Eggleton 72% of the vote in 2004. Lapierre, a former radio host, was run in Outremont, which has been Liberal all but once since 1933.

Etobicoke Lakeshore has been Liberal all but three times since 1968, and has elected Liberals consistently and soundly since 1993. The real question is whether having a star candidate to run in the riding actually improves things.

If you’re able to recruit candidates with popular appeal, shouldn’t they be placed in ridings where that appeal will make a difference? What point is there in putting a strong candidate in a riding which you’re confident of winning? Shouldn’t those ridings be saved for the weaker, but necessary candidates? Barring that, doesn’t a strong riding association, responsible for bringing money into the party, deserve a certain amount of independence?

But the real question is this:

If star candidates are so very attracted to the party and its principles, why do they insist on running in ridings that are safe?

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