If you spend much time lurking around Twitter these days, you’ll know there’s a lot of animosity towards the missing Chloe Ellis, Conservative Party of Canada candidate for New Westminster-Burnaby.
Ellis has yet to make herself seen at a local candidate event (though apparently she’s promised to show at an upcoming Burnaby Board of Trade event on Oct. 5), and a handful of blue signs spotted around New Westminster are really the only evidence that there’s even a Tory running around town.
Oddly enough, I kinda feel the need to defend the much-maligned Ms. Ellis.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m not an advocate for candidates who don’t show themselves in public. I’m not cool with candidates who don’t return calls from the media and who don’t make themselves available for questions from the public. That’s all just wrong on so many levels.
The problem is, I don’t think the blame ought to be laid on Ellis. Nor on any of the other young, inexperienced, cannon-fodder candidates that the Conservatives are throwing to the wolves in clearly unwinnable ridings like our own. (Let’s face it, Stephen Harper himself would have a tough time unseating the juggernaut that is Peter Julian in this heart of orange country. Ellis doesn’t have a prayer.)
The blame here lies squarely on the Conservative Party of Canada and what is clearly its decision to run a defensive campaign. Knowing that its best hope of forming government comes from simply hanging on to its current supporters, Harper has led a brilliant tactical campaign designed to minimize the chances of any loose cannons causing damage to his party at an inconvenient time. Simply put them on the ballot to fill a space, then lock them up and muzzle them to make sure they don’t accidentally set off a bomb that could blow up any of Harper’s safe seats.
Harper’s not trying to win anyone new to his side. His campaign is hitting all the right buttons to keep the people who already support him: he’s the only guy who can protect the country, who can protect the economy, who can protect businesspeople, who can protect ordinary Canadians from the threats of the big bad evil world out there.
It’s a great campaign strategy, actually. If you’re running from the hard right in a country known for its rather socialist tendencies, you can’t win a majority of the popular vote nationwide. It just ain’t gonna happen. So don’t try. Just go into damage control mode and make sure that no one jumps ship, and you can ride the system to another victory without one single new supporter coming over to your side.
It’s depressing, but it’s genius, in a tyrannical sort of way.
What saddens me is that he’s getting away with it. And he’s getting away with it because nobody from within his party ranks is apparently willing to question him on this muzzle-the-candidate strategy.
I hasten to add that, officially at least, no one from the Conservative Party has ever admitted that candidates are in fact being muzzled. In fact, my colleague Jennifer Moreau was told quite the opposite – check out her conversation with Conservative Party of Canada communications staffer Meagan Murdoch in this recent blog post that went viral.
You can take that as you like, but it just strikes me as beyond the bounds of probability that dozens and dozens of Conservative candidates across the country just coincidentally keep being busy every time they get invited to all-candidates meetings (especially those in “unfriendly” territory and those run by groups perceived to be non-sympathetic to the Conservative cause).
For those candidates who, like Ellis, are new to the game, I get it: no aspiring young political type is going to speak out against their own party. I can’t think of a faster way to end your political career before it even starts.
What disappoints me is that none of those candidates with the seniority, the leadership and the experience to stand up to Harper appear to be doing so. Where are such veteran B.C. MPs as Abbotsford’s Ed Fast, Langley-Aldergrove’s Mark Warawa (coincidentally, two former Abbotsford city councillors whom I used to cover back in my days of reporting on Abbotsford city hall) and Fleetwood-Port Kells’ Nina Grewal in all of this? Where is the federally inexperienced but exceptionally well-known and respected Dianne Watts, former Surrey mayor now running in South Surrey-White Rock?
To be fair, as individuals, they have made some effort to have a public presence in their own ridings (a quick Google search revealed both Fast and Watts, for two, at recent public meetings). But I’m talking about their role as spokespeople for the party as a whole – and for the country at large.
These are the Conservatives who need to stand up to their leader and say: No, this is not how we, as a party, want to win. We want to run a real campaign, talking about real issues, meeting real people, having real discussion with the voters in our ridings – and providing real representation for those voters should they happen to choose us to represent them. These are the Conservatives who need to say: We don’t want to win by scaring one-third of Canadians into believing we’re the only ones who can save the country, and just refusing to talk to the other two-thirds.
That’s not democracy.
Have there been such discussions behind closed doors? I have no idea. And you can bet there isn’t anybody at Conservative HQ who’s gonna tell either way.
But from where I sit, out here in the land of the average voter, it looks to me like the entire blue team has kinda forgotten about the whole premise of democracy: that we, the voters, choose people to represent us in Ottawa – not to parrot Ottawa back to us.
Sure, the Liberals and the New Democrats are also run by tightly organized party machines. But you don’t see their candidates refusing en masse to show their faces in public right across the country.
In fact, the very thought of a political world in which Peter Julian refuses to show his face in public is a laughable one. (Trying to get Peter Julian to talk? That’s easy. It’s trying to get him to stop talking that’s the hard part.)
Full disclosure: If it wasn’t clear already, I’m not a Conservative voter. I never have been, so arguably Harper never had my vote anyway. But he sure as heck isn’t going to get it, ever, with behaviour like we’ve seen in this campaign.
Don’t agree with me? Well, Harper and his team are free to prove me wrong.
They have another nineteen days to do so.
I’m not holding my breath, but hey, it could happen.
And when it does, I'm gonna put my money down on my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup.
Julie MacLellan is a reporter, assistant editor, mother, homeowner and voter. Got an opinion about this blog post? Find her on Twitter, @juliemaclellan, or send her an email, firstname.lastname@example.org.