National Post with Melanee Thomas 22 October 2019
They may now be the not-so-famous five.
An unprecedented 98 women were elected to parliament Monday night, according to Chatelaine, up from 88 in the 2015 federal election — still constituting less than 30 per cent of elected MPs — but five high-profile women were defeated.
What, if anything, does it mean?
“It’s always a surprise when high-profile members lose their seats, but it happens every election,” said Stephen White, an assistant professor in Carleton University’s department of political science.
He points to Ralph Goodale, the longtime Liberal MP unseated Monday in Regina-Wascana by Conservative candidate Michael Kram.
Still, it is more common to have female “star candidates” in competitive battlegrounds than men, Marc-André Bodet, a professor of political science at the Université Laval, said in an email. Not because voters discriminate against women, “but rather because women tend to accept to run in much harder races and men tend to choose, and get better, options (and leave before losing).”
Conservative incumbent and deputy party leader Lisa Raitt lost her Milton, Ont., riding seat to four-time Olympic medalist and Liberal Adam van Koeverden. A former cabinet minister, Conservative leadership candidate and senior MP on the front bench of the opposition caucus, Raitt was in a race many pollsters considered a toss-up. Raitt, 51, had represented her GTA riding in the rapidly growing suburb of Milton since 2008. Van Koeverden is a beloved national athlete who door-knocked wearing his jacket from the 2012 London Olympics. Raitt, given her national profile, was doing a lot of heavy-lifting messaging for the Conservatives, said University of Calgary political scientist Melanee Thomas, who believes Raitt’s loss came down to local dynamics. “An Olympian cues a certain kind of thing — good natured, this sterling reputation in terms of charity in sport,” Thomas said. The riding has also seen an influx of younger and more diverse voters. “If Canadian elections are volatile it means that people who had been previously safe will not be.”
Ruth Ellen Brosseau
NDP star candidate Ruth Ellen Brosseau was unseated in her Quebec rural riding of Berthier-Maskinongé by the Bloc Quebecois’ Yves Perron. Brousseau, 35, won her seat as part of the former NDP leader Jack Layton’s Orange Crush of 2011. The formerly unilingual Ottawa bar manager and single mother applied to run for the NDP on a lark, took a vacation to Las Vegas mid-campaign, earning her the nickname Vegas Girl, and still managed to win. Brousseau was called a barmaid, as opposed to bartender, when she campaigned. The blowback, Thomas said, seemed sexist. But she learned French and quickly won the admiration of many in her riding. Brousseau won again in 2015, one of 16 NDP members to hang on to their seats. “A wave is a wave,” Brosseau said Monday night, after losing her shot at a third mandate by roughly 1,000 votes. In 2015, she hammered her Bloc Quebecois and Liberal challengers by a 10,000 vote margin. Her defeat “is a case where an individual MP’s personal popularity is sometimes just not going to be able to save them when their party’s popularity in a region, or nationally, is in significant decline,” said White, of Carleton University. Given the NDP’s performance in Quebec overall, it’s not surprising that even some of their most high-profile, well-liked members couldn’t pull a victory together, he said.
Former Liberal MP Jane Philpott, who was booted out of the Liberal caucus over the SNC-Lavalin affair, was running as an independent in her Toronto-area riding of Markham-Stouffville. The former Liberal Treasury Board president and health and indigenous services minister was turfed by Justin Trudeau after she said publicly she had no confidence in the prime minister’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin mess. Thomas didn’t expect Philpott, 58, would win (she lost to Liberal Helena Jaczek). The SNC-Lavalin affair really pivots on Jody Wilson-Raybould, she said. “I respect and admire (Philpott) for standing for her convictions — she was a principled, cool operator when I watched how she was handling all of that.” However, Wilson-Raybould comes with an easier narrative — a woman clearly well versed in Indigenous leadership in B.C. before transitioning to federal electoral politics. “The argument could be made this is somebody with a potentially different way of doing leadership and our federal institutions were unable to accommodate that,” Thomas said. It resonated with many Canadians — Wilson Raybould was re-elected Monday night as an independent candidate in her riding of Vancouver Granville. “I think for Jane Philpott, it just wasn’t enough to overcome the strong party system that we have in Canadian politics,” Thomas said.
Windsor West Liberal candidate and former Ontario cabinet minister Sandra Pupatello, who lost to NDP incumbent Brian Masse. Pupatello represented Windsor provincially for 16 years, serving in senior roles in Dalton McGuinty’s cabinet. In 2013 she nearly became Ontario’s premier, losing a close leadership race to Kathleen Wynne. She was considered a star Liberal candidate, campaigning on passing single-game sports betting in Windsor, despite the issue, as the Post’s Brian Platt pointed out, being entirely absent from the Liberal platform. She failed in her bid to unseat Masse, who has held the riding since 2002.
Renata Ford was a candidate for the People’s Party of Canada in Etobicoke, Ont. The widow of one of Canada’s most larger-than-life political characters, Rob Ford, who died of cancer in March 2016 at the age of 46, and the sister-in-law of current Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Renata Ford was asked, “why Max?” in a sit-down interview alongside Maxime Bernier with the Post’s Larysa Harapyn last month. Ford said she believed in the PPC Party leader’s policies. “Rob was always a big supporter of Maxime Bernier and we liked his leadership,” she said. The mother of two has had a troubled run since her husband’s death, pleading guilty last year to an impaired driving charge and launching a multi-million dollar lawsuit alleging Doug and his brother, Randy, (as executors of her late husband’s will) deprived the widow of her proper inheritance (Doug Ford has denied he botched his late brother’s estate). Renata Ford had no political experience when she signed on as a candidate for the PPC. She ran in Etobicoke North, a federal Liberal stronghold held by the party since 1998 but considered provincially the “heart of Ford Nation.” She lost to Liberal incumbent Kirsty Duncan, capturing less than three per cent of the vote. “We shouldn’t overestimate the impact of star power and local candidates,” White said. If parties, nationally, are very weak or have very little support, then it’s unlikely for them to capture even a single seat, he said. “If there was any opportunity for the People’s Party to win a seat, it was going to be Maxime Bernier’s seat, which, of course, he lost.”
Melanee Thomas is a political science professor at the University of Calgary.