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It’s election time: Why we run | Peggy Nash

Friday, September 06, 2019 @ 2:29 PM | By Peggy Nash

Peggy Nash %>
Peggy Nash
Heading into this fall’s federal election, hundreds of Canadians will once again offer themselves as candidates. Most run with political parties, but a few such as Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, will be independent candidates. While most of us complain from the sidelines, this group of Canadians is standing behind their words, speaking out in public and taking the blowback that inevitably comes with sticking your head above the parapet.

Most people who run will lose.

After investing many months of effort inspiring a team of volunteers, putting their face on posters and leaflets, brazenly asking for campaign donations, knocking on thousands of doors, debating issues from the climate crisis to prescription drugs, with individuals and at numerous all-candidates debates, after riding the thrills of their party’s successes and their gut-wrenching mistakes, probably they will lose.

So why do it?

Why do people put themselves through the wringer of a public campaign?

As someone who had to fight and win a nomination race, then ran in five federal elections and a leadership race, I know well how challenging campaigns are. Your cheeks hurt from all the smiling and sometimes your heart hurts during the inevitable calamities but you keep smiling anyway. I loved every minute of it.

Some people see themselves as natural politicians and public office is a lifelong ambition. There’s an arrogance to this belief in their natural governing ability.

Issues are less important and they will choose the political party that gives them the best chance of winning.
I never expected to run for public office.

Like most people, regardless of political stripe, I ran because I wanted to make a difference, to make Canada a better place. Even though most candidates don’t win, most run to win, or at least believe that a win is possible. I could not have put the work into running a full campaign, inspiring a team, raising money, knocking on doors, debating, doing media — if I didn’t intend to win.

I needed to know the possibility was there even if the odds were stacked against me.

Some candidates just want to discuss their priority issue publicly, knowing that their chances of winning are slim to none. Our local Marijuana Party candidate livened up the all-candidates debates. Legalizing marijuana was the antidote to trade frictions and even war: if people smoked more weed, he said, they would get along better.

Some people run because they are supporters of their political party and every national party wants a full roster of candidates, even though there are some electoral districts where their chances of election are almost nil.

But you never know. During an electoral sweep, people can unexpectedly win — such as in the Orange Wave in 2011 when the NDP won 57 seats in Quebec and candidates won who didn’t live in their riding or even campaign there. They were just a name on the ballot — and suddenly they were elected MPs.

Students would often ask me about the qualifications to be a member of Parliament. The House of Commons represents the people — so there are no official requirements beyond Canadian citizenship, being of voting age and not incarcerated. Parliament is better because of the occupational diversity of its members.

What do I think makes a good candidate? You must be willing to engage with the community and be willing to be the community’s voice in Ottawa. You should be hard-working, articulate, committed and a team player. Even if you run as an independent, you need a team to get you elected. And ultimately your riding is also your team. That’s who you are working for.

Men often put themselves forward to run. Women usually wait to be asked. That’s why parties need to reach out proactively to ensure that their candidates reflect the diversity of Canada.

We come 61st in the world with only 27 per cent women MPs according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s running tally. It may be 2019, but Canada still has a long way to go. MPs Celina Cesar-Chavannes and Wilson-Raybould and others have spoken about inaction on black racism and Indigenous rights. Much work remains when it comes to real diversity in the House of Commons.
A study released this year by professors Dr. Tracey Raney (Ryerson University), Dr. Cheryl Collier (University of Windsor) and Dr. Grace Lore on violence against women in elected office shows that when women aspire to power, especially when they are in the public eye, they are often targeted for harassment and abuse. This is a global phenomenon. But women are not discouraged. This just means we need greater diversity — not less.

Why do people run for office? Because in spite of all the work, the overwhelming odds and the barriers, it is an opportunity to play a role unlike any other. The journey itself is inspiring, and success means a seat at the table, a voice and a vote in the running of Canada.

Definitely worthwhile.

Peggy Nash is a former member of Parliament and a senior union negotiator. She is currently a senior adviser at the Centre for Labour Management Relations at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management. Follow her @peggynash

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