Life after political defeat can be like ‘death’ some former MPs say

John Size
Canada PoliticsMay 9, 2011

What happens to politicians who don't see their defeat coming, possibly not even realizing they have been turfed until the last few ballots?

Well, apparently there's help available for those MPs who seek solace in their election defeats, something one out of three equate with images of death.

Postmedia News writer Sharon Kirkey explores the unemployment prospects of MPs, noting there are 91 who weren't re-elected, including four Conservative cabinet ministers.

"It's as sudden as death," one defeated Liberal MP told Kirkey. "The only thing you don't go through is that you don't have to walk into a funeral home and peek into the box and say, 'Well, he was a nice guy.' "

Many of us non-politicians really don't understand how devastating an unexpected public defeat can be, even if it's understood politics is an unforgiving and brutal profession at times.

Psychologists refer to political defeat as rejection in the extreme and few incumbents are prepared for the full effect of that loss.

"It's hero to zero in 24 hours," former Liberal MP Joe Jordan said in the story. He was a two-term member from the Ottawa area who lost his seat in 2004 to Conservative Gord Brown. "You go from filtering your calls to trying to get people to answer your calls. It really is that bad."

But the negative effects of losing don't hit everyone the same, a fact pointed out by former Liberal MP Francis Leblanc, who said in the article, "Some people are able to brush themselves off, be philosophical about it and not take it too seriously."

But some simply refuse to accept their party's collapse at the polls and still doubt they will be swept up in that defeat.

"For them, it's a real come down, psychologically . . . People can become really depressed — thoughts of suicide and that kind of thing. It goes that far," Leblanc said.

A paper written in 2005 titled "Death at the Polls" conducted by McMaster University researchers explored how the "abrupt, involuntary exit" can be looked at as a form of social death.

"They lose publicly. It's like getting smashed in the teeth in front of a lot of people," said co-author William Shaffir, a sociology professor at McMaster.

And, it's important to understand as devastating as the loss can be, Canada is known to be forgiving and typically allows for a "comeback".

The most notable comeback in recent Canadian political history was that of Pierre Trudeau following his retirement after losing to former prime minister Joe Clark in 1979.

Trudeau was convinced to run again in the 1980 election that ended with a majority Liberal government and the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution.

For those who can't cope, Jordan has created a survival guide for defeated politicians titled "Your Life After Politics".

"I'm not Dr. Phil," he said in the article. "It's just that someone who has been through it can answer their questions. I lived this."

(AFP Photo)