10 all-time Canadian political gaffes

Sheena Goodyear
Daily Brew
A screen shot from the 1993 attack ad of John Chretien.

Canada is just over a week into an 11-week federal election campaign and the gaffes have already begun. 

Morgan Wheeldon resigned as the NDP candidate in Nova Scotia’s Kings-Hants riding on Sunday after it was discovered he had written in a 2014 Facebook post that Israel was trying to “ethnically cleanse the region." 

Meanwhile, Toronto Centre NDP candidate Linda McQuaig has come under fire in Alberta after she went off-script and contradicted Leader Thomas Mulcair’s stance on oilsands development, telling CBC’s Power & Politics on Friday that to meet Canada’s climate change targets “a lot of the oilsands oil may have to stay in the ground.

These are the first gaffes of the 2015 election, but they certainly won’t be the last. And they are just the latest in the long history of Canadian politicians getting sidelined by goofs and scandals on the campaign trail.

Here’s a look back at some of Canada’s most memorable political blunders.

1. Liberal candidate heads up ‘Rights of Whites’ group 

During the 2011 federal election, then Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff turfed Quebec candidate André Forbes after the NDP revealed he had once headed up a white rights organization and made disparaging remarks about Canada’s First Nations people.

In a 2004 interview with L'actualité, Forbes, then the president of the Association for the Rights of Whites in Sept-Îles, Que., called aboriginal people “featherheads.” 

In a later interview with Radio-Canada, Forbes, who is himself Métis, doubled-down and stood by the remarks. He stuck it out in the election as an independent candidate, but lost to the NDP’s Jonathan Genest-Jourdain.

2. ‘There are sexual assaults and there are sexual assaults’

John Reilly, a 2011 federal Liberal candidate in Alberta’s Wild Rose riding, came under fire when the Tories released a radio interview in which he’d made controversial comments about sexual assault.

While arguing judges should have the ability to look at sentencing on a case-by-case basis, Reilly, a former judge, said: “Well, there are sexual assaults and there are sexual assaults.”

Then Manitoba Conservative candidate Shelly Glover used the soundbite to accuse Reilly of being soft on sex offenders.

Reilly later apologized for the “clumsy” comment. Ignatieff let him stay on as a Liberal candidate, but he lost to Conservative Blake Richards in the Tory stronghold. 

3. ‘Bring your wife’s pie’ 

Wildrose's @RickStrankman has apologized, taken down BYWP (Bring Your Wife's Pie) sign for a campaign stop. #abvote pic.twitter.com/MLn3oIcloi

— Justin Giovannetti (@justinCgio) April 16, 2015


During this year’s provincial election in Alberta, Wildrose Drumheller-Stettler candidate Rick Strankman got egg on his face when his campaign held an “old fashioned pie auction” fundraiser dubbed “Bring Your Wife’s Pie.

The poster for the event was widely circulated and mocked as sexist on social media. NDP Leader Rachel Notley said of Strankman on Newstalk 770: "It’s clear he has a sweet tooth but he needs a wisdom tooth.”

Strankman later apologized, blaming the poster on volunteers. Nevertheless, the ordeal didn’t stop him from winning his seat.

4. ‘We need lots of brown people in the front’

In that same election, Wildrose Calgary Southeast candidate Bill Jarvis was forced to step down after he was heard quipping at a photo op: “We need lots of brown people in the front.”

“The comment was disrespectful and while I accept that Mr. Jarvis did not intend to insult, I will not accept inappropriate statements that fail to show respect for all Albertans,“ then Wildrose leader Brian Jean said in a statement.

5. The Chrétien ‘face ad’

6. Which way does the river run?

In 2000, Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day made a misinformed analogy about the Canadian job market and Lake Erie

“Just as Lake Erie drains from north to south, there is an ongoing drain in terms of our young people in terms of our country,” he told reporters in Niagara Falls, Ont.

It was a nice try, but Lake Erie drains into the Niagara River, which, in fact, flows north.

Day’s Alliance party lost to Chrétien’s Liberals. 

7. Hudak’s subway kerfuffle

It’s hard to find more prickly people than those packed onto public transit, and former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak managed to peeve a bunch of them off during a badly organized photo op during the 2014 provincial election.

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) kicked Hudak, his staffers and a swarm of reporters off a subway car in the middle of campaign event because his team never actually got permission to film in the vehicle. 

While TTC officers and Hudak staffers argued about the rules, frustrated subway riders were delayed. 

8. ‘You had a choice, Mr. Turner’

In 1984, Brian Mulroney landed possibly the only moment in a Canadian federal election debate that can truly be described as a knock-out punch.

On the topic of allowing outgoing prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s patronage Senate appointments to go through before the writ was dropped, Mulroney wagged his finger at then Liberal leader John Turner and said: “You had a choice, Mr. Turner.”

That moment is largely believed to have changed the election’s course in Mulroney’s favour.

9. ‘Gay boyz’

Sometimes a candidate doesn’t have their big political career-killing moment until after the election. 

Deborah Drever started making headlines soon after she was elected in Alberta’s historic NDP victory earlier this year.

The newbie MLA survived headlines about Facebook posts showing her giving the middle finger to the Canadian flag, and about her appearance on a punk rock album cover depicting sexual assault

But she was ultimately expelled from caucus upon the discovery of an Instagram post that referred to former premier Jim Prentice and interim Alberta PC Leader Ric McIver as “Gay boyz.”

10. Justin Trudeau admires China’s ‘basic dictatorship’ 

And sometimes the gaffes start long before the writ has dropped, as federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau knows full well. He drew the ire of members of the Asian-Canadian community in 2013 when he joked about admiring China’s dictatorship.

“There’s a level of admiration I actually have for China. Their basic dictatorship is actually allowing them to turn their economy around on a dime,” he said at the time.