'Not really the norm' for candidates to run in a riding they never visit, says politics prof

·3 min read
N.W.T. Conservative candidate Lea Mollison. Political science professor Peter Loewen says there's a
N.W.T. Conservative candidate Lea Mollison. Political science professor Peter Loewen says there's a

It's not unusual for candidates to run in ridings they don't live in, according to a University of Toronto professor of political science, but the case of Lea Mollison, a Conservative party candidate in the Northwest Territories who's never set foot in the territory, stands out.

"It's pretty uncommon, bordering on extremely rare, that the candidate would run in a riding that they never visit," said Peter Loewen, who teaches at the university's Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy. "It happens, but this is not really the norm."

The N.W.T. Conservatives named Mollison, who lives in Thunder Bay, Ont., as their candidate in late August. Since then, despite repeated emails, calls and invitations, she has declined to make herself available to speak with CBC North, or join in a planned candidates forum. She also declined to attend a debate hosted by independent media outlet Cabin Radio.

Matt Lakusta, president of the N.W.T. Conservative Association, told the CBC last week that the snap election call made it difficult to find a local candidate.

'Table stakes'

Loewen said parties often run outside candidates as a sort of "table stakes" so they can say they're running a candidate in all 338 constituencies.

"It sounds like in this case, they found someone who, you know, is a longtime party activist who was probably trying to do the party a favour, [but] just doesn't happen to live in the Northwest Territories or anywhere close to it."

Mollison appears not to be campaigning in the territory at all.

Loewen says that "it happens," and sometimes it works.

He cites the example of Ruth Ellen Brosseau, who was a university student in Ottawa when she ran as the NDP candidate in a rural riding in Quebec in 2011.

"She had, as far as I can recall, never visited the riding," Loewen said. "Did not campaign in it. She happened to win the election because the NDP won north of 50 seats in that election."

"And," Loewen added, "she turned out to be a very good MP… She came to like that community, the community came to like her."

'I think it's pretty egregious'

The case in the Northwest Territories is not exactly similar.

"In this case, I think it's pretty egregious because ... people care about local stuff and they care about people being from the North," Loewen said. "The fact that you're putting on debates and other people are putting on events, and the candidate is nowhere to be found, it becomes pretty noticeable."

But Loewen says Mollison could still get votes.

Research shows, he said, only somewhere between five and 10 per cent of voters cast their ballot based on the local candidate. An even smaller percentage of ridings — six to seven per cent — turn on who the local candidate is.

"The key point is that the local candidates don't know whether they're in the riding where they're going to be decisive in an election," he said.

That means every candidate has to run as though the election is turning on their performance.

Long tradition, not working here

Loewen said there's a "nice tradition in Canada of people going to places where they didn't live to become an MP and being good representatives of those places."

He cites NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh as the MP for Burnaby, former NDP Leader Tommy Douglas who also represented Burnaby, and former Prime Minister John Turner, whom Loewen says is one of the only people who's ever been an MP in three different provinces (Quebec, Ontario and B.C.).

"I think that we have a long tradition of people going to places where they didn't live and becoming good MPs," he said.

"That's just not happening this time with the Conservative candidate in the Northwest Territories."

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