CBC News Federal Election

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Analysis & Commentary

Playing the endorsement game

By Carolyn Ryan
Shirley Douglas, left, endorsed Jack Layton's NDP.

Endorsements aren't important merely for professional athletes looking to afford a third or fourth house. In a political campaign, many candidates boast of expressions of support from high-profile community leaders and groups, using such statements to court undecided voters.

But should they?

Not necessarily. A 2004 survey done by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that endorsements by other politicians, celebrities and lobby groups "have little impact on most Americans," and can even push them away from voting for the person endorsed. For example, an endorsement by the National Rifle Association would make 18 per cent of the respondents less likely to support a candidate, compared to 15 per cent who would be more likely to vote for that person. A full 65 per cent of voters said an NRA endorsement would have no impact on their vote. "Newspaper endorsements are also less influential than four years ago, and dissuade as many Americans as they persuade," the study's authors add.

No similar polling information could be found for Canada.

However, Don Desserud, a political scientist at the University of New Brunswick-Saint John who often comments on Canadian elections, says he's always thought endorsements were "a wash because there seems to be a visceral reaction against them."

Most voters resent someone telling them what to do when it comes to casting a ballot, and public endorsements can be seen that way. "There's a certain naiveté to it as well," says Desserud, with some campaign officials really believing "that there are voters out there who are so aimless that they need direction from someone that they consider to be a hero."

"You hope it can be a kiss of life," Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, told the Hamilton Spectator in a recent interview. "Most of the time it's a little buss on the cheek. It doesn't mean anything."

Here's a look at some endorsements issued in the campaign leading up to the Jan. 23 election, organized alphabetically:

ABORIGINAL GROUPS

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine said early in the campaign that voting for the Liberals or NDP, not the Conservatives, would be best for aboriginal Canadians. He said the assembly would not be making a formal endorsement, however. On Jan. 17, Fontaine held another news conference to express concern about the fate of two recent funding agreements if Stephen Harper's Conservative team formed the government.

The National Métis Council endorsed the Liberal party on Jan. 23, with president Clement Chartier saying: "We feel we have to do everything we can to ensure that there is a Liberal government." The Manitoba Métis Federation made a similar announcement, provoking disagreement from some of its own members. "A lot of people really follow the politics, and for us to assume that they need us to tell them which way to vote is actually insulting to some of the membership," said Richard De La Ronde, who sits on the federation's board.

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples is endorsing the Conservative Party of Canada. "The Conservative Party is the only party with a plan to help Aboriginal Canadians," said Congress National Chief Dwight Dorey. "Their plans provide real choice and provide real opportunities, and I am encouraged by their policies."

ETHNIC GROUPS

A non-endorsement was the big news when a group of Muslim clerics spoke out about the election. "Traditionally, Canadian Muslims voted Liberal because they thought the party was in the middle of the political spectrum," said Mohamed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. The congress believes the party has been moving to the right on two issues important to Muslims, according to its website: "the steady compromise of Canadian civil liberties" and "Canada's emulation of American foreign policy in key areas such as Afghanistan and Palestine." As a result, the congress's political action committee advises Muslims in Canada to check out its candidate-by-candidate grading system on these and other issues. The report card gives letter grades to candidates in 107 ridings with substantial Muslim populations.

Several community groups from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Bangladesh have endorsed the Papineau riding's Bloc Québécois candidate, Haitian-born Vivian Barbot, the former president of the Quebec Women's Federation. The riding is now represented by Pierre Pettigrew, the foreign affairs minister in Paul Martin's Liberal government. Rachid Boudjarane, president of the Regroupement des Algériens du Canada, has said the Bloc is more sensitive to issues affecting Muslims and Middle-Eastern communities. Boudjarane said his group's endorsement of Barbot does not mean support for sovereignty, however. "This election isn't a referendum. We are not against Canada," he said.

INDIVIDUALS

Former Ontario premier Bill Davis gave Harper a warm introduction at a Jan. 17 campaign event in Burlington. The 76-year-old drew laughs from the partisan crowd when he hinted that he's available for a federal cabinet seat. At the same rally, Harper acknowledges the presence of former Mulroney cabinet ministers such as Michael Wilson and Barbara McDougall. In the riding of Whitby-Oshawa, both Davis and current provincial Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory are endorsing Jim Flaherty, who served in the cabinets of past Ontario premiers Mike Harris and Ernie Eves.

Former Progressive Conservative leadership candidate David Orchard is endorsing the Martin Liberals because he says the Conservatives are a threat to national unity. Orchard was the Tory party leadership hopeful who made Peter MacKay promise not to form a partnership to unite the party with the Canadian Alliance Party under Harper. MacKay broke the promise and the result was the new Conservative Party of Canada. "I know that Mr. Orchard is an asset to our party no matter which party he campaigns for," Harper quipped upon learning Orchard was endorsing the Martin team.

NDP Leader Jack Layton has twice been accompanied by Shirley Douglas while giving speeches defending medicare. Douglas is a well-known actress whose father, former Saskatchewan premier and NDP leader Tommy Douglas, is hailed as the founder of Canada's system of publicly funded health care.

Singers are becoming a staple source of endorsements in the Toronto area. Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies is endorsing Liberal Sam Bulte in Parkdale-High Park, Sarah Harmer is supporting the NDP's Marilyn Churley in Beaches-East York, and the Barenaked Ladies have long backed Layton.

Churley is also using a testimonial from environmentalist David Suzuki in her campaign material, while Bulte's challenger, the NDP's Peggy Nash, has expressions of support from Stephen Lewis, the former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, and author June Callwood.

Dona Cadman, the widow of former Surrey North MP Chuck Cadman, has endorsed Surrey North NDP candidate Penny Priddy. Chuck Cadman won the riding for the Reform Party of Canada in 1997 but failed to win the new Conservative party's nomination leading up to the 2004 election. He ran as an Independent and won, later voting to keep the struggling Liberal government alive in a key vote in May 2005 before succumbing to cancer two months later.

Finally, it's hardly likely to affect the course of the campaign, but in early December, colourful CBC hockey commentator Don Cherry came out with an endorsement of the leader of the sovereigntist Bloc Québécois. "I always liked that Gilles [Duceppe]", said Cherry. "He wears snappy suits. Nice hair. I'm right behind Gilles and everything you're trying to accomplish."

LABOUR

The biggest endorsement buzz in the early days of the campaign was caused by the biggest Buzz in the Canadian labour movement: Buzz Hargrove of the Canadian Auto Workers. But was it really an endorsement? Though the CAW had long supported the NDP, Hargrove presented Martin with a CAW jacket at a Dec. 2 event, saying he presided over "one of the most productive parliaments in the history of Canada" and adding that the best outcome of the campaign would be another Liberal minority government "with even bigger numbers." Ideally, that would include more NDP MPs to give it a solid footing, Hargrove said. He asked CAW supporters to vote for the NDP candidate unless the Liberal candidate in the riding had a better chance of winning, a position that was backed up by a motion of the CAW's council the next day. Hargrove later campaigned in Windsor with Martin, though Layton was also in the Ontario city campaigning the same day, and endorsed high-profile Liberal candidate Belinda Stronach in the Ontario riding of Newmarket-Aurora.

The Canadian Labour Congress also made headlines with a non-endorsement when it chose to not endorse the NDP for the first time, instead urging the three million workers under its umbrella to vote for local candidates based on the issues.

"I think it would be wrong for me to come out and simply tell our members, 'You have to go out and vote for the NDP,'" said secretary-treasurer Hassan Yussuff, describing the congress's Making a Better Choice campaign tactic. "I think our members are mature, they are intelligent, they are articulate, they understand the issues. Quite often they can make the decision on who can best represent them in this upcoming election."

The congress wants its members to vote for candidates with a strong commitment to public health care and social justice issues.

The Quebec Federation of Labour is asking its half-million members to vote for the Bloc Québécois. The federation threw its support behind certain Bloc candidates in last year's election and even backed one NDP candidate. Now the whole party gets the endorsement on the basis that the Bloc can do the best job of defending the province's interests in Ottawa.

As for the Public Service Alliance of Canada, its messages have been mixed. Eric Cashman, its executive vice-president, said in early January that the civil servants' union might issue endorsements for some Conservative candidates in the National Capital Region, in and around Ottawa. Alliance president Nycole Turmel was not so enthusiastic, saying the prospect of a Conservative majority government would be bad for federal bureaucrats. "We don't want that," she told the Hill Times newspaper. "This is clear." Later, Daniel Charron, the president of the Outaouais regional chapter of PSAC, asks members in Western Quebec to vote for to Bloc Qu�b�cois candidates in Gatineau, Hull-Aylmer, Pontiac, and Argenteuil-Papineau-Mirabel. Cashman and Turmel both say they agree with that decision, though some puzzled members wonder how many federal civil servants will lose their jobs if Quebec leaves Canada.

PSAC has a website page spelling out issues it thinks members should consider when casting their votes.

In other civil service news, the Canadian Employment and Immigration Union is taking aim at the governing Liberals by endorsing selected NDP candidates, including Sid Ryan in Oshawa, party leader Layton in Toronto-Danforth, Olivia Chow in Trinity-Spadina and Marilyn Churley in Beaches-East York.

"As a union representing front-line federal workers across the region, we have taken this – for us – unusual step of direct political endorsement because we feel compelled to speak out during this election," CEIU Ontario vice-president Ian Shaw told reporters. The union represents 5,000 federal civil servants in Ontario alone.

MUNICIPALITIES

Gloria Kovach, the president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, issued a news release on Jan. 15 that in effect endorsed Martin's Liberals without using the word "endorsement."

"During this election, all the leaders have in one way or another addressed the infrastructure challenges faced by our cities and communities," the release said. "Today's announcement [by the Liberals] goes the farthest in meeting these head on."

Don Wanagas, director of communications in the office of Toronto Mayor David Miller, told CBC.ca that the mayor won't be endorsing a party in this election because "he feels that he has to represent the city of Toronto with whoever is elected on Jan. 23." That said, Miller did decide to endorse two individual candidates: Don Valley West Liberal John Godfrey, "who he's comfortable endorsing because he worked really hard on the cities file," and Peggy Nash, the NDP candidate in Parkdale High-Park, "because he lives in that riding and he's known her for a long time."

Wanagas added that Miller did support the ban on handguns that Martin announced on Dec. 8, "but he is not endorsing the Liberal platform."

On the Conservative side, a Jan. 17 news release hailed the news that former Toronto Transit Commission vice-chairman Rob Davis was endorsing Toronto Centre candidate Lewis Reford because of his party's promise to offer a tax credit to buyers of public transit passes.

NEWSPAPERS

The first prominent media endorsement in the campaign landed on doorsteps around the country on Saturday, Jan. 14, when the Globe and Mail endorsed the Conservatives. Beginning with the line "Canada has been well served by 12-plus years of Liberal rule," the editorial went on to say, "Nonetheless, we have concluded that the time has arrived for a change of government in Canada." The newspaper cited failing Liberal effectiveness, "the culture of entitlement that has taken deep root within the Liberal Party," and the argument that "change is essential in a democracy."

Another endorsement for the Conservatives came on Tuesday, Jan. 17, with Quebec's La Presse newspaper throwing its editorial support behind Harper's party. The paper said many Quebecers are anxious for change at the federal level, and "we are among them." Martin came in for criticism as Liberal leader, with the editorial saying: "In the last two years, the Liberals have become ossified."

A day later, the Toronto Star begged to differ. The country's largest-circulation newspaper endorsed the Liberals on Jan. 18, arguing that Martin's party "best understands Canada's needs and has the more credible program to address those needs." The newspaper's editorial added: "While Harper campaigned from the centre, he will face much pressure from his base and from some in his caucus to govern from the right."

POLITICIANS

Former Ontario premier Bill Davis gave Harper a warm introduction at a Jan. 17 campaign event in Burlington. The 76-year-old drew laughs from the partisan crowd when he hinted that he's available for a federal cabinet seat. At the same rally, Harper acknowledges the presence of former Mulroney cabinet ministers such as Michael Wilson and Barbara McDougall. In the riding of Whitby-Oshawa, both Davis and current provincial Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory are endorsing Jim Flaherty, who served in the cabinets of past Ontario premiers Mike Harris and Ernie Eves.

Former Progressive Conservative leadership candidate David Orchard is endorsing the Martin Liberals because he says the Conservatives are a threat to national unity. Orchard was the Tory party leadership hopeful who made Peter MacKay promise not to form a partnership to unite the party with the Canadian Alliance Party under Harper. MacKay broke the promise and the result was the new Conservative Party of Canada. "I know that Mr. Orchard is an asset to our party no matter which party he campaigns for," Harper quipped upon learning Orchard was endorsing the Martin team.

In the riding of Whitby-Oshawa, provincial Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory and former premier Bill Davis are endorsing Jim Flaherty, who served in the cabinets of past Ontario premiers Mike Harris and Ernie Eves.

Action Démocratique du Quebec Leader Mario Dumont injected some surprise into the campaign on Jan. 12 when he announced that he personally was endorsing the Conservatives because he feels the Bloc Qu ébécois is becoming a millstone around the province's neck. The ADQ was allied with the Bloc in the 1995 sovereignty referendum.

The most high-profile expression of support so far came on Dec. 9 from former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who was attending a session of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Montreal. He appeared with Martin and endorsed his views on the environment, but quickly added that his words shouldn't be construed as an endorsement of Martin himself. "I'm not involved in your politics here," said Clinton.

PREMIERS

The first provincial leader out of the block with an endorsement in this campaign was Ontario's Dalton McGuinty, who expressed his support for fellow Liberal Paul Martin's team. Later, when Conservative Leader Stephen Harper implied he wouldn't want McGuinty's endorsement because the Ontario premier can't be trusted, McGuinty dismissed the comment as sour grapes.

Quebec's premier, a federal Progressive Conservative turned provincial Liberal, has been a little less categorical in his support. On Dec. 20, Jean Charest said Harper's announcement promising more money and powers to Quebec seems to be "an encouraging sign" and "goes in the direction Quebec wants." He later insists he was not endorsing Harper and intends to stay out of the campaign.

Harper has earned the full endorsement of three of the four Progressive Conservative Atlantic premiers, with only Newfoundland's Danny Williams sitting things out. Williams has said he doesn't think it appropriate to endorse a party, though he is personally endorsing the Conservative candidate in his own riding of St. John's East. New Brunswick's Bernard Lord has appeared with Harper at four campaign rallies, and Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm was at his side early in the campaign, saying: "I know that Stephen Harper is committed to Atlantic Canada."

On Jan. 16, Prince Edward Island's Pat Binns jumped onto the bandwagon as he introduced Harper at a Charlottetown rally. "I ask all Islanders to think strategically," Binns said. "Islanders should ask themselves, 'Who has a better chance of being on the government side after Jan. 23?'"

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE OPPONENTS

Vote Marriage Canada, which is opposed to same-sex marriage, has been releasing lists of candidates it endorses in the campaign, based on their agreement to vote in favour of restoring the traditional definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The group has been sending out questionnaires to candidates across the country.

Co-founder Pat O'Brien was an MP who left the Liberal caucus when the government legalized same-sex marriage last year. Harper has promised to hold a free vote in Parliament aimed at reversing the law. Vote Marriage Canada has endorsed both Conservative and Liberal candidates, as well as a former NDP MP from Manitoba, Bev Desjarlais, who is running as an Independent.

 


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ELECTION RESULTSDetails>
1241035129
Total Elected and Leading
CON124036.27%
LIB103030.23%
BQ51010.48%
NDP29017.48%
IND10.52%
OTH005.02%

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