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The Insiders: Zazalenchuking to victory

One of the prominent aspects of the past week were the problems brought upon national campaigns by the statements of local candidates. These stories are as easy to drum up as they are irrelevant.   

Every party has weak candidates running on its banner. Every party has candidates running that the party itself barely knows. That is because each party also has well over a hundred constituencies that it has no chance of winning in. In many of those ridings, the party will not have had a chance to win for many years. There is likely only a shell of a local party association.  

Yet major parties want to run a "full slate" of candidates (indeed, there is a financial incentive to do so) -- so there must be a flag bearer in the toughest of ridings.  

Who will put their name on the ballot in such a circumstance? Often a local party stalwart will agree to run for the good of the party. Sometimes you will "parachute" a candidate in from outside the riding. This person is usually doing it at the request of central office over the objections of the local association. At least that's how it was when I was parachuted from my perch as a student at the University of Regina into the rural riding of Rosetown--Elrose in the 1982 Saskatchewan provincial election.

But without either of those options, you have to take what you can get, and those are often attention seekers, students - frankly, anybody you can get. Those circumstances make embarrassing backgrounds or at outbursts likely.

Normally it is of no consequence at all: the candidate gets the deepest core of the party vote (in my case, that core vote was good enough for a decisive defeat at the hands of the western separatists for third place) and nobody is the wiser.

When it gets interesting is when those candidates accidentally win. This happens in elections that feature a wild swing in fortunes over the course of the campaign. So began the Progressive Conservatives in the 1984 election trying to convince people that Brian Mulroney could win his riding, and ended it by electing a guy who had become a candidate by delivering a Purolator package to provincial headquarters. My personal favourite involves Joanne Zazalenchuk, the young gas station attendant who defeated high profile attorney general Roy Romanow in that 1982 Saskatchewan election. Upon her surprise victory she declared her pride at having been elected attorney general of Saskatchewan.

But even though it was a low bar to pass, Ms. Zazalenchuk wasn't in Grant Devine's cabinet, and the Purolator delivery guy didn't secure a spot in the Mulroney cabinet. And the next election swept them away as their ridings returned to its roots.

Each party knows who is going to play a significant role for them in the next Parliament. They may be in good ridings. or they may be in marginal ridings, but they are not in unwinnable ridings. Expect and demand more care from the parties about the candidates in ridings they hope to win, than in the barren territories.