British Columbia

Canada election 2015: Perennial candidates make running and losing a full-time job

Candidates had to have registered for Canada's 42nd general election by Monday, and more than 1,700 have put their names forward. Only 338 will win. Many will try again and again.

Of the more than 1,700 federal candidates who have put their names forward, only 338 will win

These people will win their federal seat when hell freezes over, but they put on a damned good show 2:01

Joe Clark was Canada's prime minister and mortgage rates were above 15 per cent when Kimball Cariou made his first run at Parliament. 

Thirty six years later, he's still trying to get elected. 

"I've been in every federal election since 1979," said Cariou as he handed out campaign fliers near Vancouver's busy Joyce SkyTrain station. 

For anyone counting, that would make him 0 for 12. Then again, when you're a candidate for Canada's Communist Party, you learn to keep your expectations for success in check. 

"I'm not the sort of person who is going to throw his beliefs in the gutter and run for another party where I might have a better chance," Cariou told CBC News. 

"I found my political home and I've never lost that fire for trying to make this a place where poor people have rights and dignity."

As of Monday, candidates had to have registered for Canada's 42nd general election on Oct. 19, and more than 1,700 have put their names forward. 

Only 338 will win.

Many like Cariou will try again — and again. There's no limit on how many times a candidate can run and no financial penalty, either. 

An Elections Canada official told us as long as a candidate declares his or her expenses and completes all the paperwork, the candidate can get the $1,000 deposit back after the campaign. 

Running to get message out

Ontario's John Turmel claims to be the king of running and losing in Canadian elections. He's done so a remarkable 84 times, federally, provincially and municipally.  

Ontario's John Turmel has run 84 times, federally, provincially and municipally. (Dragon's Den/CBC)

His most recent defeat was earlier this month in the Ontario provincial byelection that saw Conservative Leader Patrick Brown victorious. 

Turmel garnered just 42 votes. 

Still, most frequent — or fringe — candidates aren't out to get in the record books, and most have a serious message they're trying to convey. 

"Over time, they can have some political success," said Hamish Telford, a political scientist with the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, BC. 

"There are candidates who run with fringe parties and committed to particular ideas, and they run because they believe passionately in those ideas and want to get them discussed in the political mainstream." 

Take the Marijuana Party, said Telford. Many of its pro-pot legalization candidates ran over and over again in both federal and provincial election campaigns. 

"It was a very fringe party and never got more than 0.1 per cent of the vote and was often the butt of jokes but now all the parties have to take a position on marijuana. And I think for the Marijuana party it was mission accomplished." 

Near misses

In other cases, it's the what-could-have-been moments, that keep candidates coming back. 

Manitoba Liberal Terry Duguid is running for the fourth time, after a near miss in the 2004 federal election. (CBC)

Manitoba Liberal Terry Duguid is running for the fourth time, after a near miss in the 2004 federal election when Conservative Joy Smith bested him by just 178 votes. 

"It was a bit of a heart-breaking election, but I picked myself off the mat and I did run again," Duguid told CBC News at his Winnipeg South campaign office. 

Often the big political parties will discourage candidates from multiple runs at a nomination if they don't win after the first or second try, but Duguid said the Liberals were glad to welcome him back. 

"I've lost a few elections but I've also won some. I was a city councillor for two terms. People from my community urged me to run. I was uncontested in the nomination." 

From losers to winners

And in those moments of doubt, there are some inspiring examples of frequent political losers whose luck turned. 

The late NDP leader Jack Layton was a three-time political loser before he finally won a seat. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Jack Layton, the NDP's late leader, was a three-time political loser (twice at Parliament in 1993 and 1997 and another at being mayor of Toronto) before he finally won a seat. 

And in P.E.I. earlier this year, the Green Party's Peter Bevan-Baker broke a long string of nine election shutouts before he finally scored his historic win. 

This time in the riding of Vancouver-Kingsway, Cariou, the Canadian Communist, will be one of six names on the ballot. 

His best-ever showing was in 1993 when he topped out at 343 votes. Perhaps he'll beat that this time, but he says he's unconcerned. He says it's really about being on the ballot and speaking at the candidates meetings. 

"It helps shift votes away from the right-wing parties, to the left," he said, "so we have an impact in every election."

About the Author

Chris Brown

Moscow Correspondent

Chris Brown is a foreign correspondent based in the CBC’s Moscow bureau. Previously a national reporter for CBC News on radio, TV and online, Chris has a passion for great stories and has travelled all over Canada and the world to find them.


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