Independent candidates ready to take on parties

Independent candidates face an uphill fight when they run against the major parties when it comes to money and organizing. Every election campaign, however, there are many candidates who decide to go it alone.

You won't find Kirk Schmidt's election campaign office in a rented storefront plastered with election signs. No, his headquarters are out in the garage of his Calgary home.

"It's a mess," Schmidt, 26, told CBC. "There's a lot of signs, a lot stakes, piles of polling information."

The yellow and black lawn signs are the tools of Schmidt's independent campaign in the riding of Calgary West, where he is aiming to unseat Conservative party incumbent Rob Anders, who has won four times in a row.

A computer analyst with mainly "small-c" conservative views, Schmidt said he wants to give voters an alternative to the status quo.
'I figured I'd put myself forward as an independent because I don't necessarily subscribe to any of the major parties,' says Kirk Schmidt. ((Courtesy of Kirk Schmidt))

"I figured I'd put myself forward as an independent because I don't necessarily subscribe to any of the major parties," he said. "Sometimes I'll agree with one, sometimes I'll agree with the other."

"There are plenty of people in this riding who believe the same way, or else are conservative but don't like the incumbent," he added.

"I just want to see change in the representation in the riding," he said.

Regardless of their place on the political spectrum, independent candidates are at a disadvantage financially when it comes to competing against the major parties. Independent candidates can raise only $1,100 per donor, and can only issue tax receipts during the actual election campaign. Political parties can raise $1,100 each year from each donor, meaning their war chest is much richer.

For Schmidt, that means hours of canvassing in his riding, spreading his message and prospecting for donations. He is wearing out his footwear spending six to eight hours a day on the doorsteps trying to reach the more than 130,000 residents in Calgary West.

"I've pretty much burned through one [pair of shoes] already," Schmidt said with a chuckle. "I might have to buy another pair soon."

He is saving campaign funds by operating out of his garage, and he did lots of legwork before the writ was dropped, getting good prices on signs and writing his own program to analyze polling data.

Casey doing it his way

Across the country in the Nova Scotia riding of Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, Bill Casey will be seeking a fifth consecutive term after being elected twice as a Progressive Conservative and twice as a Conservative.

He is running as independent this time, however, after being kicked out of the Conservative caucus in June 2007 for voting against his party's budget in a protest over offshore energy money.

Bill Casey, shown in the House of Commons, is running as an independent this time, after being kicked out of the Conservative caucus in June 2007. ((CBC))

In the 2006 election, Casey polled 52 per cent of the vote, and he got 50 per cent per cent in 2004. This time around, he has already won the endorsement of four of five Nova Scotia MLAs in his riding, including three provincial cabinet members.

With backing like that, he could be hard to dislodge, but he acknowledged on his blog that campaign money is an issue.

Some Independent MPs from recent elections:

Chuck Cadman, who was first elected in Surrey North in 1997, represented the suburban Vancouver riding initially for the Reform party, then the Canadian Alliance and finally as an Independent MP.

He ran as an independent in the 2004 election after he lost the Conservative nomination to someone who had signed up more party members.

John Nunziata claimed the Toronto-area riding York South-Weston for the Liberals in 1984, 1988, and 1993. While in opposition, he was a member of  the so-called "rat pack," which dogged the Tory government of then-prime minister Brian Mulroney.

The Liberals booted him from their caucus in 1996 over his opposition to the GST.

He took the riding one more time as an Independent MP, but Liberal Alan Tonks defeated him in 2000.

"Election 2008 promises to be the fight of my life. It is my first as an independent candidate and it is the first where I have to re-building my funding from scratch," Casey wrote.

David Marler is another independent candidate who bucked the party line.

In the 2006 federal election, Marler was a Conservative candidate in the Quebec riding of Brome-Missisquoi, in the province's Eastern Townships. During the campaign, Marler declined to participate in what became know as the Conservative party's "in-and-out" financing scheme. He ultimately finished third behind the Bloc Québécois and Liberal candidates.

Earlier this year, the Conservative party said it wouldn't support Marler's bid to run again in the riding. So he decided to go it alone.

Marler said he wants to go to Ottawa and be able to say things freely  "because that is the role — the traditional role — of the parliamentarian."

"We're a little feisty down in Brome-Missisquoi," he recently told CBC. "We're going to look after ourselves. We're not going to follow party lines if party lines are not serving us."

Long odds

Regardless of their background or track record, independent candidates don't have history on their side. Only three independent candidates have been elected since 1997 in general elections. In 2006, only one independent out of 90 claimed victory.

That sole winner, André Arthur, is back again this year seeking re-election in the riding of Portneuf-Jacques-Cartier southwest of Quebec City.

The radio broadcaster, dubbed "King Arthur," was a surprise winner in the last election.

This time around, the Conservatives aren't even running a candidate against him, likely due to the fact that he tended to support the government more often than not.