Replacement candidate scramble goes down to the wire

The deadline has dropped to register as a federal election candidate, and that raises the stakes in a tight three-way race plagued by social media missteps.

Race to field a full slate of 338 candidates calls up political pinch-hitters

Benjamin Dichter has stepped up as the Conservative candidate in the Toronto Danforth riding, replacing ousted candidate Tim Dutaud. Dichter is a former candidate for city council, small businessman and founding member of advocacy group Rainbow Conservatives. (Benjamin Dichter/Facebook)

The deadline has dropped to register as a federal election candidate, and that raises the stakes in a tight three-way race plagued by social media missteps.

Now, any candidate who is removed or forced to resign can no longer be replaced. And in this campaign, every seat could make the difference between winning government and serving in opposition.

So far, there have been 11 candidates ejected since the 78-day campaign began, leaving the parties scrambling to secure replacements while making sure new names to the roster doesn't cause fresh headaches.

As of the 2 p.m. rolling registration deadline across the country yesterday, the Conservatives, NDP and Liberal parties had registered a full 338 candidates. The Green Party was short of a full slate, but could not confirm the exact number that will be formally released by Elections Canada Wednesday.

'Bad bar' for social media standards?

Melanee Thomas, assistant professor of political science at the University of Calgary, sees a dangerous precedent with the high number of candidates forced out — and the speed at which they are disposed of. She said it smacks of desperation in a tight three-way race.

"I think the bar has been set, but I think it's a bad bar that the parties are using to turf candidates," she told CBC News. "The idea that someone can't be a political candidate because of a Facebook comment they made three years ago seems ridiculous."

Brief comments that are often taken out of context are not a good basis for judging a person's character or ethics, she said.

The strategy of swiftly ejecting candidates is a short-term solution for an immediate problem, but she warned that it could ultimately have a chilling effect on potential candidates and on broader public engagement.

'Get skeletons out' before campaign

But Conservative strategist Jason Lietaer said political parties need to act quickly to protect their brand.

"There simply is not enough oxygen in a campaign to defend the indefensible. It saps the leader's message and mood, it kills team morale and keeps you off message for too long," he said. "Sadly, it's a necessary evil — I suspect some of the folks for all parties could have been strong candidates, but I think all of them have learned a valuable lesson: get your skeletons out of the closet, or Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, well before the campaign." 

Paul Litt, a cultural historian at Carleton University's School of Canadian Studies, said the nature of social media requires people to communicate in the moment and often without careful thought. 

Morality lagging social media culture?

"Our culture of moralizing has yet to catch up to the social media culture," he said. "One demonstrably questionable remark and the ejection seat button is pushed. This practice gives those who mine for indiscrete remarks incredible power with no accountability."

According to information provided by the main political parties to CBC News:

  • The Conservatives have 273 male and 65 female candidates. The youngest candidate is Romain Vignol, 20, and the oldest is Joe Oliver, 74.
  • The Liberal Party has 233 male and 105 female candidates, also ranging in age from 20 (Travis Dueck) to 74 (Hedy Fry). 
  • The NDP is running 192 male and 146 female candidates. 

The downfall of some candidates has led to others stepping up as pinch-hitters.

In Victoria, management consultant Luke Krayenhoff became the last-minute replacement for Maria Manna, who resigned after CBC News reported about her Facebook posts that expressed skepticism about the Sept. 11 attacks. She withdrew from the race late Monday.

In Toronto-Danforth,  Benjamin Dichter stepped in as the Conservative candidate to replace Tim Dutaud, who was turfed after a citizen blogger dug up videos posted on YouTube of him making prank calls faking orgasms and mocking mentally disabled people.

New room for pinch-hitters

According to Dichter's LinkedIn site, he's a business owner, certified gemologist, community advocate and founding member of LGBTory.ca, Rainbow Conservatives of Canada.

Here are some other new replacement candidates:

  • Lawyer Leslyn Lewis stepped in to run under the Conservative banner in Scarborough-Rouge Park to replace Jerry Bance, who was caught by the CBC on camera urinating into a coffee cup while he was an appliance repairman.
  • Longtime Surrey, B.C., city councillor Judy Higginbotham has replaced Joy Davies as the Liberal candidate in South Surrey-White Rock, after Davies made pro-marijuana posts on Facebook.

  • Mike Windsor replaced Blair Dale, a candidate in the Newfoundland riding of Bonavista-Burin-Trinity, because of comments posted on Facebook the party said were "incompatible."
  • Travis Dueck, a University of Alberta political science student, replaced Chris Austin as the Liberal candidate for Sturgeon River-Parkland in Alberta, for comments made by Austin the Liberals said were "irreconcilable" with the party's values.
  • Travis Dueck replaced Chris Austin as Liberal candidate for Sturgeon River-Parkland in Alberta, who was dropped for making comments that were "irreconcilable" with the party's values. At 20 years old, Dueck is the party's youngest candidate. (Travis Dueck/Twitter)
  • Tom Paulley replaced Stefan Jonasson, an NDP candidate in Winnipeg who dropped out of the campaign after comments surfaced in which he compared the beliefs of one set of Orthodox Jews to those of the Taliban.
  • Alexandre Dang is the pinch-hitter in the Montreal's Hochelaga riding after the Conservatives removed candidate Augustin Ali Kitoko for sharing an album of photos from Mulcair's Facebook page.
  • Hugh Curry replaced Morgan Wheeldon as the NDP candidate in Nova Scotia's Kings-Hants riding. Wheeldon was forced to resign after suggesting in a 2014 Facebook post that Israel was engaged in "ethnic cleansing."
  • Robert Prcic, a businessman, basketball coach and former Liberal provincial candidate, has replaced Ala Buzreba in Alberta's Calgary Nose Hill riding after she dropped out over four-year-old tweets surfaced of her telling someone they should have been aborted with a coat hanger and another to "go blow your brains out."
  • Jeremy Dohan replaced Conservative candidate Gilles Guibord after he was  forced to resign from the race in Montreal's Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie riding over sexist comments he allegedly made in online comments section of the Journal de Montreal newspaper.
  • Other candidates, who made comments considered violent, misogynist, offensive, or just ill-informed have apologized and were allowed to remain in the race.