Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday September 11, 2019
Why is it so hard for Independent candidates to get elected to Canada’s House of Commons?
Canada has not had a strong Independent movement since Confederation when there were several Independent politicians in government. They were called “loose fish” and operated separately of political structures, explains John English, director of the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International history at Trinity College.
When the party system began to take hold at the turn of the century under Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, these “loose fish” declined in numbers. The party structure became the main source of funding for candidates and also provided patronage appointments to important positions such as the railway or the post office.
Independents made a brief resurgence in the Second World War. When Prime Minister Mackenzie King broke his promise of conscription, Quebec Liberals declared themselves Independent (but still affiliated with the Liberal party for the most part).
By the 1960s, Independents became especially rare in Canadians politics, limited only to “those candidates who got kicked out of their party or decided their interest didn’t align with party values or the party leader,” English said.
The debate over the strength and influence of central party power in politics isn’t new, either. Collenette says this discussion has been occurring within parties for years, but “the question now is larger because its not contained in the party anymore.”
The main reason Canada doesn’t have more Independent politicians is because “they don’t win,” Thomas said. Before campaign finance legislation changes were created in 1974, local electoral campaign officers would identify supporters and then get supporter to learn the name of the candidate. Now, voters are more likely to recognize party labels than individual names.
David Moscrop, political scientist and author of “Too Dumb for Democracy,” agrees that central party authority needs to be loosened but worries about the tradeoffs. First, it’ll require a lot of cooperation from parties, civil service, staffers, leadership and media. (“I don’t think that is going to happen,” Moscrop says.) Then you have to balance loosening party control while maintaining party cohesion. (“How do you do that?” he asks.) (National Observer)