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Independent MP Helena Guergis speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Feb. 10, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Independent MP Helena Guergis speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Feb. 10, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Crunching Numbers

Is Simcoe-Grey a Tory riding or a Guergis riding? Add to ...

In the next election, as federal parties spend millions of dollars jockeying for position on the national stage, two MPs will be waging their own local campaigns all by themselves. So what are the odds independent MPs André Arthur and Helena Guergis will be returning to the House of Commons after the ballots are counted?

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If history provides any guide, their odds are not good.

Though independents were more often elected during Canada's first century, in the past 40 years no more than one or two independents have been sent to Ottawa in any one general election. In fact, the two independents elected in 2008 (Mr. Arthur and Bill Casey, who has since resigned) were the most since 1972.

Rarely do independent MPs win consecutive elections, with Mr. Arthur being one of the very few exceptions. MPs who either leave or are forced out of their party's caucus have a poor track record as well. Only about one-quarter of these MPs are ever re-elected as an independent after being previously voted in as a candidate for a national party.

Simcoe - Grey, the riding held by Ms. Guergis, is an otherwise Conservative stronghold in Ontario. The riding has voted in Progressive Conservatives at the provincial level for most of its history, and only a split in the vote allowed the federal Liberals to hold the riding before 2004. The Guergis family is very well-known in the region, but a few of the outcast Tory's cousins were recently defeated in municipal elections amid some controversy, and the likely Conservative candidate for the riding, Kellie Leitch, is a medical doctor who comes with strong credentials.

Ms. Guergis does have a few aces up her sleeve, however. There has been a recent groundswell of sympathy for the MP, who was booted out of the Conservative caucus (unfairly, some say) for her tenuous connections to the business dealings of her husband, former MP Rahim Jaffer. Dr. Leitch has been called a "parachute candidate" by some local observers as well. But whether Simcoe - Grey is a Guergis riding or a Conservative riding remains to be seen.

Few MPs in her position have been successful in their re-election bid. Those who have been recently, such as Bill Casey in Nova Scotia and Chuck Cadman in British Columbia, campaigned solo under brighter circumstances than Ms. Guergis.

The cause of an MP's departure from a party caucus does play a role in their ability to maintain their vote as an independent. Those who left in disgrace manage to hold only about six per cent of their vote, while those who leave in defense of principles shared by their constituents tend to do much better, keeping about half of their vote. Mr. Casey was an exception, in that he increased his vote share as an independent.

André Arthur, the enigmatic independent MP from Portneuf - Jacques-Cartier, outside of Quebec City, faces an entirely different situation.

He was first elected as an independent in 2006 and barely withstood the challenge put up by the Bloc Québécois in 2008. Mr. Arthur is generally seen by the local population as a Conservative in all but name, perhaps best demonstrated by the Conservative Party's decision not to run a candidate against him in the last election. A decision on whether or not to do so again for the next campaign has not been publicly announced.

Unlike the provincial capital itself, Portneuf - Jacques-Cartier was vulnerable to the recession, and the Bloc's recent calls for more funding for the forestry industry resonates with constituents, who recently went through the shutdown of Donnacona's paper mill.

When Mr. Arthur was first elected, he was riding a regional wave of protest from residents tired of the old federalist-sovereigntist debate. He was seen as a maverick then, but has since taken on more of the mantle of the establishment. There is a feeling in the region that his antics have worn a little thin and recent polling numbers show that Conservative support is falling in the capital, a drop that Mr. Arthur will find difficult to counteract.

Along with Ms. Guergis and Mr. Arthur, there is another independent candidate to keep an eye on. James Ford, an independent conservative, almost defeated Tim Uppal in Edmonton - Sherwood Park in 2008, taking 32 per cent of the vote to Mr. Uppal's 36 per cent. Mr. Ford has confirmed that he intends to run once again. This makes him a rarity, as virtually no prominent independents take another kick at the can after an unsuccessful election bid. Whether he will be able to maintain or increase his support makes Edmonton - Sherwood Park one of the very few ridings to watch in Alberta.

Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com

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