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There's nothing new about placeholder candidates becoming MPs

Brian Mulroney and his wife, Mila, wave from the stage on election night in Sept. 4, 1984.

Canadian Press

Every party has them but nobody expects them to win until a blue, red or orange crush emerges to overwhelm the electoral map.

Some call them sacrificial lambs. In Quebec they're unkindly known as poteaux, or posts. These are the placeholder candidates every party enlists to run in no-hope ridings in order to have a full slate for both provincial and federal elections.

Every time a party makes big gains in unexpected areas, a few posts get uprooted and moved to provincial and national capitals. Several of these candidates have been dragged from the shadows of the NDP roster as the party surged into the lead in Quebec. Several of the candidates are idealistic students and retirees. One parachute candidate was vacationing in Las Vegas as her party surged to lead in the province.

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The NDP is far from the first party to face this challenge.

Each of the three main federal parties have at least 100 candidates with no expectation to win. A large portion of those have been pressed into service out of civic duty, party loyalty or as a personal favour. Some are doing it on a whim, not for a win. Examples go back to the distant past and very recent history.

Old hands in Quebec political coverage recount the legend of 1962, when 26 Social Credit MPs from Quebec were elected in an unexpected breakthrough. The story goes that instead of heading to Ottawa to Parliament Hill, a couple of the newly minted MPs showed up for work at the National Assembly in Quebec City. Sympathetic workers at the provincial legislature were said to have corrected the MPs on their political geography and sent them on their way toward Ottawa.

In 2007, when the provincial Action démocratique du Québec emerged from rump status to form Official Opposition, a few people suddenly had paying jobs for the first time.

Simon-Pierre Diamond, a student who campaigned by transit because he didn't have enough money for a car, became the youngest member of Quebec's National Assembly at age 22.

The background checks on these candidates aren't always performed to the highest rigour. In 2007 it was revealed Éric Dorion, another ADQ MNA, was a reformed drug addict with a criminal record for fraud and car theft in the 1990s. While Mr. Dorion is now an upstanding citizen by all reports, his relatively recent past made him the kind of candidate few parties seek.

Both were swept out of office, along with the vast majority of their ADQ colleagues, in the next election one year later. Satirists compared party leader Mario Dumont to a kindergarten teacher in the months leading to the 2008 setback.

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Brian Mulroney had more than 100 rookie MPs among the 211 elected September 4, 1984. Among them was a Purolator driver enlisted to run by party activists when he was delivering a package. Some went on to infamy in the many scandals that plagued Mr. Mulroney's government.

Others, such as school principal Benoît Bouchard, went on to become one of Mr. Mulroney's most reliable ministers.

They, and many others, have proven having real people rush into the ranks of the professional politicians is not necessarily a bad thing. But pounding the posts into position is one of the big challenges for any party leader, once the wave has crested.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this analysis described Don Mazankowski as a rookie MP in 1984. Mr. Mazankowski was, in fact, first elected in 1968.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Les Perreaux joined the Montreal bureau of the Globe and Mail in 2008. He previously worked for the Canadian Press covering national and international affairs, including federal and Quebec politics and the war in Afghanistan. More

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