If you like Pierre Poilievre, the bare-knuckles brawler of a Conservative cabinet minister, smile because you might have a two-fer in the next Parliament.
Last weekend, a young man with a wafer-thin résumé but great devotion to Mr. Poilievre won the Conservative nomination for the Ottawa riding of Nepean.
Andy Wang, 27, who started knocking on doors for Mr. Poilievre at 16 years of age and who has spent the past five years on the minister's staff, won a stiffly contested nomination against Bob Plamondon, a much superior candidate by any rational measure. Mr. Wang seized the opening created by his mentor and hero deciding to run in a more rural, and therefore safer, Conservative seat on the periphery of suburban Ottawa.
Mr. Plamondon, a chartered accountant, is a well-respected consultant, the author of four books, a former member of the National Capital Commission board and a former chief financial officer for a Nepean company. Mr. Plamondon, in other words, has accomplished many things outside politics, which can scarcely be said for Mr. Wang.
This Nepean contest, like too many others in all parties, showed that the best-qualified candidates do not always win. People of substance sometimes find themselves, as in this case, up against someone who has done nothing but politics – as constituency assistant or Hill staffer – and therefore knows the riding membership lists and how to work them. In Mr. Wang's case, he signed up many fellow Chinese-Canadians, and although the final vote tally was not announced, it is highly likely their participation made the difference.
Since the issue of abortion often plays a subterranean role in Conservative Party politics, perhaps it is worth noting that Mr. Wang was endorsed by the Campaign Life Coalition, the anti-abortion organization.
Party leaders these days stay clear of nominations with the result that democracy is served, but the party is not because too many people of limited experience in politics but considerable experience in life wind up losing. A glance at the Conservative backbenches (and cabinet) makes this long-term consequence for the party painfully clear.
Listening to the two candidates' speeches in Nepean made it evident which one would be listened to in the House of Commons and its committees.
Mr. Plamondon spoke from a text, predictably ran through worthy Conservative policies, took a few jabs at the Liberals (it was a Conservative nomination meeting, after all), and then said something heretical in the Harper Conservative Party, "I will be open to good ideas wherever they come from."
Mr. Wang, by contrast, spoke without notes. Out of his mouth poured a string of clichés, some of which were so old they were beyond cliché, as in "we want to offer a hand up, not a handout." He said nothing about policy, kept blasting the Liberals (provincial and federal) for "corruption" and "high taxes," and paraded from one vacuous phrase to another in search of an idea, like a bad high school debater.
Except that Mr. Wang had a knack, as Mr. Plamondon did not, for the rhetorical blow to the neck of the party's opponents and the de rigueur Conservative shot against the "so-called experts"; that is people who actually know something. Mr. Poliviere would have been proud of his protégé.
But, of course, the speeches didn't matter. Nomination battles such as the one in Nepean are all about selling memberships and getting those who buy them to vote. You could see in the hall many Chinese-Canadians wearing Wang buttons, testimony to his work in that community.
Whether they were dedicated Conservatives, or simply willing to turn up for the occasion, was not known, although it should be said, Mr. Wang aside, that the Harper Conservatives have wooed, flattered and otherwise tried by many means to appeal to Chinese-Canadians, hitherto a rather pro-Liberal community across Canada. Should Mr. Wang be elected to Parliament, he will presumably become a spear carrier, and maybe more than that, in this ethnic outreach.
Mr. Plamondon started later than Mr. Wang, who's been at the riding game for five years. Although encouraged by leaders in the Nepean Conservative organization, Mr. Plamondon could not sell enough memberships. Public support for Mr. Plamondon from the former MP and cabinet minister John Baird, who turned up to vote, was not enough.
Nepean now has a Conservative candidate in the style of Mr. Poilievre, who epitomizes the way the party does politics: forever campaigning, ferociously partisan, loud and shrill, unyielding, non-stop repeaters of talking points.
Nepean voters who like politics this way will be thrilled. They now have a genuine article for a candidate. Conservative opponents have another choice: Figure out which other party's candidate has the best chance and vote that way.