A comical and revealing account of what it’s like to run for office with no political experience, little money and only a faint hope of winning, told first-hand by celebrated writer Noah Richler.
During the 2015 federal election, approximately 1200 political campaigns were held across Canada. One of those campaigns belonged to author, journalist and political neophyte Noah Richler. Recruited by the NDP to run in the bellwether riding of Toronto-St Paul’s, he was handed $350 and told he would lose. But as veteran NDP activists and social-media-savvy newbies joined his campaign, Richler found himself increasingly insulated from the stark reality that his campaign was flailing, imagining instead that he was headed to Parliament Hill. In The Candidate, Richler recounts his time on the trail in sizzling detail and hilarious frankness, from door knocking in Little Jamaica to being internet-shamed by experienced opponents. The Candidate lays bare what goes on behind the slogans, canvassing and talking points, told from the perspective of a political outsider. With his signature wit and probing eye, Noah Richler’s chronicle of running for office is insightful, brutally honest and devastatingly funny.
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THE CANDIDATE NOAH RICHLER DOUBLEDAY CANADA F E A R A N D L O A T H I N G O N T H E C A M P A I G N T R A I L
Copyright ? 2016 Noah Richler All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication, reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system without the prior written consent of the publisher'or in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, license from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency'is an infringement of the copyright law. Doubleday Canada and colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House Canada Limited Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication Richler, Noah, author ''''''''? The candidate : fear and loathing on the campaign trail / Noah Richler. Issued in print and electronic formats. ISBN 978-0-385-68727-0 (hardback).--ISBN 978-0-385-68728-7 (epub) ''''''''? 1.'Richler, Noah.' 2.'New Democratic Party.' 3.'Canada. Parliament? Elections, 2015.' 4.'Political candidates'Canada'Biography.' 5.'Political campaigns'Canada.' I.'Title. JL193.R52 2016''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''? 324.971'''''''''''''''''''''''''? C2016-902273-0 '''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''C2016-902274-9 Book design: CS Richardson Printed and bound in the USA Published in Canada by Doubleday Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited www.penguinrandomhouse.ca 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
To the memory of 'Terry Wall, to Doug Bell, and Sarah, of course. ? ? ? 'Buy the ticket, take the ride.' 'Hunter S. Thompson
? INTRODUCTION I didn't run in the October 2015 general election to write about it, but neither did I win the MP's seat I was campaigning for, so here I am back in the old one. To be honest, it took some time to recover from the delightful frenzy and then exhaustion of an electoral campaign and a part of that process was mitigating the worry I had that I'd not write again. For several months the old ways seemed pointless and done. I'm sure that many fellow candidates, no matter the party they were running for, felt similarly redundant after dedicating heart, soul and foot soles to the invigorating hard work of running for office; MPs that lost their seats, all the more so. And yet the abiding sensation I took away from my brief political adventure was not one of disappointment but of being immensely moved by men and women of all ages and backgrounds giving of their time, resources and money to a cause that was never, in their estimation, without hope. I loved Canada already; the even greater affection for my country that the experience of being a candidate left me with is inextricably mixed up with admiration for all the folk that help make campaigns possible, so many of them strangers and some new friends. The dates, names and streets of this account belong to a particular campaign fought on behalf of a particular party, but this book is intended neither as a platform for that party nor as a history of a specific election. We have a surfeit of political memoirs by folk operating from on high'prime ministers,
? 2 ministers, party leaders'which this book is not. If it is successful, then it will please Canadians across the barriers of belief we erect for a time and remind people of the tremendous and invaluable work that is done come election time by people at the base. We Canadians are such a lucky bunch. As I have said before, at our best we are aware of our good fortune and do what we can to share it. This book is a part of that enterprise.
December 3, 2015, the House of Commons. 'You're a drug addict!' hollered Chris Alexander across the floor of the House of Commons. 'Shame!' The Conservative critic for public safety was brandishing, high above his head (and hard to come by), a copy of an anthology about fatherhood to which I'd contributed some twenty years earlier. 'Order!' called the Speaker. Raged Alexander, 'How are we to trust a low-rent back alley criminal'a man who harms himself'with the task of keeping Canadians safe'? The CPC minions, all seventy-four of them, pounded on their desks and jeered and harrumphed. 'Mr. Speaker,' I started, making a deliberately half-hearted effort to stand. 'May I congratulate our honourable friend for bothering to read when our publishing industry is so out on a limb. If he's billed himself and not the taxpayer for the book, I'd be delighted to sign it.' A thunderous roar of laughter erupted from the NDP benches on both sides of the floor. I sat down and Tom Mulcair, the country's
twenty-third prime minister, winked at me as he rose. I dropped back into my seat and made a show of checking my governmentissued BlackBerry, this small gesture the finishing touch to my excellent performance of effortless dismissal. I scrolled through my inbox: some kid at Ryerson wanted to chat for his end-of-term paper about the party's landslide win. An ex at the CBC who'd been adamant that our distant, ill-fated liaison prohibited any coverage of me during the campaign was, now that I was comfortably in office, suddenly of the mind that historical circumstances permitted an interview. A woman in Nigeria needed help with the $785 million USD in her account and was offering half the sum if she could deposit it with me, the sweetheart. (Delete.) Ezra Levant had obviously been browsing porn again, some Russian scammer using the URL of his The Rebel site as a proxy: Oops my dearie :-S I found your pics on instagram. you are pretty boy. i need c0ck right now ! don't tell my hubby. (Delete.) And'well, that's interesting, the same junk mail had reached me via the Toronto Star's editor-in-chief, Michael Cooke. (Delete.) Quickly typed the Ryerson student's name into Google Images: nice. Cleared my browser and made a note to have a word with the Hill guys about our firewall. Then I cast an ear, if only for appearance's sake, to House proceedings, banging my desk on cue with the rest. Mulcair had completed his announcement of the return of the long-form census and was on to the details of the 'nation to nation? relationship with Indigenous peoples, a policy that we'd made a cornerstone of our campaign and the Liberals a callow attempt to pinch. He'd be some time yet, opposition having imposed a discipline that was somewhat wanting in our new prime minister, very pleased with
himself, so I took the opportunity to email my assistant, Ethan Farquharson, the political science grad who'd worked so hard on my campaign: Say yes to the kid from Ryerson but tell those CBC fucks at Power & Politics thanks for nothing and they can wait. Whoops! Thought better of it, the litany of my wife's admonishments coming to mind. I wrote, instead: Hi Ethan Say yes to the Ryerson student and tell? Power & Politics I'd be thrilled and that we'll work out some convenient times when I'm back at the office. Give my best to Rosemary Barton and tell her I think she's doing splendidly and what a treat it is to be invited to join her panel. Our new government is committed to transparency and the CBC's hard work is essential to the task. Then I pulled out the iPhone I kept for personal business and texted home to say I'd booked a flight for Thursday evening and, punctuality of Porter permitting, a table for two at F'Amelia under the name of 'Lifeline Syria,' the better for anonymity and handy for expense claims afterwards. As my attention drifted back to business, Mulcair belittling the opposition with aplomb, I noticed the Conservative rookie member from somewhere out on the prairie was still staring at me as she'd done for most of Question Period and I wondered at what point this might constitute a flirt. Alexander, seething in the seat next to her, was, I thought, a very strange man and not at all attractive when he was pissed. The blond hair across the brow, so Teutonic, had always made me feel uneasy. I looked up from the floor and saw that Carolyn Bennett, now a consultant with Turtle Island Fracking, was taking notes in the Gallery and looking especially sour, lips tightly pursed. Even
from this distance I could see she was gripping her eagle feather quill so tightly that she was fraying the barbs. I waved. Gave her the thumbs up. She frowned some more, put her head down, and a text from her popped up on my BlackBerry: 'Miigwetch, boy wonder. You're a traitor to your class. See you in 2019 or before.'
Okay. So none of this happened. Not a bit of it. But the candidate's a liar who pretends he does no such looking forward.
kilometres VAUGHAN BA TH U R ST AV E NU E O A K W O OD Y O N GE CHAPLIN MO U NT P L E A S A N T E G L IN T ON W EGLINT O N E BR O A DW A Y DU F F E RIN W IN O N A O S S IN GT ON ST C LAIR W D AV EN PO R T C A N A D I A N P A C I F I C ROGE RS M O U N T P L E A S A N TYR C E M E T E E G L I N T O N ? L A W R E N C E T O R O N T O ? S T . P A U L ? S D O N V A L L E Y W E S T D A V E N P O R T U N I V E R S I T Y ? R O S E D A L E UPPER CANADA COLLEGE BISHOP STRACHAN SCHOOL FIRST UNITARIAN CONGREGATION HOLY BLOSSOM TEMPLE WYCHWOOD BARNS 'WILL YOU
? Most of the time, I think back to May 7, 2015, as the start of it all. Justice Myra Bielby had granted bail to Omar Khadr, who'd been found guilty of throwing the grenade that killed U.S. Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer during the 2002 firefight of which he was the lone Afghan survivor. Fifteen years old at the time, Khadr had been pulled from the rubble with a volleyball-sized hole in his chest. It had all seemed outrageous and absurd'to have charged a child, to have considered the act of self-defence in battle a crime, to have passed judgment about the terrifying intensity of such a scene. Now Khadr was twentynine and about to have his first taste of freedom after the thirteen years of incarceration, in both Guantanamo and Canada, that followed his dubious conviction as a terrorist by a U.S. military tribunal with which not just Stephen Harper's Conservative government but also Paul Martin's Liberals had been in cahoots. On the steps of the Edmonton courthouse, Khadr's Scottishborn lawyer, Dennis Edney, addressed a scrum of reporters. 'My view is very clear: Mr. Harper's a bigot. Mr. Harper doesn't like Muslims,' said Edney. 'He wants to show he's tough on crime and who does he pick on? A fifteen-year-old boy who's UN
? 10 been put through hell in Guantanamo. We left a Canadian child in Guantanamo Bay to suffer torture and we, Canada, participated in this torture. So today's a wonderful day for justice.' The moment was, for anyone clinging to progressive ideas of Canada so long in abeyance it was not certain they still held, riveting. It felt like the Canadian equivalent of another that brought at least a moral end to the Senate Permanent Sub'? committee on Investigations? communist witch hunt, when, on June 9, 1954, Joseph N. Welch asked Senator Joseph McCarthy, 'Have you no sense of decency, sir'? I waited, as I'm sure many others were doing, for blowback from the 'Harper Government? (as the prime minister had ordered it be called). But there was none. Harper did not sue, Edney remained vocal and Khadr, who'd proved so appealing in what must have been a terribly difficult first encounter with the media, remained free. The silence was telling; it said enough is enough. There was a welling, and I felt a part of it. I'd been feeling, as a former Yugoslavian might, that the country in which I'd been raised did not exist anymore, but realized, during this late stage of Khadr's odyssey, this was not the case. My Canada was not dead, not a fiction to which I'd been writing misguidedly for a decade, but dormant and impatient: impatient for change, impatient to rouse itself. Impatient for a new government. ? ? ? But the true beginning came earlier. I'd been journeying around the idea of a life in Ottawa for a while. I'd intimated'not more than that'to Liberal MP Scott Brison, Green Party leader Elizabeth May and New Democratic Party MPs Craig Scott and Megan Leslie that I was open to
? W I L L Y O U R U N A G A I N ? ? 11 ? running for office or helping with policy. And in the autumn of 2013, I'd arranged to meet Chrystia Freeland, freshly installed as a Liberal MP, for a coffee at Terroni, an Italian restaurant in the east end of her Toronto Centre riding. At the time, the fortysecond general election, which law stipulated would happen no later than October 19, 2015, was on the minds of only a few: Ottawa's backroom machinators, media pundits, incumbent MPs, a new slate of candidates already in place and, late to the game, a few vacillators such as myself. I'd been thinking of running, though without any real application, for a couple of years already. What with the steady degradation of Canadian parliamentary democracy under Harper's Conservatives'the omnibus bills, the bullying of bureaucrats, the muzzling of scientists and the contempt shown to so many parts of the franchise'I was feeling with increasing desperation that it was time to pitch in by doing more than writing about the situation. And yet I'd arranged my chat with Freeland, whom I knew by reputation but had never met, for reasons not entirely clear even to myself. I liked what I knew of Freeland, liked her trajectory? The Globe and Mail, the Financial Times, Thomson Reuters and a couple of books behind her. We were loosely of the same generation and our social circles intersected on occasion. She knew my sister, Martha, and we had journalist friends in common. But really, I think I wanted to have a word to see if there was more to her than the entitlement to power and clubby self-regard that experience taught me was the characteristic of so many Liberals: MPs and operatives who spoke of theirs as 'the natural governing party? in the same off-putting way some journalists describe their newspaper or television or radio platform as the one 'of record,' or diminish the New Democratic Party's historic contribution to Canadian political evolution as no more than the actions of Parliament's 'party of conscience.' I deplored these pat
? 12 phrases and the arrogance they excused. They spoke, even in Canada'a country without an obvious class system (it exists, but typically between the urban and the rural)'to structures of privilege of which I wanted no part. As Freeland sat down, it occurred to me that, not for the first time, I had booked an appointment with my inner resentment of folk with whom I had a lot more in common than I cared to admit. I did not much like Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, a book that struck me, despite itself, as an apology for the status quo. One day, I thought, I really must get to the bottom of what may simply be my indisposition to people having made more of their good fortune than perhaps I have done. Or at least I should fathom why I believe that they have, and how it is I have cast myself as the righteous underdog. Me, the anodyne Canadian equivalent of the Saudi Arabian turning to jihad after doing so well by the family: wealthy, Oxford-educated and imagining some better idea of the social good'a parody, surely. Actually, I was surprised that Freeland showed at all. The invite I'd emailed, explaining that I'd voted for the NDP's Linda McQuaig and not her, had hardly been charming but here she was anyway. She smiled. We ordered. Freeland talked about meeting Trudeau and her decision to run for the Liberal Party. 'Justin has the brand,' she said. I felt my hackles rise. Was that, I wondered, a good enough reason to sign up? I told Freeland how, after the 2011 election that had reduced the Liberal Party to thirty-four seats, I'd visited the Parliamentary Dining Room of the House of Commons, in Ottawa, for an article I was writing for the United Kingdom's current affairs weekly, the New Statesman, and had watched as Justin Trudeau, who might as well have been wearing his father Pierre's cape, swanned into the room with a gaggle of advisors as