Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 11, 2015
BRANDON- To say it was a rough week for Conservative candidates in Ontario is a bit of an understatement. In the last seven days, two candidates for the party were officially sent packing after some past “indiscretions” reared their head, as they often do in campaigns.
First off, Jerry Bance, a candidate in Scarborough-Rouge Park, was removed following the resurfacing of a CBC “Marketplace” video from 2012 in which Bance, who is also a home appliance repairman, urinated in the coffee cup of a prospective customer while he or she was in another room, before pouring the contents down the sink.
It was quite a brazen and disgusting display and quickly derailed his attempt to again find a way into the House of Commons.
Second was Toronto-Danforth candidate Tim Dutaud, a small-time actor who appeared as a character in a series of YouTube videos where he took on the persona of a character mocking the mentally challenged, as well a number of other lewd acts during prank calls to unsuspecting people.
His appearance in those videos was part of a homemade sketch comedy routine, but in a world where every last instance of a candidate’s past is scrutinized, both of these incidents are terrible black eyes for the Conservative election machine and are stark examples of how quickly tides can turn when the digging begins.
However, vetting prospective candidates is not an exact science and as the Harper Conservatives this week proved, sometimes there are some who fall through the cracks.
It also shows that in an increasingly social-media-savvy world, any sign of being slightly less than savoury can come back and bite someone during an election.
In the past it has often been the Conservatives calling others into question (see Brandon-Souris byelection of 2013), but this time the shoe appears to be on the other foot. Candidates are put through the rigours when seeking a nomination and even the slightest miss, such as Bance and Dutaud, can hurt the fortunes of a party embroiled in a tight race.
Having gone through one of those selection processes myself during the last provincial election, it revealed a bunch about what it takes to be a candidate, and how closely a party’s brain trust looks into a person’s past.
As a member of the Manitoba Liberals back in 2011, I found that although their systems at the time weren’t quite what the Harper Conservatives may have, in many instances they still did their homework.
People around my political circle were contacted and it appeared by the time my phone rang to explore the opportunity further, they had done their homework on the makeup of their potential candidate.
Given all that, however, there is a striking overtone that has appeared as a result of the current mess, and that is the somewhat reserved, ho-hum response from the prime minister.
Obviously the party needed to address the issue, and removing the candidates was the right step. But Harper’s nonchalant answer as part of his five-question carousel shows he is tiring somewhat and may, in fact, be resigned to the outcome looming on the horizon for his party.
There is no doubt that the writing’s on the wall in many former Tory blue strongholds, but this go-around, the prime minister seems to be lacking the Shakespearean-like ambition for the office he once exhibited so fervently.
His all-Canadian dad routine and strikingly happy-go-lucky facade on the campaign trail is not the leader Canadians knew, leaving some to wonder whether he knows the jig is up.
Even with that shift, Harper continues to only play to his supporters, however, and the tactic in many ridings like ours still resonates where the Conservatives attract some of their most loyal and dedicated foot soldiers. But as polls suggest nationwide, that outlook may not be as cheerful.
The prime minister’s tenure in office has been characterized by a narrow view, and in many cases, the party has won through a combination of voter apathy and some skulduggery.
This time is different, however, as the loyalists who once attracted and elected “star” candidates like Peter MacKay and John Baird appear to have trickled down (no pun intended) to bringing in the likes of Tim Dutaud and Jerry Bance.
In riding-rich Ontario, where the Conservatives can ill afford to drop anything to the Liberals or the NDP, this spells trouble for the party that Stephen built.