I had just turned 61 when my slip into politics began. It was October, 2009.
I had come through a bout of reflections about my mortality shortly after turning 60 and was wondering how to enter into the next round of my life. I wanted to see an end to the deadlines and accountability that came with my pursuit of money and advancement as a bureaucrat in the federal government and then as a senior consultant. I was still working full time as associate vice president with CRG Consulting but I was looking forward to leaving the work force. I could not yet think of myself as “retired” but I knew I was getting ready to live within that concept.
I therefore needed to get into full time politics, and – if elected – to the House of Commons like I might have needed a hole in the head. Yet here I was and now (the election is far behind me) I am still sorting out the pieces.
My intention was to keep a record only of what happened in the first full year (January to December) that followed my becoming a candidate for political office in October the year before. Given the hype about an imminent election I thought my political journey would be done long before the first year was out.
I knew this journey was one I wanted to remember. That is why the unedited diary reads like a private document. That is why there was initially no thought given to an explanation about who I am, how I came into this process, and why a person of my maturity and with my professional background and contracting options stayed in the game after I began to see what it was all about.
Along the way I came to believe that my experience might be of interest to others who wonder about (and worry about) the state of politics in Canada today. There are many thoughtful and interesting analyses of politics in Canada in the media and on the internet but none to my knowledge have been written from the perspective of a local candidate during his or her run for office. There are very few accounts of “lessons learned” offered by those who lost.
Because the process I observe upon is true, the people I interacted with are real people. I need to speak honestly about my relationship with them but I sincerely appreciated the help I received along the way. I use the real names only of those who had the highest public profile among the many I dealt with. The real people behind the altered names will know who they are but a google search will not lead a reader to their life within these pages. From one and all I welcome input and correction.
Down the Rabbit Hole
I had covered a lot of ground before I got to this round in my life.
I had always been interested in participatory politics though I had rarely been active in political party associations. As you will see I was more active in Liberal party politics than in Conservative circles, but my time in Liberal party ranks had been a long time ago. I had been a regular contributor to the financial coffers of the Conservative party for decades.
When I filled in my “Nomination Contestant Questionnaire” and submitted it to the National Candidate Election Committee for the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) it seemed to hit all the key competencies the CPC was looking for. It was agreed that if I were elected candidate at a nomination convention organized by my riding association in Ottawa-Vanier I would be able to represent the party with energy and enthusiasm.
I am a graduate of Canada’s Royal Military College and had been eight years in the military; I had been a doctoral student, teaching assistant, and sessional lecturer on political theory at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, for four years; when active in the Liberal Party of Canada I was executive assistant to a minister of the government of Pierre Trudeau; I had been part of two commissions focused on the future of our country (the Drury Commission on the future of the Northwest Territories and the Task force on Canadian Unity); I had been a public servant for 22 years and reached the rank of acting assistant deputy minister while with Canada’s Department of National Defence; and, over the 7 years before becoming a candidate for public office, I had made a lot of money as a consultant.
On the community service front I am the founding president of the Real Property Institute of Canada; I was on the executive of the Sharbot Lake Property Owners’ Association where my wife Marie and I now own the cottage my parents had built; and, I was active in local sports when my two boys were involved in soccer and in hockey. The national office of the CPC believed my being bilingual (I grew up in Quebec City) and an immigrant (from the Netherlands) would be plusses in my run for Parliament as well.
Ever since my time in a minister’s office I had had, at the back of my mind, the notion that running for Parliament would be a challenging thing to do. But all I ever did in the subsequent thirty years was attend the odd party meeting (always the Conservative party) and I came away every time with a sense that – while I knew I would be good as a politician – I was not the kind of person who builds the networks required. Without a network, as a general rule, entry into politics on the side of one of Canada’s national political parties is almost impossible.
When in university one of my areas of great fascination was the turn within Germany, after the Great War, to the politics of fear and terror introduced by Adolph Hitler and the Nazis. My parents and their families in the Netherlands had seen the disintegration of democratic principles and ideals first hand. The impact on them and therefore on me was to entrench an undercurrent of unease about civil society. Things can go belly up very quickly.
I have always wondered how a reasonably well educated population could fall into the frenzy of German politics in the 1930s. I frequently asked myself: “What kind of person would I have been had I been born into that time and place?”
In the summer of 2009 this longstanding interest had led me to a book written by Ian Kershaw titled Hitler. It is a 1500 page book. I undertook the reading of it as a project at the cottage and at home.
Once again I learned about by the forces upon individuals and societies that can take them in a direction where democracy of the many cedes its place to the absolute authority of the few. I asked myself whether it would be possible in a country such as Canada for individuals and communities to abandon their right to have a say about political decisions that impact on their daily lives.
I was just coming to the end of this book when I read a notice from the CPC electoral district association in my riding that they were forming a “400 Club” to support the promotion of conservative values and principles in Ottawa-Vanier. What better way to ensure that democratic values are maintained than to participate in what I thought (naively) would be a speakers’ and readers’ club of like-minded individuals?
I would learn soon enough that the “400” referred not to a target number of interested people but to a dollar amount, pure and simple.
I knew very little about the Ottawa-Vanier Conservative Association though I had always paid a membership fee and contributed annually to the federal party since the late 1980s. While never gravitating to the right wing of the party (I held back my contributions in the years when conservatism in Canada was dominated by the Reform party) I have always found comfort in the broad principles of conservatism. From time to time these same principles had led me to view favorably (and even vote for) the Liberal party in my riding. The Liberals often espoused conservative principles when governing. But I always knew that my attraction to the Liberal party was impermanent. I was a conservative, through and through. You will see how this translated into my thinking about Canada and about Ottawa-Vanier soon enough.
Owing to the nature of my public service and contracting work – which had all been focused upon national issues – I was not familiar with on-the-ground political concerns in the riding. I assumed ongoing research was being done by the local riding association (referred to below either as the electoral district association – EDA – or OVEDA, for Ottawa-Vanier Electoral District Association) and that they would fill me in if I became their candidate.
Ottawa-Vanier, by the way, is a riding with about 100,000 voters located just east of Canada’s Parliament Hill. Indeed, Vanier used to be known as “Eastview” because of how clearly the tower of the central block of Canada’s parliament buildings is visible when looking down the main street (Beechwood) in this area of the capital city. I would learn that the riding was a complicated mix of the very well to do and of the socially and financially disadvantaged; of long- tenured public servants and of new Canadians who found it difficult to find work; of students and university lecturers, and of the homeless and drug addicts; of well protected unionized teachers and of small business people for whom every day was a day of risk. Into the mix, a sizable minority of the riding is in the former city of Vanier. Vanier has long been home to most of Ottawa's francophone population.
I also learned that the Liberal party had held this seat for 85 years, ever since the riding was created. The seat was considered a fiefdom by Liberal incumbents and their followers. I was told that the local Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) asked a mutual acquaintance why someone of my professional stature would bother running in “his” jurisdiction.
I decided to join the 400 Club.
It was late summer at the time and I learned that a meeting of the 400 Club was planned for the fall. Shortly afterwards, and long before that first meeting of the Club happened, I also learned that the candidate representing the Conservative party in Ottawa-Vanier had resigned. I received a request, sent to all members of the association, to think about who might be called upon to step into the shoes of Patrick Glemaud who had run in the previous federal election.
A candidate of Haitian origin, a federal government Department of Justice lawyer and entrepreneur, Patrick became well known only months after his resignation because of his being a key player in the so–called Guergis/Jaffer affair. It was an affair that linked a sitting Conservative MP and minister (Helena Guergis) and her lobbyist husband (Raheem Jaffer) to a number of transactions which were alleged to benefit from her influence. Patrick was a partner to Jaffer. Breaches of the Lobbyist Code of Canada were eventually confirmed and Ms. Guergis was removed from the CPC.
Patrick’s decision to resign as candidate, however, had had nothing to do with the affair. The affair came later. Patrick had decided for his own reasons to get on with his life rather than run a second time.
When learning of the vacancy my reflex was to think: ``Why not me?”
A more rational man than I would likely have given this “opportunity” a pass. After all, my public profile had always been Liberal. I had already had the experience of working closely with ministers when we on Parliament Hill shared Pierre Trudeau’s negative attitude towards MPs (“nobodies”). My colleagues and I in that period had little regard even for the Parliamentary Secretaries who worked with our ministers.
John Munro, then minister of the Department of Indian Affairs, had me travel with him in government aircraft all over the country during his last two years in office. My background in collective and individual rights, when in the PhD program at Carleton University and as a fledgling consultant, had become an asset as he and his government sought to develop an aboriginal rights agenda in light of new directions set by the Supreme Court of Canada and subsequent changes to the Constitution. I had sat on the floor of the House of Commons when the Cree-Naskapi Act was passed in a “committee of the whole”.
As the phrase goes, I had “been there, done that”. I had gotten the T shirt.
Nevertheless, on a whim and without much thought as to consequences, I sent an email to the referenced internet address and submitted my name. I added a few words about my past, pointed to my long-term financial support for the Conservative party, and that was that. I did not expect to hear anything in return because I had long ago assessed that a person without deep party connections would have little welcome and no chance. I did not tell my wife Marie about my email. I sincerely believed nothing at all would come from this.
A couple of days later, to my surprise, I was called by the president of the Ottawa-Vanier Conservative Association, Carol Latimer. She was very enthusiastic about my candidacy in our discussion over the phone. She asked me whether I was serious and whether I would authorize her to take my candidacy one step further: the association had set up a Search Committee. Would I be OK with attending a meeting of that committee?
Again, I said “yes” (what else could I say?). And again, I did not mention anything about this to Marie.
As the day for my “interview” with the Search Committee approached I appreciated that I had to say something to Marie. I changed the story line a little bit: “I was called by the party and asked to submit my name,” I said. I shifted the initiative to the party rather than sharing the real story that the initiative had come from me. To enter into this kind of thing on a whim was beginning to appear a little reckless.
The interview with the Search Committee happened on the 5th of October eighteen months before an election would eventually be called. The interview was held in the home of one of the committee members (Gene Pierce) who, to my surprise, happened to be the fellow who had purchased the Rockcliffe home of Marie’s parents when my father-in-law left the Supreme Court. Marie’s parents had sold that house in order to move back to their home province of New Brunswick and its capital city Fredericton.
So when I was welcomed at the door by Gene Pierce, a man I had never met before, I was able to say that I had been in his house many times over the last 20 years. He appeared confused when I said this. I do not think he fully understood our cross-over in regard to his house until many weeks later. Even when the light about this came fully on for Gene, unfortunately, I continued to be a source of considerable confusion to him…and he to me.
But more on this later.
The interview was a sullen affair. The four members of the Selection Committee seemed unhappy to see me.
I was asked about myself and about my commitment. I volunteered that I had often thought about throwing my name into the hat for a run at Parliament if ever the opportunity came up…and this was it. Deep inside I was still only a few degrees warmer to the idea than when the whim first came to me. I still did not expect to find myself running for Parliament, on the side of the governing party on top of that.
I learned that there were three or four other contenders (I never did get this straight). I eventually met one of them. This particular candidate was a young guy, perhaps 30 years of age, who did not live in the riding and had little experience. He had been endorsed by the outgoing candidate, Patrick Glemaud. I learned in due course that he and Patrick worked together.
I learned that my being a candidate would require my preparing for, and winning, a nomination convention likely to be set up for the next month, November. After the interview I read all about the nomination process and, frankly, despaired about my ability to line up the supporting team of people I would need.
My first challenge would be to get twenty five members of the Conservative Party of Canada, resident in Ottawa-Vanier, to sign my nomination papers. I did not know a single person whom I knew for sure to belong to the CPC. I sent an email to the only two people in my neighbourhood whom I suspected might be members. I never heard back. My guess had been wrong. Those two people, by the way, had been friends of my wife and me for decades. After making my political affiliation known to them they rarely spoke to us again.
I stopped looking around after this first false start and was fully prepared (and actually comforted) to think that my experience would be terminated on the day the Selection Committee would disqualify me for not having the 25 names.
I nevertheless managed to convince my brother Gerald to be my money manager and acting campaign manager for the nomination convention should things ever get to that stage. For a person to run legally in a nomination convention he or she requires a duly authorized manager because tax-payer money might become involved. Contributions are sought by candidates running for nomination and receipts are issued for tax deductions. The first payment I made towards my candidacy was a cheque for $1000 issued to the CPC. This was a requirement in the process.
I believed my inability to get more than one or two names (Gene and Carol) of the twenty-five I needed would bring this journey to an early end. I began to worry about my looking foolish at a Conservative Party of Canada nomination convention.
Then, to my surprise, I learned that the other potential candidates were having the same problem getting the 25 names. I suppose this should have told me something?
Before October moved beyond the half-way point I learned that the Selection Committee would themselves pull together lists of 25 supporters for each of the candidates still in the race. And now I learned that there were only two of us left. The young guy and I.
Given my competitor’s close alliance with the previous candidate I believed the convention would likely be my one and only chance to speak about politics to the membership of a political electoral district association. It would likely be the largest audience I would ever have to listen to my views in policy areas of my choice. I would make the most of it. And then I would lose with good grace, and thankfulness.
I learned that candidates for nomination typically recruit, and count upon the votes of, new party members. That was not an option in my case because I knew nobody who supported Conservative Party policies. I would therefore rely entirely upon those attending the convention to vote in support of me (or not) even though none would have heard of me before. I was fully prepared to give a good speech…and then to fail. Indeed, one of the Selection Committee members had said to me in passing that – given my lack of a network and connections within the party – my chances of winning at the upcoming convention were zero. He fairly scowled at me when he said this.
And then, on the 15th of October, I was told that the young fellow I thought to be the shoo-in for the nomination would be stepping aside.
At short notice I agreed to attend an association board meeting that very evening where I would meet the Selection Committee, other association members, and the young fellow. The young guy made a nice little speech about my vast experience. He observed that the riding needed someone with my kind of background who was also a long-term resident of the riding. He confirmed his stepping aside and he declared his full support for my candidacy.
I should note that after this meeting I never saw the guy again. I will be making a number of asides in the course of writing this diary because, by the time I began minor editing, I had seen the future.
At the board meeting on 15 October, therefore, I was proclaimed the candidate. If still the candidate at the time of the next election I would be representing the Conservative Party of Canada, the party of the national Government, in a federal election. My whim of a month ago was beginning to turn into a major enterprise.
My political journey began officially about a week later.
The last step was an interview with representatives of the national office of the Conservative Party of Canada who confirmed that a check of my records had been done and that I was qualified to stand for them in a federal election. This interview had had to be carried out over the phone because I was rushing to Quebec City for meetings on a contract concerning the future of the Quebec City armouries on the Grand Allee. This would turn out to be my last contract before I committed all my efforts to politics.
Talking to the faceless CPC bureaucrats at the other end of the line (most of whom I would eventually meet in person) I was quizzed on the elements of my “application papers”. In particular the interviewers queried whether a guy from Rockcliffe, one of Ottawa’s most well to do neighbourhoods, could properly appeal to voters on the streets of Vanier and Lower Town. I apparently impressed them with my quick reply. To the sound of clapping over the telephone line I pointed out that I was not born to wealth and that in fact I was living proof of the conservative view. If a person is left to make his or her own choices he or she can achieve anything they want in a democracy like Canada.
My family’s first home in Canada had been a small apartment for a family of five in an area in Quebec City not unlike parts of Vanier. We had moved from there to houses of better quality on each turn, but my own first home had been a very small bungalow typical of the low-cost corners in Ottawa-Vanier. Marie and I began our married life in a rented apartment and now, fifteen years later, we have landed in Rockcliffe.
With that I was in.
At least for the time being.
I was told there was no guarantee I would still be standing on the day of an election because the Prime Minister holds the right to change the party’s representation at any time until the day after an election is called. The risk of my being dropped was low, however, as long as I took my direction from the riding association and stuck to the party lines. I had become, in effect, my riding’s “nominated” candidate. Canada’s election laws say that elevation to the full blown status of “candidate” can only come from a party leader the day after the writ drops. I would remain a “nominated candidate” for well over a year.
The days and weeks between my acclamation by the board in late October and the Christmas Party of the association in December of that year were filled with new contacts and activities. I soon realized that the association was not a robust, cohesive or active group. In fact it was broken in every sense of the word… starting with its bank account.
And it was a motley crew! A good percentage of members had joined the association as a route to promoting personal agendas. Others, including the president, had been directed to our EDA by the national office to “save” the association during an election two years previously. After that election they had stayed where they were.
The remaining few, while pleasant enough, kept their heads down. These few had joined the association in order to assess whether the Conservative party would merit their vote at election time. Among them were a number of new Canadians whose religious affiliations and family values placed them far to the right on the political continuum. They recognized themselves to be conservatives, but at a broad policy level they wondered if the Conservative Party of Canada would recognize cultural differences. On a personal level they wondered what the CPC could do in our riding to bring jobs and social programs to their families.
It was interesting that when French was spoken at an association meeting the speaker was almost always a person of African origin. This caused a great deal of confusion. Bilingualism was in short supply among association members. The few who spoke French found the African accents hard to understand.
The president of the association had honed her political skills and connections in Calgary. She had been involved politically in that part of the country and had also served a number of times in an official capacity with the Calgary Stampede, a major cultural event in the province of Alberta. Her connections had come in very handy when loans were needed to prop up Patrick’s financially bereft campaign in the previous election. Edmonton and Calgary ridings have much more money in their accounts than they can legally use in a campaign.
Carol was an interesting individual. She was an amalgam of major strengths and debilitating weaknesses. I would learn that her weaknesses would, in the end, almost always trump her strengths. She was a woman of middle age, short and round, whose feet when she sat on a chair dangled off the ground. Her hair was dark and her eyes, probably brown, were too often black with fury. She also had a loud and cackling sense of fun, and her mind was sharp.
Carol lined me up with Gordon Peters, the interim campaign manager. Gordon was a very capable man who had made a career as senior manager in the federal prison system. He had been successful in the political sphere as well. In a neighbouring riding Gordon had managed the successful campaign of a former military officer who was now a minister with the Conservative government. Gordon, too, had been parachuted in by the national office to help out in the last election when Patrick’s campaign was faltering.
Gordon cut quite a figure and I liked him from the start. He was very tall, at least six and a half feet, and everything about him was big. He was about my age, early sixty’s, with greying hair always well cut, and blue eyes. His size and his self confidence caused others in the association, especially the small and round president, to shrink away from him. She wanted to get rid of Gordon and he wanted to get rid of her, but they were stuck with each other for the time being. I was therefore stuck with their feuds.
I was very pleased to meet the association’s public relations officer, Mark Rogal, who was expected to play the lead communications role during the always imminent campaign. He had recruited a support volunteer (Heather Parks.). Together they took me in hand within days of our first meeting and brought me into contact with a photographer to take the pictures that would be used in a first edition of one-page flyers (known as “door knockers”) during the campaign. Mark was a handsome guy of about thirty, my height (I claim to be five foot, nine inches), slim and fit. His light brown hair was short, as befits a fellow who had recently joined the Canadian Armed Forces Reserves. Heather could have been his twin. The photographer was an officer with Ottawa’s police force and a personal friend of Heather’s.
The financial agent for the association was Ross Carothers. Ross was a long-term member of the association and had been its finance officer for many years. He had also been official agent (a legally required official in every candidate’s campaign team) for the Ottawa-Vanier candidate in a couple of previous campaigns. At first I hoped against hope that Ross would one day become the official agent of my campaign as well.
Unfortunately for me, Ross had little time for candidates with independence of thought. I learned at the outset that financial support approved by Ross would come with many strings attached. Given the total impoverishment of the association when I first arrived on the scene – there was an outstanding debt of some forty thousand dollars owed to three Calgary-based associations – he had little leverage on me until after my efforts had begun to build up our bank account. His attitude towards me then became a matter of considerable tension. To me he appeared reluctant to approve expenditures that used funds which would never have been raised without my efforts.
Ross always struck me as being a strong supporter of Carol no matter how isolated she increasingly became within the association. He was a fellow with professional background as an accountant, having worked at senior levels in a number of businesses based in Ottawa. He and his wife were both retired so he had the time to do the work he had volunteered for. His health was sometimes shaky, but his attitude was firm. He had lost a brother-in-law to murder and he wanted the criminal law system to provide satisfaction to the families of victims.
Ross was of average height, soft in his body but not overweight. The glasses that covered his light brown eyes were large in the frame and dark, much as one might expect for an accountant of my generation. His most distinguishing feature was a tongue that darted furiously in and out of his half-opened mouth when he felt himself to be under pressure.
Gene Pierce, the man who had welcomed me to the former home of my father-in-law, would be the person to introduce me to the geography of the riding. He could navigate himself – and me, when I was the driver – to every single corner and back street of Ottawa-Vanier. He knew what the Statistics Canada data said about voter turnout and the distribution of votes in each of the fifty or so polling districts in our riding. He knew where the residents lived who had the “deep pockets” I would need to help get our association out of debt and into the black.
Gene was another of the curious figures I would have to deal with. He was still an American citizen. He was unable to vote in Canada himself. His detailed knowledge of the riding became almost creepy to me when I learned that he had been a long-term bureaucrat in one of America’s information-gathering agencies. Gene knew where each church, synagogue, mosque, cathedral, and all other imaginable houses of worship were located, where the bulk of their congregations lived, and so on. He was six feet tall, looked to be in his late fifties, and deaf in one ear. His deaf ear meant that he had taken to leaning to the side of his good ear, whether sitting, standing, or walking. He walked with tremendous enthusiasm. He loved going “door to door”.
Let me pause for a moment on the topic of “deep pocketed” supporters. Most of these people sent their money to the national office of the CPC. I learned that contributions made directly to the CPC (as opposed to the local riding) were retained at the national level except for a 10 percent kickback to the riding in which the supporter lived. This fact had never been well advertised by the local association, who were perhaps discouraged by the national office from doing anything about it. The end result, of course, is to put the national office in the driver’s seat for all purposes related to money.
Legislation in Canada with regard to political party financing sets out how much citizens can contribute. There is a maximum amount, now set at fifteen hundred dollars, that can be distributed between the national and local levels. I learned this many months after I became the nominated candidate and only after Ross had resigned. The notion among association members when I arrived was that the same maximum could be contributed nationally and locally. This erroneous notion took the pressure off from efforts that should have been made to deflect the payments that were going nationally to the local level instead. The local level was largely absent in the lives of the big donors.
Guy DesRoches – a former candidate himself in a northern Quebec riding – served as the association’s “fund raiser”. Guy may well have been an ideal candidate but, as my diary will attest, for reasons that are more negative than positive in my book. One thing for sure: Guy was not suited to fundraising.
Guy was a handsome guy, hovering around sixty like many of us in the association, standing just over six feet with a rim of grey hair around a well shaped head. His eyes were blue. His look was intelligent and almost always pleasant. His spoken French reflected a sophisticated background and professionally he had been in just the right kind of work for a contemporary Conservative. He had worked all his life in the field of economic development. Guy would prove to be quick – too quick – in his uptake of information. And then he would be stubborn as a mule when new information came in.
Initially my closest contact was with an executive member of the board of the association by the name of Bruce Waverley. Bruce was assigned the job of “policy instructor”. I was told to meet with him regularly, that he would be the one to link me to the party’s policy people in the national office, and that he would pull together the material I would need to speak to people in our riding who were party members and to the general public.
Bruce knew Guy from times they spent together in government and private sector work. Bruce had also been professionally involved in the business of economic development. He and Guy looked at each other with the same blue eyes. But Bruce still had a full head of hair, if mostly grey, and he still dressed on most days as if he were headed to the office. Bruce was the most professional looking of all the folk I had met to that point. I was inclined at the outset to trust the man.
I was on my way.
Or so I thought.
In fact all of those named in the previous paragraphs would be “fired” or would walk away from the association and from my fledgling campaign before the federal election was eventually called. Every one of the departures was acrimonious when it happened. Whether all those departures reflect upon the association, the people themselves, the political process or upon me is a matter others must decide.
In late October, a week after my nomination was confirmed, I let all my immediate neighbours know by way of a short notice in their mail boxes that I was about to set out on a political journey and that our street might be lined with cars from time to time when Marie and I hosted a political event at our home. I did this entirely at my own initiative, without telling the association about it. In doing so I had broken the first rule applied to party candidates: get national office approval before making any moves into the public sphere. Fortunately (or not) I had no one from the association looking over my shoulder. The board of the association was far too busy with internecine feuding to guide and manage the foolish candidate.
The first of my political events was just days after my notice had gone out to neighbours. Marie and I invited to our place the 25 people, plus association executive members, who had endorsed my nomination as riding candidate regardless of their never having heard of me before. Carol, who arrived in the last half hour of our two hour cocktail party, stood in the back of the room nervously brandishing contribution envelopes and new member application forms. She seemed uncomfortable with the people. She likely wondered as well what this novice candidate might say. The fact that Marie and I had coordinated the event, and paid for it, without advance notice to the national office made her especially nervous.
I thanked everyone there. In my short speech I observed: “You did not make a mistake. One of my undertakings is to help the Conservative party grow in our riding so that our members in Ottawa-Vanier never again have to endorse someone they have never heard of before.”
In the end, as you will see, I did not make good on this undertaking. After I lost the election I was congratulated by the CPC in a form letter on the quality of the campaign and then, seemingly having served my purpose, I was dropped by the association and the national office of the party like a hot potato.
Back then, however, Marie and my initiative with this core group of supporters was extremely well received. My talk was followed by a short question and answer period where I acquitted myself very well. Most of the questions focused upon who I was and how I happened to find myself in this position.
I think Carol was pleasantly surprised by my performance. Perhaps to compensate for these positive feelings she beetled over to Marie and raised alarm bells about the lonely lot of a candidate’s wife. Marie to her credit was her usual diplomatic self in her closing down of this line of discussion. We were going to give the association and the party one target, not two.
We were again off and running. But…
The whole thing began to fall apart. The people around me did not work well together. The knives were out. The acrimonious departures began.
My major challenge in the early rounds was to watch and learn whom in the association I should listen to. Every piece of advice I received from one person in the association was certain at some point within only hours or days to be contradicted by someone else. I learned that anyone contributing to my adventure might quit the association or be shoved aside by the president or by the CPC at any time. I would typically be the last to know.
I learned for example that Mark`s style – entirely pleasant from my point of view – was viewed by others to be brusque and unacceptable. Guy and Carol were particularly incensed by what they viewed as his presumptive and impolite manner. When Mark produced a brochure for me with the advice that I should hit the ground running, first Carol and then others rejected its contents. By Christmas I would not yet have any material or any introductions within the Ottawa-Vanier community…except for a coffee party held in Carol’s apartment building. She happened to live in an apartment building, the Champlain Towers where my parents had lived for a few years before moving to a seniors’ residence close to my sister’s place. The most pleasant and welcoming attendees at Carol’s party had been friends of my parents. They had come to the event, advertised by Carol in the foyer of the building, because they recognized my name.
The example of Mark’s preparation of an introductory “door knocker” is worth elaborating upon.
Shortly after I was confirmed as the CPC candidate Mark correctly decided that a one-page information piece should be prepared that I could use when visiting voters in the riding. He asked me for draft content about myself and he arranged for final text and translation to be written. He asked Heather to help him with this.
Through Heather, her photographer friend was contacted and I was sent to his home office (Heather attending) to pose for a number of photographs. The photographer was a police officer in his day job.
About two weeks later Mark shared with me a sample “door knocker” and I was asked to approve it. I did not greatly like the image Mark and Heather had selected among the many dozens of pictures taken (it looked more like a police mug shot than a political profile) but I was happy to trust their judgment about this. The text on my background was good.
The door-knocker now approved by me, Mark contacted a printer he had used for other purposes in his professional life and about 500 copies of the door-knocker were produced. I was ready to go!
While the draft door-knocker had been shared all along the way with the board executive, and while the form and content had been reviewed by the community outreach lead for our association (Gene), Carol suddenly had a fit about the thing. She exercised her executive power to issue a cease and desist instruction. The door-knocker, now being printed, would not be approved by the association for use.
She advised that she would be pulling together an alternative one-pager and that I should not start reaching out to riding residents – even if only to CPC registered members – until her replacement door-knocker was in our hands.
The upset and hassle this caused among board members is best left to the imagination. Ross, for one, was extremely upset. As finance officer he did not want to pay for a few hundred brochures that would not be used.
In the end I footed the bill for the production of Mark’s door-knocker myself and I never asked the association executive to approve my use of them. I did use them (another national office rule broken) but only when I snuck out of the house and skulked around the neighbourhoods entirely on my own initiative. I was in no position to call upon persons listed as association volunteers. Carol’s intervention delayed my formal introductions in Ottawa-Vanier by at least two months.
I soon learned that Bruce, my policy advisor, was a one-issue guy. He and his wife were very strong right-to-life activists. I felt I would be able to work my way around that because I believed that, without a commitment to life, the slip into abortion as a birth control option would become much too easy. But as it happened, Bruce would not be lasting too long with the association either.
At a fund raising event in the home of one of my wealthiest supporters Bruce took the chair. After a rather light and fun presentation by an invited Senator (guess who?) Bruce asked for questions from one person in the audience in particular: a personal friend he had brought to the event – not a riding resident – who was a strident anti-gay activist. This person took extreme issue with the Government’s position on same-sex marriage even though the Senator’s speech had had nothing to do with sexual orientation. It was embarrassing to everyone in the room.
At the end of the evening I was told by Wendy Shore, the association member responsible for getting me into the riding’s high-rises and therefore known as the “high rise advisor”, that I must distance myself from Bruce or else she would quit. She told this to Carol as well, from which point onwards Carol became openly negative towards my policy advisor and he towards her.
By mid-December, after a dozen meetings between Bruce and me, the national office called me at home and told me to not take anything advised to me by Bruce seriously. But the national office did not give the same message to Bruce and did not intervene between Bruce, Wendy and Carol. I was left to sort this out on my own. No one told Bruce that he had fallen into disfavour and he continued to demand my presence and my attention for policy instruction twice each week.
It came to a head in the third week of the month. Bruce attempted a “coup”. His troubles with Carol and, I suspect, rumours of his falling into disfavour among association members and the national office, had moved him into an attack mode.
He “instructed” Carol to resign in the New Year, shortly after the annual Christmas party she was actively arranging. Bruce said he would take over after she stepped down. He told her that if she refused to resign voluntarily he would push her out anyway in the same way that he and a couple of others still on the board (Gene was one of these) had succeeded in removing a previous president a year or so earlier.
Carol was furious. Carol told me she would be resisting this “coup”. On her side she said she was confident she had the support of Ross. She also began to line up other board members whom she judged to be either supportive of her or very negative about Bruce.
For my part, Carol had proven herself to be the most dynamic person on the association’s board by a long shot. Her ideas about politics were always very good. Her sense of fun was palpable. When she seriously applied herself to the production of draft material her contacts in Alberta were able to produce very good stuff. I want to emphasize the word “draft” because as I have said her application of personal time and energy to the production of final product was an entirely different matter.
Marie and I decided to throw in our lot with Carol.
This meant that Marie and I began to actively help Carol prepare a counter-attack. We helped her to write letters and emails to Bruce and to association members. We suggested what her approach should be towards the national office of the party.
Carol followed our advice to the letter and, in short order, she knew she would have the support of the national office of the CPC should this internal putsch come to a head.
When the struggle did come to a head just before Christmas Bruce was the one who had to resign.
Along the way I had had some rough words with Bruce myself because I had not liked his conduct through all of this. I had also gotten a better measure of where he stood politically. I seriously doubted that I would stay on as the candidate if he had succeeded in his effort to become president.
Bruce had been very clear in return that if he replaced Carol I would do exactly as he said or else I would be dumped in my turn. When Bruce resigned I felt greatly relieved. My bi-weekly rounds of policy instruction had become rounds of mental and emotional upset. Those rounds now came to an end.
Soon after Carol was once again firmly in the chair, unfortunately, I learned that her own weaknesses could be debilitating for me but in very different ways.
She would blow away anyone who might propose meetings, coffees, events, material, fund raising, or whatever on their own initiative. She would blow them away by pointing to the glaring inadequacies of the plans they were bringing forward. She would then offer alternatives that, every time, were considerably better than what she had been critical of…but she would be unable to produce anything in the way of follow up to her own counter proposals.
Already by Christmas her aggressive stance and her success in the face of the attempted “coup” had, in the immediate wake of Bruce’s departure, cost us the participation on the board of Gordon (my interim Campaign Manager), Mark (my PR guy), Wendy (the high-rise coffee person), Heather (support to Mark), and some others. Carol had had a near-total falling out with Gene (the “canvassing guru”) though he still hung on. She had no respect at all for Guy (fund raising). Carol also wanted total dominion over me.
She was extremely put out by initiatives I was taking to launch me into the politics of Ottawa-Vanier. We were closing in on Christmas and still nothing had been done by the association itself to move me into the public space. Because the Conservative party was in a minority situation in the House of Commons an election could be called at any time.
For the second time in as many months I again believed my time as candidate might be very short when, called to a meeting at her apartment, Carol advised that I had no business seeking ways to get myself known except through her and with the support of the EDA. The influential members of the association now consisted only of herself and Ross.
Ross was firm about my being unable to impose any financial cost upon the association at all. None of my proposed initiatives could be implemented without association approval. Every dollar I might spend had to come from Ross. And I already knew that Ross would spend money only when instructed by Carol.
Carol wanted me to be her “little boy”…and I would not agree. She actually used those words at the meeting between us in her apartment.
Is it surprising that the disagreements between us reached the high decibels? At one point Carol was preparing to stomp out of the meeting until she realized that she would be stomping out of her own apartment and have nowhere to go. When I got up to leave instead her husband intervened and she began to settle down.
Peace was restored but the issues remained unresolved. I was looking at a future without support from anyone except from Carol, and I had already learned that Carol – while excellent at the production of draft material – was unable to produce final copy unless pressed to the wall.
I was not very optimistic about the future.
It did not help that the association was still broke. I have already observed that the previous election campaign had been funded primarily by way of loans from rich associations in Western Canada (Calgary and Edmonton). Our association owed a lot of money to those loaning associations. At the first board meeting after my nomination I was asked what I was going to do about this.
I, of course, had no “rich” sponsors. I knew no one currently sitting with the CPC in the House of Commons. I had never had to raise money before, except to support sport teams by selling chocolate bars when I was in high school. The looks exchanged among board members affirmed that they might need to get me replaced sooner rather than later.
On the home front Marie, who had tracked all this, hoped at various points in the action that I might “resign” my nomination. I was firm, however, that this would not happen. As always, after some pretty intense debate Marie backed off and affirmed that she would continue to help in whatever way she could.
Over the course of my nineteen months as a Candidate debates of this kind would arise between Marie and me time and time again…but Marie always reaffirmed her support and always came through. At various points in the diary I share the tensions which simmered, exploded, and then were always resolved between us. I hardly ever give to Marie the credit she is due for sticking it out from the beginning to the end, and especially for helping me to carry on when all the forces seemed lined up to defeat my personal resolve to “go the distance”, We have always had a strong and loving relationship. My run for public office certainly tested that relationship. We proved to ourselves – and to our extended families – that all was, and remains, well between us.
My answer to others who counselled me to resign, by the way, was essentially this: “If the party does not want me I will wait until they kick me out. Then I will have learned a little something about active politics and I will have even more to talk about!”
One of my conundrums during this early period, even before the significance of my new venture had fully settled in, was how much to say to business associates and clients in the work place. CRG Consulting does most of its business with the federal government and here I was – about to be “outed” as a representative of the Conservative Party of Canada.
At a meeting in Quebec City where the issue was the rebuilding of an historic military armoury that had burned down a few months before my hesitancy to announce my intentions came to an end. I had to say something. There were over a dozen people in a large conference room at a hotel which stood a few hundred metres away from the burned out hulk. Two or three consulting firms were represented, all of us engaged to work together on construction options which could meet a variety of different objectives including concerts of international scale. The armouries were at the edge of the walls around the old city, backed onto an open park known locally as the Plains of Abraham, and were integrated with another historic structure called the Citadel.
The people in the room included a half dozen public servants. Those folk, being unaware of my status as a candidate for public office, let loose for about thirty minutes critiquing their respective ministers and lambasting the office of the Prime Minister which had taken a particular interest in this project. I knew that I would be meeting with those ministers and the Prime Minister’s staff at a Christmas party scheduled for early December on Parliament Hill. I said nothing about my intentions in the course of the meeting and I did not engage in the banter and the slander all around me. But I knew the public servants would be worried about my keeping confidences when in political circles and I knew I should stay away from settings such as this in the future.
When I returned to Ottawa I advised the president of my firm that I would henceforth remove myself from meetings with public officials. I would complete my portion of the work already contracted with the province of Quebec and Canada on the Quebec City armouries and then I would withdraw from contracts which could put me and our firm in a compromised position.
Throughout this period the national office was largely silent. I met some of the people, usually in Carole’s company, but I learned I could not turn to the national office for help in my situation. I came to see that from their perspective they were doing me the favour of lending me their brand. I was to be seen but not heard. Indeed, the one or two times I was in a position to express frustration to a national office member the observation which came back to me was: “You think this is bad? You should see how the other associations are operating!”
The Christmas season that ended the year, joyfully and perhaps appropriately, was the first highpoint of my time in politics. The Christmas party that was organized by the CPC on Parliament Hill gave Marie and me our first true sense that something big was happening. We were welcomed by everyone we met as contributing members of the Conservative “team”. Words of encouragement abounded. Undertakings to be helpful over the months to come came from ministers and political staff without reserve.
The Christmas party later in the month organized by Carol, her husband Will, and a member of the association who worked for the other two named Eleanor Blackwell was excellent. Notwithstanding there had been no money for pre-writ photos, brochures or newsletters (remember the party said that elections were usually won in the pre-writ period) Carol decided to go for broke on her Christmas party. Ross who brought his wife and grandkids along for gingerbread house construction and other activities somehow found the necessary funds. We had an extremely good turnout and broke even between costs and contributions.
I did not begrudge the Christmas party expenditures. I had attended the provincial level Christmas party hosted by the provincial Progressive Conservative Association just a few days previously. It had been a poorly attended and bottom-basement event that reflected poorly upon the effort people must make in order to represent their riding in parliament (federal or provincial).
Because of the success of the Christmas party, to which I had invited some family members and friends, I headed into the New Year with a sense of optimism about what might lie ahead. The close of year also saw me attend the first of my functions as an aspiring politician.
I had been invited by the Sudanese Canadians through Francis Lebrun, a board member whose attitude towards me and the CPC was more quizzical than supportive, to attend a church function. At the function, on the heels of truly beautiful and moving songs of joy by the church choir and by members in the congregation, I was asked to speak.
While Carol huddled fearfully at the back of the Church (she had not had time to contact the national office or block my way) and Marie looked on in wonderment, I stepped up to the pulpit and spoke about our shared human journey. I began with a reference to where our human species is alleged to have been born, somewhere in Africa, and I matched the Pastor’s words of pride in his – and his congregation’s – now being citizens of Canada with my own pride in being African. I tracked my own origins through the peoples who settled in Europe and then in the Netherlands and concluded with observations upon our shared values in the Christian faith. The importance of Christmas to all Canadians flowed naturally.
Marie, I could tell, was impressed by my first foray into public speaking as a politician. She said this when the Pastor asked her to say words of welcome to the gathered assembly. She confirmed this after we returned home. Even Carol was impressed, and doubtlessly relieved that I had not said anything about which the party would have found fault.
For my part, I have never doubted my ability to effectively represent people, principles, and values when called upon to do so. I loved having opportunities to put my capacity for this on display. I have never been the kind of person who orchestrates his or her own way into the limelight. The curious set of circumstances that had made me a candidate for public office was, for me, a stroke of tremendous good fortune.
And now, onto day one of my first full year as a candidate. This was not going to be an easy ride.