Why Canada's federal parties still shoot for the stars

The Conservatives can boast of a Canadian country music star and an Olympic champion synchro swimmer. The Liberals are fielding a kayaker who won a gold medal, two silver and a bronze in three Olympic Games, and a high-profile Quebec environmentalist.The NDP has recruited a critically-acclaimed filmmaker and a familiar face from the party's past.The Greens are offering up an East Coast comedy legend. The People's Party of Canada has the widow of Canada's most infamous mayor.The current federal election campaign has seen its share of household-name candidates seeking seats in the House of Commons — even after a frantic first few days that saw the Conservatives, NDP, Greens and People's Party part ways with nominees over revelations of social media misdeeds and impolitic behaviour. (You'll find a current list of celebrity candidates at the end of this article.)Country music star George Canyon is running as a Conservative candidate in the riding of Central Nova in the upcoming federal election. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)But given a changing media market that's seeing less local coverage — and voters who tend to focus more on the leaders than the teams — the question is whether these 'stars' will shine in the 2019 campaign."They still matter," said political consultant David Herle, once a top adviser to Prime Minister Paul Martin and the co-chair of the federal Liberal campaigns in 2004 and 2006. "If you're a government that's long in the tooth, they can represent renewal. And if you're in opposition, they can make you look like you've got the team that's ready to govern."Herle said he's seen a shift over the years: locally-famous candidates who can pull broad community support and deliver a riding are now harder to come by. So the parties have been seeking out names with provincial (or, better yet, national) resonance who might help drive media coverage and fundraising — even if they're not a lock at the ballot box.There's a tradeoff, of course: the higher the candidate's profile, the more coaxing and hand-holding it takes to land them."It takes a lot of time to recruit star candidates and it does ultimately take the leader to close the deal," said Herle. "These are people of status and stature. And maybe sometimes they feel that you need them more than they need you."Linda McQuaig is a Toronto journalist and author who ran for the NDP in a 2013 byelection and again in 2015, losing to Liberal stars Chrystia Freeland and Bill Morneau. She said name recognition is perhaps more important than ever."We got so much media attention, especially in that byelection. It certainly made it more exciting," she said. "And when you're trying to get people elected, there's nothing wrong with that."Comedian, actor and Green candidate Greg Malone makes a stop in St. John's with Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. (CBC)Much of that media attention focused on the personalities and their backstories, but McQuaig said the issues still came to the fore. They surely did in 2015, when McQuaig caused a national furor by telling CBC News that oilsands bitumen might need to "stay in the ground" in order for Canada to meet its international greenhouse gas reduction targets."I was denounced for days afterwards by Stephen Harper himself, and Justin Trudeau," she said. "And I learned that it's so important to hold your ground and stand by what you believe."The parties themselves appear to believe in the magic of the stars — both before and after the vote. A 2010 study by Royce Koop of the University of Manitoba and Amanda Bittner of Memorial University looked at leader-selected "parachute" candidates between 1993 and 2008, and concluded that appointed candidates were 4.4 times more l ...Read more

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