Canadian politics has seen its fair share of father-son stories. The media and other politicians constantly remind Justin Trudeau that his dad is famous. Stephen Harper has shown great compassion to his biological offspring – and not only the male variety. Looking way back, who can forget Hugh John Macdonald’s rebellious nineteenth century political activity in and out of parliament? Yet, a new father-son relationship is now appearing that features a riding “ripe for a family legacy.” When the CBC announced NDP Daniel Blaikie’s intention to win the Elmwood-Transcona riding in Winnipeg, a riding his father held from 1988 to 2008, people around the country probably slightly inched forward to the edge of their chairs – either out of excitement or simply because the text on their iPad Mini was too small to read.
So how does Bill Blaikie’s success benefit Daniel in his attempt to win back this riding? The NDP’s slide in federal polling since 2011 doesn’t help, so Daniel will need something big to help him rise up.
Well, for starters, Daniel gets words of encouragement from his father. It’s like when you’re in the bottom of the ninth inning, your team is down, there are two outs, bases loaded, and you’re up to bat. You turn to your dad who, with sunflower seeds spraying, yells something like “you can do it!” Well, maybe it won’t even be that motivational. Bill’s encouragement was more tame, “I felt we needed to do something different if we were going to get the riding back and felt that Daniel had a good chance to do that,” which is the baseball equivalent of “well, our usual big-hitters aren’t doing that well, so let’s put Daniel in… maybe he can bunt his way to first.”
What will probably help Daniel more is the connection of his family name to politics. Name recognition and incumbency status can both shape political decision-making. Considering Bill Blaikie has been a prominent figure in the Elmwood-Transcona riding for over two decades, his son will probably gain some benefits of name recognition. When voters look at the ballot in 2015, they will have a sub-conscious attraction to “Blaikie”. Although the Conservatives already have the incumbent as their candidate, the Liberals and Greens should probably consider choosing cousins, sisters, or other relatives with the same name to offset this psychological effect.
When it comes to Election Day, Daniel Blaikie will anxiously sit on the edge of his seat and his family connection will likely have a conscious and sub-conscious effect on voters. Yet maybe it’s time that we stop focusing on who a candidate has as a parent and simply focus on what that candidate brings to the table here and now. If we look at Canada’s political past, various groups have been pushed to the margins of Canadian political life – they either do not have or are just beginning to win representation in parliament. As most political family connections involve white men, perhaps we shouldn’t give someone extra consideration simply because their parent (and usually their father) was a politician, lest we sub-consciously exclude certain groups from and reinforce others within our political system. With this in mind, let’s factor family out of our decision making, and consider each candidate on their merits. Though, if the NDP and Blakie really want to take advantage of our psychological quirks and do well this election, they might want to take a cue from the party currently stealing their momentum: the “New Liberal Party” has a nice ring to it, no?