Star Candidate


The type of well-known, high-profile candidate who will add luster and prestige to party in an election.

Star candidates are sought by all parties: especially out-of-office challengers in need of gravitas and keen to portray an experienced, capable team ready to govern, or longtime incumbent parties who feel compelled to spruce up their ranks and show signs of renewal and energy.

Star candidates can come from many worlds: business (Paul Martin Jr), sports (hockey stars Ken Dryden, Red Kelly), journalism (Jeanne Sauve, Peter Kent), or careers at other levels of government (Saskatchewan Premier Jimmy Gardiner, Toronto Mayor Art Eggleton).

One of the most notable and successful “star candidate” gambits includes Lester Pearson’s recruitment of Quebec’s “Three Wise Men” – labour leader Jean Marchand, La Presse editor Gerard Pelletier and journalist/ academic Pierre Trudeau (at the time the least well-known of the three) in the 1965 general election.

Some star candidate plays fizzle spectacularly in electoral rejection. Seeking to quell the 1944 Conscription Crisis, Prime Minister Mackenzie King appointed war hero and General Andrew McNaughton as Defence Minister prior to being elected to Parliament. McNaughton was soon defeated in a special byelection, and in the general election a few months later.

Decades later, Pierre Trudeau drafted the popular and groundbreaking CRTC Chair Pierre Juneau (so well-regarded that the Canadian music industry named its Juno awards after him) as Liberal candidate in a Montreal byelection (like McNaughton, Juneau was appointed to the cabinet before he was elected). Once again, voters had other plans, and Juneau’s political career ended before it ever took off. Interestingly, in early 1996, Jean Chrétien actually pulled off the cabinet-first, byelection-second play, when, in the aftermath of the nail-biting Quebec referendum, he appointed prominent Québecers Stéphane Dion and Pierre Pettigrew to the cabinet – and they won their seats.

In 2014, Quebec Premier Pauline Marois enlisted Pierre Karl Péladeau, scion of the rough-and-ready Quebecor media empire, as a surprise star candidate. At his inaugural unveiling, Peladeau’s spontaneous call to arms for separatism sparked a province-wide furor and snuffed out all PQ electoral momentum.

The NDP has used star candidates to try to break into Quebec. The first NDP MP elected in the province was nationally-known consumer advocate Phil Edmunston. The former provincial Liberal Environment Minister Thomas Mulcair not only stole the Liberal fortress riding of Outremont in 2007, but his victory was the first step in an eventual NDP dominance in the province in 2011.

Even those star candidates who do win entry into Parliament don’t necessarily live up to billing. Chrétien Cabinet minister Michel Dupuy – one of the country’s most respected diplomats – proved a gaffe-prone, politically flat-footed minister, whose Cabinet career was short-lived. Toronto mayors Phil Givens and David Crombie parlayed their popularity into federal seats during the Trudeau and Clark/Mulroney governments respectively. Both left Ottawa after a few short years.

Perhaps the best-known star candidate failure was that of Michael Ignatieff. A media-adored celebrity public intellectual in the United States and Great Britain, Ignatieff was convinced to return to Canada and run for the Liberals by a small self-appointed delegation that visited at Harvard in 2004. Though he was elected to Parliament in the 2006 election, the Martin government went down – and with it Ignatieff’s chance at an apprenticeship in cabinet. Instead, a series of remarkable circumstances vaulted the unseasoned Ignatieff into the party’s leadership within three years – and historic electoral defeat another two years later.

Image source: Wikimedia


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