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Booted from caucus, Derek Sloan faces long odds if he pursues re-election

  • January 22, 2021

Booted from the Conservative caucus on Wednesday, Derek Sloan now sits as an Independent MP in the House of Commons.

Without the backing of the Conservative Party of Canada, his chances of holding on to his seat in the next election don’t look good.

Sloan, who finished fourth in last year’s Conservative leadership contest with just under 16 per cent of ballots cast, was ousted after a majority of his (former) caucus colleagues voted to eject him for what Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole called “a pattern of destructive behaviour involving multiple incidents and disrespect towards the Conservative team for over a year.”

The latest controversy stemmed from news that Sloan’s leadership campaign accepted a donation from Paul Fromm, a notorious white nationalist. Sloan accused O’Toole of hypocrisy, arguing that the Conservative Party also failed to red-flag Fromm’s donation and party membership.

Sloan’s political career with the party appears to be over. And if he does seek re-election in his Eastern Ontario riding of Hastings–Lennox and Addington, he’ll face a big challenge.

Without the backing of a national party, Independent candidates tend to have a tough time. Just 76 Canadian MPs first elected under a party banner in this country have ever sought re-election as Independents. Only 25 of them have succeeded.

That’s a bad track record, considering incumbents running with a party’s stamp of approval have won about three-quarters of the time.

Since 1974, only five MPs have successfully been re-elected as Independents after leaving (or being ejected from) their party caucuses: Gilles Bernier in 1993, John Nunziata in 1997, Chuck Cadman in 2004, BIll Casey in 2008 and, most recently, Jody Wilson-Raybould in the last election in 2019.

What would Sloan need to do to follow in their footsteps?

Wilson-Raybould and Philpott tried, only one succeeded

Wilson-Raybould wasn’t the only incumbent MP running as an Independent in 2019. Jane Philpott, who was also ejected from the Liberal caucus in the fallout from the SNC-Lavalin affair, attempted re-election without success.

But Wilson-Raybould bucked the historical odds by winning her Vancouver Granville seat with 33 per cent of the vote, beating the Liberals’ Taleeb Noormohamed by about six percentage points. Wilson-Raybould’s share represented about 74 per cent of the vote she had received as a Liberal in 2015.

Philpott, however, finished third in her Ontario riding of Markham–Stouffville with 21 per cent of the vote. The Liberals’ Helena Jaczek won with 39 per cent.

Philpott’s share represented about 42 per cent of the vote she got as a Liberal in 2015, roughly even with how Independent candidates in her situation have performed in recent provincial and federal elections.

Jody Wilson-Raybould was re-elected as an Independent in her riding of Vancouver Granville in the 2019 federal election. She was first elected as a Liberal in 2015. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Not all of those who voted for Wilson-Raybould and Philpott were former Liberal supporters. Both candidates took from other parties as well.

In Vancouver Granville, the Liberals did 17 points worse in 2019 without Wilson-Raybould than they did in 2015 with her — but the NDP dropped 14 points, too. Many of the votes lost by the NDP likely went to Wilson-Raybould.

In Markham–Stouffville, the Liberals did 10 points worse without Philpott than they did in 2015. The Conservatives in the riding dropped even more, sliding 12 points.

This means some Liberal supporters followed Wilson-Raybould and Philpott, but most stuck with the party brand. Only Wilson-Raybould was able to attract enough support from other parties to get re-elected.

That could be tough for Sloan to do. A national profile and generally sympathetic media coverage helped re-elect Wilson-Raybould, but it wasn’t enough for Philpott. Sloan has neither of those things working for him.

Big challenge for Sloan in his riding

Elections and byelections in his Hastings–Lennox and Addington riding have been contested largely by the Liberals and the Conservatives. That makes his riding more like Markham–Stouffville than Vancouver Granville, where all three major parties traditionally have been competitive.

Sloan took 41 per cent of the vote in the 2019 federal election in the riding — just enough to defeat the Liberal incumbent, Mike Bossio, who had 37 per cent. The NDP finished well back with just 13 per cent of the vote.

In order to be re-elected, Sloan will need not only a big chunk of the Conservative vote but a lot of the vote that went to the Liberals and NDP in 2019 as well. Considering his politics, that’s probably not going to happen.

The more likely result would be Sloan siphoning off enough Conservative support to let the Liberals re-take the seat.

But there’s little to indicate that Sloan himself is much of a draw in Hastings–Lennox and Addington. In 2019, Sloan did about half a percentage point worse than his Conservative predecessor did in the riding in 2015.

Derek Sloan finished last in the 2020 Conservative leadership race with just under 16 per cent of ballots cast. (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

On the first ballot of the 2020 Conservative leadership, Sloan took just 36.5 per cent of party members’ votes in his own riding. By comparison, O’Toole captured 67 per cent of the vote in his Ontario riding of Durham, while Peter MacKay took 86 per cent in his former riding of Central Nova.

Sloan might not have the personal clout to win the seat on his own. But what if he got some help — perhaps from another former Conservative leadership candidate no longer with the party?

Bernier bolted but was beaten

Sloan has given no indication he is actively considering joining Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party. In a message to his supporters, Sloan encouraged them to put their names forward to attend the Conservative Party’s next policy convention.

The People’s Party would seem to be a natural fit for Sloan. But being a PPC candidate wouldn’t necessarily make it any easier for him to win Hastings–Lennox and Addington.

Bernier wasn’t able to secure his own re-election in his Quebec riding of Beauce in 2019; he took 28 per cent of the vote and finished 10 points behind the Conservatives’ Richard Lehoux.

People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier was unable to secure re-election in his Beauce seat in the 2019 federal election. He also failed to win a byelection in the Ontario riding of York Centre in 2020. (Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press)

Even though Bernier was a four-term MP and had a national profile due to his leadership of the People’s Party and presence at the leaders debates, Bernier retained just 48 per cent of the vote share he received in 2015 in Beauce.

If Sloan managed to match that percentage, he would only get around 20 per cent of the vote in his own riding — not nearly enough to be competitive. The PPC base in the riding isn’t going to help much, as the party’s candidate captured just 2.5 per cent of the vote in Hastings–Lennox and Addington in 2019.

Sloan’s options aren’t very good. Whether he goes it alone or joins up with Bernier, his days as an MP are likely numbered.

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