Going to the Political Vet

Every party does it. It’s not the most pleasant thing for anyone involved. It is intrusive and embarrassing but it is a necessary evil. I’m talking about getting vetted for the nomination for your party.

The term “vetting” is derived from the practice of bringing horses to a veterinarian to check their health. This is apt because the vetting process can feel rather dehumanizing. Basically, as a candidate, you will be baring your soul to people that you barely know and who could possibly veto your dream of running for office.

Why is this done? People have high expectations for their elected representatives and how they conduct themselves. As a candidate, you will face scrutiny about your character and behaviour. Essentially, when you run for office under the banner of a political party, you are signing up to be a member of a team. In many ways, your political fortunes are tied to theirs and vice versa. Any scandal that your behaviour causes could prove to be a drag on the success of your teammates and likewise any scandal caused by one of your teammates could vaporize your own dreams of winning an election.

What should you expect to face in a vetting process? You may have to face a criminal background check but you could also be asked questions about your financial dealings, past and present drug use, and personality. In the new era of social media, everything that you have posted on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and message boards could be also face scrutiny. Basically, your party is go to try to identify any possible issues that could be used against you and the party during the election as well as possible problems that could arise if you do get elected. The rigour of the vetting process varies from party to party.

Your opponents will likely be searching for any weakness that you may have so that they could use that against you at the most opportune time…for them. This is known as oppo research.

If your party can identify potential issues in advance, they can try to prepare responses that will protect you and mitigate the damage that could be done to the team. It is for this reason that my advice to any candidate is to be absolutely honest through the vetting process. Everyone makes mistakes and it is important to let your political party know what these mistakes are. There is no detail that is too minor. You are likely going to be talking to professionals who regularly deal with this process and who can decide what is easily manageable versus what is going to be problematic for a campaign to deal with. If you aren’t honest with them and your mistake comes to the surface, your party could feel ambushed with no response to mitigate the damages and they will likely disavow you as a candidate.

What if your party vetoes your candidacy based on what you say during the vetting process?

Without a doubt, it will be disappointing for you to have your candidacy disqualified. It may feel undemocratic and unfair. However, it is really important to realize that as embarrassing as the vetting process might have been for you personally, nothing is more embarrassing than having to deal with your mistake if it were to become public and not being able to have the protection of your party’s public relations support. The media scrutiny on you and your family will be incredibly unpleasant and it will inevitably submarine your campaign anyways. You also have to remember that you are on a team and you don’t want to hurt the chances of those who are running along side you.

Here are a couple of examples of how pre-election misdeeds impact a candidate’s election chances:

Dayleen Van Ryswyk was a BC NDP candidate in the 2013 British Columbia provincial election in a riding that wasn’t necessarily that the NDP had a remote chance of winning. It appeared that the BC NDP was going to cruise to a majority government but on April 16th, 2013, news circulated that Van Ryswyk had posted some grotesquely racist remarks on a message board several years prior and that, as a result, she had resigned as a candidate. The BC NDP weren’t aware of the postings and the leader of the party (Adrian Dix) was taken off-message to answer questions about Van Ryswyk’s candidacy and media coverage ignored the NDP message to focus on her comments.

Allan Hunsperger was a Wildrose Party candidate in the Alberta provincial election in 2012. He was running in a hunspergerriding where he had a reasonable chance of victory as the Wildrose was leading the provincial polls by a considerable margin. Eight days prior to the election, it was revealed that, a year prior, he had blogged that gays would “suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire”. Here is an article detailing his comments. Danielle Smith, the leader of the Wildrose Party, tried to distance herself and the party from Hunsperger’s comments but absolutely refused to ditch him as a candidate by claiming that they were his personal views and wouldn’t be legislated. Hunsperger’s comments and Smith’s response to them were seen of clear proof that the Wildrose should be a party that is kept away from government and voters subsequently stampeded away from the party on election day.

As a post script, Van Ryswyk ran as an Independent candidate in her riding and doubled down on her racist comments. She lost her riding by tens of thousands of votes and then, post election, she started a website that is full of racist apologism. Hunsperger also lost his riding and has disappeared into private life. In twenty years, if you search for “Van Ryswyk” or “Hunsperger”, you will always find a history of their misdeeds.

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