Harper followed tradition with by-election no-shows
Before and after this week's by-elections, there seemed to be some suggestion from pundits and commentators that the Conservatives had written them off -- because Prime Minister Stephen Harper didn't do any campaigning.
It is, in fact, very rare for prime ministers to campaign in by-elections, at least in recent years. Jean Chrétien made a point of avoiding any foray into ridings during by-election campaigns. Here's a little snippet, for instance, from a story in late 2002 about why former finance minister Paul Martin was out campaigning in Quebec by-elections:
Jim Munson, a spokesman for the PMO, said there are no plans for Mr. Chrétien to travel to the ridings, but that is in keeping with the tradition of the prime minister not intervening in byelections.
The last prime minister to do by-election campaigning was Brian Mulroney, and as I read through the Star's records on this, I see he did so against the advice of old political hands. Veteran Conservative Norman Atkins was quoted as saying as far back as 1986: "I don't think it helps for prime ministers to go into by-elections."
Mulroney also campaigned fiercely in 1988 to get his old friend Lucien Bouchard -- lured back from his ambassador's post in Paris -- a seat in Lac St. Jean. And we know how that turned out.