Endorsing a candidate comes with potential political benefits, risks

In any election he’s not running in, MP John McKay has one rule for himself: never endorse a candidate.

But, he says, “like all good rules, there’s always an exception.”

On Sept. 20, McKay, the MP for Scarborough-Guildwood, and his colleague Arnold Chan, MP for Scarborough-Agincourt, endorsed the candidate they hope will win the mayor’s race on Oct. 27.

“We made a joint decision that John Tory was the best choice for Scarborough,” McKay said. “That was the thinking to endorse John and publicly (say) he is the best choice.”

Prominent public figures and organizations — including media outlets and labour unions, as well as politicians — offer endorsements designed to help inform voters and their decisions.

Receiving these nods of support is important in a candidate’s campaign, said Adrienne Batra, former press secretary to Mayor Rob Ford.

“From the political perspective, you’re hoping for an endorsement,” she said.

With more than 300,000 members across the country, Unifor is Canada’s largest private sector union. During an election, the union deals with questions from its members looking for guidance on how to vote and why, said Jenny Ahn, assistant to the president of Unifor.

“We play a role in politics and make these sorts of endorsements because our members actually ask, ‘What do (you) think about the various candidates?'” she said. “They ask what we think because we can do research into all these various things and they often ask us about these things.”

Unifor works in cooperation with other unions or labour councils to determine which candidates, if elected, would best represent the interests of their members, Ahn said.

“We understand that the world of politics is a very important part of a person’s life,” she said. “It has a very important affect on what happens or what doesn’t happen in someone’s workplace.”

The process Unifor and its partners use to identify who to endorse often includes candidate interviews by a panel of union representatives.

Many news outlets do the same, inviting candidates to face their editorial boards.

“You can expect tough questions,” said Batra, who has been on both sides of the table — as a Toronto Sun editor and columnist, and as a senior member of Ford’s 2010 mayoral campaign. “You can expect a lively discussion and that’s what you want to see for both sides.

“From the editorial side, you are looking to see who you feel would best represent the city or the province.”

As a politician, endorsing the winning candidate has obvious benefits, McKay said.

But, he added, getting it wrong means risking making “political enemies.”

“If you endorse X and Y wins, then Y’s mad at you for a while,” McKay said. “That doesn’t actually work, especially when you have to work with Y.”

Despite the risk, McKay broke his own no-endorsement rule when he threw his support to Tory.

“A whole bunch of things came together that in turn (led to) the exception to the rule,” he said. “The Fords were never in the picture. I think Olivia (Chow) was goodhearted, but I don’t know whether her vision extends to Scarborough. … So it really boils down to John.

“If you can’t play nice with John Tory, then it’s you that’s got the problem.”