Flora Factor

The term for the political double-cross of delegates committing their support to a given leadership candidate – and then voting for someone else during the actual balloting.

The term was coined at the 1976 federal Progressive Conservative leadership convention, which saw the strongest leadership candidacy of a woman for a major national political party in Canada at the time: Kingston MP and longtime PC activist Flora Macdonald.

Going into first ballot voting, the careful tabulation by Macdonald’s campaign team of explicit commitments by individual convention delegates added up to over 300 votes. The eventual tally was only 214, and only 239 in the second round of voting. The leadership was eventually won by dark horse candidate Joe Clark, who went on to be Canada’s next (if short-lived) Prime Minister. Macdonald served as his Foreign Minister – the first woman to hold the job.

Macdonald’s team cited the “Flora Factor” to explain supporters who lost their political nerve because of a perceived risk of choosing a female leader, and, by extension, the risk of her ultimate electability. Over the years, it has become a common utterance for those politicos unwilling to back female or diverse candidates, but lacking the honesty to say so publicly.

Image source: Collections Canada

Suggested by Parli Contributor Ross C.

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