Dynasty politics, Constance Barnes, and Justin Trudeau

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      When NDP candidate Constance Barnes campaigns in Vancouver Centre, she often encounters seniors who remember her father, Emery.

      Barnes Senior was a political legend in Vancouver's West End, representing downtown residents in the legislature for 24 years.

      In a phone interview with the Straight, Barnes said that she often hears people telling her how her dad helped someone get off the street or invited a class to the legislature in Victoria or how he played football for the B.C. Lions.

      "Every day, there are stories," she said.

      When Barnes ran for the Vancouver park board in 2008 and 2011, she topped the polls.

      This time, she's in a tough fight with veteran Liberal MP Hedy Fry. She is no stranger to the phenomenon of children following their parents' example by seeking political office. 

      Fry's son Pete is a Green party activist who ran for city council in the last civic election. He's nominated to run for the party in upcoming provincial by-election in Vancouver-Mount Pleasant.

      I'll be watching the race in Vancouver Centre and the national election results on Monday (October 19) to see if Canada is moving further down the road toward "dynasty politics".

      NDP candidate Constance Barnes often invokes the memory of her father, Emery Barnes.

      Dynasty politics isn't unusual in Asian democracies.

      Examples include the Aquino family in the Philippines, the Bhuttos in Pakistan, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty in India, Aung San Suu Kyi and her father in Burma, and fights between the Rahman-Zia and Hasina families for control over Bangladesh.

      It's also emerged in recent decades in the United States. The most notable examples are the Bush and Kennedy families.

      Dynasty politics has been on display in the rise of other U.S. politicians over the years, such as Al Gore, whose father was a U.S. senator, and New York governor Andrew Cuomo, whose father also governed the state.

      Former senator and ex-vice president Al Gore's father was also a senator from Tennessee.

      One explanation for this phenomenon is that feelings about former political leaders often improve the longer they are out of office.

      By the time their kids step into the spotlight, there's a warm fuzzy glow around them, creating a wave of nostalgia. It doesn't hurt if the children grew up in the public eye.

      Such is the case with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. No matter how often the Conservatives and New Democrats try to condemn him, he still has an aura around him that comes with being Pierre's son.

      Of course, Justin Trudeau has also proven himself to be an adept campaigner. Growing up with a father who won four national elections has likely given him political insights that others aren't privy to.

      Fry was an early supporter of Trudeau when many were skeptical about his ability to survive against hardnosed veterans like Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair.

      In a phone interview with the Straight, Fry described Trudeau as "a fantastic human being".

      "I think he would make such a great prime minister," she said. "He has courage. He has discipline. He is highly intelligent. You know, he's not a mean human being."

      Then she emphasized that he has "all of the Liberal values" of compassion, pragmatism, and a belief in pursuing policies that are backed by evidence.

      So does Fry feel vindicated to see Trudeau faring well in the election campaign?

      "I'm so proud of him," she replied. "That's what I'm feeling right now. Not that I am vindicated, but I am so proud of him. He's lived up to everything and more."

      When the Straight pointed out that Trudeau might be a better campaigner than her father, Fry noted that everyone wants their children to be more successful than them. It was a heartfelt comment.

      But the potential rise of dynasty politics in Canada also raises troubling questions.

      Does it mean that some are more equal than others in having access to the levers of political power?

      Are we going to reach the point when some Canadian political seats are going to become birthrights like they are in parts of India?

      Is merit going to come second to nostalgia in the selection of future political leaders? 

      Mark Strahl was elected in Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon after his father retired as a Conservative MP.

      There was a good chance that Conservative MP Nina Grewal's son was going to be elected until his nomination was nixed by the party brass.

      Nina Grewal (left) and son Liv (second from right) were both slated to be Conservative candidates until Liv's nomination was vetoed.

      Grewal won in Surrey after her husband has been elected in a neighbouring riding.

      Then there's the term widow's succession, which describes instances when the spouse takes over a seat. Martha Black was the first of several Canadian examples.

      She represented Yukon residents from 1935 to 1940 before her husband returned to office after recovering from health problems.

      Democracy can be a fragile flower and it arose in response to the excesses of ruling families around the world.

      So in a way, politics has always been a family business, even under monarchies and dictatorships.

      But it's never been quite so apparent in Canada as it is today.