ELECTION 2011 — Kidder croons for Liberal support

  • Apr. 20, 2011 5:00 p.m.


John Kidder, the federal Liberal candidate for the riding of Okanagan-Coquihalla, stands on the stage of the Shatford Centre in Penticton.

Wearing a white shirt and blue jeans, Kidder holds up an acoustic guitar as he addresses the audience that has come on this Saturday evening to “rock” in the words of the event organizers the “vote,” a non-partisan effort to stoke enthusiasm among arguably the most disengaged group of eligible voters, 18 to 35 years old. 

As if to spite organizers in a passive-aggressive way, the target audience of the evening appears to have stayed away from its own party as much of the crowd standing before Kidder appears to be older than 35. In fact, the face of the crowd strikes a familiar chord with observers. 

It consists primarily of the candidates, their inner circles of family members and volunteers and handfuls of supporters, with the Green Party fielding what appears to be the largest contingent. 

While the live music playing in the background gives the evening a different tone, it is hard to escape the overt campaigning that takes place on the floor. 

But if the evening was failing to become something else than just another campaign stop only with more organic music, Kidder appears to be unrelenting in his efforts to evoke the spirits of an era that might be even more alien to young Canadian voters in the early 21st century than federal politics: the 1960s.

Second later, he is picking the opening chords to Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changing.

“Come gather around people. Wherever you roam….”

Politicians who angle for votes by associating themselves with the sentiments of a particular song are hardly original. But Kidder, whose rendition of Dylan’s anthem proved to be surprisingly competent if not charming, makes no apologies for connecting his election campaign, which is supposedly about the future, to the sentiments of a chestnut from the past.

In fact, Kidder says he often hears from his children who blame his generation for not finishing the work which the various social movements of the 1960s had begun. 

“We need to be thinking of a generational shift again,” he says in an interview after his performance. 

While Kidder now talks about evolution rather than revolution, he unabashedly talks about uniting all of the “progressives” in the riding, whether they might be former Progressive (Red) Tories, Greens or Liberals “hiding in the hills.”

This political openness mirrors Kidder’s stated eagerness to build barriers across political divides in an effort to rescue Canada from the pending “peril” which the “Karl Rove-style politics” of Prime Minister Stephen Harper threatens to bring down on Canadians. 

His political biography and background suggest anything but ideological rigidity, though. 

Kidder, whose mother and father voted New Democratic and Progressive Conservative respectively, was the oldest son of five children. After moving around Canada during his youth, Kidder found work  as a cowboy near what is now the Coquihalla Connector. Riding 35 kilometres on horseback from his camp to the nearest polling station, Kidder cast his first ballot as an adult in 1972 for Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the last Liberal leader who managed to move any votes in this part of western Canada. 

Kidder, who still ranches today near Ashcroft, officially joined the party in 1980 and has since worked on a number of campaigns. He has also been active in Green politics as a co-founder of the B.C. Greens. Professionally, he has worked an economist and software developer. 

While some might see this resume as evidence of Liberal wishy-washy, Kidder sees it as an advantage. 

“I have done a lot of stuff. I can connect with a lot of people.” 

Nobody would deny that Kidder needs to maximize those connections if he wants to win an area that has not elected a federal Liberal for generations. 

Kidder also faces a number of local, more practical obstacles. One is the fact that his three most important rivals — Dan Albas, David Finnis and Dan Bouchard — come from the same south-eastern part of the riding. Kidder, meanwhile, comes from Ashcroft, which is not in the riding. Voters could consider Kidder to be the outsider, even though he has lived and worked in parts of the riding for years. 

Travelling in a Liberal-red painted GMC Safari that only appears to confirm the free-spirited ethos of his campaign, Kidder has been able to generate some exposure on his way between stops. He has further upped the attention quotient by campaigning with his sister Margot, the Canadian film and stage actress.

Kidder acknowledges that he faces long odds in winning this riding as he lowers expectations. 

“If we have more people voting in this riding, everybody gets a victory,” he says. But he doesn’t concede anything, at least not publicly.

The sudden departure of Day has reinvigorated  Liberals specifically and anti-Conservatives generally, says Kidder.

“A lot of things are in play before that weren’t in play before,” he says.

What was the title of that song again?