Life

The Socred Named Slapsy's Hapless Defeat

How the man tasked with rejuvenating the party went down in sad flames. Latest in 'Some Honourable Members.'

By Tom Hawthorn 1 May 2013 | TheTyee.ca

Tom Hawthorn is writing about B.C. political history for The Tyee. Find his previous stories here.

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Illustration by Jessie Donaldson.

[Editor's note: This is the twelfth in our "Some Honourable Members" series, depicting the more dubious moments in B.C.'s political history, brought to you by veteran muckrakers Tom Barrett and Tom Hawthorn, one a day until election day.]

Larry Gillanders inherited a well-known brand name and a shell of a party when he became Social Credit party leader by mail-in ballot in 1994.

He was the first Socred leader in a generation who had to introduce himself to voters, having inherited a familiar label on an empty box.

The 43-year-old real-estate appraiser was also a political novice, never having before run for office. Despite his inexperience, he gained a coveted spot in the televised debate during the 1996 campaign because Cliff Serwa held a single seat for the party in the legislature. 

A newspaper gave him the hapless boxing nickname Slapsy in a cheeky pre-debate fight card.

Gillanders failed to impress during his brief turn in the spotlight and seemed headed to political oblivion until he made a bizarre declaration in the closing days of the campaign.

The 1996 election was neck-and-neck between the governing New Democrats and the BC Liberals under Gordon Campbell. The conservative Reform Party, under the leadership of former Socred Jack Weisgerber, was also a factor, as was the centrist Progressive Democratic Alliance of Gordon Wilson. The sad-sack Socreds were barely a blip on the political radar.

Five days before voting, Gillanders made a dramatic announcement. The Liberals, he said, had offered to withdraw their candidate in his riding of West Vancouver-Capilano if he promised to remove the other 20 Socreds running elsewhere in the province.

That same day, the Reform leader accused the Liberals of seeking backroom deals and of harassing his candidates. "Our campaign workers and our candidates are being threatened," Weisgerber said.

In a final denouement worthy of a Peter Sellers farce, Gillanders called a press conference at which he announced his withdrawal as a candidate and his resignation as party leader.

"Four days before voting day, we stand on the precipice of an NDP re-election," he said. "If free-enterprisers are serious about beating the NDP, then let's get on with the job."

Of course the ballots had already been printed with his name and party affiliation included. Any votes cast for him would be counted as rejects, a fitting end to one of the briefer and more bizarre careers in British Columbia politics. Gillanders returned to the obscurity from whence he appeared.

The Socreds completed the campaign leaderless and winless. Reporters took delight in noting the party's Vancouver campaign office was across the street from a funeral parlour.  [Tyee]

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