The ship has sailed for those with political leadership aspirations born before 1971. If you were not opposition leader at the time of the last election, your odds of becoming our next PM are close to zero. The odds had been nil until Justin Trudeau became the first to break this natural order of Canadian politics when he became the first leader of an opposition party between elections to win a majority mandate–a third-place party to boot.

The median age of candidates and potential candidates in the Conservative leadership race is 50 (average 51), six years older than our PM. Of the 16 candidates, only four are the same age as or younger than Trudeau; four are over the age of 60 (older than former PM Harper).

CONSERVATIVE LEADERSHIP CANDIDATES AND THEIR AGES

  • REGISTERED: Deepak Obhrai (66), Maxime Bernier (53), Steven Blaney (51), Chris Alexander (48), Kellie Leitch (46), Michael Chong (44), Erin O’Toole (43), Brad Trost (42), Andrew Scheer (37)
  • DECLARED: Rick Peterson (61), Dan Lindsay (60), Pierre Lemieux (53), Andrew Saxton (52), Adrienne Snow (49), Lisa Raitt (48)
  • POTENTIAL: Kevin O’Leary (62)

Victory Lab [credit: Sasha Issenberg]

Out of the gate, the odds are against the next Leader of the Opposition winning in 2019. Prime Ministers have won 27 of our country’s 42 general elections to-date (64% incumbent PM victories).

Of the 15 elections in which the sitting Prime Minister lost (1874, 1878, 1896, 1911, 1921, 1935, 1957, 1963, 1979, 1980, 1984, 2006, 2015), the winner was younger than the incumbent 11 times (26% younger competitor victory over older incumbent).

An “older” Opposition Leader has beaten a younger Prime Minister just four times (10% older competitor victory). Of those four cases, two involved the winner taking back a job lost in the previous election (5% former PM victory). The first of these was John A. MacDonald, reclaiming the job he lost in 1874 to the younger Alexander Mackenzie. The second was in 1980 when Pierre Trudeau took back the seat a very young Joe Clark kept warm for him for nine months.

All of this means that if you are older than Justin Trudeau, you have about as much of a chance to become our next PM as Stephen Harper does.

Two exceptions

There are two cases in which “seniors” beat young-buck Prime Ministers, though under unique conditions.

Sixty-year-old R. B. Bennett beat 55-year-old William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1930. The Great Depression had just begun and may have factored into the incumbent’s misfortunes.

Prime Minister Kim Campbell, 13 years the junior to Jean Chretien, was soundly defeated in 1993. Struggling on several fronts including a fractured conservative coalition, coming off Canada’s worst economy since the Great Depression, the emergence of two new political parties and the use of a controversial attack ad, Campbell would have lost if the Liberals took vacation during the campaign.

Most-likely path to power

Considering the Conservative Party barely lost any votes in the 2015 election, their most-likely path to power is to wait for a resurgent NDP to chip away at Liberal support, or expand its own brand so more of the younger voters like those who came out for Trudeau can find a home in the Conservative Party.

If you are on the wrong side of the Ewok Line you might be past your prime. And, if you don’t understand that reference, you probably won’t relate to people under 40.

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