The first time John Turmel ran in an election, it was 1979 and his primary aim was to legalise gambling. While his door-knocking efforts earned him just 193 votes, the race marked the start of an obsession that would eventually launch the Canadian into the record books for having contested, and lost, the highest number of elections in the world. Some four decades on, Turmel has contested 95 elections, throwing his hat into the ring for jobs ranging from city councillor to MP. Often running as an independent, the number of votes he receives fluctuates wildly, from 11 to 4,500. Long-winded and prone to campaign ideas that fly in the face of science – such as describing climate change as a hoax – the perennial fringe candidate has racked up a string of bruising headlines over the years. “Super loser fails again,” read one article, while a recent radio appearance dubbed him “politics’ biggest loser”.
Turmel is quick to wave off the criticism. “Am I feeling bad? No,” says the 67-year-old in an interview in his cluttered home office in Brantford, a small city of some 99,000 in southern Ontario. To the self-described professional gambler elections are not there to be won or lost, but rather a low-cost means of disseminating ideas.
Turmel’s first foray into elections was prompted by a police crackdown on the underground blackjack games he was running in Ottawa. “I kept getting busted,” he says. “So I ran for parliament in 1979 to legalise gambling and stop busting me.”
His platform soon expanded to legalising drugs and prostitution as well. “I was called the champion of the gamblers, hookers and dope smokers.”