what i liked, what i hated, and what i don't understand: a list about my election campaign

I agreed to stand for election because it was an opportunity -- an opportunity to bring a progressive perspective to a riding where those ideas are usually overlooked, and a personal opportunity to expand my own skills and experience. Overall, it was a positive experience -- because it was so short-term. If it had been gone on for six months or a year, I would have been miserable! Here's what I liked, what I hated, and what I just don't get.


1. I met a lot of people! Community activists, progressive-minded neighbours, minority voices in our suburban city. Strangers reached out to support our campaign, to encourage me personally, and with ideas of how they could help. I loved making these connections. It was personally gratifying, and it also expanded my own network in the community.

2. It was a completely immersive experience. I was fortunate to be able to take a leave-of-absence from both library and union work, so I could campaign full-time. I felt exactly like I did during our library workers' strike in 2016 -- completely obsessed. I woke up every morning before dawn, super-charged with energy, and worked like mad the entire day. If I created a brain-map for these times, 95% of it would be the strike or campaign, with a tad leftover to take care of myself physically and remember my partner and dog. I would not have the stamina to do that for months on end, but for a few weeks, it was exciting.

3. I believed we could improve people's lives. There's a unique buzz you get from advocating on someone else's behalf, and fighting for what you believe in. I fight for better working conditions and the rights of our union's members all the time, and I love it. I got a glimpse of doing that on a larger stage, having more opportunity to improve people's lives. That was exciting.

4. I loved the challenge. I used skills I've been honing in both work and union -- leadership, strategizing, planning, listening, researching, reacting.

5. I believed so deeply in the platform. I never would have or could have done it otherwise.


1. Being photographed so much. This was the worst part of the strike and it was the worst part of campaigning. It started off with a horrible experience getting my headshots done -- every single thing about the experience set up for failure -- and continued that way through the whole campaign, as I was forced to see images of myself all the time. I hated this.

2. Being cut off from much of my support network. Candidates are strongly advised to take their personal social media accounts offline during the campaign. I tried just being quiet and more circumspect than usual, but quickly found I was causing other people more work and concern, so I complied with the recommendation. I have many friends and fellow activists that I mostly see only on Facebook. Being cut off from my network was stressful.

3. Taking this blog offline. I hated this.

4. Having to moderate my responses to be appropriate for a candidate. The hotheaded temper of my younger days has long since mellowed and is well under control. But I still prefer a blunt response to a measured one. I zipped my lip... but I didn't like it!

5. Having so little time and so few resources. The NDP reached out to potential candidates in Mississauga very late, and for the most part, we candidates were on our own. The party used a central online platform -- a great tool -- but the structure and guidance it offered applied mostly to large campaigns with solid funds and an army of volunteers. I was able to access some guidance through CUPE, and about 80% of our donations and volunteers came through my own networks. I assume the Party's candidate search probably identifies people who have networks they can leverage, but it was inadequate.

What's up with that?

1. What is the effectiveness of lawn signs? They provide name recognition, but do they translate into votes?

I got calls and emails from many people complaining that they did not see my signs around Mississauga. They were often angry or at least very annoyed, implying our campaign was failing. They clearly equated signs with votes, and they thought we had failed to understand the importance of these signs.

Lawn signs are very expensive, and Mississauga Centre is large and sprawling. The Liberal candidate had enormous signs and they were everywhere. When we investigated the price of those signs, and the number you would need to achieve a noticeable presence, we were amazed at how much she must have spent. Allan's rough estimate was that the Liberals may have spent 8-10 times our entire budget on signs and door leaflets alone. (Our budget was $5,000, and we spent around $7,500.)

Instead, we chose to put our resources into printing. We focused on the many huge apartment and condo towers in the riding. A tiny band of dedicated volunteers put a leaflet in front of every door of more than 90 buildings. This reached a lot of people -- but it isn't public, the way signs are.

Our strategy also included a limited round of phone calls to likely sign takers, leafletting community events, meet-and-greets outside mosques, and every possible public appearance. When we received a sign request, I would contact the requester and invite them to canvass their neighbourhood with me.

Despite our lack of signage, we came in second with about 27% of the vote.

2. Why would people call a candidate for general election information?

I fielded many calls from people who received a leaflet and wanted to know where to vote, how to register to vote, why they hadn't received a voting card, what riding they are in, and so on. I returned every single phone call, and supplied whatever information was needed. Part of that is the librarian in me, and part of it is wanting the caller to come away with a favourable impression of their NDP candidate.

But why would anyone do this? Is the answer "because they don't know how to find information, and one phone number is as good as the next"?

3. Why can't people find the name of a candidate in any party?

We received many emails and phone calls from aggrieved residents saying they didn't know who the candidate was -- often because they didn't see any signs. Many of these emails were forwarded to me from the central party! If they could figure out how to email the NDP, why couldn't they figure out how to look up the name of a candidate?

4. Why do people expect a personal contact initiated by a candidate?

We did very little "door-knocking" (in-person canvassing) or phone calling, because we deemed it a very poor use of our limited resources. This contradicted advice from the central party, so I frequently questioned our decision. Then Allan and I would estimate how many people we could reasonably expect to reach in person, given the size of the riding and our small number of volunteers -- and we affirmed our decision every time.

When I did canvass, I was wholly unprepared for this reaction: "We haven't received a single phone call, not one knock on our door, not one word from any candidate!" This is said with resentment and hurt feelings. More than one person told me she would vote for me because I was the only candidate she met! In a riding of 85,000 potential voters, in a city with a population of 750,000, why would residents expect personal contact initiated by a candidate? Is this extreme passivity?

5. In a parliamentary system, where members of the legislative body vote in a block according to party, why is personal contact so important?

People want their candidate to be smart, honest, dedicated, and so on. I get that. But in a parliamentary system, the personal attributes of your representative are really not very important. What matters is where the party stands on various issues, and how many seats they win. You're voting for the party leader and the party platform. Yet many people vote for an incumbent because they're thought to be a nice guy or they host community barbecues.


James Redekop said...

I found elections.on.ca very helpful in getting the info I needed for the election, but I only found it by chance when I went searching online for anything useful. It could have done with some more public promotion.

Dharma Seeker said...

Lawn signs were useful to me being in a new city. They helped me read the terrain to vote strategically - not something you have been a fan of in the past I know and I'd love to hear whether your thoughts have changed. But it was clear early on that my riding would go either NDP or PC and that informed my vote. I didn't love all of the NDP's platform and don't share your admiration for Andrea Horwath, but I have known for at least two years the Liberals were done this time around - again, listening to people and reading the terrain. Doctors hate Kathleen Wynne, teachers hate Kathleen Wynne, white supremacists hate Kathleen Wynne, and progressives in large part hate her as well. I don't feel that hate is justified and I think history will be kinder to her than the current climate and discourse suggests, but in any event I have been reading the terrain, watching and listening, for a long time. I also felt it was time to give the NDP a chance to form government here. So all of those factors, including the support I saw for the NDP in my riding and the total absence of Liberal signs, did help inform my vote. I have voted strategically every time the Cons or PCs put some frightening leader forward for election and this time my strategic vote paid off. My riding went NDP, unseating the current longest serving member of Provincial Parliament who is a Liberal. The NDP took this riding by just over one thousand votes, PCs were a close second and the Liberals were a distant third. I do believe that with our current first past the post system votes can be "wasted", or to put it more accurately and diplomatically, they can be ineffective. I know you've always advocated for voting one's conscience rather than strategically. I feel provincially I have - for as many elections as I can remember - voted to block who I didn't want as opposed to voting for the platform and leader that resonated with me the most. Just my two cents re: lawn signs.

James Redekop said...

There were some useful online tools to help guide strategic voting. They collected the poll results for all the ridings, showing which in which ones the Liberals had a hope of winning and which the NDP had a chance, and recommended accordingly. I was fortunate enough to be in a "NDP has a chance" riding, so I could vote my preference, and it was a near thing.

Votes can definitely be wasted. Under FPTP, any vote that's not for a winning candidate has no influence on the result. IIRC, this election had ~3,000,000 wasted votes.

Amy said...

Your reactions and insights into the election process are fascinating. Congratulations on doing so well, and I am sorry for all the negatives and that you didn't win. Would you ever do it again?

laura k said...

Dharma Seeker, I don't advocate for or against strategic voting. I personally don't want to do it. I never tell anyone else what to do with their vote. I think strategic voting is based on guesses and assumptions, as poll results by riding are very suspect. And it's usually a way to get progressive people to vote for non-progressive parties.

I'm not sure how lawn signs fit in, though. In our riding, if you judged anything by lawn signs, the Liberal would have won, the Conservative would have come in second, and I'd have gotten a handful of votes at best. The signs indicated only what the candidate spent on signs.

I agree with James that until we have proportional representation, everyone who voted for a party that didn't win had a "wasted" vote. But I don't think that means we should cast our ballots based on who will win.

For me the problem is that people think voting is all they have to do. That voting alone is the exercise of democracy.

laura k said...

Amy, thanks for that. I'm not at all sorry that I didn't win -- but very very sorry that the NDP didn't form the government. Now we have one of those 40% "majorities," where an unpopular government gets to whatever they want.

I don't know if I would do it again, it would all be down to the circumstances. In this case, I was passionate about the platform and have a lot of respect for the party leader and all the candidates, plus I think I have a good understanding of the community. Those are special circumstances, probably not going to be replicated.

Being in government is not a goal of mine, so I wouldn't seek a nomination on my own. The Liberal candidate I was up against has run for City Council and other positions. She wants to be elected. I don't care about being elected, I just want to contribute while doing work that I love.

johngoldfine said...

Personal visits from the candidates.... There aren't any condo towers in Waldo County, so a visit from a candidate happens pretty regularly. I don't need one, I'm not offended if I don't get one, I don't care.

But when candidates do appear, I immediately turn into a single-issue voter and ask them what they think about Sunday hunting. It's illegal to hunt on Sundays in Maine, about the last blue law standing, but for dogowners, that law is a lifesaver. One fucking day in the week I can run the dogs without worrying about them (or me) getting shot.

Of course, the hunters hate the Sunday law and politicians don't want to get crosswise with hunters, so the candidates are usually cautious with their answers. If I don't get any satisfaction (this is a question with a RIGHT answer, no ambiguity allowed, no ambivalence accepted), I gesture at the dogs, at this point lying around waiting for the boring talk to stop, and say, "They don't vote, but I do, and if you support Sunday hunting, you just lost
my vote...."

laura k said...

Even without the condo towers, there are a lot of people here. I'm not sure how any candidate could get to everyone.

I was disappointed to hear from so many people who wanted to know what this party would do for them. What's in it for me? Which party is going to save me the most money? Don't talk to me about child care or tuition, because my kids are grown, so who cares. Who cares about minimum wage, I'm retired.

It wasn't the majority, but I couldn't stand talking to them.

laura k said...

There were some useful online tools to help guide strategic voting. They collected the poll results for all the ridings

How? As far as I know, there are no poll results by riding.

allan said...

Going door to door seems like an extremely outdated idea. Especially in the suburbs.

Say you spent 6 hours doing that on a hot day in May. That would wipe you out. And maybe at 60-70% of the doors, no one is home because they are at work. Maybe another 20-25% are very sure they are voting for Not Your Party or have a fucking huge FORD! sign in the yard. So maybe you chat with someone at 1 out of every 10 doors. (Honestly, that still seems high to me.)

So in 6 hours, you talk with 20-25 people that may or will vote for you? Very few, anyway. You could flyer a huge apt. building with 400-500 doors in less than an hour. (And you'll be drenched in sweat, but it's not in the sun!)

James Redekop said...

I was disappointed to hear from so many people who wanted to know what this party would do for them.

“Public education does not exist for the benefit of students or the benefit of their parents. It exists for the benefit of the social order.

“We have discovered as a species that it is useful to have an educated population. You do not need to be a student or have a child who is a student to benefit from public education. Every second of every day of your life, you benefit from public education.

“So let me explain why I like to pay taxes for schools, even though I don't personally have a kid in school: It's because I don't like living in a country with a bunch of stupid people.”

-- John Green

James Redekop said...

How? As far as I know, there are no poll results by riding.

To be honest, I don't know the source of their data. However, their projection for Scarborough-Rouge Park was very close to the final result, so, at least in that case, their data seemed accurate.

laura k said...

Thanks and thanks. :)

impstrump said...

Also, I wonder if the people calling candidates for general election information are the same people who don't know stuff about how different levels/branches of government work, so they expect City Hall to be able to issue them a passport, or think the receptionist answering the phone is affiliated with the political party in power. Some people seem to see it as a giant monolithic The Government.

johngoldfine said...

The 2nd Maine Congressional District where I live is the geographically-largest district east of the Mississippi but is so thinly populated that it may well lose its status as a district after 2020. Nevertheless, our current congressman, the egregious Bruce Poliquin, is notoriously inaccessible to his constituents. He doesn't do news conferences or town halls anymore, he ducks reporters, and one needs an appointment to even speak to one of his staffers, much less the man himself.

He might sit on a float on Memorial Day or the Fourth and wave to the crowds, which are never overwhelming at such parades these days.

So, when his eventual Democratic opponent (I'm hoping for Jared Golden, because--ahem--he has such COOL initials) gets out and about, shaking hands, introducing himself in supermarket parking lots, mouthing basic bromides, it is a novelty and gets ink and publicity.

Perhaps it's a waste of time and resources, a suck of emotion and energy, high cost/low benefit. But the contrast to Congressman Bruce is noted and appreciated.

Dharma Seeker said...

And John these things don't happen in a vacuum. If I have an encounter with a local politician or candidate it's not exaggerating to say at least 20 of my family and friends will hear about it - positive or negative. It's a little short sighted to think anything to do with politics happens in a vacuum. And many people do consider the local candidate and not only the party when casting a vote. I'm not sure how much that happened last week but my friends (from different circles) and family and I always inform ourselves about the local candidate. In fact the previous MPP for my riding had a vote history I found objectionable and that was what finally helped me make my decision.

laura k said...

John what you might not realize is campaigns are about one month long here. Not a day more. You could knock on doors 24/7 (and of course that's impossible) and not speak to 84,000 voters.

laura k said...

Yes, many people do consider the local candidate -- but in a parliamentary system, they should not.

laura k said...

I'm not saying door-knocking is without value, only that if the candidate doesn't get to your door, you should still be able to make a decision on your own. I spoke to many people who were so passive that they couldn't even look up who their candidate was on their own. As if there was no other way to get that informatoon except an in-person visit.

laura k said...

Imp Strump this is so common! People would ask me about things that were completely outside provincial jurisdiction. And they did NOT want to hear otherwise.

impstrump said...

I wonder how the people who actively want the candidates to knock on their door expect the interaction to play out. If a candidate knocked on my door (in a fictional alternate universe where I answer my door) I'd be worried they'd try to debate me into supporting them or something!

I mean, this year I'd probably give them an elevator speech about vision therapy, but that's just because no one has heard of it so I'm mentioning it to everyone at every available opportunity. I'm not under the impression a candidate could actually go "You know, you're absolutely right! We'll add that to our platform immediately!"

But most people likely aren't on the verge of a Great Big Issue that no one has ever heard of. Even if they have a Great Big Issue, the candidates have most likely already heard of it, and their party either has addressed it in their platform, or deliberately hasn't. So what do they expect to happen during this conversation?

James Redekop said...

I had the local PC candidate knock on my door. It went something like this:

"Hello! I'm Vijay Thanigasalam, your Progressive Conservative party candidate for election on June 7th! Can I count on your vote?"

"No, not really."

"Oh... Well, thank you!"