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.