Politics and political campaigns have become a staple in mainstream entertainment. Whether on House of Cards, Scandal or The Good Wife, political campaigns are regularly featured in primetime television. While not as glamorous as portrayed on television, real-life local campaigns play an important part in deciding which party wins or loses an election. None of the political parties in Ontario can form a government – majority or minority – unless they have enough candidates that can win in their ridings.
Local campaigns are where campaign war room strategists find out just how well their ideas are playing out. Do average Ontarians care about pensions? Do cancelled gas plants really matter to voters? Do people care about 100,000 public sector jobs being cut? It is knocking on doors where political parties really find out how their ideas are resonating or if there is a disconnect between what seems like a good idea in the campaign war room and what a voter actually thinks. This is where candidates hear what really matters in their ridings and these campaign interactions often impact MPPs when they go to Queen’s Park.
Local campaigns also offer an opportunity for voters to spend time with Cabinet Ministers (or future Cabinet Ministers) without political staff or the civil service present. Whether it is on a canvass with the candidate, dropping by a campaign office or at a fundraiser, local campaigns provide opportunities for voters to show support and build relationships.
So what is a local campaign really like? Like television, local campaigns for the most part are staffed by volunteers. Unlike television, where most of those volunteers seem to be university or college students looking to build their resumes, real-life campaigns tend to attract a more diverse crowd. People who volunteer tend to be passionate or concerned about a certain issue, committed to the political party they believe in, or they have a connection to the local candidate.
Days are long, often lasting more than twelve hours. Activities include going to a bus stop or subway station (if you are in Toronto) to hand out literature to people on their way to and from work, knocking on doors, making phone calls to people in the riding or dropping material into mail boxes. Sometimes people are happy to hear from you, sometimes they are not, and sometimes they let you know just how unhappy they are.
So what’s the appeal and why get involved? Like summer camp, campaigns can be a lot of fun. You always have people to share meals with; you meet like-minded people to spend time with; and there is always someone who is willing to talk about politics! There is also something very rewarding about seeing the candidate with whom you spent hours win and being part of something that really does impact people’s lives.
By: Shabnum Durrani
Shabnum is an Account Director in Hill+Knowlton’s Toronto public affairs practice and is currently volunteering on Premier Kathleen Wynne’s local campaign in the riding of Don Valley West.