The 2021 44th Canadian Federal Election has come and gone and even though it ended up being an election about nothing (when it deserved to be about something indeed) the event was significant enough for me to report on it in these pages. Not so much to offer my own views on the merits of the election – not the outcome I had hoped for, nor perhaps anybody had hoped for – nor opine on the relative merits of the competing parties, or even the relative attitudes of the Canadian electorate, but to share some of my own experiences of this election.
I had said to myself at the beginning of this year that among my goals for the year, in support of my overall sense of purpose, was to be more active in things that matter me, that fit with my values. While it suits my personality to sit in my office and engage in my primary talents and intentions – to write/be an author – I also need to get out of myself and engage with others who are committed to some larger purpose, and make whatever contribution I can. It’s too easy to get out the checkbook (or in modern times, one’s credit card number), and make a donation, it’s another thing to get out there, even if figuratively speaking in these times of forced confinement, and engage with others.
We (we introverts at least) engage in a lot of self-talk that inhibits us from engaging, taking risks. We worry about what others think, we concern ourselves with looking foolish, or inadequate, or failing, so we stay on the sidelines. Or worse, we may sit in the bleachers and kibitz. And then I am reminded of Theodore Roosevelt’s famous speech, ‘Man In the Arena’.
To that end (overcoming reluctance) earlier this year I accepted a request from the Chairman of the Canadian Authors Association to facilitate the production of their Strategic Plan. I was inclined to decline as I was still deep in the third draft of The Treasure of Stella Bay, but I knew that was mostly an excuse; the real reason was my own natural reluctance to engage with new people (the curse of introversion!); and this was especially the case as the work was to be pro bono – I was to offer my services as a member of the CAA, as a volunteer. Margaret was very compelling, and I reminded myself of those damned New Year’s resolutions and said yes. And it proved to be a very worthwhile endeavour. I think I have made a real contribution (though proof of a plan is in the results and those won’t be known for months, or even years) but more, I have made some new contacts in my new profession (author), some of whom have subsequently bought copies of my book and put up reviews on various online sites such as the ubiquitous Amazon.
And then along came the election. The national wellbeing of our fair Dominion, and the health of our democratic institutions, are important to me; I become intellectually and emotionally exercised at the state of the nation, and this is especially evident at election time. But being emotionally exercised is not quite the same as actually getting involved. So with the pending election I had to decide if my actions spoke more accurately than my words. My first step was the nomination of my local Party candidate: I voted as a Party member for the candidate I thought most worthy. Voting over the internet was a clumsy affair and lacked for drama but in many ways that suited me – I didn’t have to leave the house and actually expose myself. My candidate won, so I made a substantial donation to her campaign (not that difficult with a 75% tax credit) but I began to feel this was inadequate, and I knew I was avoiding real involvement.
So I signed up for a lawn sign.
Hmmm, hardly enough in light of my 2021 resolution to make substantial contributions to things that matter to me. I needed to get out of the house and actively participate. To use my feet not just my credit card. Elections are not won on Twitter. So I volunteered to do whatever the Party asked to get the message out to the voters.
The election campaign itself was for the minimum legal period, 35 days. I should have got out of my chair right away but it took me 32 days to finally sign up for work on the hustings. That meant I missed a lot of the door-to-door canvassing, meet the voters on their doorstep, give the Party line to the resident(s), ascertain their voting intentions, log it. Seemed daunting to me, so I ducked.
I hadn’t been on the hustings before. Well, not quite true, but the last time I was on the hustings I wasn’t even old enough to vote (you had to be 21 in those days! – and wouldn’t you know it, my candidate didn’t win that time either). With only three days to go to election day the challenge for me was to s..t or get off the pot. I pressed the Volunteer button on the Party website and within an hour I got a phone call. Not from CSIS but from the Party Campaign Manager in my Riding. There was a lot to do in the final three days – ‘get out the vote’; that means return to all those households who claimed to favour the Party and remind them to vote.
It’s a good thing I’m in shape – on the hustings means a lot of physical work: Up and down and in and out of a truck or car, brisk walk to the door, hang a notice, back to the truck, next stop; less brisk walk.
You go in teams of two – one to drive, one to do the door dash. If you get a good partner, you share in the dashing, if not, you get to do all the dashing.
Then, the voting day itself. Being a traditionalist, I had eschewed advanced polling or voting by mail: I wanted to see firsthand how pandemic protocols might distort voting procedures. Except for long line-ups at many stations (because there were fewer of them, and larger) the voting was pretty straight-forward – easier than going to a restaurant. My own polling station opened at 9:30 but I arrived to 9:00 so I could get in and out as soon as I could. I had a big day ahead of me.
For the rest of the morning my [new] partner and I did the door dash in neighbourhoods that hadn’t been reached the day before.
By afternoon the activity switched to monitoring voting at the two voting stations I had been assigned. This entailed presenting my credentials to the Electoral Officer at the station and taking a copy of the voter register to that point. (I used my iPhone camera.) The voters are identified by sequence number and that number can be matched to the Party records and in that way, supportive voters who had not yet voted could be called to remind them and even to offer them rides to their polling station. Repeat every hour or so. This really basic activity is called, ‘getting out the vote’. (In the old days, getting out the vote was often done at the local tavern but that is illegal these days.)
The last task for the party volunteer is scrutineering. When the polls close (in Ontario it was 9:30 pm) the Electoral Officer and his teams of volunteers begin the count. Credentialled Party volunteers are entitled to monitor this process. I had two stations to scrutinize, 6 kms apart. It’s hard to be in two places at once so I chose to scrutinize the count at the larger of the two stations and just check the final results at the other. I am pleased to report that I detected absolutely no shenanigan’s in the process and I have renewed faith in the integrity of the Canadian electoral process. I’m not so pleased to report that my candidate lost at both stations, though narrowly.
I reported my results to our campaign manager and tech wizard. The Candidate, campaign team and many volunteers had gathered at a local pub to await the final results. We knew what the tally was before the CBC but we also knew we were losing, if narrowly. Still, as the race in my riding was close, we knew we wouldn’t be sure of the final result for hours, even days, depending on the count of the mail-in ballots. So much for the after-party. I stayed for a drink and hors d’oeuvres – I figured I had earned them and had already paid for them with my generous donation! But my 44th Canadian Federal Election experience was over.
But the bonus, or should I say bonuses:
- I got to meet my candidate in person, and a lovely young woman she is, calm, steady, determined. I hope she tries again.
- I got to meet some other interested and committed Party members who take their political responsibility as citizens seriously. Not that they are mindless rabid fans but seriously committed to the democratic process.
- I sold three books to fellow canvassers!
- I got out of my house and feel good about actually manifesting my resolve to take more active involvement in things that matter to me.
Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata Ontario
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