With this sixth installment, we conclude Katrina Kairys’s series on getting to know Canadian politics from the ground up, by volunteering during the 2015 federal election campaign. Our thanks to Katrina for keeping our readers’ spirits buoyed with her enthusiasm and humour throughout. Previous installments can be read here.
By Katrina Kairys
You win some. You lose some. In a room full of McGill students at Gert’s Bar on campus, I watched as the votes rolled in for the two Liberal candidates I’d been volunteering for over the past 72 days. The night was full of ups and downs as I watched Rachel Bendayan put up a tough fight with Tom Mulcair, and Arif Virani proudly snag a seat from Peggy Nash of the NDP.
I was initially surprised that Arif took Parkdale-High Park, long an NDP stronghold, but I shouldn’t have been. In this election, the Liberals worked from the ground up and Arif and his team of Parkdale-High Park Grits were a perfect case study of the grassroots phenomenon that was the Liberal campaign. From the day the writ was dropped, they took to the streets and to the phones to canvass and call voters every single day. Ultimately, I believe Arif won because of the time he spent in the riding meeting with the people he wanted to represent. Not far behind was a dedicated team that just seemed to keep growing. He even managed to get some NDP volunteers to cross over to his side. How? He treated his volunteers like gold. As news of his appreciative campaign style spread, Liberals from all across the GTA came to give him a hand.
He did not take for granted that people were giving up their time for him. To get the team out on the field, Arif drove volunteers himself or made sure they had the subway fare to get there and back. Not only was he grateful, he was genuinely kind-hearted. Being a parent of two young children might seem to be a campaign hindrance, but it was Arif’s biggest asset when voters saw how he treated them. And little reminders to his supporters to “Remember your sunscreen!” or “Do you need an extra water bottle?” showed he really cared. He constantly checked in on his volunteers to make sure they weren’t overworked, and his campaign office had a never-ending flow of coffee. Small things like that went a long way.
Importantly, he made an effort to educate his team. Before every Day of Action (Liberal speak for “canvassing”), Arif gave a pep talk to his volunteers, taking the time to explain new party platforms and answer questions. He ensured that his team was able to answer questions at the door, rather than relying on campaign literature to do the talking for them. He also had a strong social media team, which likely helped garner youth support. Campaign assistant Brandan Rowe was responsible for managing Arif’s media accounts, and he made sure that the candidate connected with voters over Facebook and Twitter just as frequently as he did in person.
As I watched Arif’s votes skyrocket that night, I saw Rachel’s slowly come to a standstill. But she gave Mulcair a run for his money. In the 2008 election, the NDP leader won the support of 56.4% of his riding. This time around, that number dwindled to 43.9%, in large part because Rachel, like Arif, ran an effective grassroots campaign. When I canvassed, I often came across people who had already met her out in the community. I would jokingly follow up with, “And have you met Tom?” to which they answered “No” more often than not. Rachel’s campaign was unique in that she had quite a young team with many first-time volunteers. And while she isn’t heading to Ottawa, she should be proud that she inspired so many youth to get involved.
This was her practise run. At only 35, she has a long career ahead and this definitely won’t be the last we see of her.
While the candidates dove in head first, I had the chance to dip my toes in the water. Yes, it added to my already busy schedule. Yes, I got doors slammed in my face. Yes, I sometimes ended up walking in circles in unfamiliar neighbourhoods. And yes, an angry 90-year old berated me for speaking French like an anglophone. But I also had the chance to see just how wonderfully passionate some Canadians are. Whether it was the lady who baked her famous “cheesy bread” for Arif’s volunteers, or a volunteer on Rachel’s team who brought her two-year old along in a stroller to go knock on doors, I came across some incredibly dedicated people.
No election is devoid of aggressive attacks and name calling, but that dog-eat-dog mentality was overshadowed by the fact that this election brought Canadians together. When the majority was called, I was not the least bit surprised. I saw what had been happening on the ground for the past 72 days and I’m glad I had the opportunity to write about it. Whether my journal spurred you to get involved or simply taught you something new, thank you for following me on this three-month journey.
Finally, to both friends and strangers who have told me, “It’s just an election,” I really hope you reconsider. And, I don’t believe you one bit.
Born and raised in Toronto, Katrina Kairys is a recent graduate of McGill University where she majored in psychology and world religions. She has a growing interest in Canadian politics and legal studies, and a passion to get more Canadian youth interested in their country and those that lead it.
And while she’d never say it, we think she’d make an awesome candidate some day.