With this second installment, we continue Katrina Kairys’s series on getting to know Canadian politics from the ground up, by volunteering during the 2015 federal election campaign. Read Ep. 1, “New kid on the doorstep,” here.
Shortly after canvassing in Toronto, I headed to the province next door to see how the Liberals’ message was doing in Quebec. As I mentioned in my last post, back in April of this year I had met the Liberal candidate for Outremont, Rachel Bendayan. I was impressed by how passionate and dedicated she was — dedicated enough, and I don’t say this lightly, to risk her life climbing the icy steps of Montreal’s many walk-up apartments in order to meet the people in her community.
The temperature was a much safer and more bearable 25 degrees when I returned in June, ready to do the same. I joined Rachel and her team on a sunny Saturday afternoon on Park Street, and traded in my Liberal pins for Libéral pins. Within five minutes I met my first challenge. I learned that we were campaigning in the riding represented by Thomas Mulcair. This would be no easy fight.
The silver lining, however, was that history was on our side. With the exception of a brief five-year stint by the Conservatives in the late ‘80s, and more recently Mulcair’s run, Outremont has been Liberal territory since 1935. Rachel hopes to paint it red once again.
At the campaign office I met a new group of people, as various as the ones back in Parkdale-High Park. Similarly, volunteers came from all over the greater Montreal area, with one trekking in from Laval after reading about Rachel and what she was doing for her community. I met Daniel, the field organizer in charge of canvassing, Nicole, the campaign team lead, as well as the campaign manager, Yannick. I discovered that despite having day jobs, they were putting every spare hour they had into the campaign efforts. It sure isn’t easy to spend all day working, only to head to another office in the evening to plug in a few more hours. But as I would learn, every person on the team has the same drive as Rachel does to win that seat on October 19th.
I was in for a treat on that Saturday in Montreal, as I was assigned to go door-to-door with the candidate herself. My stomach churned as I remembered that I was in Quebec and that I was more likely to hear French on the doorstep than English. I had to be ready to parle en français. Should I start my spiel in English and hope that others would understand? Should I rely on my far-from-perfect French and desperately hope that I wouldn’t have to use political jargon?
Thankfully, Rachel stole the spotlight. She proved to be an excellent communicator. Our goal of knocking on 80 doors dwindled to 40, as she spent no less than 10 minutes at each home. It seemed to me that people really cared about the election and wanted to talk about it, and I found myself comparing Torontonians and Montrealers; here, I encountered fewer door slams and more citizens who wanted to engage. But I reminded myself not to jump to conclusions about the two cities, as my sample size was negligible, and in Toronto I had no candidate by my side.
At door after door, whether the homeowners were Liberal or NDP, they were ready to talk “les enjeux” (the issues). Even Conservatives, who were few and far between, wanted to talk politics. Rachel prides herself on being a good listener and it really showed that day. She heard about the cost of living, tax breaks, the CCP, and everything else on Canadians’ growing list of worries. As soon as people were able to put a face to the name, the conversation flowed. And even if people didn’t necessarily agree with her, Rachel was there to listen and engage in friendly debate.
I canvassed on my own the following weekend, which is when I realized I was no longer just a volunteer. I had become an advocate. From a business standpoint, I truly think that a salesperson must believe in what he or she is selling. Politics is no different. The more I believed in Rachel, the better I became at advocating for her and the more people believed what I had to say.
I began to appreciate how transparent she was and I made sure that this was the first thing I told people about her. If they had concerns, I was able to offer them Rachel’s business card and let them know they could contact her directly on her phone, day or night. I must admit I was a bit surprised by how accessible she made herself. Given the current government’s penchant for secrecy and stealth, this type of openness from a politician is almost unheard of these days. This made me proud to represent the Liberals of Outremont, and fueled my drive to come back the following week to knock on a few more doors.
By the end of June, I had stepped outside of the proverbial “McGill Bubble” and discovered there was life beyond Pine Avenue. I saw more of Montreal while canvassing than I had during my four years at university. It’s something that I encourage all students to do. Nights at the library are important, but it’s equally valuable to do something that contributes to your sense of community. Whether you’re working for a political association or a local NGO, make an effort to do something you’ve never done, and to meet new people.
Who knows? You might just win an election.
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.
Katrina’s campaign journal, Part 3: Party line