This is part four in Katrina Kairys’s series on getting to know Canadian politics from the ground up, by volunteering during the 2015 federal election campaign. You can also read installments 1, 2, and 3.
With less than three weeks until the election, the federal campaign is coming to a boil. Canadians are tuning in to watch debate after debate. Staunch supporters of the various parties attack one another other on social media, and journalists, of course, are having a field day. Enjoy it while you can, because it’s probably the most excitement you’ll get out of Canadian politics for a long time.
Fueled by the buzz, I decided to volunteer for not-one-but-two campaigns this past weekend. Although I had been campaigning exclusively in Outremont while in Montreal, this past weekend, out of sheer curiosity, I decided to volunteer for the riding that I live in, Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Sœurs, where Marc Miller is running for the Liberals.
The campaign office was packed when I arrived on Saturday afternoon. Volunteers made calls on one side of the room, while another group had just returned from a morning of canvassing. I was greeted by Bryan, one of the door-to-door organizers, who filled me in on the ground we had to cover. He told me it was one of the largest urban ridings in the country, incorporating the downtown core of Montreal, a portion of both the Lachine Canal and St. Lawrence River areas, and stretching all the way up to Westmount. As a result, the area includes a large range of income levels, from those who live in subsidized housing to others who own waterfront mansions.
A lot of youth are involved in Marc’s team, likely because the riding is home to three large schools – McGill, Concordia, and L’École de technologie supérieure (ETS). Bryan assigned me to canvass with three other volunteers in Nun’s Island (Île-des-Sœurs), an area that was completely new to me. (Note: McGill students rarely leave the 10 kilometer radius surrounding McGill campus.) This small island southeast of Montreal was once a vast area of farmland for the nuns living on the main island of Montreal. Now it is one of the most affluent areas in the city.
Thanks to Tom, their dedicated driver, Marc’s team is able to cover myriad neighbourhoods in one weekend. Our group was just one of a number he would pick up that day. I was joined by a Ph.D. candidate studying chemistry at McGill, and two young CEGEP students. (CEGEP is a two year program between high school and university.) The young students were both new to canvassing, so I gave them a quick training session. After going over what to say, what not to say, and how to say it, as well as a quick rundown of the MiniVan data collection app, we headed inside an apartment building and began knocking.
That day I had my first run-in with someone who refused to speak English to me. As I walked down the hall, I heard a woman speaking on the phone in English and I assumed that’s how we’d communicate. I knocked on her door and started my spiel, but she demanded that I speak French, said that she was not interested, and slammed the door. She obviously understood me, but for some reason was hell-bent to parler en français. I would gladly have spoken to her in my amateur French, but that likely wouldn’t have been good enough either.
The more time I spend campaigning, and the more I deal with difficult people, the more I abide by the axiom, “Kill them with kindness.” So, I smiled, wished her “Bon journée,” and went on my merry way. A few door-knocks later, I was greeted by a father with his two children standing by his side. He smiled and said, “You don’t have to say anything. Of course I’ll vote Liberal.” His young daughter, who couldn’t have been older than six, piped in, “Dad, can I vote for the Liberals too?” I laughed. He laughed. We all laughed. What a great commercial it would have been.
The next day, I was back in Outremont, volunteering again for Rachel Bendayan’s campaign. Canvassing in Île-des-Sœurs was a fun experience, but I like to finish what I start, and Rachel is the reason I got involved in the campaign in the first place. On Sunday, the team hosted a “Phone Blitz” at the campaign office. Previously I had used the “Virtual Phone Bank,” logging in on my laptop from the comfort of my own home, but the food, chatter, and energy in the office made it a more appealing option. I was constantly reminded that I was part of a team, which really made the minutes go by faster.
I had all sorts of conversations that afternoon. I started out with a general calling list of people who weren’t necessarily Liberal supporters. Calling up a Conservative and trying to swing their vote is no easy task. After an unexciting hour of “No thank you’s” and “Call back later’s,” I switched lists and began calling long-time Liberal supporters. My morale rose, as I could tell that people were smiling on the other end of the line. At one point, an elderly Portuguese woman with broken English chanted, “Trudeau! Trudeau! Trudeau!” to me at the top of her lungs. The day ended on a high note when the last woman I spoke to told me that I had made her day.
As I packed up to head home, I was told to be ready for the next few weeks. I asked what else I could do to help. Before I could finish my sentence, I was signed up for a three-hour non-stop phone banking session. Yes. Some genius developed a system that automatically calls numbers and connects answered lines one after another. What have I gotten myself into?
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 5: 20-somethings for democracy