By Chris - find him at DadGoesRound!
Labour Day has come and gone. School has started and the federal election campaigns are ramping up. If your kids are like mine after a couple of days sitting at desks, they are both exhausted and high energy bouncing off the walls in need of some activity. Fortunately the Federal Election presents an opportunity for education, exercise and time together.
Election campaigns run on volunteer power. They require volunteers to make phone calls and knock on doors to identify potential supporters and then on election day to ensure those supporters get out to the polls to vote. Those volunteers are people like you and me. They are fellow residents and community members who have decided they want to help a particular candidate or party win in their riding.
Knocking on doors - or canvassing for votes - is my favourite part of elections. I have volunteered for friends who have put their names on municipal ballots, and knocked on doors for candidates in federal and provincial elections for a couple of different parties. Since 2007 every one of those campaigns has involved me knocking on doors with a kid in a backpack, wagon or walking with me.
It is a great opportunity for me to get in some quality time with my kids. These days I take one at a time and they each get turns. Whenever an election is called, they start bidding on the opportunity to go canvassing with dad. We spend 2-3 hours at a time walking around in a neighbourhood with a team of other volunteers. We knock on doors and drop off literature about the candidate we are supporting and ask people if they will support our candidate. The time at the door is usually quick, although sometimes we engage in longer discussions, although that is not the intent. My kids carry the literature and hand it out or put it in mailboxes. They push the door bells or I do the knocking. I do the talking, but my oldest is getting close to doing that too - she will be a few days short of nine yrs old by the time this election rolls around.
In between knocking on doors and dropping off literature, we walk and we talk. We talk about what we see and people we talk to. We talk about homes and neighbourhoods, gardens, trees, cars and stuff going on in their lives. We also talk about politics and policies. We talk about elections and parties. My kids ask me for more details about things that people say at the door when we talk to them.
Opportunities for kids while canvassing
- Carry some or all of the campaign materials
- Put materials in mailboxes/doors or hand it to the residents
- Ring door bells, knock on doors
- Be in charge of finding the mailboxes - not always an easy thing to do
- Guess if someone is going to be home or not.
- Older kids might be open to speaking to the residents themselves.
The last five federal elections in Canada have witnessed voter turn out rates around 60%. In each of those elections almost 40% of eligible voters have decided not to vote. Some people forget to vote, others can't make up their mind so they don't vote. Some people feel that voting makes no difference so they don't bother and still others don't pay any attention to the election, the campaigns, policies or candidates and so they don't vote. All of these are excuses and an abdication of one our responsibilities as citizens in a democracy.
I see it as my role to ensure that my kids grow up to be voters. I don’t expect them to vote for my current party of choice. I do expect them to talk and think about politics and why voting is important. I hope to engage them on important issues of the day and help them to see politics as a force for change and good in the world. I have had the opportunity to meet and know many politicians and almost all of them have run for office for the same reason. They want to make a difference for their community, province and or country. Some will lose sight of that over time or have it drummed out of them by the system. For the most part they are good people, people like the rest of us who decide they are passionate enough about something that they put their name on a ballot.
Every day that we go out canvassing I build on their knowledge of the world around them and move a step closer to my goal of growing educated voters. Every politician and would-be politician that I introduce them to helps them to see politics as an activity that anyone can engage in. It helps them to see this as an option for them if they so choose later in life. I want to show them as many life doors as possible so that they can decide which one(s) to walk through or kick down as necessary.
Take advantage of the opportunity presented by the current election, pick a local candidate that you want to support. Call up their campaign office and ask about knocking on doors for them. Take your kids and go do it. You’ll be partnered with other volunteers who can teach you how it is done. Get out there and raise a voter!
What riding am I in and who are the candidates?
Find your riding - Elections Canada
Find your candidates - Elections Canada or through federal party websites. Websites for all the major parties have listings of candidates for each riding.
What is the time commitment?
Typically you would canvass a poll - all ridings are subdivided into polls - all the people from one poll vote in the same place at the same ballot box. Canvassing a poll with a team of 3-5 people will typically take 2-3 hours depending on the nature of the housing. Apartment buildings take considerably less time than a low-density subdivision. The distance between doors will significantly impact time to complete the poll. Obviously campaigns would like to have volunteers come back repeatedly, but there is no obligation to do so.
Door knocking is normally done in teams with other volunteers knocking on neighbouring doors. Team members keep an eye out for one another and check back if one of the team members is taking a longer than usual time at a house. This often occurs when the resident wants to discuss particular issues. Canvassing is done throughout the day and into the evening. if you are canvassing in the evening, Hallowe’en rules apply. Stick to one side of the street, pay attention to traffic, wear clothes that make it easy to see you at dusk.
Most importantly: wear good shoes so that you don’t hurt your feet.
What do I say to someone who opens the door?
Volunteers receive training from more seasoned canvassers on their team. basically keep it short and sweet, the job of a canvasser is not to convert voters and debate issues. It is to identify decided voters. Everyone has their own script at the door and it generally is something like this.
With experience comes the ability to read people at the door and tailor the script to the person at the door. If someone says no they aren’t voting for your candidate or if they get obnoxious with their response, be polite, thank them for their time and move on to the next door. Engaging with a non-support will not help the team complete the poll and will not help accomplish the objective of identifying supporters.