Behind the Lines … From Inside a Federal Campaign - New Canadian Media

Behind the Lines … From Inside a Federal Campaign

As I listened to an elderly woman who had walked in to our campaign headquarters, it began to sink in that I was not in…

As I listened to an elderly woman who had walked in to our campaign headquarters, it began to sink in that I was not in my hometown big city Eastern Canada habitat any more.

She droned on and on about how un-Canadian it is for women to wear the niqab in Canada and how we were certainly headed to Sharia law. It made me reflect upon why I had chosen to become a campaign manager for a candidate in a small community so far from my home.

My candidate had heard about my track record for helping “lost causes” who were seeking office. I’d helped a candidate with a drug conviction and another who was suffering the effects of advancing Multiple Sclerosis. But nothing prepared me for this roller coaster of a campaign.

It’s been a scrappy ride from mid-June until the verge of voting. To begin with, the Official Agent (sort of like the campaign’s chief financial officer) and the candidate had a falling out. That’s not good, because the official agent has to approve every expenditure.

We were saddled with an official agent who was meticulously slow. In fact, his inability to quickly approve expenditures cost us a prime office location. Our official agent was so taken with his own authority that he made it a point to slow up everything and remind us how important he is.

Own goal

My track record of helping “lost causes” has proved useful. But, then, my candidate sent out a torpedo of her own. Just as the campaign was gearing up, she informed me her spouse was leaving because of long-standing differences.

I asked her if the spouse could be convinced to stay put for the few short weeks until the campaign ended. She refused and told me, “Don’t worry, no one will know.”

Within 48 hours the whole riding and residents of all three towns within it knew my candidate’s marriage was over. In our riding, this is a serious issue. Suddenly, I was trying to figure out how to get ahead of this and not let it become a distraction. But no one – not even the sleepy local media – dared to raise it.

Party leader visit

What do you do when the party leader visits and wants to meet the spouse? Which is precisely what happened. We opted to answer that ‘he can’t be here today.’

The biggest challenges for our campaign have been: money, volunteers and messaging. The average Canadian political party in the average riding of about 100,000 residents can spend up to $200,000 during this extended campaign period.

Most riding associations or candidates don’t have that kind of money. We didn’t. So fundraising has become essential. We thought about bringing in a former prime minister as a guest for a fundraising event … but he had a whiff of scandal about him.

And it’s not easy to raise the big sums because the current election laws prevent corporations and organizations from contributing, and individuals cannot give more than $1,500. You can’t buy a lot of influence for that sum.

I’m grateful for these rules.

Party volunteers

As for volunteers, we have party loyalists who have fought on our team on every election back to the Mulroney-Turner era. They straggle in to the office as soon as an election is announced. They are mostly older, mainstream (what someone called “old stock”) Canadians.

I’ve got only four visible minorities in the campaign team of 80 volunteers.

Campaigns are different now. Technology has taken over. All parties start with an electronic voters list from Elections Canada and the race is on to identify as many supporters as possible on that list.

This enables my team to focus on getting out the vote (what we now call GOTV) – our vote – for the advance poll and on election day. In our headquarters we have an entire area that includes barcoded lists and scanners and banks of computers and demographic research, stats and tactics.

All slightly confounding for someone like me – a former journalist with a heavy emphasis on messaging and writing speeches for the candidate.

American influence

I have found messaging to be a struggle because Canadian elections have, in my opinion, been influenced by U.S. presidential elections. In all three of the major party campaigns, even the local materials place enormous emphasis on national leadership.

We were told at campaign school (yes, we had to attend campaign school back in May), that our local candidate and our local issues make little difference to the outcome. We were told that the national/leader’s campaign was the only thing that mattered and that if we strayed off message, we would get a stern rebuke. So we’ve stayed on message, mostly.

Mostly? Well, in a race like this one, where none of the three national leaders appears to be breaking out into a substantial lead, the pressure builds on the local riding campaign manager to develop homemade messaging and campaigning.

That’s where I am right now. I have a regional party boss who watches every move and who will swoop in, if we drift. Yet, I have a local team that on most days is convinced that our candidate can pound the sloppy multiple-term incumbent. Not so easily done. Incumbency has its privileges.

The author, who has chosen to remain anonymous, is a campaign manager for an unidentified candidate running in the forthcoming federal election. 

Publisher’s Note – New Canadian Media makes every effort to be transparent in its editorial operations and offers this anonymous writing only as a way for our readers to better understand the electoral process that underpins Canadian democracy. We’ve made every effort to ensure this piece is non-partisan and meets our journalistic criteria of fairness and balance. NCM welcomes comment or reply to this column. 

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