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Campaign Confidential: Frustrations

Torontoist Environment Editor Chris Tindal is currently engaged in a federal by-election campaign. This weekly column is an attempt to offer a behind the scenes glimpse into what it’s like to be that mysterious Other: a politician.

tindal_cc2.jpgRunning for office is an extremely rewarding experience, but it’s not without sacrifice and set-backs. All of us are doing this because we honestly believe in the process and the ideas we bring to the table. We believe in democracy and we trust in the ability of voters to make the right decision. That’s why the most frustrating thing I’ve encountered is people who seem to resent democracy itself.
For context, the vast majority of people we talk to are happy to hear from us. Even those (sometimes especially those) who have no interest in voting for us thank us for coming to their door and putting in the effort. That’s what makes the rude ones so much harder to deal with.
The worst I’ve encountered at a door this time around was a man who, before even understanding who we were or why we were there, yelled a long string of strong obscenities at us while pointing and following us down the hall. Last week I said “Good morning” to someone as he entered Castle Frank subway. He replied with “bugger off.” At another door a person said to me “so here’s how it is: I don’t vote for the bastards, it only encourages them,” before slamming the door in my face. I doubt it occurred to him that he’d just called a complete stranger a bastard, or that his neighbours were all happy to hear from me. El-Farouk tells me that he’s actually had flyers thrown back in his face, and I’m sure the other candidates have had their share of abuse as well. Most of this has nothing to do with what party we’re running for, it’s just the simple fact that we’re daring to run.
Again, I should emphasize that these kinds of experiences are the exception to the rule. They’re also somewhat understandable; as politicians show less and less respect for each other, citizens will show less and less respect for them as well.
To that end, things are still pretty respectful between the candidates since my last update, though the campaign is also heating up and causing us to get a little more pointed in our comments.
Speaking of which, here are two relationship updates since last week’s post. El-Farouk and I continue to get along well, despite our in-debate disagreements. Last week I brought him flowers after he had an accident that took him out of commission for a few days. “Green and orange, my two favourite colours,” he said of the bouquet. “How did you know?” After I apologized that there was more green than orange (despite my instructions to the florist), he said “doesn’t matter, green and orange go well together.” Clever guy.
Before a debate on Thursday, I briefly said hi to Bob then kept walking. He called after me and said with a smile, “Hi Chris! How are you? Don’t want you to think I’m ignoring you. I read your blog.” We didn’t really address the substance of what I wrote, but we did have a pleasant chat about the fact that I’d recently canvassed his sister and mother (they politely indicated that I could not count on their support) and how nice they are. We share a lot of one-liners while debates are going on, but still don’t find any time to have substantive conversations before or afterwards.


  • Ben

    I expect Bob Rae to win this one because of his history.

  • Mark Ostler

    I’ve only had one or two negative experiences while canvassing, both door to door and telephone. During one campaign I was simply dropping off flyers and one guy came out onto his front porch and starting yelling about how he didn’t want any junk mail. Other than that people have been relatively civil, in my experience.

  • Dipp

    I think some of these experiences speak to the loss of neighbour-level community. There’s been a decline in recent decades of micro-level citizenry and interaction. People seem to be more insular and less engaging with even the people who live around them. So when you try something grassroots, like canvassing, it is met with suspicion and snideness. Now get off my lawn.

  • Damon Kemp

    I think some of it may be due to door-to-door salesmen and those guys trying to offer hydro and gas, at a locked rate, who may have ruined it for canvassers. It can get ridiculous at times. I’m actually pretty civil about it and let them give their spill and then let them know I’m not interested. If I’m really busy though I’ll tell them “No thanks” and leave it at that. I understand they are doing a job and don’t hate on them for it.

  • rek

    I blame the Mormons.

  • robducey

    I agree with damon. i ‘ve done a lot of door to door canvassing and those fixed gas rate people are nuts. they’re ruining it for anyone who may be knocking on your door for a legitimate reason.
    i can see how their tactics could convince the elderly, the unintelligent, or just the overtired that they were simply the gas company getting you to sign something.

  • Dipp

    I would hope most people can tell the difference between a conniving gasman and a conniving taxman.

  • x_the_x

    I am surprised no one has blamed the obvious: the precipitous decline of the public’s assessment of the character of politicians, as demonstrated in those surveys the media groans about annually. Probably amplified due to a questionable by-election while a minority government rests on the brink of collapse.
    I do believe they have gas men and even Mormons beat.

  • Patrick Metzger

    I was canvassing once and a little boy around 6 came to the door – we asked if his parents were home, and he turned around and looked back at the kitchen, and said “ummmm…no.” Ha.

  • Mark Ostler

    They train the kids well.
    I remember one day when I was about 14 and wearing an oh-so-clever t-shirt emblazoned with the milk-parody slogan “Got Beer?” a canvasser for Mothers Against Drunk Driving came to the door. I went into the kitchen to see if my mom wanted to talk to them. I can only imagine their opinion of my family when I came back to the door and said my mom wasn’t interested.

  • Chris Tindal

    x_the_x: Just curious…what do you mean by “questionable?”
    Patrick: You’d be shocked how often that happens. It’s a bit frightening.

  • Marc Lostracco

    Some people I know who do door-to-door election work always comment on the high amount of men who answer the door in their underwear and/or shirtless. But I figured as much from watching Cops.

  • x_the_x

    Questionable re: the timing. Since the government chose the timing for the by-elections, one would have thought they wouldn’t be playing chicken with the opposition at the same time trying to force a general election.

  • mlr

    The man who flung a string of obscenities at you wasn’t doing it to a ‘complete stranger.’ He was doing it to someone who is seeking power. Over himself. (Even if it’s just a little).
    Have a nice day!

  • Val Dodge

    Strictly speaking, Chris is seeking to be that man’s representative, not his overlord. Democracy is indeed in a sad state when we think of elections as granting someone power over us. No wonder so many people are disenchanted with the process.

  • mlr

    “Democracy is indeed in a sad state when we think of elections as granting someone power over us.”
    Why? No, really, Val: why? Isn’t that EXACTLY what democracy is? Democracy is a way of organizing the power of the state… well, isn’t it? If it’s something else, please, do tell. I must have missed that serving of kool-aid, err, that memo.
    The state has power… with me so far? We organize it through a system we call democracy… and that doesn’t magically make the power of the state disappear. It just puts it where it puts it. Why is recognizing that a) sad state; b) problematic for working within a democratic system? Do tell.
    Why can’t the gentleman at the door have sounded off and then gone and voted for Chris, or anyone else? Is democracy its own end, and we have to ‘believe’ in it (something like believing in God, I suppose… hey! I believe in puppies!)? Or are we working toward good governance? And why can’t cussing at (would-be)politicians be a part of that?