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.
There is, of course, no multi-partisan training manual for new candidates on how one is to behave during an election campaign with regards to one’s opponents. Therefore, the first time I ran (in the 2006 federal general election) I learned a lot on the job, both through common sense and from observing other candidates. For example, one of those small procedural questions that comes up is what to do if two campaigns show up to canvass the same location at the same time. As it turns out, there are different approaches.
Once in 2006, while flyering in the early morning outside of Rosedale subway station, Bill Graham (my then Liberal opponent, Member of Parliament, and Minister of Defence) and a few volunteers pulled up in a car and Bill got out. After approaching while bellowing some loud and playful teasing (“You there! What are you doing bothering these good people!”) Bill stopped to stand with me for a few minutes while I took a break from handing out pictures of myself and we engaged in a candid and respectful chat about the debate we’d participated in the night before. Shortly, Bill and I noticed that many of the people walking past us on their way to the subway were recognizing him and expecting to receive a Liberal flyer. (It looked to them as though Bill was campaigning and I was one of his campaign volunteers.) Upon realizing this he immediately pointed at me and said, “no no, Green candidate, good guy!” and then ran off back to his car to find another subway station to canvass.
A week later, canvassing outside of Castle Frank station, a lone Conservative volunteer showed up after we’d been there for about an hour. He dealt with that situation by standing a few feet in front of us and flyering people before we could. Not the classiest move.
Bill later told me that when he first started running for Parliament in the late 80’s it was universally accepted that whoever arrived first at a subway station had claimed it for the morning. More recently, he explained, campaigns had gotten more aggressive.
Just to be clear, you really can’t ascribe good or bad etiquette to any one political party. Every party runs nice, respectful candidates and campaigns, and every party has a few candidates who, well, behave otherwise. There are good people volunteering for each party in Toronto Centre, and for the most part we all treat each other with respect. Incidents to the contrary are, in my admittedly short experience, uncommon.