Thursday, February 02, 2006
What I Learned -- when I ran for Parliament
Maybe I did know some of this ahead of time, but much was "in my face" without any reflection time before having to act. A couple of "upfront" things that really helped my campaign:
...I took Catherine's corny suggestion about CAPers wearing thinking caps and ordered dozens of "Thinking cAp"s to distribute. I wore one most of the January campaign. I'd advise voters that this election was the most important to date. They had to put on their own thinking cap and not just vote like their ancestors.
....Having been born and "raised" in the riding, and having returned to build a retirement cottage here, served to authenticate me. My family name was known, at least in the local area.
....And sporting my long silver hairdo in the leaflets I sent out made me easily distinguishable as a "Willie-Nelson" look-alike, though no one asked me to play a guitar or sing.
ACT is a multi-meaning word, as is ACTION. Since I was determined to run a reasonably civil campaign, I seldom referred to the other parties as "the INaction parties". The "thinking" voters knew what I was referring to when I criticized the major media's presentation of the campaign as an exhausting run between TWEEDLEDUMB and TWEEDLEDUMBER.
I did recognize that I was wrong to expect anyone to vote for (or against) some one or something they were not sure they fully understood. And since the dumb things that were/are happening called for a careful, thoughtful consideration ON THE PART OF THE ELECTORATE, I saw my efforts as a candidate primarily as those of someone from the "ed biz".
I didn't expect much help from the major media (identified as an Ottawa paper, a Kingston paper, and CBC/CTV), and I was right about that. On Election Night, Peter Mansbridge searched his mind fruitlessly when trying to name more than 5 of the 15 parties with registered candidates.
Just listing what I was MAD as HELL about served me well in getting attention. But it was insufficient to (a) communicate the necessary detailed explanations; (b) verify the information and allow for a give-and-take discussion; (c) convince some one who had yet to consider the importance of changing the course of past events. What could I do about this? In 20 days? "Not a snowball's chance," proclaimed the first guy I talked to about the election and the party I was running for. All I could say was,"This is a winter election, and I can make snowballs with the best of them!"
The most I could figure to do was:
1. Meet the deadlines for qualifying as a candidate.
2. Study the riding. It consists of 3 large counties with only 6 places big enough to need a map in order to find a second street. More rural than rural for most of the 87,000 qualified voters. What issues are at the forefront of those foreheads? How could I bridge to them -- in words?
3. Plan a campaign. (That's after persuading a friend to be my the essential official agent and finding a local accountant to be the required auditor, getting endorsed by CAP so the party name was on the ballot, and getting 125 names and addresses and signatures of qualified electors who didn't object to my becoming a candidate, i.e., would nominate me.)
4. Money to fund my efforts? Not from a party that got less than 2% of the total vote in the previous election! I learn that I have to deposit a $1000 retainer with Elections Canada (to ensure that my agent, auditor, and I get the necessary paper work done in time!). I note that there's a maximum I can spend -- nearly $1 per qualified voter. I realize that the incumbent won't even need to spend that much of his party's money, let alone his own. He won't need to contribute much more than his presence at the all-candidates forums, an occasional interview, and a few handshakes and baby kisses. (And when his votes are counted, his party will receive $1.79 per vote each year until the next election. His 30,000 votes will bring his party $54,000 @ year.)
Here's what I decide to do:
1. Make a website. That will help communicate with a curious voter who has a computer and has yet to make up his/her mind. (But there wasn't time to adequately fill the space, so it only contains my leaflets plus a link to CAP.)
2. Do a flyer. The only possible way to reach those farflung, cynical, disinterested voters and non-voters (29,000 in the last election) is to write a leaflet I can mail to everyone via Canada Post.
I decide to do that. Well, I try. There are hitches and glitches to be encountered -- Staples using the wrong paper for my leaflet, Can Post changing their rates, postal agents who hope if they give you enough problem you'll give up and quit bothering them.
After getting feedback via phone calls and emails from constituents, I realize I even need to do a second leaflet, one which builds bridges to the vital issues in this particular riding. Meaning to give the project my best, I get some crucial computer help from a fellow CAP candidate in the next riding and some friendly advice from the local postmistresses. I proceed to a second leaflet and mail it. Some I hand out at all-candidate forums, some I give to businesses in towns I didn't blanket thru the post office.
3. In between mad 2-3 hour dashes across the icy riding for forums with the other 6 candidates, I respond to emails and phone calls.
"I've been thinking what you're thinking," they say. PAYDAY!!!!!
Always, really good questions and comments. More agreement than I expected. Several ask me to put a sign in their yards. "Nope, none this time," I have to say. Campaign costs are already looking like nearly $10,000 -- 50% more than estimated.
4. There was lots of good help from the riding. Some of the local community papers provided nominal coverage. The weekly paper sponsored two all-candidate forums. The monthly one did a December survey of the candidates and welcomed the varying viewpoints. A not-very-local TV offered 10 minutes for each candidate. Two town papers tried to catch up after their local all-candidate forums. Civic groups set up evening all-candidate "debates". Lots of people turned out to hear us, in spite of sleet and snow.
On the Saturday following the election, four of the losing candidates converged at my home to review and share our experience. We found three or four common grounds "for next time" and verified that we learned much from one another. If we were to institute proportional representation in time for the next election, I think you'd find more than one of us headed for Ottawa. We expect to call on each other and share our activism on the issues in the riding that aren't getting enough attention.
Who could have ever convinced me that the experience would be this interesting, this challenging, this exciting?