An hour after Stephen Harper announced that parliament had been dissolved for the longest election of its kind in Canadian history, I was preaching at my church in Kleefeld. The next morning, bright and early, my small family headed out for a long-planned camping trip with my in-laws, the first camping trip my son Sam ever took. Determined not to let Stephen Harper’s irresponsible timing on this election ruin my summer, I spent a week in the wilderness: I experienced the natural world in a new way as I watched Sam experience it for the first time (canoeing, playing at the beach, picking up pine cones and watching squirrels); I read; and I thought about this campaign and the ways in which my campaign will be different from others. I will have challenges that candidates from other parties do not; but I will also simply do things differently, and these qualitative differences are one of the things that continue to inspire me to make a difference here.
The previous Green candidate here in Provencher, Janine Gibson, liked to quote Kermit the Frog and say “it’s not easy being green.” It was a good ice breaker at public events, but it’s also true: there are challenges that Green candidates across the country are currently facing that their opponents in the bigger parties will not.
First, we’re starting with nothing. I started the Green Party Provencher Riding Association with one other person two years ago; before that, Janine was a candidate without a riding association for support. In contrast, the Conservative candidate in this riding has a dedicated campaign team that includes paid staffers. They have canvassed this riding from one end to the other, repeatedly, over the past century, and they have built up a database of supporters throughout; we’re only beginning to identify supporters in a systematic way, and as such have fewer supporters to help with that task. They have over a hundred years of history here, and we have only the past four elections – just over a decade. This is not sour grapes, we simply need to be aware of our challenges – we’re starting from behind. In that sense, the Liberal and Conservative parties of Canada have never actually been in this position: these parties are older than Canada itself, and were brought over to Canada from Britain by wealthy elites who, at that time, were the only ones who could vote. They’ve never had to engage in grassroots democracy to start a party from the ground up. In that sense, this actually becomes an advantage for Greens, because we can never ever take our supporters for granted. So often, when a party has power in their sights, they can forget about the people they exist to serve; a Green MP can never do that, because we know firsthand that community is so much more important than power, and so much more powerful than money.
Money is the next challenge. Coming from a smaller party, I have a smaller budget. To put things into perspective, in the last by-election (yes, even in a by-election) the Conservative campaign spent $83,542.19. The Green campaign spent $1,074.97. Only twice since 1993 has the winning candidate been out-spent by a losing candidate. In other words, sad as it sounds, the person who spends the most money tends to win. How can we ever expect someone to govern with fiscal responsibility when their initiation into the job involves working hard to out-spend their opponents? While our lower budget can be a considerable handicap at times, it’s also an advantage: we not only appreciate our resources more, but we get more out of them. The Conservatives may have 80x our budget, but they don’t get 80x our support. We make our money go further, and focus instead on getting to know our constituents and letting them get to know us. This means a lot less photo ops, lawn signs, and especially a lot less advertising, but it also means a lot less money…and a lot more time.
Time is a big challenge. Like most people in my riding, I work full time to pay my bills. This can make planning events and going door to door difficult. Many candidates are retired, or wealthy enough that they can take a significant leave of absence from work in order to campaign. The larger parties also usually employ campaign managers to manage their events, volunteers, and materials; I manage my own campaign, and rely on volunteers (who themselves have full-time jobs, families, and busy lives) for any help I receive. This often means that we all simply run out of time, and many good ideas end up half-finished, or never get off the ground. At the same time, I want to respect my volunteers; this means that I’m not going to push them to put in extra time, neglect their families, or give more than they are able. But I know that the constituents of Provencher are also busy, and don’t always have time to go to dozens of events or talk to canvassers at their door or on the phone either. We’re not here to be a nuisance, and I think people respect that. I don’t want to waste your time, and I certainly don’t want to waste my time doing it!
I’m not here to complain, and I’m not intimidated. These are the challenges that Green Party candidates face across the country. In spite of these challenges, the Green Party of Canada has received over half a million votes in every election since 2004, getting just short of one million votes in 2008. There are now three Green MPs, and Green MLAs in BC, New Brunswick, and PEI. The deck seems to be stacked against us, but we’re still growing, and it’s because we campaign differently.
A Different Kind of Campaign
Green candidates try to campaign the way we want to govern: responsibly, sustainably, and listening to the people all the way. That makes our campaigns different from the norm, in some very important ways.
First of all, campaigns can be incredibly wasteful. Ted Falk’s a nice guy, but he posted a picture on his facebook page of him standing next to two pallets worth of new signs, in spite of the fact that none of his information from two years ago has changed except that “elect Ted Falk” has been changed to “re-elect Ted Falk” on the new ones. The thousands of signs he used two years ago were wasteful in the first place just because of their sheer number (Janine rightly called them “visual pollution”), but the fact that none of them are being reused is incredibly wasteful. That’s not how we campaign: half of our signs are generic Green Party signs that were used in previous elections; the other half are new, durable signs that can be reused any time and anywhere that I’m a candidate. If I’m running in Nunavut when I’m 80, I’ll have these signs with me.
But wasted signs are also wasted money. A political sign costs between 5 dollars (for a small one) and 10 dollars (for a large one), and while I’m sure Ted gets a good discount because of the sheer size of his order, he’s still spending thousands of dollars on signs when he doesn’t have to. We don’t have the luxury of wasting money on new signs when old ones would have fulfilled the same purpose. For that matter, this government has wasted millions on putting up signs across the country telling us about their “economic action plan.” Greens campaign the way we want to govern, and we don’t want a wasteful government.
We also don’t want to waste our human resources. Our communities are our strength: the whole point of an MP is to represent a community, and Greens campaign based on community organizing. We work to connect with people and listen to what it is that they’re concerned about, because we recognize that responsible government depends on an engaged citizenry. What you think about issues, and what issues you think about, are the most important issues to me (so please, tell me what you think!). Most political advertising is parties or candidates telling you what issues you should care about, or claiming that their pet issues are the ones that Canadians truly care about. If you actually cared about an issue, we wouldn’t have to convince you of that fact with an ad. We campaign the way we want to govern, which means that we spend most of our time talking to people rather than advertising.
We also campaign with the long-haul in mind. Some people suggest that I’m crazy to run in such a heavily Conservative riding like Provencher, but campaigning here isn’t just about getting the most votes this time around. It’s about building support from year to year, election to election. It’s about having an impact on the conversations that happen during an election campaign. It’s about providing a way for Greens to speak out, with their voices and with their votes. Every Green vote puts additional pressure on the other parties to adopt the practical, innovative, and long-term oriented policies that we promote – and it’s working. You’ve probably noticed that Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau have spent much of their time talking about putting a price on carbon; Greens have been saying that for decades. Another major election plank this year is proportional representation – taken from the Green platform of more than ten years ago. Influence builds over time, and good ideas catch on; there is no limit to what can be accomplished if nobody cares who gets the credit! We campaign the way we want to govern, with long-term, sustainable growth in mind and an openness to working with others regardless of who gets the credit.
So, with all of that in mind, here is what you can expect from me this campaign:
- I will begin putting up signs this week. I will have about 150 for the entire riding, all reused and/or reusable, and just enough to let people know that I’m here. I see no need to litter the highways with signs.
I will participate in any public event or forum. Feel free to invite me to your events, let me know what you care about, and even put me in front of people with a microphone and grill me; I want you to know who I am, and why I’m your best candidate.
I will be available for any questions or concerns you may have. If I can’t answer your question, I’ll find someone who can. If you have a concern you want raised with your MP, I’ll add my voice to yours.
I will save my money for the campaign methods that have the most potential to reach out to people. I’d like to make sure that everyone in the riding gets one postcard with my contact information, but I’m not going to spam you. I’m not going to flood the airwaves with as many advertisements as money can buy, but I’d like to make sure that nobody in the riding is surprised to see my name on the ballot.
I will continue to build community in this riding, and set up the riding association to have a stronger start in the next election. I’m not just in this until October 19th; I want to see our communities, and the Green community, thrive in the long term.
I’d love to hear from you. What issues are you concerned about? What do you expect from your MP? How can I help you? What events are in your community? You can reach me any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.