July 19, 2019

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Opinion

Door-knocking the last authentic thing in modern campaigns

Liberal candidate Dan Vandal (L) talks with resident Remi Jobin as he door knocks in his St. Boniface-St. Vital riding Tuesday (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Liberal candidate Dan Vandal (L) talks with resident Remi Jobin as he door knocks in his St. Boniface-St. Vital riding Tuesday (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/9/2015 (1410 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The first time Mohammad Almaleki went door-knocking on a political campaign, he did it in a suit in the North End. Everyone thought he was either a Jehovah’s Witness or a cop, even though he was only armed with a big stack of pamphlets and a poll map.

Once, when former provincial Liberal candidate Paul Hesse was door-knocking, he found himself entangled in a conversation with a voter who used to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company until the FBI poisoned him and forced him into hiding. It was the only time Hesse has had to signal for a rescue from a nearby campaign volunteer. But Hesse has also been invited in for a wonderful chat with an Iranian man who’d never met a political candidate before.

At the door early on in the campaign, Winnipeg South Conservative candidate Gordon Giesbrecht tried to woo a federal employee who was upset about Conservative cuts to civil servant sick leave. Giesbrecht, thinking quickly, whipped out his cell phone and called Labour Minister Kellie Leitch, who was recently in Winnipeg helping out in the riding. Leitch called back later, explained the new policy and countered some of the criticism, and Giesbrecht knocked on the door again and passed on what he’d learned. The smooth move might not have won Giesbrecht the vote, but it left an impression.

Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley Conservative MP Steven Fletcher says his wheelchair doesn’t deter him from door-knocking, which he calls a candidate’s main job. He has a strategy to put people at ease when they come down the steps to shake hands with the quadriplegic MP.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/9/2015 (1410 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The first time Mohammad Almaleki went door-knocking on a political campaign, he did it in a suit in the North End. Everyone thought he was either a Jehovah’s Witness or a cop, even though he was only armed with a big stack of pamphlets and a poll map.

Once, when former provincial Liberal candidate Paul Hesse was door-knocking, he found himself entangled in a conversation with a voter who used to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company until the FBI poisoned him and forced him into hiding. It was the only time Hesse has had to signal for a rescue from a nearby campaign volunteer. But Hesse has also been invited in for a wonderful chat with an Iranian man who’d never met a political candidate before.

At the door early on in the campaign, Winnipeg South Conservative candidate Gordon Giesbrecht tried to woo a federal employee who was upset about Conservative cuts to civil servant sick leave. Giesbrecht, thinking quickly, whipped out his cell phone and called Labour Minister Kellie Leitch, who was recently in Winnipeg helping out in the riding. Leitch called back later, explained the new policy and countered some of the criticism, and Giesbrecht knocked on the door again and passed on what he’d learned. The smooth move might not have won Giesbrecht the vote, but it left an impression.

Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley Conservative MP Steven Fletcher says his wheelchair doesn’t deter him from door-knocking, which he calls a candidate’s main job. He has a strategy to put people at ease when they come down the steps to shake hands with the quadriplegic MP.

"If it’s a lady, I say, ‘I don’t shake hands but you can squish my knee’," said Fletcher. "That kind of breaks the ice."

Relentless door-knocking is what every serious candidate is doing, sometimes twice a day. Canvassing has never really gone out of style, but, for a while there, more public attention seemed to be paid to cheap robo-calls, endless direct mailers and the mirage of social media as ways to woo voters.

But, traditional canvassing is important. It’s slow. It’s tiring. It’s incredibly labour-intensive and requires a posse of the most committed sort of volunteers. But some see it as effective.

Old-fashioned Canadian civility

In a recent chat, Elmwood-Transcona Conservative MP Lawrence Toet said door-knocking is the one chance most voters have to take the measure of a candidate in person. There’s something refreshing about being face-to-face with a candidate on your stoop, having to set aside any partisan irrationality in favour of old-fashioned Canadian civility.

It’s hard to underestimate the power of that human moment. My Alberta dad, who is a bit of a Wildroser now, has canvassed for candidates of all stripes, often friends. He always says he’ll vote for nearly anyone who is well-organized and nervy enough to come to his door and ask for his vote, because it’s a hard thing to do.

It’s also a sign a candidate is working hard, is out hustling, is committed to doing the grunt work needed to get elected. That’s why you’ll see endless Twitter selfies and Facebook photos of candidates in the middle of some residential block somewhere, waving pamphlets and clipboards and iPhones with new voter ID apps.

It’s also a sign of real momentum and grassroots support. As political science professor Royce Koop wrote here last month, volunteers actually matter in local riding campaigns and can potentially alter the outcome of close races.

Door-knocking also forces candidates to venture out of their campaign bubble — not just the media/pundit/Twitter bubble, but the bunker mentality of a campaign office, where a single-minded focus on Oct. 19 exists even though it’s pretty nearly the last thing average folks are thinking about.

"Door-knocking is the best way to truly get a pulse for what voters want," said Almaleki. "And this is coming from a guy who’s owned a digital ad agency that helped politicians connect with voters using social media."

Identifying supporters

Door-knocking isn’t really about changing a voter’s mind or about nudging an undecided one in your direction, though that would be icing on the cake. Canvassing is really about identifying your vote — figuring out where your people live, clinching their support, adding the check mark to your central database, asking for a sign location and then, most importantly, making sure the voter actually turns up at the booth Oct. 19.

That’s why, for most campaigns, door-knocking is heaviest in the polls where their candidate is strongest. In Winnipeg South Centre, folks in River Heights can expect to see a lot of Liberal Jim Carr and his volunteers. In Tuxedo, prepare to open your door to a smiling Joyce Bateman, the Conservative MP running for reelection.

If you live in an apartment, expect a knock on a rainy day, especially if you live in a seniors’ complex, because seniors vote. If you live in a transient neighbourhood, don’t expect a door-knock, because you won’t get one.

A colleague, home sick during the last civic election, answered the door in his boxers when St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes came knocking, and was so flustered he forgot his list of beefs. That’s often the way. Voters finally have their moment to raise a key issue and they get discombobulated and shy.

In this age of stage-managed rallies and mercenary attack ads and micro-targeted tax cuts and endless polling, the notion that an election is still won or lost at the door is inspiring. It’s the one authentic thing left in modern campaigns.

So put on your pants, answer the knock and talk to your candidate.

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History

Updated on Tuesday, September 8, 2015 at 5:12 PM CDT: Changes headline, fixes copy

7:54 PM: Replaces photo

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