Canvassing is the most basic form of campaigning. Usually done face-to-face, a political candidate (often joined by dozens of volunteers) knocks on your door to introduce themselves and ask for your support. But canvassing is also a great way to discover your neighbourhood and understand the ideas and concerns of people in your community.
My first canvassing experience was back in the summer of 2010, just after I registered as a candidate to run in Davenport’s Ward 17 City Council race.
As a first time candidate and a novice canvasser, the task of knocking on thousands of doors in scorching heat was both overwhelming and fascinating.
Back then, this is how I would introduce myself:
“Good afternoon, my name is Jonah Schein. Toronto’s municipal election will be held on October 26 and I’d like the chance to represent you at City Hall as your Councillor. Are you planning to vote?”
This of course would lead to any number of responses, some long conversations, some short, many of them polite, some angry, some confused.
But most often, what I heard was this:
“You politicians only come around here at election times, you ask for my vote and then we never see or hear from you again.” Almost verbatim, at door after door, people said exactly the same thing.
To me, these words expressed not only an obvious disconnection, but also a profound disappointment with our democracy.
Don’t blame voters
It’s true that we see declining voter participation in elections. Many pundits and commentators describe this as ‘voter apathy’, but this diagnosis blames voters without addressing the systemic problems and underlying reasons that lead people to disengage and lose interest in politics.
People tune out of politics not only because they have become disillusioned and cynical, but also because they feel disempowered. There are many good reasons why people feel powerless and disaffected with our political system.
Our lives are busier than ever as we try to care for our families and make ends meet. The feeling that life is increasingly chaotic and insecure reflects the reality that people have less stability in their lives at work and at home.
Unemployment remains stubbornly high in Ontario and the hundreds of thousands of good manufacturing jobs that have left our province have been replaced with low-wage jobs in the service industry. Now almost half of all jobs in the GTA are precarious, part time, contract positions with no job security, pensions or benefits. The unions that once helped to raise employment standards and create a middle class in Ontario continue to shrink and face constant attack in various media outlets and popular discourse.
In addition, years of tax cuts have left us with a public services deficit that means we do not have the necessary childcare and homecare that we need to support our families or the public transit to move us through our city. We all feel the burden and pay the price for our crumbling infrastructure and inadequate public services.
Where’s the gravy?
Our governments have often failed to make the necessary investments to build or even maintain social programs, to protect the environment or to enforce labour standards. Political leaders and pundits have spent years characterizing these kinds of investments as ‘gravy’.
One of my most important tasks has been to combat these attacks and challenge these feelings of cynicism. While we often feel powerless alone, we are more powerful when we work together. Government can work for all of us. It can serve the public good and not simply serve corporate interests.
And despite peoples’ oft-stated disdain for politics, we are all political beings, drawn to working together. This is evident in our local vibrant park committees, BIAs, resident associations, Parent Teacher Associations, and in local publications like this one that celebrate the stories of our city and our communities.
The sprouting activity in our neighbourhoods reminds us that our body politic is a living organism and that even the smallest acts of political engagement can transform communities, cities and countries.
I continue to be inspired by the people I meet and while I have no illusions about the magnitude of the challenges we face, I believe that we have the power to change the world by working together.
- Work is becoming more precarious, but we can take steps to strengthen employment standards and protect vulnerable workers.
- Many corporations are aggressively pushing their agenda on our country, but as citizens, we can push back to protect our environment.
- Too often, when we do get to the ballot box, we can feel like our vote doesn’t count. But together we can change how we do things like vote.
The problems we face challenge us not to retreat further from the political sphere, but to bring new energy forward to reengage and grapple with these issues. Our political challenges demand that our politicians work full time – not just at election time – but our real hope is to create a culture where all citizens are engaged to meet these challenges together.
It’s hard to believe that almost four years have passed since I first started canvassing. There will be another municipal election this fall and probably three election campaigns within the next year. I encourage you to get involved. It’s a great time to learn more about the issues, to get to know your local candidates, and to knock on some doors so you can have these important conversations with your neighbours.
– Jonah Schein, MPP Davenport
Photos courtesy Jonah Schein
As always, you can reach me and share your ideas and concerns with me here.
Constituency Office, 1674 St. Clair Avenue West