The Mighty Canvasser

When you hear that knock at the door or dig out that piece of political literature from your mailbox, think of the effort the volunteer canvasser makes to engage you in the greatest expression of a democratic state – the vote.

Before the eager canvasser gets to your door she faces unexpected perils as she walks up your walkway and climbs your steps. Perhaps only the postal service knows how derelict we are when it comes to our front house maintenance. Experienced canvassers know that sometimes it can be like navigating an obstacle course, one that can cause a trip, a twist of the ankle, a bruised toe. Consider the following:

The many ways a walkway can slant:

  1. To the left, the right, backward and forward. Sometimes the same walkway will slant in several different directions at once.
  2. Particularly perilous are walkways made with different materials that don’t work well together such as interlocking stone framed by wood beams — especially when this combination forms a step.

Cement shifts and interlocking bricks sink deeply where they meet the wood beam. This creates a special hazard as it plays tricks with visual perception and balance. A canvasser’s sense of balance is further challenged by walkways made of unstable cement slabs that actually shift and move under your feet when you step on them.

On approaching the porch:

  1. Unkempt yards full of weeds and allergy-producing plants that grow wild;
  2. Miniature statues of dogs such as the Schnauzer-Yorkshire Terrier placed on steps next to fake bouquets of flowers leading up to the porch;
  3. Abandoned used dog poo bags;
  4. The assault of garden installations that challenge everything you ever learned at art school such as miniature statues of gnomes, mushrooms, saints, Madonnas, plastic birds and amphibians, reptiles such as frogs and turtles. Purposely overturned clay pots with flowers tumbling out is this year’s go-to garden installation.
    Click on any image to enlarge

The steps:

Of all the perils facing canvassers the steps are the most challenging and dangerous. The canvasser must make his/her way up and down:

  1. Slanted, crooked, cracked, rotting and broken steps;
  2. Steps that defy code — too steep, too short, too narrow, uneven;
  3. Missing risers or risers set at different heights causing missteps;
  4. Stairs detached from the porch requiring a hop over a gap;
  5. Wobbly stairs;
  6. Broken, rusty, wobbly or completely absent hand rails.

On the veranda, open and enclosed:

  1. Garbage;
  2. Old couches, chairs and tables covered in stains, spider webs, gnats and dust;
  3. Bicycles, toys, old debris never moved to the curb;
  4. Smells: cat pee, ashtray filled with old cigarette butts, running shoe stink, old leather shoe odour.

A pair of old leather boots or a pair of shoes can get you thinking about Van Gogh’s “A Pair of Boots” or Warhol’s “Diamond Dust Shoes” and trigger aesthetic issues that are also political, but not of much use to the campaign at hand.

The veranda may also be the home of other species:

  1. A guard dog that wants to attack you;
  2. A friendly dog that jumps all over you, licks you and barks loudly;
  3. A hissy cat;
  4. A cat that distracts you by rolling over and begging for caresses;
  5. A confused racoon;
  6. A bat.

There’s another issue once the canvasser has made it up the stairs — the mailbox:

  1. There is no mailbox;
  2. A mailbox exists but you can’t find it;
  3. Rusty, broken mailbox, sometimes with sharp edges;
  4. Once a canvasser makes it up the steps the sign on the mail box says, “No junk mail” or “No Soliciting” or “Save our trees. No flyers”.

Although canvassing and political literature is not officially considered soliciting or junk mail, the homeowner may not think so. What to do?

The goal of the canvasser is to tell you about her/his candidate, about the party, and assess whether you are a supporter or not. The conversation at the door can be disappointing and unfruitful when:

  1. The voter doesn’t discuss politics, especially with a stranger;
  2. He/she hates your candidate or party and curtly shuts the door;
  3. She/he complains about municipal issues and you are canvassing for a provincial or federal election;
  4. The voter says all candidates are the same;
  5. The voter says politicians come around only at election time;
  6. The voter has no interest in the election;
  7. The voter already supports the candidate and in an annoyed tone asks you not to come by anymore;
  8. The knock at the door takes the voter away from cooking dinner, a family gathering, a televised sporting event or a favourite show, a telephone conversation, a nap.

Usually, a canvass will take three hours. By the end of it, knees, feet and back will ache from pounding up and down the steps and walkways. A canvasser will also end with a headache from dehydration.

Many houses are welcoming and beautiful and many people are friendly and even pretend to support your candidate.

Houses smell good, too. Dinner is cooking and reminds the canvasser how wonderful it would be to sit down and eat. Sometimes people sit outside on the porch with a cold beer or a tall glass of prosecco or a cool glass of water. A hot humid day can make the canvasser put down his flyers and voters’ list and abandon all hope.

The next time you answer the door or check your mailbox, remember, the mighty canvasser is a dedicated volunteer willing to face all sorts of obstacles to ensure your democratic right to have an informed vote. The mighty canvasser will never exclude you, will never let you down, no matter the weather or which way your steps lean – left, right or centre.

– Elizabeth Cinello
Photos by Elizabeth Cinello

This article can be found in THE BIG ISSUES in the section Power.
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