I rarely use my blog for serious writing. But I feel the need to share my recent experiences and help sort out in my mind a turbulent year in my life that has left me physically and emotional drained yet pleased to have gone through the experience.
My friend Gary Gladstone wanted to take a run at a seat in Parliament. He has been involved in party politics for many years but more behind the scenes. He was very passionate about running and asked if I would help. I had my own interest in politics and decided I needed another big challenge in my life. I said yes.
Although I was offered the job of campaign manager, I turned it down and suggested that we hire someone with campaign experience. We found such a person. In fact, she hadn’t lost a campaign since 2008. I took the role of deputy campaign manager, which included numerous responsibilities – social media, community outreach, accompanying the candidate to events, training volunteers, and prepping for debates and panel discussions.
Why was this such a large challenge?
There are many reasons why I could have said no. The Thornhill electoral district is solid Conservative even tough it is surrounded by Liberal districts. In fact, it was one of only two districts that voted Conservative in 2015 during our last federal election. The Conservative incumbent had won the last three elections and in 2015 his victory was by a margin of 12,000 votes. The district is 37% Jewish (the largest concentration of Jewish voters in the country) and many of them are very observant. The number one issue for this community was support for Israel. A combination of weak support for Israel by previous Liberal governments and strong support by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper drove the community into the Conservative camp many years ago.
Why would we take on such long odds?
In retrospect, it seems foolish, but I thought that it was worth a try. We thought things were different this time:
- Gary is Jewish and the incumbent is not.
- Gary lives in Thornhill, the incumbent does not.
- Gary has deep roots in the community, has done a lot of charity work and has even done fundraising within the Orthodox Jewish community.
- The previous Liberal candidate had been acclaimed after the 2015 election had been called and was at a significant disadvantage because of a late start.
- We began this process early by signing up new members in case the nomination would be contested. Following the nomination, we immediately began raising money, recruiting volunteers and identifying Liberal voters.
- The district has grown since 2015 and many of the new residents are immigrants who generally support the Liberals.
- Election Day was on a Jewish holiday and so were some of advance polling dates. We assumed that would reduce turnout for the incumbent.
We believed all these things factors would make us competitive and we did exceed the 2015 campaign in money raised, volunteers attracted, and number of Liberal voters identified. The incumbent lost about 2,000 votes. But we attracted just 500 more voters than the 2015 campaign. I was stunned by the results.
We conducted two polls by a major polling firm to see how we were doing. One was in June and the other in September. They showed that were slightly behind the incumbent. In June, I was skeptical and questioned the methodology. I was told there was nothing to be concerned about. In hindsight, that wasn’t the case. Although had the polls been more accurate, it wouldn’t have changed anything we did. Perhaps our polling should have focused more on what issues would determine how the respondents would vote.
The Jewish community totally rejected a Jewish candidate with deep roots in the community solely because he was running for the wrong party. In fact, many voters were nasty. Politics can bring out the worst in people. Some will yell at you and social media allows users to behave badly. When we released an accurate piece of literature to inform the Jewish community about how the Liberal party had supported the community and Israel over the past four years, we were attacked for providing nothing more than factual information.
The Conservative party sent out letters to members of the Jewish community with a distorted perspective of their positions and those of the Liberals. The Liberal party responded with nothing. Absolutely nothing. As the campaign dragged on, I realized the party didn’t care about our district. There was no help provided. We were left on our own. The national campaign was not very strong and lead to a lost of about 30 seats. Canadians were looking for leadership on key issues. What they got was personal attacks from the leaders. This is not leadership.
We had thought that there were many disengaged Liberal voters that had not been coming out to vote in previous elections. So, we knocked on as many doors as we could in neighbourhoods with Liberal supporters. We knocked on almost 50,000 doors and identified nearly 9,000 Liberals. But as it turned out that didn’t have much impact on Election Day. What I now know is that the number of Liberal voters in the district is limited. Thornhill has many affluent neighbourhoods that vote Conservative. It’s not just Jewish voters that support the Conservative party.
We lost by approximately 10,000 votes. This is not an electoral district that will be voting Liberal anytime soon. So, building from the current base is pointless. You can’t build much beyond this base.
I abandoned by writing for months and need to get back to it. I have no idea how long it will now take to complete my third novel. Writing is 90% inspiration for me and right now I have none.
Campaigns run 7 days a week and you are constantly operating on half a tank. I don’t know how Gary kept up the pace and had so much energy. He never complained. I had several flare ups of my autoimmune condition during the campaign brought on by the pace and stress. On the day following the election, my doctor informed me that I was also anemic.
The night of the election, our district association treasurer, Sybille Hahn, passed away suddenly. What a horrible news to receive on top of everything else. She was a wonderful woman, passionate about her causes and so willing to contribute to the community. What a tragic loss. A close friend also passed away two weeks ago. These are reminders of what is most important in life. Hug someone you love today.
I loved the experience despite the outcome. I’m very proud of the campaign we ran. We were honest, stuck to the issues and avoided going negative. I met some great people and made now friends and connections. There are no regrets. But I won’t ever being doing this again. Thank you, Gary, for the opportunity and the friendship.