September 04, 2013

A Quick Guide to Political Campaigns

At one point or another, you may have considered getting more involved in politics, but may not know where to start. 

While I have followed politics since my teenage years, it wasn't until February 2012 when I became seriously involved. At the time, I was fairly new to Toronto proper and the NDP was holding a leadership race to replace the late Jack Layton. I was curious to meet my elected officials and it turned out the MP for my riding, Peggy Nash, was a leadership candidate. 

I decided to attend an event Peggy hosted and was approached by some organizers about volunteering for her campaign, which lead me to be hooked on political activism ever since. It has been a great opportunity to learn about grassroots level politics and make new contacts. _________________________________________________________________

Now, I present to you this campaign guide, which should apply to all political parties.

As for where to start, ask your existing contacts to see if they are involved with political campaigns. Alternatively, you can look up political parties and candidates via Facebook and Twitter to see if there is an upcoming event, or contact them by phone ore-mail.

For all campaigns (leadership, elections, petitions), there are five primary activities involved.

1. Door to door canvassing – This is by far the best way to improve your political health. Not only does it provide you exercise and fresh air, but also face to face interaction with voters and fellow canvassers. Canvassers can expect to bring promotional materials (e.g. flyers, buttons, signs), answer voters’ questions, and track support.

2. Phone banks – For those with mobility issues (or uncomfortable with door to door canvassing), making phone calls may be a better option to engage voters. People working the phone banks track support and answer voters’ questions. They may also be asked to solicit donations.

3. Rallies and special events – Rallies are held to provide voters a venue to meet the candidate(s) and network with fellow voters and volunteers. While not as direct as door to door or phone canvassing, they are great for collecting donations.

4. Election Day – This consists of outside and inside scrutineering. Outside scrutineers encourage identified supporters to go vote and may offer a drive to the polling station if needed. For leadership campaigns, phone banking may also be done. Inside scrutineers keep track of voting from the polling station and are forbidden from wearing partisan attire. When the polls close, inside scrutineers oversee the vote count and flag any irregularities that could hurt their candidate’s performance.

5. Campaign Support – All other activities (e.g. organizing, volunteer recruitment, social media, advertising, fundraising) fall under this category.

In addition to campaigns, there are three other concepts you should be aware of, which will be further investigated in future posts.

1. Riding Associations – They are the basic building blocks of political parties. They nominate the riding executive, election candidates, and delegates for conventions and provincial council. They are also responsible for proposing resolutions to be voted at policy conventions.

2. Conventions – Held every two to four years, policy conventions are where delegates debate and vote on resolutions, which end up becoming party policy. They also rate the leader’s performance and elect the party executive (including federal council delegates). Conventions often feature keynote speakers, including musician K’NAAN who spoke at the 2012 Ontario NDP convention in Hamilton.

3. Provincial/Federal Council – Given the time span between policy conventions, certain resolutions deemed emergency in nature may require debate prior to the next convention. Council delegates meet several times per year to vote on such resolutions, as well as obtain updates from the party executive in order to inform their respective riding associations.

Even if you do not wish to be involved with political campaigns, there are other ways to get involved in your community. Stay tuned for my next post, which will feature a Q&A with a passionate community activist.

Happy canvassing!
Rob Z (e-mail)


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