As the campaign wraps up (I’m going to be way too busy to blog Friday, and a regulated communications blackout occurs Saturday), I thought I would wrap up by talking about the things I have learned this election. Some I knew already, but learned to view a different way, others were complete surprises. It was a great learning experience, and for the most part positive. I hope I did enough work to get it done, but the people will decide.
With no further ado, the Top 10 Things I learned this campaign.
1: You can’t do it all: I had dreams of what I would do this election. On-line interactivity (I could hardly keep up with the e-mail!), an “Ask Pat” booth (when did I have time?), weekly strategy sessions with my A-team (I ended up only having 3), pro-active issue management (ended up more reactive that I would have liked), practiced and smoothly delivered speeches (ugh). None of this took place.
The 4-month campaign time was a flurry of activity, early to rise to get to work, home from work, door-knock for a couple of hours, do some writing or planning, to bed very late, turn it on again tomorrow. I got to take some vacation time in the last two weeks, but there was still more than one night I went to bed a zombie. As a first-time candidate, the effort might not have been as directed as possible- there was a lot of learn-as-you go. I am happy with the way the campaign unfolded, but I will do it better next time, because I will have a better understanding of what is coming, allowing better planning.
2: People just want to be heard: Sometimes people just need to vent, and a politician arriving is a great opportunity for them. Especially when they have a gripe with the City (Pro tip: use caution when door knocking at a house with Stop Work Order taped to the door) they don’t care that you are not on Council now. Sometimes you don’t have the answer, but just as important, trying to make them happy by talking about solutions to their gripe may just irritate them. Instead you need to empathise with them. You need listen, and try to understand the core unfairness they are griping about. If you can demonstrate that you hear them, that is 90% of what they want.
3: People want answers: Notwithstanding the above, some people really want concrete answers. In the media or at the all-candidates events, you can sometimes talk around issues (“we have to do better at X”), but on the doorstep, people push you to provide tangible examples of what can be done, or clear explanations of why the simple answer isn’t so simple. People who know me know I love this stuff; hashing out ideas, sharing experiences, learning and teaching, listening and responding. These are the skills a Councillor needs, and the last 4 months on the doorstep have been great training.
4: Door-knocking is fun: This was very much my favourite time of the campaign. It is a bit of a hassle to set up with volunteers, weather, route planning, data collection, etc., and sometimes knocking on that first door is the last thing you want to do during a busy week or on a rainy night. But once you start knocking and talking to people, it is a lot of fun.
There are practical applications to door-knocking – you want to get sign locations; you also want to identify who your supporters are so you can get them our on E-day. Problem is I loved the conversation so much, those parts often suffered. I had a great 2-hour doorknocking session on Alberta Street in early November where I only hit 20 doors. For data collection, that is brutal (usually you can hit 60 to 80 in that time), but for my spirits it was my best day at the doors. At 20 doors I met 15 people who really wanted to talk about issues, and a half a dozen who were super engaged, and made me want to go for beers with them! My poor, bored volunteer was the only thing that made me move on to the next step!
5: Signs need a strategy: Yeah, I might have done this better. I have put a lot of signs out, but I have definitely not won the “sign war”. I spent my door-knocking time listening and learning in a variety of neighbourhoods, when I probably should have been what some other candidates clearly did: concentrate on the major streets hard-selling for sign locations. There are a few quiet streets where I had really good feedback, and the sign locations came to me, and I was appreciative of this support. However, as I saw the major streets filled with the signs of others, the three magic words of real estate (location, location, and location) came to mind. I bought the right amount of signs, and I got them all out there, but I probably should have been more strategic with their location.
6: Teams are great: I was lucky enough to surround myself with incredibly talented and dedicated people this election, and many hands made for light work. They know who they are, and I have tried to express my appreciation as often and as sincerely as I could, but it won’t be enough. My campaign manager is genius, my graphics guy is a whiz, my financial agent is precise and dedicated, my data manager loves data, my dozens of door-knocking volunteers were cheerful and patient, the campaign office coordinators were hardworking, dedicated, and always on. They let me concentrate on connecting with people and developing ideas that I heard at the doorstep into policy concepts. They kept me connected and grounded. They kept their eye on the prize, and me pointed in the right direction. I hope I don’t let them down!
7: Stuff costs money: I have a really well financed campaign. It is actually a little surprising how much my budget was exceeded. All of the in-kinds and spending isn’t over, but I will spend about $20,000 this election (!), which is $5,000 more than I expected. Again, all of the totals are not in and these numbers are subject to change on the official declaration, but it looks like about $5000 of that will come from various CUPE locals and committees, $2000 will come from businesses in town, and the other $13,000 from individual donations from people across the City.
This means I was able to buy bigger ads in the local papers than I expected, I was able to buy a lot of lawn signs, I was able to do some web advertising, have a good web presence and set up a data collection back-end from my door-knocking to help get my vote out on E-day. I was also able to hire a great photographer and a great video editor, and other professionals to do things I would not have been able to do myself. As a first time candidate, it was unfortunately expensive and difficult to get my name out, I couldn’t rely on the type of name recognition that some long-standing candidates have. However, being recognized at the doorstep in November tells me it worked. In any election, those selling advertizing are the real winners.
8: The media control the message: I have been advised by a wise campaigner to never anger people who buy ink by the barrel. One must approaching criticism of the media with great caution. However, it is clear during this election one of the two local papers took an editorial position early and ran with it. In my opinion, they did so unfairly. They took an issue that no-one in my three months of door-knocking raised, and created a narrative where voters were warned about alleged “undermining of democracy”. For about week and a half, that discussion started to appear at the doorstep, unfortunately crowding out issues people were talking about before – traffic, the high school, spending, business development, the pace of growth and density. Fortunately, the allegations were easy to refute on the doorstep and on-line, people were quick to understand that some windmills were being tilted at, and discussion soon returned to issues impacting the future of the City. However, it was a powerful reminder that a local paper, even one who explicitly won’t endorse candidates, can shift the narrative with a single editorial decision.
9: People say untrue things: During a campaign people will stand up on a stage and say something to a crowd that is not true. Whether they are lending themselves a bit too much to hyperbole, or whether they are unable or refuse to accept reality, I cannot speak to their motivation. There are times during an event (and almost every hour on social media) one wants to hop up and say “Actually, that is not the truth”, or stronger language involving “bullcrap”. But you can’t, because it just looks terrible. It becomes a he-said she-said jumble that draws you down to their level. So you bite you lip, and stick to your own positive message, and you trust the voter to see through it all. Frankly it would be helpful if the media did the fact checking for you, but with 40 candidates spouting off for hours on end, that task would be monumental, and the burden of proof would fall on the media, not the generator of the terminological inexactitudes.
10: Keep it positive: Those last two points sounded like gripes, so the final lesson is that you cannot react to negativity. There were candidates this election who did nothing but point out the flaws of others, instead of giving people a good reason to vote for them. I think voters will see through that. When you dwell on the negative, you are not just telling people not to vote for a particular person, you are telling people not to vote, and that truly undermines democracy.Voting is a hopeful activity – it is something you do with a hope that it will make a positive difference, that the future will in some small way be better because you spent 2 minutes in a booth filling in circles.
So go vote, be positive about it, and know it will make a positive difference.