Nicholas Ellan: How to maximize your impact on the federal election

A guide to strategic participation

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      So you want to volunteer for a political party in the federal election on October 19. That’s fantastic—participation is the only way to effect political change. Instead of just casting one vote, you can change 10 people’s minds, or help pull 100 voters to the polls on election day. But what’s the best way to get involved?

      Think strategically

      It’s tempting to attempt to identify a “battleground riding”, and pour your resources there. For example, in the B.C. NDP election campaign in 2013, many people volunteered for David Eby in Vancouver-Point Grey, and the result was the surprise loss of Christy Clark’s seat.

      However, in my view, this is a mistake: without a holistic approach, the part wins at the cost of the whole. That victory turned out to be pyrrhic. Christy Clark is still the Liberal premier of British Columbia, and the NDP remain in Opposition. It’s also harder to volunteer in a riding where you don’t know the territory or the people. Strangers have a harder time connecting with other strangers. My recommended approach is different.

      Go with what you know

      You can have the biggest impact by looking immediately around you. Do you live in an apartment building? Organize your floor. Did you grow up in a nearby area where a lot of people still know you? Return there and knock on doors for the local candidate. Find your local riding by clicking here.

      Also consider taking a more casual approach. Do you have existing social networks where you can connect with people, like a church, or school group, or nonprofit organization? It’s time to start talking to them about ways to engage with those communities.

      Consider your capabilities

      It’s important to be realistic about the commitments you can make. Doorknocking is extremely effective, but time consuming, and it helps if you’re in decent physical shape. Phoning is less strenuous, but requires more emotional resilience, as people are often annoyed by phone calls and this can be demoralizing. Electronic communications are extremely ineffective in most cases when they are impersonal and come from candidates, but can be exceptionally effective if you are personally communicating with your immediate social network.

      Plan your time wisely

      There’s both a lot of time between now and October 19, yet it’ll also be over before you know it. Consider now what kind of personal investment you’re capable of making, and plan your time now. Do you want to volunteer once a week? Twice? Are you prepared to go “all-in” and take time off work, and if so, when is the most convenient time for you to do so? Plan your schedule now.

      Or just donate money

      Really: we don’t all have time to sacrifice. Many of us are precariously employed, have family to care for, or are simply workaholics with too much going on. A donation can be a huge impact: for $20 per hour we can hire a canvasser at a living wage. Your time may be worth more than that to you. For $1,500, that’s 75 hours of canvassing: two weeks of full-time paid work for someone who needs the money. Think about it.

      And most importantly

      Don’t overdo it. Have fun. Take care of yourself. This is gonna be a wild ride, and it’s easy to burn out before October 19 rolls around. And you don’t want to burn out before E-Day, do you? I didn’t think so!



      Mandy Watson

      Jul 13, 2015 at 7:32pm

      Great article Nicholas Ellan. Thanks for reminding us to step up and do something in the 98 days or less leading up to the election. 1. Be sure you are registered. 2. Find out who is running in your area - what are your choices? 3. Take the time to meet each one. (Honestly, you have 90 odd days - make time). 4. VOTE! Have an election party, and take pictures of you and your peers as Canadians make history. Fifty years from now, these pictures will inspire others.

      0 0Rating: 0

      Barry William Teske

      Jul 13, 2015 at 8:49pm

      The joke is that mostly all of us (even in the presence of factual evidence to the contrary) believe being able to vote for a representative is democracy and freedom in action.
      It is the candidates who in 'promising' us 'why they should be elected' that wrote the joke.
      Remember that next time you give a politician a firm handshake.
      At least think about it.
      Do it for fun.
      Do it for profit.
      Laugh with the politicos and not at them.

      ursa minor

      Jul 14, 2015 at 2:57pm

      @ Barry William Teske - Representative Democracy is still a form of Democracy.

      0 0Rating: 0

      @ursa minor

      Jul 14, 2015 at 7:37pm

      No it's not.
      Democracy is when all of the people of a City rule that City.

      We have a sort of oligarchy---the idea that the will of the people is expressed is ridiculous. Where do the people get their will? They watch TV and are raised in schools run by various factions with political agendas...sure, small minorities aren't, but they aren't capable of spending enough to leverage the media-addicted masses.


      Jul 14, 2015 at 8:21pm

      The campaign experience I have enjoyed on and off for over 40 years builds COMMUNITY and connections with new and stronger friendships, broadens diverse networks and actually can leverage influence with many voices to shape a better future. Civic, provincial or federal - we can make a difference. SHOW UP Please!

      0 0Rating: 0

      marcy toms

      Jul 15, 2015 at 1:42pm

      Excellent advice. Sometimes, those of us who have been politically active for years tend to be a bit jaded. Sometimes those of us who have ideals that seem impossible to implement decide that nothing we can do will make a difference. Nicholas has laid out a number of truly practical suggestions that centre on starting with who and what you know. Sounds like a sensible foundation to me, and one that clarifies that building active communities is both desirable and possible. You just have to get your feet on the ground, and, as often you can, talk to people. The reality of civic engagement, of being an activist citizen, is the best antidote to cynicsm and the best counter to the fatalism expressed by some above, that I can think of. In fact, fatalism only assures the continuation of the status quo. So, if you want more Harper, by all means believe that the politics of our representatives are irrelevant. I assure you that is exactly what that particular oligarch wants.