Wag the Democracy: Ten reflections on the municipal election
Story by Albert Koehl, photos by Wayne Scott
In a world where Twitter, texting, Facebook, email, Tumblr, Instagram, and websites have made it easy to communicate, the core work of election campaigns remains distinctly low tech. Candidates spend countless hours knocking on doors — something humans have been doing for as long as there have been doors.
No candidate reaches office without an expertise in door knocking. The campaign therefore allows for up-close observations about aspects of human (and animal) behaviour and organization.
Dogs, the media and political parties
1. Dogs (and some cats) are always eager to engage candidates but can’t open doors.
2. In our ward, one man teamed up with his dog to run for the council seat. Some voters nonetheless say all politicians are alike. If true, this is probably because the same 50% of people vote in every election.
3. Relying on the media to distinguish between ward candidates is questionable. The bright lights in condo hallways are more helpful. During the Mayor Ford years, the mainstream (and some alternative) media were hard-pressed to distinguish themselves from the tabloid press.
4. Officially there are no political parties at City Hall but candidates backed by parties have a huge advantage given the access to voter and sign databases. This connection means parties based in Ottawa or Queen’s Park have a strong, but undeclared, influence on council.
Waste and inefficiency
5. Virtually all apartment and condo buildings keep their hallways brightly lit. While parents tell their kids to turn off lights, no one tells developers to install simple sensors.
6. Peepholes are poorly designed. The occupant can look at the smiling candidate/canvasser in the blazing hallway, but the visitor also knows someone is staring at them from inside.
7. In older apartment and condo buildings, residents must carry their recyclables downstairs to a collection bin while garbage is conveniently tossed down a chute on each floor. Reversing this order would reduce the massive amount of recyclables, including election flyers, which end up in landfill.
8. Elections deliver democracy directly to your door with both campaign literature and candidate visits. A commitment by voters to spend just one evening during an election reviewing candidate websites or attending debates would be more efficient. In three of the five debates in our riding there were a total of 10 prospective voters.
Pay me later, or just pay attention
9. The vast majority of residents are civil to candidates. Every apartment or condo building, however, has one occupant who will storm into the hallway to rage: “Who let you in this building. You aren’t allowed in here.” This rage is easily defused by integrating the word, “law” or “act” in the response.
10. When a home has an intercom with a camera, the chances of the door being opened are nil. Candidates can also be avoided on the street or at subway stations by talking into a cell phone or wearing ear buds. These diversions do not keep governments from making you pay for the election and for the generous rebates to campaign donors. Since you are paying for the process, you might as well try to get your money’s worth.
Albert Koehl is an environmental lawyer. He was a candidate in downtown Toronto’s Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina during the recent City Council election.
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