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A Canadian Election Story

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Ashoka the Great

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But no, it's not about this election.

Grab some cocoa and sit down. The story's not a terribly long one, but for astute followers of either Canadian politics or the American media this may provide a smile or two.

Our story begins in my home town of Toronto, a few days after the September 4, 1984 General Election.

I was sitting at home watching TV when the phone rang. It was John Oostrom, newly-elected MP from the Riding of Willowdale. He said that on election night he had spoken with all of his opponents to congratulate them on a well-fought campaign, but he didn't know how to get in touch with me. Not surprisingly, the Libertarian candidate (me) didn't have an office, an election staff and all those other goodies.

I told him I'd had a lot of fun, and had been going over the poll-by-poll results. John said he'd been doing the same, and he was able to figure out which polls I had canvassed personally. Instead of having poll results somewhere between 0 and 3 -- God bless the elderly and protest voters, I say -- polls where I'd put in a personal appearance (and there weren't many of them) showed votes in the 15-20 range.

"Those were my votes you took away, you know," said John in his rather strong Dutch accent. Oh....I knew. Believe me, I knew. I also knew that his margin of victory was less than 400. The only thing that kept him from losing that election was my own sloth.

He asked me to keep in touch, and I said I would.

About three-and-a-half years later, I got in touch with John and asked him to write a letter of recommendation for me. At the time, Ryerson's Journalism program had an applicant-to-accepted ratio of nearly 20-to-1. Nearly 2,000 people were applying for the roughly 150 spots in first-year, and I wanted in. I had a letter from a graduate of the program and another one from a recently-retired TV network executive. A letter from a sitting MP might be overkill, but better safe than sorry, right?

He agreed to write the letter, but then he said he had a favor to ask of me. "First, I need you to say you won't run against me again," he said. Not a problem. I had no intention of diverting attention away from my education by running again. "And I want you to be in charge of one of my canvassing zones."

*sigh*

I agreed. Coordinating others' canvassing was considerably easier than doing it yourself, I figured, and much easier on the feet, too.

Fast-forward about seven months to November 21, 1988 and....

Once the votes were counted on election night, mine was the only zone that had gone in John's favor. The others were heavily stacked against him, and he lost his bid for re-election.

That night I pulled double-duty of a sort. I was not only at John's campaign HQ, but I was also working for a local TV station, phoning in every few minutes and providing them with the latest poll results. (It was a one-night gig that had been advertised on the Journalism school's 'Jobs' board. I didn't get paid, but I got to put "CITY-TV" on my resume. Yippee.)

With the ballot-counting over and both jobs done, I went to a party at the TV station. The place was packed. Since CITY-TV was (and is) noted for being one gigantic studio without walls, there were cameras all over the place and TV screens wherever one looked.

I was standing in front of a monitor, talking to myself about the fate of Liberal leader John Turner, who had just had the snot beaten out of him for the second time in a row. "Poor guy will have to resign now," I said to no one in particular.

"What do you mean?" came an unsolicited response.

I turned and standing directly behind me was one of the station's meat-puppets, his head cocked like the RCA Victor dog. This was a man whose 'news' experience consisted of being given a local anchor spot after several years of hosting shows about music videos. He had a reputation for not being very bright, but he read his lines well.

"Well," I explained, "in Canadian politics getting beaten a couple of times in a row is usually the kiss of death. Getting beaten this badly twice in a row leaves Turner with no other option. He can either resign or face some kind of revolt from his own caucus."

"Really?" came the reply. "Wow." I had the distinct feeling that I hadn't dumbed it down quite enough, or that perhaps I'd confused him. Had a slow-moving stream of drool started running down his face from his mouth-breathing countenance, I would have been unsurprised.

But I was wrong, for a few minutes later I learned that I had indeed taught him well.

As is traditional in Canadian politics, the losers give their concession speeches first. As people crowded around monitors to watch John Turner make his way to the podium to formally concede, there came a shout.

"Go ahead and resign! That's two in a row! Resign!"

It was, of course, the meat-puppet whom I'd spoken with mere moments before.

It's an experience I've never been able to quite forget, for it was instructive in oh-so-many ways. I learned that one could be a commentator and a complete !@#$@#$ moron. I learned that the trick isn't to be intelligent, but rather to seem to have two brain cells to rub together. The ability to read and looking good on television were, ultimately, the only things that really mattered. It was true in 1988. It is even more true today.

I don't know whatever happened to that idiot. There was a rumor that someone had fallen for his good looks and charm, and offered him a job if only he would cut his long hair and drop the open-collared-check-out-my-hairy-chest-I'm-a-freakin'-gigolo 'look' for a more businesslike appearance. I've no idea whether or not this is what happened to him, but through the miracle of age-enhancing software heretofore available only to police agencies, I have a reasonably good idea of how he might appear today.

john-roberts-then-now.jpg

Have you seen this man?

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Ah, but even if everyone who voted for you had voted for Jim Peterson, Oostrom would still have won... by 33 votes (22,425 to 22,392). :awesome:

Funny story though. Reminds me of how the media works in general.

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Ah, but even if everyone who voted for you had voted for Jim Peterson, Oostrom would still have won... by 33 votes (22,425 to 22,392). :awesome:

It was my dislike of canvassing that let Oostrom get himself elected. Doubling the number of polls I canvassed would not have been a huge exertion on my part, and it would have cost him the election.

I ran in the next provincial election -- once again as a Libertarian -- and put considerably more effort into it. I canvassed about one-quarter of the constituency, and received 10-15% in areas I personally visited. I visited my former high school, where students were surprised to see someone not a whole lot older than themselves (I was 19) 'talking politics'. Once again, I received 0-1% in polls I ingored, and finished up with a bit more than 1,000 votes, or about 3% of the total.

I did the exact same thing in the subsequent provincial election and, despite lower voter turnout, still got the same result in percentage terms. It made me wonder: If I can get 15% of a poll to vote for me just by knocking on doors, what if I had some cash, lawn signs, more professional-looking flyers and a legion of volunteers? Sadly, I never found out, since that second provincial election was also my last.

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Canvassing actually works? I remember during the last federal election, I was on my way out, opened the door and found my MP standing there with his arm raised about to knock. I was more concerned with how he got in the building than what he had to say about himself.

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Canvassing actually works? I remember during the last federal election, I was on my way out, opened the door and found my MP standing there with his arm raised about to knock. I was more concerned with how he got in the building than what he had to say about himself.

Denying a registered candidate access to an apartment building is a violation of the Canada Elections Act and carries a substantial fine. (I actually carried a copy with me while canvassing, just in case. I only had to use it once, when the security guard for a building refused to let me in. I showed him the relevant part of the Act and insisted that he phone the police immediately. He decided it was easier to let me in.)

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