Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Politics: When I Knew It Was Lost

TORONTO, ONTARIO - From the earliest returns last night, it was clear that one of the few Liberal pickups in all of Canada was occurring in my home riding of Parkdale-High Park. Gerard Kennedy, longtime Member of Provincial Parliament from the riding, defeated incumbent New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Peggy Nash convincingly, 43% to 36%; it was not close, and got it entirely wrong, calling it for Nash. While some were surprised at this result, I didn't need to wait for the official count. By mid-afternoon, it becoming obvious that Kennedy would win the election.

Last week, there had actually been a rumor that the Liberals had pulled their campaign forces out of the riding. I have no idea where that rumor came from and never saw any evidence of it--by the end of the week, the Liberals were placing new signs all over the place before the holiday weekend, and apparently a DVD of Kennedy's message was distributed to registered voters on Saturday, but not being a citizen I was not treated to the technological campaigning.

Another rumor that was apparently mostly untrue was that many long-standing Liberal activists from the riding were not organizing for Kennedy, effectively sitting out of the contest. It is true that a number, though certainly not all, of the people canvassing the riding for Kennedy--and serving as scrutineers on Election Day--were from outside the riding.

In contrast, the Peggy Nash campaign was about as grass-roots as a well-organized campaign with a chance to win will ever be. I never met a Nash volunteer that did not live or work in the riding. While her role in opposing Stephen Harper's Conservatives in parliament was certainly recognized and appreciated by her supporters, their tendency was to talk about her local presence first.

The campaigns in some sense reflected this difference. Nash emphasized her accomplishments within the riding, things like keeping the Rennie Rink open and helping to save the Revue Cinema. Kennedy, despite a strong local record during his time with the Food Bank and as MPP, tended to emphasize the importance of stopping Stephen Harper and "preventing [him] from doing to Canada what Mike Harris did to Ontario." Local emphasis came second.

Tactically, the campaigns also diverged. Nash ran a classic, identify-your-supporters-and-make-sure-they-get-to-the-polls campaign. All of the emphasis on Election Day for the NDP was in making certain that their known supporters made it to the polls. The Liberals certainly did the same, but in addition to that, there was a tremendous outreach to undecided voters with campaign materials (the DVD being just an exceptional example) that swamped NDP efforts to do the same. The Liberals appeared to have more money to spend in the riding (it will be interesting to see in the ultimate filings how big the gap actually was), and they weren't afraid to spend it, mostly in the closing days of the campaign when people were actually making their decision.

So how did I, as a volunteer for the Nash campaign, know it was over? After spending the morning knocking on the doors of known Nash supporters in one of the 193 polls that make up the riding, I was resting outside the polling place, waiting for the latest update on which voters had actually arrived to vote. A taxi drove up, and a younger woman assisted an elderly woman to the polls. The NDP would have been prepared to do the same thing for its supporters, but what really struck me was that the Liberal volunteer assisting the woman was someone I hadn't seen before that morning and indeed would not see the rest of the day. The Liberals were clearly leveraging their entire party-wide organization, despite the rumors to the contrary. Whereas the NDP was well-organized and had people assigned to each poll, the Liberals had that, plus a substantial number of floating volunteers. The Liberal juggernaut had been released, and there really wasn't going to be any stopping it.

I kept working, and was substantially successful in my assigned task of getting about sixty Nash supporters to the polls, but I was not surprised to wake up this morning and find that Gerard Kennedy had 20,715 votes to Peggy Nash's 17,330 in a turnout that was rather anemic at 66%, but still better than the national figure of 59%.

One thing that Kennedy and the Liberals should be absolutely complimented on in this campaign is that it was clean. Unlike the last provincial contest, in which NDP candidate Cheri DiNovo was smeared by the provincial Liberals, Kennedy did not personally slam Nash. He simply argued his good points against Nash's, touted the Liberals above the NDP, leveraged his party's campaigning strengths, and won the election.

On CBC Radio One this morning, there was a report that the "Big, Red, Liberal Machine" had rolled through Toronto. Indeed, it did, and it rolled right over Peggy Nash.

No comments: