Efforts ‘like holding democracy in my hands’

You can’t get much closer to the pulse of a nation’s democratic heart than was experienced by an invested group of Political Science students during the run-up to the federal election:

Reminding a family to vote and discovering they would become Canadian citizens and first-time voters on the same day. Being offered hot tea and shelter from the rain during a long evening of door-knocking. Absorbing both the antipathy and support of Londoners during hour after hour of corner ‘waves’ and phone calls.

Almost 20 students at King’s University College were part of Campaign School, a credit course in which they were embedded with a candidate in advance of the Oct. 21 election.

In spite of the gruelling hours, and even though not all of them worked with candidates who won, each said they would do it again.

Student Mackenzie White and dog

Mackenzie White // Special to Western NewsStudent Mackenzie White volunteered with the federal election campaign of Peter Fragiskatos as part of an experiential learning class in political science at King’s University College.

Mackenzie White volunteered with the team of Peter Fragiskatos, who was returned as MP for London North Centre, and then, on Election Day, worked a 14-hour day as a deputy returning officer.

“The majority of people who came and voted were so appreciative and so happy to be there,” White said. “Getting to count the votes at the end of the day was so special. Holding those votes was like holding democracy in my hands.”

The students gained an appreciation for the long hours and finicky details of a campaign.

“It actually is super, super hard knocking on doors day after day,” said Nathan Peres. “It looks easier than it actually was. I can see how every piece of the campaign really matters, from the people who get coffee to the people who phone voters and knock on doors.”

They also saw the best and nearly worst of the electorate.

Nathan Peres and Liz Snelgrove

Nathan Peres // Special to Western NewsStudent Nathan Peres volunteered with the campaign of Conservative Liz Snelgrove in the recent federal election as part of an experiential-learning class in political science at King’s University College.

David Carlson, who worked with the campaign of Conservative candidate Liz Snelgrove, who lost her bid in London West, said he had an angry call from a supporter who thought a photo on the campaign website showed “too much green.”

Even so, “With every interaction I was reminded that it really mattered,” Carlson said.

They also saw strategic voting attitudes in action.

Grace Young, volunteering with the campaign of Green candidate Carol Dyck, who lost in London North Centre, said, “There were two occasions where two of us were canvassing and Carol was standing at the door with people who said, ‘You’re really smart and I like you, but why are you running for the Green Party instead of a party that can win?’”

And Leeya Tesfamichael had a one-of-a-kind response when she called on a home where an 18- year-old was newly eligible to vote. The teen and his family had become Canadians in a citizenship ceremony that morning and would be voting for the first time that afternoon.

“I was really moved by that,” Tesfamichael said.

Led by instructor Kate Graham and King’s Political Science professor Jacqueline Newman, most of the group enrolled in the class because they were already politically keen. They were surprised to find some people didn’t want to talk politics and others didn’t know an election was taking place.

Outside of politics, the students also remembered moments of party-free humanity. One woman offered door-knockers umbrellas and a cup of tea on one rainy evening. Another anonymous elderly supporter dropped homemade falafels off at a campaign office every day for a week.

Hirra Majid, who made hundreds of calls encouraging people to cast a ballot, said the work was gratifying. “Just getting those last people to go in, to encourage them to vote, that felt like it really mattered.”

Before Election Day, the class predicted which party would gain the most seats and by how much.

All had forecast the eventual Liberal minority, with Conservatives a close second. Most, though, had over-estimated the seat tallies of the New Democrats and Greens and had under-estimated the popularity of the Bloc Québecois.

Last week, the Liberals won 157 seats, followed by the Conservatives with 121, Bloc with 32, NDP with 24 and Greens with three.

Because minority governments tend to have a shorter lifespan than majority governments, the students also offered post-election predictions of how long before the next election is called. Those ranged from 12 months to 36 months.