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What are some effective strategies for engaging with the federal election?

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Map of 2015 election result. Elections Canada.
Map of 2015 election result. Elections Canada.
I've spoken to several people unsure about what to do this election. Should they campaign for a party? For a candidate? Or push specific issues like climate, decolonization, anti-imperialism, or confronting inequality from outside of a party? Something else?
 
The context
 
This election is happening as prime minister Justin Trudeau's carefully crafted progressive image continues to fall apart. Emissions are up over the last four years, Indigenous children are being fatally neglected in a federally-underfunded care system, the rich have gotten richer, and he bought a pipeline and promises to get built through unceded Indigenous lands without consent. His woke guy act and promises of real change have fallen flat. But the Liberals are trying – fairly successful so far – to frame the election as a choice between their not-so-great record and the even worse option of the Conservatives, led by leader Andrew Scheer.
 
This narrow frame leaves a lot of ground open, specifically on the left. Activists, candidates, and parties on the left have the ability, to some degree, to put forward bold, necessary proposals, set the agenda, and open political space.
 
There is also a very real possibility that the election night outcome will see the Liberals trying to form a minority government. In that case, NDP and Green candidates could hold significant power to shape policy and spending should they make a deal with the Liberals to support their government in exchange for certain consessions, similar to how three Green seats in BC are propping up the BC NDP government.
 
So what can be done over the next three weeks leading up to election day, October 21st?
 
1. Bring attention to important issues
 
There are many issues hardly being discussed this election. For example, even with Trudeau's blackface incidents surfacing, there is not a serious conversation happening about anti-Black racism in Canada, and ways to improve Black life (the recent book, Black Life, explores this line of thinking).
 
While the parties themselves and Canada's mostly-settler, largely-white mainstream media pick many of the election topics and how they are framed, there are ways to break through that noise. 
 
Tactics to do so in the past have ranged from low-involvement activities like signing petitions, writing letters to the editor of newspapers, and calling in to radio talkshows, to writing full op-eds, to asking questions at candidates debates, all the way up to organizing in groups to interrupt scripted campaign stops (like Grassy Narrows advocates have done to call out Trudeau's inaction), to holding rallies and holding press conferences, and occupying strategic locations (like Our Time did at CBC's headquarters to demand a climate debate).
 
Questions and demands can include things like: who is going to bring in universal pharmacare? Dental care? Who has plans for a green new deal and what are they? Who is going to honour Indigenous rights and how? Who is going to address systemic racism? Who will tax the rich and close their tax loopholes? Who is going to violate the rights of workers and who won't? Who will build non-market housing (eg. co-op housing)? Who will follow the US into wars and imperialist conflicts and who won't?
 
You can also highlight parts of platforms that aren't being highlighted, like the NDP's support of postal banking and many aspects of the Delivering Community Power proposal. Or propose aspects that aren't yet on the platforms, like free public transit, a jobs guarantee as part of a green new deal so no one is out of work (as Courage has proposed), or nationalizing telecom companies and oil giants.
 
Racist discourse will almost inevitably show up this election, and indeed already has, in person, in media and social media. To be ready to engage with this important issue, groups like the Migrant Rights Network have made resources specifically for this election. Less election-specific and primarily tailored for white folks, there are also anti-racist resources compiled by Showing Up for Racial Justice's Toronto chapter.
 
2. Get good candidates elected
 
For those who vote, and those who want to campaign to get people elected, what can be done? 
 
Instead of picking one party and uncritically pushing for and voting for them, a few organizations are endorsing or identifying promising candidates. I generally like that approach, as I'm hesitant to uncritically endorse any party, as they all have their problems.
 
The NDP is the major party with the closest thing to a left platform fighting for the working class, but they are still, as a party, overly cautious when it comes to confronting the roots of poverty and oppression, namely corporate power, capitalism, and colonialism. Their position on the LNG Canada pipeline, for example, is a mess. However, some of their candidates are pulling the party in a principled, left direction.
 
The Greens likewise have some promising candidates, but as their campaign slogan "Not left. Not right. Forward Together" says, the Greens are not a left party. Their politics as a party tend to be confused. Leader Elizabeth May has indicated she would be open to a coalition with the Conservatives, and won't stop MPs from opening anti-choice debates. In BC, Green leader Andrew Weaver is a warning of the capitalist tendencies in the party and those who don't take racism seriously.
 
In this context, a few groups have worked to identify quality candidates. The Our Time campaign researched candidates and have so far endorsed 29 who they call "Green New Deal Champions." Our Time believes these candidates will, if elected "take risks, organize fellow Members of Parliament, and work across party lines to tackle the climate emergency." The list includes six Greens and the rest NDP. The Liberals, given four years in power and showing precious little to show for it, did not receive a single endorsement.
 
Leadnow, which in 2015 ran a strategic voting campaign to defeat Harper, has this time sent out a questionnaire to candidates and, based on their responses, identified 168 candidates who say they are committed to bold climate action. These are not endorsements. The list includes a few Liberals, many NDP, and even more Green candidates. Three Conservatives have pledged to "cooperate" but are not fully in support of bold climate action. (Disclosure: I worked in a paid role for a week or less on Leadnow's Vote Together campaign in 2015.) 
 
If you are excited about getting quality candidates elected, you can get in touch with their campaign. If you live nearby, you can canvass (door-knock), and if you're farther away you can campaign by phone. Make sure to check in with the campaign and with election regulations before spending money on a campaign, like on advertising.
 
Some may argue that getting a few good candidates elected isn't going to change a whole lot, but there are a couple notable holes in that logic.
 
First, there is a decent chance the Liberals will end up with a minority government. The NDP, Greens, and possibly other parties (Bloc and PPC) would be in a position to prop up the Liberals, and make significant demands. The NDP and Greens could pull the Liberals considerably left, demand much more action on climate, strengthen public services with increased spending, introduce pharmacare, and implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, for example. The difference between a Liberal majority, Liberal minority, and Conservative minority or majority could come down to a small number of seats. Would you rather have Liberal backbenchers or outspoken NDP candidates make up the difference?
 
Second, both the Greens and NDP are in states of transition, though in different ways. For the NDP, there is a new leader as of October 2017, and some of the old guard (Mulcair, Rankin, Cullen, etc.) are out and a new slate of candidates could soon be sitting in parliament. There are also groups outside of the NDP trying to pull it left, like the Courage Coalition and the NDP Socialist Caucus. Will the more ouspoken left candidates be in after the election, or will the timid centrists still have control? This will have a non-negligible effect on the future of the party and its positions in parliament and the media. For the Greens, which seem even more comfortable with green capitalism than the NDP does, whoever they add, if anyone, to their caucus of two, will likewise also have an effect on the future of the party. Elected party members can have a major influence on public discourse: see Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the US, and Leah Gazan, Sven Robinson, Niki Ashton, Elizabeth May and others in Canada.
 
In terms of who to ultimately vote for, my advice is to look at the local race. Check the Our Time, Leadnow and other listings and see if you can elect a solid candidate who is not Liberal or Conservative. Unfortunately this is not the case in some ridings, and that makes for a tough choice. In that situation, some may vote for who they most believe in so their support is counted even if the chances of winning are low, while some will choose what they see as the strategic vote.
 
3. Campaign to defeat particularly heinous candidates
 
A few ridings have particularly bad incumbent candidates. These are mostly found in the Liberal and Conservative ranks, though not exclusively (the NDP has had some MPs with terrible records on Palestine). Maybe they advocated to join the Iraq war, or voted against climate action, or support fascists in Ukraine, or vote against recognizing Indigenous rights, or maybe they were involved in overthrowing Haiti's democratically elected government. Working to unseat them can be a worthwhile effort.
 
With this tactic you may find local people willing to mobilize to oppose the candidate they don't want. Keeping someone terrible out of power can be a great motivator. And even if it's unlikely that such a campaign would defeat someone, it can nonetheless bring attention to important issues, and put the candidate on the defensive.
 
There was a successful campaign against Liberal Pierre Pettigrew in 2006, an unsuccessful one in 2015 against Liberal Justin Trudeau, and others. A campaign against Liberal foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland in University-Rosedale (Toronto), calling out Freeland's support of a coup in Venezuela and of fascists in Ukraine, appears to be underway at the moment.
 
Whatever you choose to do, stay safe out there and make some noise!
 

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David Gray-Donald (David Gray-Donald)
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