I regret to advise you that we are destined to be a two party country run primarily by old(er), rich, straight, white men from now until forever, unless we clean up our act.
I’m just finishing up the paperwork from my role in the recent Nova Scotia provincial election, and I gotta tell ya, I don’t have much hope.
Back in the dark days of the winter of 2021, my son decided he wanted to run for office in the next provincial election. I didn’t want someone else handling the money for his campaign, when the price for mishandling the money could be a possible jail term, so I agreed to act as my son’s official agent. This meant I was the money-lady. I collected donations and authorized payments.
I thought this was going to be a chance to support my son as he chased a dream and to see democracy in action up close. Instead, it turned out to be an eye-opening experience that has changed the way I think of politics and life in general.
I should clarify that my issues were not with my son, the candidate. No, I was in awe of him. He worked his butt off. While working full-time, he also conducted a full on campaign – going door-to-door, meeting with potential voters and non-profit groups; he worked with his small, but dedicated campaign team of other like-minded, mostly young people, and attended public debates, where he held his own, even while being condescended to by the sitting politician. (Side note: One of the best moments of watching the election results was seeing this pompous bag of air lose his seat. Good riddance.)
We like to talk the big talk here in Canada about how we want “representation” in our political system, but we don’t back that up with real supports. Running for office is expensive, extremely time-consuming, and requires one to put themselves out there on public display for the trolls to attack from behind their computer screens. There is no “fat pension” for candidates; in fact, if you’re representing one of the small parties, there’s no money at all. To give an example, our campaign couldn’t even afford lawn signs. The riding was filled with lawn signs, posters and even billboards from all the other candidates and parties but none from ours. The campaign team was small and the budget was even smaller.
“I can’t count the number of times that a candidate thought he was going to get all this financial support and volunteer help from their community or friends and family which never, never comes,” said Jutt, who’s worked on numerous election campaigns for several major parties, both provincially and federally. (CBC News)
Fundraising is the only way candidates can access funds to buy promotional materials, campaign signs, airtime, publicity and anything else they need to run a successful campaign. And it’s the one thing the rich, old(er), white guys have down pat. They know other people with money and have easy access to them through a variety of networking methods. In an study done of candidates in Southern Ontario, more than half were sitting or former politicians, lawyers or business executives.
I don’t belong to that “esteemed” group, but having lived and worked in the area for more than 20 years, I thought I’d have no trouble helping my son raise money for his campaign. I put a request out on social media and told all my friends. And then I waited. Take a guess at how many people, other than family, I was able to convince to donate? Two. Deux. One more than one. (Keep in mind that my son is really well liked, especially among the folks in my friend group.) Ironically, both of the donators are die hard supporters of another party, but they donated because they wanted to support my son, our family and to encourage other young people to go into politics. Another individual offered to help out with the campaign, but that was it. I have more than 200 Facebook friends (I’m practically Kim Kardashian), but this didn’t help me.
To say I was surprised would be an understatement. It was like being hit in the face with a cold blast of water during the ice bucket challenge. Painful, but it woke me up out of my fog. Over the years, I have given more money than I can count to friends’ kids sports teams, arts events, small businesses, walks, runs and bike rides for every kind of disease you can imagine. I’ve supported GoFundMe campaigns for people I’ve never even met, bought things I didn’t need at auctions, and attended events I didn’t want to attend to help raise money for a good cause. I wasn’t expecting a quid-pro-quo relationship, but I thought good karma might count for something. I was naive; I’m not anymore.
Politics is a dirty game and that’s not how things work for most of us. And yet, this is exactly how the well-off, connected candidates get an(other) advantage. The people they hit up for money are expecting that quid-pro-quo relationship. They support each other, so the cream continues to rise to the top, and the power remains in the same hands, year after year.
Running for office is a full-time job; however, unless you have enough money saved up to last you for about 6 months, you’ll need to work two jobs – one that pays the rent and one that runs your campaign. And if you have children at home? Well, that’s where privilege kicks in once again. You need to either have a partner at home who can continue to get the kids to school and soccer or have the money to pay someone to care for your children when you’re not available. Only 30% of Canadian MPs are women, which makes sense, since women still (after all these years) tend to take on the majority of the childcare and housekeeping duties in a marriage. It is challenging to get women to agree to take their very limited amount of free time and spend it doing something that not only offers very little positive reinforcement but opens them up to abuse from the general public.
Online and In Person Abuse from the Public
A political candidate needs to develop an incredibly thick skin. This is thanks in part to social media and a culture that has become more and more comfortable with hurling abuse at anyone they feel disagrees with them or has wronged them. (I also place a lot of the blame for this new acceptance of being a jerk at the feet of a former President who shall not be named, but that’s a story for another time.) Canada isn’t much better. Citizens have become emboldened to go after politicians with threats, both online and in person. “A bot analyzed more than 350,000 tweets sent to Canadian political candidates during the first week of the federal election campaign. It found that more than 20 per cent of them were considered toxic, with nearly 10 per cent containing threats of violence and other aggressive language.” (CTV News) Who would want to take this on? Women and people from marginalized groups are even more vulnerable to attack. A Canadian study showed that incumbent female candidates were five times more likely to be the focus on toxic texts (Samara Centre for Democracy and Areto Labs). Racialized candidates also face abuse that goes beyond that experienced by their white peers. “I work with a lot of candidates of colour,” Jutt explained. “You send them out to knock a few doors and they’re like, ‘Wow, I did not know that I was going to get doors slammed in my face because I’m X faith” (CBC News).
Unless our system changes, drastically, we are never going to have a government that reflects our population. “[Elected officials] inform our views of where Canadian society should go, what Canadian governments should do,” said Morden.”So we’re missing a really important piece of the demographic puzzle” (CBC News).
Based on my experience, that’s not happening anytime soon.
Now, wish me luck as I work on finishing the mountain of paperwork needed to finalize the campaign.
(Note: This is yet another way people are discouraged from running for office. The paperwork is complicated and you can be charged if you do something wrong. Sigh…it never ends.)