Running an election campaign in a pandemic wouldn’t be anybody’s first choice.
But the candidates in at least one Vancouver Island race are pleased how the campaigning’s going. It’s different but proving productive.
Candidates in Nanaimo-North Cowichan are reaching voters both by conventional and unconventional means during the pandemic. The BC Green Party’s Chris Istace is still knocking on doors, but with some adjustments that are pure 2020.
“We are out door-knocking throughout the riding. My campaign team came up with a physically-distant way to knock on doors. We’re using driftwood walking sticks found at the beach with padding on the ends so we don’t damage doors,” he said. “We are being respectful of everyone’s bubbles. We stay back 20 feet after knocking. Everyone has been welcoming and appreciative of the thoughtfulness we put into our canvassing safety protocols. The walking sticks are a hit with the volunteers, too.”
“We are doing a lot of the same things as you would expect during a normal campaign but adjusted for the pandemic. We don’t have an office, so we’re meeting with all of our volunteers on a regular basis through Zoom. It’s nice to be able to see everyone’s faces and connect that way.
NDP candidate Doug Routley has been an MLA since 2005 and is running his fifth campaign.
“The pandemic has changed the way we campaign in so many ways, and this affects how we interact with voters,” conceded Routley. “During a typical campaign I would be door knocking every day and attending community events, but now we are using virtual events, conducting meetings through Zoom and I have been on the phone every day with people. In so many ways it is different, but the main goal is very much the same and that is to reach voters with our message and to hear from them what priorities they want to see addressed.”
BC Liberal candidate Duck Paterson is a first-time provincial candidate, but a veteran of the campaigning through more than 30 years on Ladysmith council.
“I’ve never done a provincial election before so I’m not familiar with what’s supposed to be normal, but for me the social media emphasis is a bit unconventional,” Paterson conceded. “I’m more used to speaking with people one-on-one. We’re also focusing on using a truck with large signs attached to try to raise our profile at the neighbourhood level. As far as conventional goes, we’re doing some phoning and newspaper advertising.
“The COVID pandemic has made it very difficult to connect with folks as the campaign made an early decision to not go door-knocking, so we’re having to rely on getting our messages out through social media, print media and just getting out where folks are present in small groups.”
It’s a challenge for the candidates to best utilize their time during this very quick pre-election period.
“This is another thing that has changed due to the pandemic, particularly around the large events and meetings,” Routley explained. “Now, instead of traveling from one event or meeting to another, I can go from one to the other in two minutes (through Zoom and phone). In this respect it is easier to manage my time, but one aspect that I am really enjoying is that I have more time for one-on-one calls with voters. All that said, nothing replaces the face-to-face understandings we achieve by meeting people face to face.”
“My focus right now is on trying to identify supporters and getting out to meet people under the COVID protocols (mask, social distance, hand sanitizer, etc.),” Paterson elaborated. “As well, I work on a farm, in North Oyster, and the cows don’t care what I’m doing. They want to get fed and we also have to start putting equipment away for the winter so I’m trying to fit all of that in while also doing fundraising for the public washrooms project in downtown Ladysmith. I have a lot on my plate but that’s OK, I’m used to it.”
“This snap election has made for some long days, but my team has really come together to support me,” summed up Istace. “I’m very grateful for the work they are doing. I spend my days safely meeting as many people as I can. I meet people on the streets and at the markets in our local communities. I make phone calls and go “distanced” door knocking.
“I’m very grateful for the warm welcome I get when I’m out and about. Around 6 p.m. every day I do a live campaign update on Facebook. It’s an opportunity to talk about issues, to let people get to know me better and to answer questions. It is great to have so much support and encouragement, and that there’s so much interest in this election.”
Routley says this campaign was going to be different for him anyway, since it’s the first time he’s run as a member of government. But the pandemic has added a whole other level.
“This is a very different election from any I have experienced.”
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