In a federal, provincial, state, or national election, there are two dimensions: 1) The macro level (ie federal/provincial) campaigns, 2) The micro level (riding/constituency/district) campaigns. The larger scale campaigns are usually the ones that get the majority of the media attention and are often the ones that people are more knowledgeable about. This raises the question: Do the local campaigns actually matter?
A local campaign is where the “trench warfare” happens – the door to door canvassing, the sign battle, the phone banks, etc. A lot of effort goes into a local campaign. Much of that campaign effort can appear to be squandered on election day if the macro level campaign doesn’t work in your favour.
Yes, the Macro Campaign Matters
I ran in 2012 in the Alberta provincial election and started the campaign in mid 2010. We knocked on thousands of doors and, early on in the campaign, we were getting a great response. However, there were some issues on the macro provincial level that started to shift the momentum against us. First, an unpopular Premier (Ed Stelmach) unexpectedly resigned which tossed all of the balls up in the air. Second, after a protracted campaign, the governing Progressive Conservatives elected a “Red Tory” named Alison Redford to replace Stelmach. She had run an outsider campaign that built a coalition of teachers and sympathetic Liberals and New Democrats by focusing on traditionally progressive issues such as supporting education, building new infrastructure, protecting the environment, and challenging the status quo within the Progressive Conservative party. Redford had built a reserve of support with the progressive side of the Albertan spectrum. Third, heading towards the election, the right-wing Wildrose Party began to surge in the polls with a popular leader in Danielle Smith who proved to be adept at convincing Albertans to take a chance on her party.
What happened? As election day got closer Albertans began to get cold feet about the upstart Wildrose. The Wildrose shot themselves in the foot by fumbling the Ron Leech and Allen Hunsperger affairs. The Wildrose errors gave Redford a massive opening to appeal to the reserve of progressive support that she had built through her campaign and tried to sway them to voting PC.
What seemed to be an act of sheer desperation worked. On election day, the Progressive Conservatives were elected to a massive majority that absolutely nobody seemed to see coming.
How did this impact our local campaign? The local Wildrose candidate had blanketed the riding with signs and appeared to be headed to a victory. As our team was canvassing, there was a clear shift that was going on. We could see that people who were leaning in our direction or who had declared their support for our campaign, were moving to the PCs. On election day, we visited each and every single known supporter and we found out that many of those who had even put our signs on their lawn didn’t vote for us! They were scared that voting for me would help elect a Wildrose government and they feared the implications of that possibility. As such, we didn’t do quite as well at the ballot box as we hoped for and the PC candidate won.
Local campaigns face the discouraging reality that cannot control the events that happen at the macro level. So one has to ask: Do they even matter? In spite of my experience, the answer is a resounding YES! Yes, they certainly matter.
Macro campaigns can override the work of a local campaign in the short-term but they cannot override the work of a local campaign in the long-term. The battles in the trenches may not pay dividends in the short term but they will pay off over time. A macro campaign can be like a wave and while it comes it with full force, it usually quickly dissipates. Alison Redford’s premiership went down in a ball of flames within a two years of the 2012 election but a great local campaign that started in 2012 will still be paying dividends today. These dividends include:
Long lasting local relationships with constituents
Priority polls identified – sign location base already established
Trained local volunteers
Money raised for future elections
Sometimes you can buck a trend. A great local campaign may not always be able to overcome the momentum of a wave of a macro campaign that goes against it but sometimes it can. In most elections, there are local ridings that seem to buck trends – it is almost always those who have active local campaign.
A Success Story
An example of a campaign that bucked historical trends was the Linda Duncan campaign. Linda Duncan from the NDP won in the heart of Conservative territory by working for the entire period between elections. The NDP hadn’t won a federal seat in Alberta for decades. In 2011, she increased the slim margin of victory that she won by in 2008 (463 votes!) to over 16,000 votes. She won the riding by working hard and she held the riding by working harder.
Steps to building a local campaign
1. You will need a core group that will act as the constituency association. This will be the foundation of the campaign.
2. You will need to do outreach to meet potential supporters. Go through the membership lists from the party. Have a few coffee meetings and do some advertising around the location of the coffee meeting to bring out potential supporters.
3. Once you have a reasonably sized group – get visible. Start a Facebook and Twitter page. Identify local events that you can go to as a group. Try to wear buttons to those events so that you are recognizable and pick up potential supporters.
4. Do some preliminary fundraising. Money is important for step 5.
5. Start a candidate search as early as possible. Good candidates are attracted to constituencies that have active local groups and a financial base. Starting early gives the candidate as much time as possible to get the campaign rolling.
6. Support your candidate as they go door to door. Share with them any priority poll data that you may have so they can know where to start.
7. Keep a database of party supporters/donors/sign locations as you canvass.
8. Build a succession plan for post-election so that you can keep the momentum after the campaign ends (win or lose). Some people will burnout and need a break after a campaign. If you don’t have someone who can keep organizing, any long term dividends from your hard work could be lost.
Marc: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule. I’m sure that you have a tremendous amount of other things to do today.
Ruth Ellen Brosseau: This is fun. It is important.
Marc: So I just wanted to take you back to 2011. Was there a particular issue that made you want to run…to put your name on the ballot back in those days?
Ruth Ellen Brosseau: At first when I was approached to be a name on the ballot candidate to run in 2011, of course, it is a pretty big question and a big responsibility to be a candidate. So for me, I really thought about it. It was really important for me to run and I eventually accepted because I really shared the values of the NDP. Being a single mom, I really felt that we could do better and I wanted to leave behind a better Canada for my son…something I that always strive to do. I had my son when I was younger and I wanted make sure to go back to school and do my best and was able to support him and build a good family for him and make sure that he had all of his needs met. So for me that is why I said yes. It also allowed people in that riding (even though we didn’t that had much of a chance to win at the beginning) to vote NDP – to support Jack.
Marc: As a child of a single mom myself, I’d be more than happy to have more people like mom elected to bring a whole other dimension to our politics and I’m glad that you are in there fighting hard because the voice that you bring is crucial.
Ruth Ellen Brosseau: It was so great in 2011. I got a lot of flak at the beginning because the journalists weren’t expecting it. They had it all plotted out in their heads and so when we did this breakthrough, they thought it wasn’t supposed to happen – this Orange Wave. It really wasn’t a wave. It was years and years of work. With what happened during the election, Quebecers were fed up and wanted a change and they decided to vote NDP and that is what they got. They went after me for being a name on a ballot candidate. And they went after me because “she is a single mom and she is not your typical cookie-cutter politician.” They were basically telling my electors that they were wrong. They [electors] made a choice that while they didn’t really know me very well, they were willing to take a chance and they put their confidence in our party. I think that’s what made want to work even harder to make the journalists kind of realize that they are going to have to eat their words and that they made a mistake and it doesn’t matter where you come from and what your experience was. Your opinion is important and when you work hard, you can be a strong community activist and really represent the needs and wants of your constituents. That is what a Member of Parliament is supposed to do.
Marc: I’ve seen a few interviews with some of your constituents and it seems that they have a lot of pride and even a little bit of vindication for your success. They voted for you and you’ve proven that their vote to be worth it. Have you sensed that yourself?
Ruth Ellen Brosseau: I always wanted to work hard and do good by them. I think what really surprised me was that shortly after being elected, I wanted to be very present on the ground, and was people started to tell me: “We’ve never really seen our federal MP before. We’d see him during election time but he wasn’t at all of our events and he wasn’t involved with certain issues that really hit home and were important to us.” So I think that was a kind of shock to me at first because I thought he would have been there but I guess he wasn’t. But at election time he was more present. For me it was really important to know the issues, know my constituents, know who was doing what and what mattered so it was very important for me not to just go to the spaghetti dinners but to really know the issues and be present on the ground to be that voice in the House of Commons and defend them on the issues that are important on them.
Marc: When you were being heavily scrutinized post election was there ever a point when you thought “I don’t know if I can really do this or if I want to do this? Is it worth it?” Was there ever a point where you thought that?
Ruth Ellen Brosseau: I’ve been very lucky because I’m a single mom but I’ve always had the support of my family. I’ve always been very strong and when you are a young mom, people get a perception of you or they underestimate you. But I think everybody knows that single moms are fighters and we want to do the best for our children. Also I came in and the bar was really low. So any kind of hard work eventually allowed me to go over the low, low bar that was set for me and it just made me work even harder.
Marc: That’s fantastic. Looking back…if you were to look at yourself in 2011 and give yourself a little bit of advice to prepare yourself for what you were getting yourself into?
Ruth Ellen Brosseau:: I was really lucky and I hate saying I was lucky. In 2011, what our party did was, because we had so many newly elected members, we teamed up with NDP members who had been around for a mandate or two. I was happy to be teamed up (and I’m still really close) with Jean Crowder who is sadly retiring this year. I think that really helped me get through setting my Ottawa office and setting up my riding office and getting through what any member goes through when they first get elected – getting their footing.
I dealt with a lot with national media and that was interesting to get into but I tend to get thrown into things and it was kind of a sink or swim situation. I was able to learn through that. I think what I learned from 2011 – I was kind of nervous because I didn’t go university for political science and, and some points, I wondered could I really do this? I am not a lawyer and I am not a doctor but I kind of just reassured myself that my voice is needed because this is the House of Commons and it represents Canadians and is supposed to be representative and needs a great mix of doctors and lawyers but also youth and more women. I think what was really great was that in 2011 we elected youth and elected 40% women and it is now more representative of Canadians so maybe at first I had some moments of doubts about if I can do this. I think I compared myself too much to others but it is possible – you just need to have confidence in yourself. Like Jack always said “Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done” because it can be done. When you really want to change things, you can incrementally (even though it is hard to do with a majority government) change things for the positive.
Marc: Tom Mulcair really seemed to take you under his wing and probably several of the other newer MPs. How has that relationship evolved as you’ve gained your footing as an MP and have become the rising star that you have become?
Ruth Ellen Brosseau: Tom was very supportive and so was his team and his offices. At the beginning, he did come out with me publicly for the first time in my riding on May 11th. We toured around the riding and we had media following us in caravans through municipalities – I don’t they ever had that much national attention. He was very, very helpful personally and so was his team at helping me set up my team and office in the riding – wading through what all parliamentarians do when they are first elected. And there was also Jack with our mentors and everybody was very welcoming. It was like being brought into a family with all of my colleagues. They were just so encouraging and helpful at the beginning. Tom was there right from the beginning and he still is. He has always been very encouraging through the 41st Parliament.
Marc: You mentioned your constituency (Berthier-Maskinonge). What have you done to connect so well with the people? I know that you’ve worked incredibly hard. Is there anything that you’ve felt clicked (an event that you did) with your constituents?
Ruth Ellen Brosseau: I can’t pin down an event. I think the fact that I like people and I like meeting people…I think my experience working with restaurants and bars has really helped me. Being a Member of Parliament, while I can’t compare it to being a server, but you are doing a service – you are representing Canadians. It is something we do everyday in my constituency office – we help people with problems they have with different minister’s offices or federal programs or unemployment insurance.
I think the fact that maybe my situation and my upbringing is kind of similar to the people in my riding. I know what it is like sometimes being short at the end of the month and having to work two or three jobs. I think that they saw themselves maybe in me and that has what has helped forge a good relationship with them. I’m honest…I’m not afraid say to say “Hey, I don’t know”. I’m not going to skate around…it is ok to not know something! I think it is impossible to know everything but to admit you don’t know something but to go and find out and not to just try to pretend everything, I think they kind of appreciate the honesty. I’m not afraid to say that but I do follow up later on when I do know the answer. I’m able to connect with someone who’s an expert. I think it is really important to be honest with your constituents and not make crazy promises because there is nothing worse than saying that you can do something and not ending up doing it.
Marc: You are going to be facing promises coming down the pipes as you are going into another federal election. It will probably be a different experience this time for you. How are things going with your preparations for the federal election?
Ruth Ellen Brosseau: It’s always been about balancing parliamentary responsibilities and also with the partisan stuff like selling membership cards, organizing, etc. It is going to be completely different from 2011. I was actually nominated as the candidate for the riding of Berthier-Maskinonge on December 5th…chosen by members without an opposition. I’m building a team and we are getting ready for the election. We’re getting ready for the election that will happen hopefully I think by October 19th…but we’ll going to be ready. We are going to go out doorknocking and I’m going to participate in a debate. I think it will be very interesting but I’m just waiting to find out who will be running for the other parties. I believe that there was a Liberal who was acclaimed as candidate. It is not somebody I know but I am looking to get to know him and seeing him out a little more on the ground. I’m going to see who run for the Conservative Party and the Bloc. It will be great but completely different from 2011. I’m going to be getting great experience but I’ve had a lot of mentoring and people with experience who are helping me organize and build for what is happening in October.
Marc: That is the last of my questions. I want to thank you obviously for the interview but more importantly for all of us…for standing up in Parliament and putting your name forward. That is something that is commendable by any measure. You’ve gone through a bit of the ringer which is so unfortunate in terms of the fact that we should be recognizing who do stand up for democracy and recognizing the hard work that they do.
Ruth Ellen Brosseau: Thank you. I think that the journalists were doing what they were told and I understand why it was a story. But I think that it would have been completely different if I was a male in my fifties. I think that they judged me and that there were other things pushing as to why they pushed it along. It was negative at first but we’ve turned it into a positive. It shows that for everybody, if you want to get involved…just do it. Your voice does make a difference and your actions do speak volumes.
Marc: I know that there were other people who have been elected who weren’t able to canvass…it happens. You were the one who faced the biggest burden. It is unfortunate they were only have 25% of our MPs that are women and this wasn’t exactly helping to get more. We need to take down some of the obstacles and barriers that get in the way.
Ruth Ellen Brosseau: It’s great to be part of a party and family that believes that we need to have that representation and when we do have riding associations look for candidates they do have to work with different groups and search out more women and visible minorities to get involved so that there is better representation. It makes me very proud and optimistic that we will have more equality in the House of Commons and maybe a parity one day. With an NDP government it will happen.
Marc: I hope so. We need more representation and more diversity. It will only improve the quality of our democracy.
Ruth Ellen Brosseau: So…will you run again?
Marc: I will run again. I don’t know when but I can’t help it. It is in my blood.
Ruth Ellen Brosseau: It would be nice to meet you in person one day, Marc.
Marc: Next time you are in Calgary, we will have to meet up. Your story is, I think, one of the great stories of our last couple of decades in politics. You are such an inspiration and I hope it is an inspiration for a lot of other people.
Ruth Ellen Brosseau: Thank you so much. Next time I’m in Calgary, I’ll let you know.
Marc: Sounds great. Thanks Ruth Ellen.
Ruth Ellen Brosseau: Thanks so much and have a great night.
A campaign will pull you in a million different directions. It is really important to remember that you can’t be everything to everyone. However, the one group of people that have to remain a key priority is your family.
You will be tempted to spend every waking hour on the campaign and then sacrifice your non-waking hours by stressing over the campaign. This is simply not sustainable throughout the campaign and will likely hurt your relationship with the most important person in your life – your significant other.
Before officially making up your mind about running, you need to have a conversation with your significant other – if you have one. An election campaign will have a tremendous impact on their lives. You need let them freely speak their mind about their thoughts and fears about your potential run for office. If they have significant concerns, you have to take them very seriously. A campaign is not worth sacrificing your relationship with your significant other. You should figure out if their concerns are “deal breakers” or concerns that you can allay by making compromises throughout the campaign.
What might be a “deal breaker” concern? That really depends on your partner. Maybe you have just welcomed a new baby into the world and your significant other really needs you around to help out. If this is the case, it is probably a good idea to consider postponing your run until a future date. At this point in your lives, your partner needs you more than the electorate.
Other concerns might be addressed by compromises throughout the campaign. An example of this might be if you significant other is not particularly political and doesn’t feel comfortable being deeply involved in the campaign. There is a pretty simple workaround to this issue – allow a comfortable distance between your significant other and the campaign itself – no door-knocking, no political events, no campaign photo shoots. Stick to this promise at all costs. At no point, should you apply any pressure on them to get involved. If, at some point they decide to change their mind, you can involve them in whatever they feel comfortable in doing.
If your significant other is a political animal like you are and is completely gung-ho about the campaign, that is great. However, don’t assume that they will want to give 100% of their time to the campaign. They shouldn’t be expected to go to every event and go out canvassing every night. They should determine how much time that they would like to dedicate to the campaign – just like any volunteer would. They should also feel free to take a break from the campaign if they are feeling burned out.
If your partner is gung-ho about the campaign, you may be tempted to crown them as your Campaign Manager. This is a risky idea that I wouldn’t endorse.
Under the stress of a grueling campaign, usually at some point (or several points) during the campaign a candidate will blow a gasket at their Campaign Manager. The Campaign Manager is always an innocent victim and an experienced Campaign Manager usually will slough these moments off knowing that it is a candidate just being a candidate under duress. Your significant other may not be able to do the same and it could impact your personal relationship in a really negative way.
With your significant other as a Campaign Manager, it will be very difficult to take a critical look at their performance in the most important role on the campaign team. If things are not going well and you need to change Campaign Managers, what would be an awkward conversation with any Campaign Manager becomes a particularly difficult and risky one. Both of you can your very best to try to compartmentalize the campaign so that it doesn’t impact your personal relationship but that can be easier said than done.
If your significant other takes on the role of Campaign Manager and finds out that they don’t like it, they may be too afraid to tell you as they fear that it will hurt your campaign and, in turn, hurt you. Instead they may try to struggle through at their own personal misery which will, in the end, hurt the campaign and, in turn, could hurt you and your relationship.
Your significant other will be a huge support for you throughout the campaign. Let them support you without the additional burden of being your Campaign Manager.
If your significant other is absolutely insistent upon being Campaign Manager, you need to make clear ground rules.
The biggest ground rule is that when both of you are involved directly on the campaign that you are not significant others – you are the Candidate and they are the Campaign Manager. The Campaign Manager is the boss of the campaign team and as such, you should listen to them. Of course, there should be dialogue between the candidate and the Campaign Manager, but as Campaign Manager, they should have the final say.
You need to maintain the same professional relationship that you would have with a Campaign Manager who was not your significant other. With that goes the ability for either party to terminate the Candidate/Campaign Manager relationship. If, as the candidate, you feel that things are not going well, you need to be able to change Campaign Managers for the good of the campaign. If, as the Campaign Manager, your significant other feels that they no longer want the title, they should be able to leave the position. You must avoid letting this impact your personal relationship. This is something you both must 100% agree to at the beginning of the campaign.
What if I win?
I’ve talked about the pre-campaign discussion that you need to have with your significant other about the impact the campaign will have on both of your lives. You need to also talk about the impact that you hope that the election campaign is really only a starting point. When you win (and I hope that you do!), your lives could be very different than the ones that you lead now.
Elected life is not easy on relationships. Here are a few articles on the impact of being an elected official can have on your relationship:
I know that it is pleasant to discuss these things with the person that you love. However, you really do need to have an honest discussion about what life will be like when you win and how you can work together to keep your relationship strong.
Tips for the Campaign
Schedule important events into your election calendar – birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s day – and prioritize them ahead of anything else on the campaign
Have a Date Night - once a week, you should have a date night with your partner. No politics allowed! 100% focus should be on your date. Go to a movie or a concert and have a nice dinner with your partner.
Be Fully Present when you are Home - don’t bring the distractions of the campaign home with you. Home should be a refuge for you – a place of calm and relaxation away from the chaos of the campaign. Ask how your significant other’s day went and really listen. The campaign can’t be all consuming for you.
Don’t talk Politics with your Partner unless they want to - if your partner is not political, don’t talk shop with them about the campaign. There are plenty of people who will want to talk politics with you so enjoy spending time with those who don’t!
The Government of Alberta frequently boasts about the low tax environment that it provides. It is true that average provincial income tax rate is lower than most other provinces in some categories. See below (Click Images to Enlarge):
If you look carefully, “middle class” Albertans actually pay a higher percentage of income taxes than Ontarians and British Columbians. Here is the same graph but I’ve isolated Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta:
As you can tell, Albertans who make less than $100,000 and more than $20,000 generally pay more income tax than people from BC or Ontario but those making more than $100,000 pay substantially less of their income as provincial income tax.