Dealing with a Gaffe

Everyone makes mistakes. Even (especially?) politicians. Unfortunately, for politicians, these embarrassing events happen in public and usually in front of a camera. Some gaffes can be easily overcome and some can destroy a campaign and hurt a career.

Let’s take a look at some classic politician gaffes:

Katz kicks a kid


Former Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz played soccer with some inner-city kids for a photo op. Unfortunately, things didn’t go well for Sam (or the kid). Sam missed the ball but managed to kick a kid in the face. Worse he continued to play the game without checking on the kid. Katz ended up being re-elected anyways.

Three Agencies?

In a policy debate, Rick Perry forgets his policy. He dropped out of the Republican race shortly thereafter.

Math is Difficult

math is difficult

Showing arrogance and condescension, Jim Prentice attacks NDP Leader (and then Premier) Rachel Notley on her economic policy by saying that “I know that math is difficult, Rachel.” Notley and her party handily disposed of the PCs and their dynasty a couple of weeks later.

Spelling is Difficult Too

At a photo-op just a few months before the 1992 election, Vice President Dan Quayle gives student a lesson in how not to spell.


The Dean Scream

Democratic insurgent candidate Howard Dean lost the Iowa Caucus in 2004 and then he briefly lost his mind…and his campaign flamed out shortly thereafter. Better to burn out than to fade away.

And Joe Biden…the gaffe-meister

There are entire videos on all of Joe’s gaffes. He is still Vice President of the United States.

Please Proceed Governor…

With millions of eyes watching the debate, Republican nominee dug himself deep into a whole as he tried to attack President Obama’s response to Benghazi. His campaign was over. In a slightly ironic twist, he received 47% of the vote.

Some politicians survived their gaffes. Some didn’t. Why? There are a two main determining factors:

1) Does it reinforce a narrative?

Jim Prentice was leader of a party that had governed for 44 years and was accused of being arrogant and out of touch. Some of his previous statements had been criticized as arrogant. He cemented the idea that he was arrogant by talking down to a female leader of a party. To make things even worse, his statement was actually wrong.

Rick Perry was never accused of being the brightest of all of the Republican candidates seeking the presidential nomination. His forgetting his own policy reinforced the opinion that he really wasn’t smart enough to be President. To remedy this problem, he has bought himself a fancy pair of smart looking glasses.

One would think kicking a kid in the face would be something that a politician couldn’t recover from. However, Sam Katz wasn’t known to walk down the street kicking kids. It was pretty easy to brush off as a clumsy mistake. People generally forget the first time a politician does something embarrassing. However, they won’t forget a second similar incident. A gaffe that reinforces an existing narrative is the type of gaffe that will sink your campaign/political career.

Know your narrative: know your strengths and weaknesses as both a candidate and a person. For example, if you know that you aren’t the most physically coordinated person, don’t have a photo-op playing sports. Try your best to avoid putting yourself in positions that can cause embarrassment.

2) The politician’s response to the gaffe.

Get ahead of the coverage.Address the issue and sincerely apologize (without any reservations) to anyone impacted by your mistake. Had Jim Prentice came out with a sincere apology to Rachel Notley about his mistake and his comment about math, he may have been able to move past it. Had Mitt Romney had released a clarification after getting fact checked by Crowley on TV, he may not have looked like the petty person that he appeared to be during the debate.

Don’t simply ignore the gaffe and move on. Hoping nobody notices it may be your first instinct but, if you don’t deal with it, you risk losing control of the coverage of the gaffe. With social media, things can go viral very quickly and it is better to get out ahead of the gaffe before that happens.

Use self-deprecating humour to defuse the situation. Laugh at yourself just a little. In fact, if you can effectively use humour to laugh at yourself, you can make yourself a little more relatable – everyone has felt the pangs of embarrassment before. Joe Biden’s entire political career has been dogged by his embarrassing gaffes. His folksy charm and humour has allowed him to bounce back every single time.


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The Official Agent

There is no position on a campaign that gets less love than the Official Agent. They are like referees at a sporting event – you never hear about them until something goes really wrong.

The Official Agent does not just write cheques and show “Authorized by the Official Agent” on election materials.

Even though the Official Agent doesn’t get much love they are fundamentally important to any campaign – especially on large campaigns. The candidate and the Official Agent are two people on a campaign who can be held legally responsible for breaking election financing rules under the Canada Elections Act. In fact, it has happened twice in recent times – the Official Agents for former Conservative MPs Dean Del Mastro and Peter Penashue have both been charged for breaking election financing rules.  Paperwork

Anyone who is a non-bankrupt eligible voter can be an Official Agent. However, not everyone should be an Official Agent. It is a mistake for a candidate to pick someone out of sheer necessity to be their Official Agent. They should be looking for someone with a specific skill-set because the role is so crucial. This article will detail the responsibilities of someone who takes on the role of an Official Agent and give them some tips on how to effectively do their job on the campaign. As the forms and regulations can vary in each province for provincial/municipal campaigns, so I will focus on the roles of an Official Agent during federal election campaign.


  • Signing Candidate’s Elections Canada documents
  • Opening a campaign bank account
  • Accepting, depositing, and tracking donations from supporters
  • Providing receipts for donations
  • Understanding and enforcing campaign donation limits – in 2015, the federal limit is $1,500 for a personal donation. Corporate and union donations are prohibited.
  • Writing cheques for campaign expenses
  • Ensure that campaign expenses fall under the federal campaign expense limit
  • Completing the Election Financing Return via EFR software
  • Working with an auditor to ensure that all expenses are properly tracked, fall under campaign finance rules, and balance with donations
  • Send completed Election Financing Return with all original documentation to Elections Canada’s auditing department with the completed independent auditor’s report prior to filing deadline.


When looking to fill the role of Official Agent, a candidate should be looking for someone who is:

  • Supremely organized
  • Completely trustworthy
  • Understands the ins and outs of federal election financing rules
  • Good with numbers – possibly an accountant
  • Going to be readily available throughout the campaign to issue cheques to reimburse expenses
  • Going to be available post-campaign to complete the Election Financing Return


Here are some tips for someone who has accepted the role of Official Agent:

  • Find a mentor. If you are a first time Official Agent in a federal campaign, try to find someone who has prior experience as an Official Agent. They can help answer your questions about the process (ie setting up the bank account) and using the EFR program. Stay in touch with them and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Always understand every expense. Money is spent very quickly on a campaign and receipts will pile up faster than you expect. Before you make any cheques out to anyone, make sure that you know exactly what the expense is for. This is important for two reasons – 1) because you have to categorize each expense in the Election Finance Return system, 2) You need to ensure that the expense is a legitimate expense. As the Official Agent, you will be the person who has to answer for the cheques that you write so ensure that you know why you are writing them.
  • Create a form. Ask the campaign staff to complete a form for each receipt that they claim. On that form, you should get their name, address (in case you need to mail the cheque), phone number (in case that you or the auditor have questions about the expense), date of expense, and reason for the expense. Ensure that everyone who works for the campaign knows that this form is mandatory.
  • Always photocopy every receipt. Elections Canada asks for originals of each receipt. Photocopy each receipt and put the original receipt in a safe location (that you will remember!) so that you won’t lose them. Use the photocopied receipts when you are entering the expense into EFR.
  • Regularly keep the Campaign Manager informed on current expense totals and how far the campaign is away from the expense limit. You are the one who has to ensure that the campaign does not blow past the campaign limit. Campaign Managers are the ones who generally decide what the money needs to be spent on. They should know how much room they have.
  • Don’t write expense cheques until you’ve entered the expenses into EFR software. The return is much easier if you ensure that the expenses are logged in the system before you write the cheque.
  • Do the Election Financing Return early. As soon as the election is over, election workers tend to scatter and it becomes really difficult to get answers to questions about the campaign expenses. Doing the return early also gives you time to work with the auditor to ensure that everything has been properly entered on the return and get the approval.
  • Work closely with your Auditor. The Auditor knows the process extremely well and will probably guide you to ensure that everything has been properly entered into EFR. The auditor is usually appointed by the political party and if you are not sure who the auditor is, you should contact the federal office of your party.

Being an Official Agent isn’t the easiest job in the world but it is important. Even if you don’t feel the love, rest assured that you are helping your candidate make your country a better place.

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Party Discipline and Ego

As a candidate, your name and face is plastered everywhere on your campaign – from lawn signs to literature to billboards. It would be easy to start to believe that the campaign is all about you. Unless you are running as an Independent candidate, this is simply not the case. ego

An overwhelming majority of those who are successfully elected to public office run under a party banner. Running with a party has massive benefits – supporter lists, brand recognition, financial backers, and a PR team (to name just a few).

The benefits come with some trade offs. You will likely face a vetting process to ensure that there is nothing that your opposition can use against you. This process can be stressful and potentially embarrassing but it is ultimately a means of protecting you and the party. You also will need to understand the party platform and use your personal skills to sell it to the voting public.

Hopefully, as a member of the party that you are running for, you will agree with the vast majority of the platform. However, there may be parts of the platform that you may have some disagreement with. No party is a monolith that is made up of members who agree on every detail. When you sign up to be a candidate for a party, you should accept that you won’t publicly air your grievances with those platform planks that you disagree with. The proper place to have those discussions is behind closed doors. I assure you that the party platform has been designed to help you attract the maximum amount of support because it has been thoroughly tested with potential voters.

I see party politics similar to singing in a choir. A great choir is made up a vast array of different voices who sing different parts – tenor, bass, soprano, alto, etc – but ultimately, they are all singing the same song. As soon as one person starts to sing a different song, the whole choir suffers. If you consistently deviate from the party platform and challenge it publicly, you risk bringing down every other candidate who is running under the same party banner.

Does this mean that you should become a robot who simply parrots the party talking points? Of course not. . As a candidate, you need to breathe life to the platform. Within that process you can likely massage the delivery of the message a little bit so that local voters will connect to it.

Politics demand a certain amount of ego. You need significant confidence to sell your vision and even more confidence handle the attacks that can come back at you. Party politics may ask you to suppress your ego from time to time. You may not have 100% flexibility to speak your mind in public at all time.

Remember that successful election campaigns are not vanity projects. They are true team efforts and they provide you with a wonderful opportunity to make the lives of your friends, family, and neighbours better.

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Life in Public

As a candidate or an elected official, your personal life becomes far less personal and far more public. Everything you do can become public information. This is a trade off that you have made for the opportunity to make the change that you want in your area.

Here are some tips on handling public life:

  • Don’t lose touch with family and friends

Any political figure lives a very busy life. It is more important than ever to be close to your friends and family. They know you better than anyone else and know you beyond the persona that the media presents. It is easy to “live in a bubble” in politics where you get so wrapped up in a campaign or in government that you become disconnected from what is really happening in the world. Your friends and family can help burst that bubble and bring you back to real life. Also when times get tough, they will be there for you when everyone else around you might scatter. Call them whenever you have a free moment.

  • Social media is not your friend

One mistake on social media can destroy a career. You may think you are clever but you probably aren’t. What might be funny to you could be offensive to everyone else. Use social media to share important events and speak to issues. To be safe, designate someone who you trust to handle your social media presence. Make it clear with them what your expectations are.

  • Designate one friend as your outlet

In the extremely stressful world of politics, you have to be “on” all of the time. You can be having a terrible day where everything is going wrong but you can’t let your staff, volunteers, or media know about how rough things are going. You should have one trusted person in your life with whom you can “vent”. They can give you advice or they simply listen to you. This person could be your significant other but I don’t recommend it. They are also dealing with public life by being in a relationship with you and they also feel the stress. You don’t want to stress them out any further.

  • Don’t “google” yourself

You might be tempted to read reviews of the awesome speech that you gave but the internet is full of miserable anonymous people who say terrible things about public figures. From a public figure’s weight to their clothing choices, there really is nothing off limits for these people to comment on. Unless you have a ridiculously thick skin, it is best not to read what they say.

  • Be nice to journalists

They are trying to do their job and usually want to make you look good. It can be a symbiotic relationship. If you have an antagonistic relationship with them, don’t expect flattering articles about you.

  • Watch your drinking

Public life is stressful and it can involve a lot of travel which can be rather lonely. If you find that you start drinking too much as means to coping with the stress or loneliness from public life, seek help.

  • Depression is very serious

Everyone goes through ups and downs in their life. If you start to feel as if you are stuck in the depths of despair and can’t find a way to get out of it, you might be afraid to do anything about it out of fear of looking weak or hurting your poll numbers. Depression can be fatal and should never be ignored. Please seek help by telling a trusted colleague.

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Do Campaigns Have to be Dirty to be Successful?

Pretty much everyone has seen or knows about the Netflix hit show House of Cards. Frank Underwood is the kind of politician who would do anything to get what he wants –  lie, cheat, break laws, rewrite the rule book…there is no limit to the distance he will go. For many people, when they think of politics and those involved in it, they think of people like Underwood.

Thankfully, House of Cards is a dramatization and not a documentary. However, real life politics can get pretty dirty too.


There are a few reasons:

  • Politics can be a high pressure game with lots of money involved. The pressure from donors and supporters can push people in the wrong direction.
  • There are generally no consolation prizes for second place in Canadian/American politics. If you finish in 2nd place, you get nothing….so some candidates will do whatever it takes to avoid that from happening.
  • Some candidates convince themselves that the issues that they are believe about are so important that they can justify bending or breaking rules so that they can get elected to fight for their issues in Parliament/Legislature/Senate/House.
  • Candidates are placed in a bit of a Prisoner’s Dilemma. If their opponents stretch the rules while they don’t stretch the rules themselves, they can be at a distinct disadvantage.
  • The aura of power can attract people who may not necessarily be in politics for the best reasons. However, I believe that the overwhelming majority of people who enter politics are doing so out of principle rather than the sheer pursuit of power and self-promotion.
  • Party/ideological loyalty has created environments where political opponents are seen as the enemy rather than someone with a different (and legitimate) point of view.
  • Overzealous or unscrupulous campaign staff/volunteers can take unsanctioned actions.

What kinds of dirty tricks can happen throughout a campaign?

Dirty tricks are campaign short cuts. They are for lazy, desperate campaigns that have so little to offer that they have to bend/break rules to have success. Here are a sample of dirty tricks that we’ve seen in the past:

Is it dirty to run a “negative campaign”?

A negative campaign is one that focuses on differences in policy and legislative mistakes. As long as the debate is focused solely on policy, it is not dirty. As soon as it veers into the personal, it becomes dirty. Negative campaigns are not dirty but exclusively negative campaigns are not usually successful either. A campaign built solely around the policy shortcomings of the opposition isn’t a particularly inspiring message. Pointing out your disagreements with the opposition is ok but you have to explain what you, if elected, would do/have done differently and how your actions would make the lives of your voters better than it was before.

Why do clean campaigns matter?

Politics and politicians, in general, are not exactly held in high esteem by most people. In 2014, Darth Vader polled higher among Americans than all high ranking current American politicians. changeAntipathy and apathy are competing to be the predominant feeling towards politics. People were inspired by Obama’s message of change in 2008. Why? Because politics should be bigger than what they have become. Politics are debased by the actions of politicians who put power ahead of principle. Politicians are supposed to be representative of their constituents but people often don’t see themselves being well-represented in the behaviour of their political representation.

Every candidate who runs a campaign that sees rules and ethics as an impediment to success further cements the average person’s negative view about politics.

How can a campaign stay clean?

It has to start from the top down. The candidate needs to have an unwavering belief in the importance of running a clean campaign. There is no grey area – you will face significant challenges through the campaign that may tempt you to compromise your commitment to it.

A candidate has to be absolutely explicit with every single person on their team that dirty tricks are not absolutely forbidden on the campaign. The candidate needs complete buy-in from their Campaign Manager that they will run a clean campaign and that “wink wink, nudge nudges” and “plausible deniability” is not accepted on the campaign.

What if my opponents are running a dirty campaign?

Congratulations! Candidates generally run dirty campaigns when they are desperate and/or feel threatened. You are getting traction on your campaign. Be proud.

You can only control your campaign; you cannot control the actions of the other campaigns that are in the race. Dirty tactics are just as likely to blow up in the face of the campaign that is making them. Politics is not a zero sum game. When one candidate damages the prospects another candidate, there is no guarantee that it will end bad actor. It is just as likely turn off voters from considering the bad actor at all. In the end, nothing is more effective against a dirty campaign than a squeaky clean campaign.

Getting in the mud with the other campaigns only proves that you are no better than they are. Do the exact opposite of that: Respond by working even harder, by inspiring more voters, by being more creative, by building a better Get Out The Vote effort, by generally running a better campaign.

Do clean campaigns always win?

Sadly, no. If they did, there would be no such thing as a dirty campaign. Dirty campaigns don’t always win either.

By running a clean campaign, you can guarantee that you can give yourself is win or lose, that when the campaign is over, you never compromised your integrity as a person.

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holding hands

Keeping Your Significant Other Feeling Significant

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.

The Conversation

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.

Campaign Manager?

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!




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Going to the Political Vet

Every party does it. It’s not the most pleasant thing for anyone involved. It is intrusive and embarrassing but it is a necessary evil. I’m talking about getting vetted for the nomination for your party.

The term “vetting” is derived from the practice of bringing horses to a veterinarian to check their health. This is apt because the vetting process can feel rather dehumanizing. Basically, as a candidate, you will be baring your soul to people that you barely know and who could possibly veto your dream of running for office.

Why is this done? People have high expectations for their elected representatives and how they conduct themselves. As a candidate, you will face scrutiny about your character and behaviour. Essentially, when you run for office under the banner of a political party, you are signing up to be a member of a team. In many ways, your political fortunes are tied to theirs and vice versa. Any scandal that your behaviour causes could prove to be a drag on the success of your teammates and likewise any scandal caused by one of your teammates could vaporize your own dreams of winning an election.

What should you expect to face in a vetting process? You may have to face a criminal background check but you could also be asked questions about your financial dealings, past and present drug use, and personality. In the new era of social media, everything that you have posted on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and message boards could be also face scrutiny. Basically, your party is go to try to identify any possible issues that could be used against you and the party during the election as well as possible problems that could arise if you do get elected. The rigour of the vetting process varies from party to party.

Your opponents will likely be searching for any weakness that you may have so that they could use that against you at the most opportune time…for them. This is known as oppo research.

If your party can identify potential issues in advance, they can try to prepare responses that will protect you and mitigate the damage that could be done to the team. It is for this reason that my advice to any candidate is to be absolutely honest through the vetting process. Everyone makes mistakes and it is important to let your political party know what these mistakes are. There is no detail that is too minor. You are likely going to be talking to professionals who regularly deal with this process and who can decide what is easily manageable versus what is going to be problematic for a campaign to deal with. If you aren’t honest with them and your mistake comes to the surface, your party could feel ambushed with no response to mitigate the damages and they will likely disavow you as a candidate.

What if your party vetoes your candidacy based on what you say during the vetting process?

Without a doubt, it will be disappointing for you to have your candidacy disqualified. It may feel undemocratic and unfair. However, it is really important to realize that as embarrassing as the vetting process might have been for you personally, nothing is more embarrassing than having to deal with your mistake if it were to become public and not being able to have the protection of your party’s public relations support. The media scrutiny on you and your family will be incredibly unpleasant and it will inevitably submarine your campaign anyways. You also have to remember that you are on a team and you don’t want to hurt the chances of those who are running along side you.

Here are a couple of examples of how pre-election misdeeds impact a candidate’s election chances:

Dayleen Van Ryswyk was a BC NDP candidate in the 2013 British Columbia provincial election in a riding that wasn’t necessarily that the NDP had a remote chance of winning. It appeared that the BC NDP was going to cruise to a majority government but on April 16th, 2013, news circulated that Van Ryswyk had posted some grotesquely racist remarks on a message board several years prior and that, as a result, she had resigned as a candidate. The BC NDP weren’t aware of the postings and the leader of the party (Adrian Dix) was taken off-message to answer questions about Van Ryswyk’s candidacy and media coverage ignored the NDP message to focus on her comments.

Allan Hunsperger was a Wildrose Party candidate in the Alberta provincial election in 2012. He was running in a hunspergerriding where he had a reasonable chance of victory as the Wildrose was leading the provincial polls by a considerable margin. Eight days prior to the election, it was revealed that, a year prior, he had blogged that gays would “suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire”. Here is an article detailing his comments. Danielle Smith, the leader of the Wildrose Party, tried to distance herself and the party from Hunsperger’s comments but absolutely refused to ditch him as a candidate by claiming that they were his personal views and wouldn’t be legislated. Hunsperger’s comments and Smith’s response to them were seen of clear proof that the Wildrose should be a party that is kept away from government and voters subsequently stampeded away from the party on election day.

As a post script, Van Ryswyk ran as an Independent candidate in her riding and doubled down on her racist comments. She lost her riding by tens of thousands of votes and then, post election, she started a website that is full of racist apologism. Hunsperger also lost his riding and has disappeared into private life. In twenty years, if you search for “Van Ryswyk” or “Hunsperger”, you will always find a history of their misdeeds.

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Don’t do this…don’t ever do this

Don’t string together a bunch of nonsensical faux idioms and call it a speech. Substance is your friend.

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Staying Healthy During the Campaign

Running in an election campaign is a physically and emotionally draining experience. As a candidate, you are the crown jewel of the team and you need to take care of yourself. You have a team of people who rely upon you and getting put out of commission during the campaign is not an option!

Shaking Hands and Kissing Babies

The old cliché of shaking hands and kissing babies are both fantastic ways to get yourself sick during a campaign.

I would recommend that you try to avoid offering to shake hands with people. I know that it is probably controversial but as a candidate, you will meet thousands and thousands of people and every hand that you shake increases the likelihood of you getting sick. Of course, if someone offers their hand, refusing to shake it would be pretty rude. You will also meet a lot of children as you go from door to door. I like children as much as the next guy but, beyond their cute exterior, lies a virtual cesspool of illness. It is always tempting to get a picture of you holding a baby or a toddler for the campaign website but I’d recommend avoid holding babies and toddlers (unless they are yours of course!)…you don’t want to pick up whatever illness is brewing inside of them!

Keeping a little bottle of hand sanitizer in the inside pocket of your jacket and regularly using it would be a good way to reducing your possibility of getting sick.

Build Campaign Schedule Around Your Personal Routine Rather than Vice-Versa

It can be tempting to sacrifice your personal routines for a campaign. You may want to spend every waking hour on the campaign but this is a recipe for burnout. Campaigns really are marathons and you have to pace yourself. You need to make it to the finish line in one piece. Plus nobody will vote for a quivering mass of stress and fatigue.

If you need to go to the gym every day, ensure that you do so. Even if it is only for 30 minutes.

If you need 8 hours of sleep to function, ensure that you don’t sacrifice even one minute of sleep. If you are a coffee drinker, don’t quit. Nobody wants to deal with you without your coffee intake! However, to protect your sleep, you should front load your coffee consumption. Drink all of your coffee in the morning so that you can sleep at night.

Campaign Calories Are Real Calories

Donuts, cookies, pastries, and other foods that are devoid of nutritional value are everywhere on a campaign. Yes, as a candidate, as you go door to door canvassing you will be walking a lot but you need to watch how much you eat of this empty calorie laden food. You need nutrients to keep yourself healthy and functioning at full capacity throughout the campaign. You also want to be able to still fit into your suit at the end of the campaign.

Carbs are your friend as they will be the fuel that gets you through the day. Make sure that the majority of your carb intake comes from fruits and whole grains. The more complex the carbohydrate (ie brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, potatoes, beans) the longer the energy spike will last and the more satiated you will feel. Simple carbohydrates (like sugar and white bread) tend to spike your blood sugar quickly and then send it crashing back down to earth. This leads to a quick drop in energy and an increase in appetite.

Don’t Bring Your Campaign Home with You

Your family will be making huge sacrifices throughout the campaign. You will be away from them much more than usual and they may get dragged out into events that they don’t necessarily love. To minimize the impact on your family, don’t bring the stresses of the campaign home with you. Your family deserves to have you be fully present with them when you are at home with them. Avoid talking about the campaign with them unless they specifically ask questions about it and if you’ve had a bad day on the campaign trail, don’t take it out on your family. Being at home should be a chance for you to rest and recuperate. Your mind will need a break from the campaign and, ultimately, your family is far more important than any campaign.

Pre-schedule your important family activities into your campaign calendar.  You will regret missing your anniversary dinner or your son’s or daughter’s big hockey game.

If you have young children, try to get home early enough to say good night as they go to bed and maybe read them a book. Those moments are precious. If you need to go back to the campaign office, go back after they are fast asleep.

Talk to Somebody

There will be a lot of ups and downs on your campaign. As a candidate, it is hard to deal with all of the stress of a campaign while maintaining a happy face for all of the volunteers and voters. You will likely need an outlet that will allow you to vent and express your real emotions about the campaign. Sometimes a campaign volunteer or your campaign manager will make a monumentally boneheaded mistake and the last thing that you want to do is have an explosion on them in front of everyone. I’d recommend that you ask one of your most trusted friends to be your “campaign therapist”. Your campaign therapist will be the person who will listen to you as you get things off of your chest. If this person gives you campaign advice based on what you tell them, you should always bring that advice to your campaign manager.

Good luck and stay healthy!



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Control in a Campaign

A frequent issue during a campaign: who’s the boss? The answer is not Tony Danza and it is also not the candidate. The boss is the Campaign Manager.

As the candidate, you may think that you should be the boss. Without a doubt, you are the most important person on the campaign. However, you are too important to be the boss. You are the face and the voice of the campaign. Everything that you do that isn’t helping to spread your message is work that you should not be doing.

As a candidate, your job is to meet people and spread the word. I know that it is hard to cede control to anyone on your campaign. Ultimately it is your name on the ballot. However, you cannot afford to get bogged down in the nitty gritty of a campaign. You have hired a campaign manager and you need to trust them to do the work that you hired them to do. Let them shoulder the burden and take the stress off of you. The campaign needs you to be relaxed, well-rested, and focused on getting votes.

If you cannot trust your Campaign Manager, you should do two things: 1) Ask yourself if you are letting them do the job that they need to do without you questioning their decisions; 2) Ask yourself if you have hired the right person to be your boss. If you don’t believe that you can ever trust your Campaign Manager, you should immediately start the process to hire a new one.

If you have trouble letting your Campaign Manager do their job, nobody will be the right hire.

If you would like some advice on how to hire a Campaign Manager or how you can let the Campaign Manager that you have hired effectively do their job, send me an email at

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