Since the beginning of the collapse in Canadian oil and gas prices, I have often asked myself, “how did we get here?”, and “what happened?”, and “why have prices stayed down for so long?”
While I have many theories, I really think a lot has to do with voter complacency. We haven’t demanded better. I’m not throwing stones; I’m as guilty as anyone for sitting back and crossing my fingers.
Canadians generally have their basic needs met (and more) without a second thought. If we’re cold, we turn up the heat. If we want to visit a friend, we gas up the car. If we want fresh fruit in January, we go to the grocery store and buy it. It seldom occurs to us that it won’t be there, much like it doesn’t often occur to us that our prosperity may not be there one day.
We’ve unquestioningly trusted our political leaders to make good decisions and enact policy, laws, rules and regulations for the good of the citizens. For the most part, they have come through for us, and all we had to do in return was vote.
Unfortunately, things have changed drastically for the Canadian energy sector in recent years, and its supporters can no longer sit back and be complacent. I believe that it is important for us to become politically engaged. I don’t mean watching the news regularly and liking politically-themed articles on social media. I mean getting active in a political campaign. With the upcoming Federal election there is a lot of opportunity to get involved in whatever capacity you can.
I was complacent for most of my life, but I recently decided that I should get involved, so I started by volunteering for a municipal campaign. Then a provincial campaign. Then a federal campaign. And it will continue from there.
It took me a long time to get involved because I didn’t know anyone politically connected and I don’t come from money, two things I thought were required to even become a volunteer for a political campaign.
It turns out that I could not be more wrong. Political campaigns require a lot of volunteer hours. Even the most data-driven, modern, well-run campaigns still require a lot of people-power. They need the connection and sense of community that a group of like-minded people bring. There is no substitution. A machine can never replace that.
I’d like to bring recognition to the people working behind-the-scenes of a campaign. Those who are not front-and-centre in a public position such as MLA, MP or councillor. It takes an army of people behind-the-scenes to run a successful campaign. Hours of volunteer time, all without expectation of any outcome, hopeful for a positive one, but really never knowing until the results of the vote are revealed.
If you’ve ever thought about getting involved in a campaign or supporting a candidate you know and respect because their values align with yours, I encourage you to so. I have made great friendships and have felt a sense of belonging among a community of strangers that I never expected. It’s a nice feeling, especially in a world where politics seems to cause a gargantuan divide.
Consider the success of Bernie Sander’s and his 2016 Presidential campaign. Even if you didn’t “Feel the Bern”, credit has to be given to his campaign’s effectiveness. It was truly a grassroots movement. He had an army of volunteers and small-sized donations, he had a unique ability to mobilize and engage citizens in a political effort, and he had organic, popular support from large groups of people. Engagement from everyday citizens had an impact on his success.
Volunteering with a candidate gives you the chance to conduct your own “job interview”. You get to decide if their qualifications, skills and values will make them a good “hire”. If you had been given the opportunity to interview the current Prime Minister, would you have hired him?
It’s very easy to get involved in a political campaign. All you have to do is find the candidate’s contact information on-line and reach out to them. Someone will get back to you, and you can discuss ways you can help. Alternatively, you can attend an event hosted by the candidate or go directly to the campaign office to meet with a team representative or candidate. Every campaign I have worked on has had senior volunteers who tell you what they need done, so you are never without direction or a sense of purpose.
Common general tasks include, but are not limited to: door knocking with the candidate, dropping literature in mail boxes within the riding or ward, social media and other advertising support, delivering and placing signs, and general office support. It isn’t always glamorous work, but it can be a lot of fun.
The other reason that I believe we need more citizens engaged in politics is that it is becoming difficult to find candidates to run. The negative rhetoric, the constant scrutiny by the media, and the absolute vile behaviour of online, faceless trolls is pushing quality people away from entering politics. This is especially true for women because we are generally not interested in the battle that often ensues, both when competing during an election and after that coveted spot is won. Some stats say that women have to be asked nine times to run before they will seriously considerate it.
Democracy thrives on choice, that’s why there is value in supporting a candidate who you believe in that may not be a front-runner. It doesn’t matter. Respectful competition among quality candidates is fundamental to successful democracy. There is value in diverse representation by capable candidates, so I encourage you to get involved in a political campaign. Or, if you are passionate about a cause, consider running as a candidate yourself.
Running a government is a complex job, and it’s even more difficult to do it well. But those people who have been entrusted with their elected positions have tremendous influence on each citizen’s day-to-day life and well-being. Let’s work together to encourage qualified, capable candidates to take on this monumental challenge. And when they win their seat, let’s support them to ensure their success for the good of all citizens.