The morning after. Most of us did not expect these results. But it is done – and that is it. The people voted and they sent a message – a message primarily to the NDP – but the ripple effect was also felt by Conservative supporters across the country.
In Willowdale, our MP CS Leung lost – but he received twice as many votes as he did in 2011 when he won. And those votes came from a diverse group that included many of our people in the new riding boundary. This does not lessen our disappointment – but at least the dynamite leadership of Mitch Flagg, the team’s volunteer/canvass co-ordinator brought some positive results.
I am going to share my own experiences volunteering on the campaign at two levels – nationally and specifically in Willowdale. Along the way I met some totally fabulous politicos – a lawyer, a judge, a Senator, a developer, a pharmacist and a stay at home Mom.
As you know from my earlier blogs, I wrote an Am Yisroel Chai letter that was used across Canada wherever there were Jewish voters. It wasn’t official – just some friends outside Ontario, specifically in the East, asked for a message they could forward to their own friends and acquaintances. I was happy to do it and was so excited when I was told that two Jewish voters from Nfld had responded.
I was also asked to chat with some campaign managers from 4 different ridings around the GTA. I met some very skilled and very young campaign staff who no doubt will be part of an “old boy’s network” in the years to come. One of them was a charming and brilliant woman. I am sure she will be successful in whatever she does.
And I was invited to many of the PM’s private receptions. I loved that. Meet and greet and a glass of wine and some snacks. It is also fun to watch the RCMP watch all of us and protect the PM.
And now to our Russian connection. What a hoot! They were all a part of a former riding that was now part of Willowdale – so when this election was called, we had already been working with key volunteers “Anna, and Vlad” trying to organize them for MP CS Leung. Many of the new voters lived in 4 apartment buildings on Bathurst St.
“Wait!?” they often yelled as we tried to explain the new boundaries. “Where is Adler? This new guy is Chinese”.
Cute – now – but back then, how to handle it? Luckily CS Leung’s father was one of those humanitarians involved in the “Miracle of Shanghai” back in the 40’s when 20,000 Jews managed to escape from the Nazis. Mr. Leung helped them to integrate into Shanghai life and many descendants are still there.
So we ran off 10,000 Russian copies of the Shalom newspaper story about it written by Doris Epstein. It certainly helped.
And then the four days of advanced polls arrived and luckily we were able to get vans driven by volunteers to take them to vote.
I have to tell you that some of the scenes were hysterical. Remember, most of those in the new riding (Bathurst/ Steeles area) were Seniors. And female. One group wanted to be picked up at 11:15 sharp! There were 14 women…and one man. And they spoke Russian. And they yelled. And they had walkers. And the lone male? Silent for a while. Then he blasted everyone – all in Russian.
And the volunteer drivers? One Armenian, one Korean and one Persian. And there I was standing next to “Anna” as she gave orders, instructions, requests and somehow got everyone into a van with their walkers.
And then we got to the advance poll. Elections Canada really needs to revisit its operations. The poll was located at Goulding community Centre – right near the heart of the Russian Jewish community. Inside were 3 officials – one looked 12 years old and had an i-phone attached to his ear or maybe his brain. The other official could barely speak English. The third one yelled out, “okay all you people, get into a single line”.
The proper I.D. required is clearly outlined in the material sent to all the voters in Canada. Only one of the ladies did not have the right I.D. But the regulations allow a neighbour to “swear an affidavit” as to the voter’s residency. Should be easy, right? After all, it was her next door neighbour right there with her.
One hour and ten minutes later, we were still in the polling station as the Elections Canada staffer tried to understand the English that I was speaking to him – never mind those trying to vote. Then I really got mad!
Ten minutes later an executive member of Elections Canada was standing in front of me.
“Do I look like a nutbar?” I asked her. “No, Mrs. Starr,” she replied. “Hardly”.
“Then you explain to me how you people staff these polling stations,” I asked in a very quiet voice.
“This riding is primarily ethnic”, I continued. “Clearly the majority would be Russians and of the Jewish faith, and yet you have staffed it with three idiots. One can’t speak English, the other is constantly in the washroom, and the third has an i-phone attached to his ear and keeps ordering these elderly people to get in a single line”.
Five minutes later the only Russian lady without a picture I.D. was approved and allowed to vote. As we were leaving, the Elections Canada executive was at the door.
“In another time and place, in my former life, I would have made a major issue out of this” I said to her. “One might think that you deliberately made it more difficult for certain Ethnics to vote, especially when they are known to be Conservative supporters”.
“Thanks for not doing that” she said, with a smile. “We will make some changes”.
I hope they did – and at other polling stations as well. What a disaster bureaucracies can make out of circumstances that are simply a matter of common sense. Oh well, I’m not giving advice any more.
Election Day was something else. After the advanced polls sent in their data, we knew which supporters had voted. The next step was to get the others out to vote. Some had taken a sign or had responded positively to our telephone calls so we needed to make sure they got out to vote. There is only one effective way to do this. Knock on doors – or make another telephone call.
But in today’s reality, most people have i-phones or blackberries, or whatever. I of course, have a cell phone and a home telephone number. And so do most of the people reached this way and they are over fifty. And the computer lists only showed home numbers along with condo #’s.
So teams of volunteers spanned out around the riding – knocking on doors and primarily canvassing in the condos. By 2:00 p.m. we were very optimistic at the responses of those who said, “yes, we will be voting for sure for Mr Leung”.
By 4:00 p.m. another team of canvassers was sent out with the same task – get out the vote!
As well, scrutineers selected by each political party are supposed to be in each polling station to make sure the counting of the ballots is done “fair and square”. But this year the polls closed at 9:30 p.m. This meant no one would be done until at least 10:30 p.m. Very late – but – those were the rules so we needed volunteers to do it. Not easy. Not 100% successful.
The campaign office was the hub – located on the second floor so the pounding footsteps up and down the stairs were always welcome. By 6:00 p.m. the last group of GOTV (GetOutTheVote) canvassers took off.
I was in the campaign headquarters most of the time especially in the last 3 weeks – making phone calls and following up on requests for rides to the polls and volunteers. I had decided when I first volunteered for John Carmichael in 2008 that I would stay “under the radar”. No need to have my “infamy” become a part of any campaign.
It worked out and I was able to accomplish lots of goodies with my lowered telephone voice that began, “Hi, my name is Patricia, and I’m a volunteer for PM Harper” and on I would go with the message or the “ask”.
By 6:30 p.m. several people I had never seen before arrived at the office. “Who are these guys?” I whispered to the campaign chair. “Just freeloaders” was his succinct response. Apparently lots of people show up to different campaign headquarters on election night knowing goodies will be served in anticipation of a victory – especially beer and wine.
By 7:00 p.m. the first results came from Atlantic Canada (10:00 pm EST).
33 seats for the Liberals. It was over. Whatever happened to all those letters sent out East? I guess their votes weren’t enough.
Then those with tabs all started typing at once. Many people just stopped talking. I am so unskilled at the tech stuff that I was like an appendage on Mitch’s arm as he tapped and got info and fed it to me. I continued to be hopeful until the last minute.
The freeloaders kept eating and drinking – the rest of us stood together – wanting to hug and encourage Chungsen Leung who continued to keep his wonderful smile front and centre.
There was no softening of our disappointment – our sadness – and our anger. Of course, everyone had a critique of the Conservative strategy – too long a campaign – gave the Liberals a chance to fix up their message – allowed the Toronto Star and CBC to inundate the public with selective excerpts – Hazel McCallion, herself a queen of corruption allegations, pontificating – sort of like Gagnier’s rationale. Next will come Algahabra and his documented attacks on Israel along with whoever else has been hiding with him in Mississauga. And we can only anticipate Alexandre (Sasha) Trudeau’s upcoming documentaries supporting Iran.
But, that is politics. And reality. We did our best. We gave 150%. We were a great team – we had fun, we had laughs, we had good wine, we shared ideas and most important – we shared loyalty – to each other and to our candidate.
Despite our best intentions, life moves on. We will all try to keep in touch – to some extent we will. But it will never be the same.
Chungsen, you served Willowdale honourably and loyally for four years. Your constituents know that you have been an outstanding representative for us and the government. We will miss you.
Prime Minister Harper – it has been an honour being a part of your team. As a Jewish grandmother, you have given me comfort and security, especially for my little grandkiddies. You have stood up for Israel and the Jewish community as no other Prime Minister of Canada has ever done. Thank you.
I’m tired out. Golf season is over. Bridge season is back. And the golf girls are having lunch tomorrow. They are going to be particularly sweet to me – for five minutes – to express their commiseration for my disappointment.
I will be back.