OTTAWA — Canada’s federal politicians are plunging into an election like no other as they attempt to spread their campaign messages without spreading COVID-19.
Many of the usual trappings of a vibrant campaign will be missing entirely or scaled back.
No kissing babies or hugging supporters. No pressing the flesh, other than the odd elbow bump. And no boisterous rallies with throngs of cheering supporters deliberately jam-packed into tiny rooms to foster the perception of unstoppable momentum.
All the parties are promising to strictly adhere to public health guidelines, which vary from province to province, to avoid endangering voters and campaign volunteers.
For the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois, that includes ensuring that all candidates are fully vaccinated before they start knocking on doors or attending community events.
“All aspects of our campaign will strictly adhere to public health guidance in every part of Canada — including our staff, candidates, and everyone who is involved in the campaign’s operations or travel,” says Liberal party spokesperson Braeden Caley.
That means “expecting that all candidates representing the Liberal Party will follow public health guidelines, which include getting vaccinated,” he adds.
The Conservatives have not said whether they’ll require candidates to be fully vaccinated. But on the issue of mandatory vaccinations in general, the party has said it encourages all Canadians to get jabbed, while supporting their right to make their own health choices.
“As we have at all our events to date, we’ll follow all local public health measures in the jurisdictions we’re in. We expect candidates to do the same in their respective jurisdictions,” says Conservative party spokesperson Cory Hann.
The Green party has said it’s not requiring candidates to reveal their vaccination status but is encouraging all of them to be fully vaccinated before starting to campaign.
The Bloc’s campaign chair, MP Yves Perron, says his party “will strive to apply sanitary measures to the letter in all of our activities, whether door-to-door or in gatherings.” That includes requiring everyone on the leader’s tour to be fully vaccinated.
“Each person who wants to re-board the campaign bus must also present proof of full vaccination,” he says.
The Liberals, NDP and Conservatives have followed suit, requiring everyone who boards their leader’s plane or bus to be fully vaccinated, with various methods of checking.
The parties say this requirement is to ensure their leaders and their entourages can travel in every province and territory without having to get tested or self-isolate upon arrival. Only four provinces and one territory — Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Yukon — have currently lifted all travel restrictions.
The parties are coy about other specific measures they’re planning but restrictions in place across the country mean they’ll have to drastically limit the size of indoor gatherings and, in many cases, insist that participants wear masks.
Consequently, rallies are expected to take place mostly outdoors, although even then the number of participants may have to be limited.
The parties will also likely conduct much of their campaigns virtually so that they can still reach a large number of voters without putting anyone at risk.
Indeed, the Conservatives have been using for months a specially built broadcast studio in Ottawa to showcase Leader Erin O’Toole and it will get more of a workout during the campaign.
“It gives the flexibility and capability to have Mr. O’Toole campaign extensively across the country, reaching tens of thousands of Canadians,” says Hann.
Most MPs and candidates have been on the hustings now for weeks in anticipation of Sunday’s election call so they’re fully aware of what’s in store.
“Every election is different. This is my seventh and this is certainly the most different,” says Liberal MP Mark Holland.
He’s found door-to-door canvassing in his Ontario riding of Ajax is harder now that he’s wearing a mask and stepping back at least two metres when someone opens their door.
“When you’re talking to people, they’re wearing a mask, you’re wearing a mask and so much of language I think is visual cues in the face. And so it’s a little less personal, it’s a little more difficult,” Holland says.
At the same time, he says it’s been “the most human canvassing I’ve ever done in my life” because people are so eager to share their stories about how the pandemic has impacted them.
Campaign offices are usually the busy hub of a local campaign, where dozens or even hundreds of volunteers plot strategy, conduct phone canvassing and get together before heading out to canvass in person. They’re a place where prospective supporters can drop in and where rallies are often held.
But this time, Holland says there’ll be a lot less socializing in his campaign office. For instance, canvassing and sign teams will meet outside before heading out to neighbourhoods
Rather than being the usual “centre for activity and community,” he says his campaign office is now a place for volunteers to “just kind of grab your stuff and go.”
Similarly, New Democrat MP Peter Julian says his campaign will be more decentralized, with a smaller central headquarters staffed by fewer people who’ll be maintaining social distance. A protected area at the entrance will allow drop-ins to safely pick up brochures or ask questions, without mixing with the office staff.
“It won’t be as friendly, where you kind of walk in and have a seat and you talk with people,” he acknowledges.
Julian’s volunteers will make phone calls from their homes. Other segments of the campaign team, like the lawn sign crew, will operate out of a number of private homes in various parts of his New Westminster-Burnaby riding.
Any rallies will be held out of doors and the number of participants restricted, Julian says.
“Does it make for the same campaign? Absolutely not.,” he says.
“In a normal campaign we reach out to tens of thousands of voters and we’ll continue to do that. We just have to modify ourselves to protect our volunteers and protect the voters.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 15, 2021.