Hints for influencing the politician knocking at your front door in Ontario

Full disclosure: I am a former member, former volunteer organizer, former paid campaign staff and former candidate of a political party. I also spent a short stint as a staffer working for a couple of provincial politicians. I am not going to say anything in this post to suggest who you should vote for, despite that history, but I am going to cast my ballot for that party in the upcoming Ontario election because of their performance in the last provincial parliament on autism issues.

With that out of the way…

Folks in the province of Ontario are blessed to have their 3rd election within the last year. Following municipal elections last fall and a federal election this spring, Ontario residents are in wonderful position of having our first regularly scheduled provincial election in our history. While the municipal elections are on a set date every four years now and there is federal legislation requiring elections on a set schedule, Ontarians have always been at the mercy of the premier’s whim or the provincial legislature defeating the government.

We’ve known for a while that the election is going to be October 6th, but some of us can be forgiven for thinking that the campaign has been underway for a while. Parties have been trying to spend money in the pre-writ period because there are no controls on how much they can spend. Once the writ is dropped, there are stiff regulations about how much money can be spent and how that cash is used.

In the past couple of decades, Canadian voters have watched as advocacy groups have spent money to influence voters. The federal and provincial governments have been able to legislate these 3rd party advocacy campaigns to a degree when the campaigns are once the writ has been dropped.

Many groups in the Ontario election period will be releasing report cards or the answers to surveys given to the candidates and the parties. It’s a safe way to make sure that they don’t run afoul of the legislation. Other groups will have money to spend to influence voters while being more circumspect than they would have been last up until Tuesday when the Lt. Governor of Ontario dissolved the legislature.

In keeping with what has become a common practice in recent elections, the Autism Ontario Coalition has a list of 10 questions to ask candidates in the Ontario election and it’s located here http://ontarioautismcoalition.com/content/view/271/1/ . They are very important issues that require some answers from any one wanting your vote in this province. Last week when I mused on twitter about writing my next post about the Ontario election, @BadgerPaddles recommending reading the questions.

A list of 10 questions, while useful, is not going to have a huge impact if a candidate or party worker shows up at your door.

First, a candidate is not guaranteed to show up at your door unless you live in a poll that did well for the party last time around or if the poll fits a profile that is likely to be a good poll this time around. A candidate who shows up in your poll has been told he or she needs to by the campaign staff. Some candidates are known for knocking on every door during a campaign. There aren’t many of those candidates around who can knock on 20,000 to 40,000 doors in a campaign.

Second, if a candidate does show up at your door, he or she will go with someone else who is likely responsible for keeping them on time and out of lengthy or difficult conversations. Once upon a time, candidates used to love trying to convert no’s or maybe’s into supporters on the doorstep. There just isn’t much time for candidates to do that any more. Every advocacy group wants an all-candidates meeting and campaigns want events to showcase their candidates to large numbers of people with the media close by. Think of all those crowds behind George Bush and the impact something like that has.

Third, most Ontario residents are more likely to get a phone call from a volunteer or paid staff. It’s simple logistics.

In short, you likely won’t get to ask a candidate any of those questions unless you live in the right poll and if you do live in the right poll, you won’t have time to ask more than a couple of questions.

Now, you could email those questions to your candidates, but the central campaign is already aware of that list and has likely already authorized the answers. All that you have done is given the campaign your email address and your candidate is none the wiser as to what your concerns are.

So, what to do if the candidate shows up?

Here are some suggestions about the tactics to use to try to turn the politician into an advocate by getting them to think about an issue probably very few of them are talking about on the campaign trail.

First, if you don’t know who to vote for or you don’t know where the candidate or party stand and the issues related to autism services in Ontario are important issues to you, tell them that. These folks are trying to attract more than just their core supporters.

Second, ask them if they know a family with a child on the spectrum. If they don’t and you happen to have an autistic child or other relative living with autism, tell them. You have just made the issue personal to them and given them a face to put to autism if they didn’t already know someone.

Third, ask them if they know that the wait list for IBI varies by region in the province. Chances are they don’t and you have now given them something that could be solvable. You could follow up with asking what specifically their party is going to do about it.

Fourth, if they are still at your front door, ask if they know how much a family has to pay for the Direct Funding Option (DFO) for IBI. Perhaps you could frame this as a question about why Ontario hasn’t increased the amount given to families to subsidize the DFO to keep pace with inflation.

There are a lot of very specific questions that can be asked if the politician shows up at your door. My suggestion, based on a little experience, is to make the issue personal as quickly as possible. Even the least interventionist politician knows that the levers of state can be used to help families and giving a face to the issue helps them to think about who they are helping.

As I mentioned, we are not likely to see a candidate on our doorsteps. These questions could work well on the phone or (if you have the time, energy or childcare available) at an all-candidates/town hall meeting. You could even tailor them for radio or tv phone-ins.

Here are the keys:

  • Be specific
  • Be concise
  • Make it personal
  • Keep emotions out of it
  • Ask them to get back to you with an answer so you can make a decision for casting your ballot
Half of the provinces in Canada are holding elections this fall. The keys could work well in any province but some of the questions I am suggesting may not be right for any province other than Ontario. If you have an adult-child on the spectrum, there are more relevant questions to consider asking, but you are still the face of autism when someone comes a-calling.
It’s a busy time of year and probably the last thing most parents of asd kids want to deal with is an election. Making time for a quick 2 or 3 minute conversation when the opportunity presents itself means you have influenced someone who could potentially be in the Cabinet and in a terrific position to advocate for autism services.



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