As India follows every twist and turn of the Bihar assembly elections, allow me to share a snapshot from a parliamentary election that is almost the polar opposite of the frenzied tamasha that is an Indian campaign. Canada goes to the polls on 19 October, to decide if Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper will keep his job, or lose it to Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, or Thomas Mulcair, leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party. I’ll be voting here for the first time.
Back in India you can hardly escape being bombarded with entreaties for your vote; here, I was surprised to find that with just a week to go (less, since advance polling was held from 9-12 October), there were no signs of a campaign in our riding, as constituencies are called in Canada.
Each Vote Carries Same Weight
Hence I was much cheered when, over the weekend, former MP and Liberal candidate Rob Oliphant telephoned from the lobby of our apartment building, asking to be let in so he could canvass tenants who were voters. I buzzed him in and after a few minutes he was at our door, asking for my vote. We had a friendly chat during which I informed him that I was unhappy with his party’s pledge to reverse the Harper government’s decision to increase the amount one could save, or invest annually in a tax-free scheme. “Not going to apologise for that,” he replied, adding it only helped “the rich”. Now, I’m light years away from being “rich”, but I’m big on saving – and don’t like debt or deficits – and I’m all for being able to save and invest a little more, tax free. And if the rich can do it too, well, good for them.
We chatted amicably for a couple of more minutes, but he left with this zinger of a parting shot: “You know, John Carmichael (the sitting MP and a Conservative) would never come to a building like this one. He would think you weren’t rich enough.” Yes, we are indeed in a rental building surrounded by million-dollar homes, and we’re just a block from where a homeowner famously complained to a newspaper about new townhouses costing a mere half a million dollars coming up on her street. But this is a neighbourhood that’s the rough equivalent of Manhattan’s Upper East Side and we always wince while signing the rent cheque each month, even though of course we have chosen to live here.
I took a very dim view of Toronto Life magazine recently ranking this as the city’s top neighbourhood, seeing it as a harbinger of even higher rents. In any case, a vote from the humblest of abodes carries the exact same weight as one from a mansion, and this is a riding where the winning margin in the last election was just over 600.
- Canadian federal elections due on 19 October will be a test for the incumbent Conservative government
- A personalised campaign under way with candidates reaching out to every individual voter
- Canvassing in Canada very different from the mass rallies, full of rhetoric organised by political parties in India
- Thumb rule of the electoral process, which is each vote counts holds true be it Bihar or Brampton
Less Noise, More Debate
But now I was indignant. Was Oliphant right? Why hadn’t I met Carmichael yet? I shot off an email to the MP’s campaign office demanding to know if he was going to visit and ask for my vote. A staffer replied promptly – it turned out Carmichael had already come to the building a few days earlier but I wasn’t home – and offered to connect me with his candidate as soon as possible. Yeah, right, I said to myself although I was already mollified by their quick response. Today, Carmichael called me on my cellphone to ask for my vote and answer any questions I had. And that, I believe, will be the sum total of my election campaign experience before Canada elects its next government.
Yes, I miss the colour and noise of an Indian campaign, but there’s also a lot to be said for candidates who will take the trouble of calling back a voter or ask to be buzzed in to a building without a heavy handed entourage clearing the way. And for a campaign where you can actually discuss policy issues with a candidate instead of simply being at the receiving end of a speech heavy on rhetoric.
Then again, if it’s a lot quieter and much more personalised, than say, Bihar, take a look at the numbers: the entire population of Canada is under 36 million, only about a third of the population of Bihar alone. But one thing is still the same: be it Bihar or Brampton, a vote is precious, and as a voter, I intend to make it count.
(Indira Kannan is a senior journalist currently based in Toronto)