British Columbia

From door-knocking to digging up dirt: Behind the scenes of election campaigning

As candidates head out on the municipal election trail in the lead-up to Oct. 20, they're looking to capture votes any way they can — whether that's online or through old-school methods, campaign managers say.

While getting message out online is vital, old-school methods can make the difference, campaign managers say

There's no substitute for knocking on doors to capture people's vote, says former campaign manager Greg Wilson. 'You have to meet voters to make an impression,' he says. (Ken Tannenbaum/Shuttershock)

As candidates head out on the municipal election trail in the lead-up to Oct. 20, they're looking to capture votes any way they can — whether that's online or through old-school methods, campaign managers say.

And while digital campaigning is important, tried and tested techniques like door-knocking and meet-and-greets can make all the difference, says Greg Wilson, who has led more than 30 municipal, provincial and federal campaigns.

"In an era where you might see 40 per cent of the voters show up to vote, that one-on-one contact is probably the most effective way of getting a vote from a voter you don't know," Wilson said.

"You have to meet voters to make an impression."

Some of the campaigns Wilson has worked on include the NPA's campaign in 2005 and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson's Vision Vancouver campaign in 2008.

'You have to be on that screen'

For Zain Velji, a political strategist with Northweather and manager for Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi's re-election campaign last year, the key is to reach individuals in whatever way possible — whether that's through a coffee meetup or social media.

"Be in front of voters where their attention currently resides," said Velji, who is now running Alberta Premier Rachel Notley's re-election campaign.

For most people, he emphasized, that means online.

"Politics has to neatly fit into the life of a modern-day consumer," Velji told Stephen Quinn, host of CBC'sThe Early Edition.

"When everyone is spending multiple hours staring at one form of screen or another, if you want to win in politics and you want to be accessible — and, frankly, relevant — you have to be on that screen."

Digital campaign strategies are key but Canada's strict privacy laws and changes in campaign spending means that data gathering on voters is limited, says Greg Wilson.

Creating a negative narrative

Digging up dirt on opposition candidates to discredit them is one of the most misunderstood things about political campaigns, both former managers agree.

"People might be surprised to know that most of the negative stories that come out in the media during an election cycle are usually done by one side or another on a campaign," said Velji.

How and when that information is released makes all the difference.

"It's less about that isolated incident you may have found out about, but [more about] what is the story it tells about your opposition candidate," he said.

"A voter will not remember the isolated incident but they might remember the narrative that speaks to credibility and fitness for the job."

Wilson has two issues with the strategy.

New campaign spending limits have affected how much money is available to invest in background checks, he says — and focusing on the negative tends to drive voter turnout down overall rather than improving one party's vote share.

"Most people recognize that it's more important to be working on what you should be working on, getting your face and your voice into the heads of the voter," Wilson said.

The municipal election campaign period is officially underway across B.C. and, according to two former campaign managers, what goes on behind the scenes is far different than voters may imagine 12:11

With files from The Early Edition.

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