British Columbia

These Canadians can't vote in U.S. elections, but they're campaigning for Bernie Sanders

Canadians may not be eligible to vote in the U.S. Democratic primaries, but that hasn’t stopped some from campaigning for Bernie Sanders — a candidate they believe is having an impact far beyond the United States.

Young Canadians have organized dozens of events to canvass American voters

Vancouver students Dawson Franks, left, and Emma Gunn, fourth from left, joined a group of Canadians travelling to Washington state to canvass for Bernie Sanders. (Submitted by Dawson Franks)

Canadians may not be eligible to vote in the U.S. Democratic primaries, but that hasn't stopped some from campaigning for Bernie Sanders — a candidate they believe has an impact far beyond the American border.

For months, young people on university campuses across Canada have gathered to call and text American voters in the hopes of convincing them to support Sanders as the 2020 Democratic nominee.

"I see this as really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, not just in American politics, but for left-wing politics around the world," said Vancouver student Quentin Rowe-Codner.

The 22-year-old Sanders supporter did some research and discovered foreigners are allowed to volunteer for any campaign.

UBC students Emma Gunn, second from left, and Dawson Franks, third from left, have been making calls to registered American voters for months to help the Bernie Sanders campaign. (Submitted by Emma Gunn)

"I decided to start making calls and texts and I found that to be good and rewarding," said Rowe-Codner. "But I started a little bit isolated just doing it on my own." 

'Bank-a-thons' for Bernie

Since the Iowa caucus in early February, the Simon Fraser University student has organized four "bank-a-thons" for students to get together and campaign.

Through the official Bernie Sanders campaign website, volunteers can access an automatic dialling and messaging system. They then get a batch of phone numbers for American voters and start making calls and sending texts.

SFU student and Bernie Sanders supporter Quentin Rowe-Codner sees this election as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for left-wing politics. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The main task for volunteers, Rowe-Codner says, is gathering information about who supports Sanders and who doesn't. If they are supporters, volunteers make sure they know where to vote and if there are any upcoming campaign rallies in their area.

Canadians and other non-U.S. citizens are prohibited from making financial contributions to campaigns in the United States. However, they are allowed to volunteer by canvassing for the candidate they support.

University of B.C. student Dawson Franks first got involved in January and spends two to three hours a week texting or calling registered voters in the United States.

The 20-year-old feels there aren't many Canadian examples of progressive politicians like Sanders and other Americans like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib.

Bernie Sanders supporters volunteer during a telephone banking event facilitated by SFU student Quentin Rowe-Codner in Vancouver. (Quentin Rowe-Codner)

"There is this underlying assumption that Canada is a more progressive country than the U.S.," he said. 

He believes that wouldn't be true if, for example, Sanders' Medicare for All plan were to be implemented because it proposes coverage beyond Canada's public health-care system for things like prescription drugs and dental care.

Fellow UBC student Emma Gunn, 20, wants the federal NDP to learn from the Sanders campaign for future elections.

"They need to learn that they can just move farther left because that's where the young people are," she said. 

All three students hope a successful Sanders campaign would set a precedent for progressive policies in Canada in regards to health care, student debt, and climate change.

However, they say the 2020 U.S. election has implications far beyond Canada. 

"Globally, we're really at a crossroads right now with politics with many impending things on the horizon such as climate change, such as widening inequality, such as the spread of disease and people not having proper health care," said Rowe-Codner. 

Tipping point for young people

While fears of foreign interference have been front of mind throughout the U.S. election cycle, the students don't see an ethical problem with their involvement in another country's democracy.

"It might be unethical to not get involved in the 2020 election and to use as much power and influence as you have from your own country," said Franks. "The implications of this 2020 election are incredible."

Michael Kang, an expert on campaign financing in the United States, doubts American voters would worry about Canadians getting involved in their election.

"In terms of the political sensitivity to any sort of foreign involvement, when it comes to Canadians versus Russians, it's quite different." said the professor at Chicago's Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.

Gunn says the success of the Bernie Sanders campaign feels like a tipping point for young people.

"We're seeing so many people coming out for climate justice and really wanting to see that progressive change being made," she said. "For me, at least, that would feel like better things are possible."