Sudbury

Democracy from 2 metres away: what the COVID election campaign looks like in Sudbury

In this federal election, campaign teams in northeastern Ontario are not only competing and strategizing against each other, but against COVID-19.

NDP and Liberal campaigns say volunteers need to be vaccinated, but not the Conservatives

Sudbury Conservative candidate Ian Symington says he's been busy putting up signs and knocking on doors, while keeping up masking and physical distancing. (Erik White/CBC )

In this federal election, campaign teams in northeastern Ontario are not only competing and strategizing against each other, but also against COVID-19. 

Some things have not changed: local party volunteers are still spending hours reaching out to voters by knocking on their doors.

But now they jump back two metres after ringing the door bell.

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"There are some people who talk to me through the door," says Sudbury Conservative candidate Ian Symington.

"I think it's the best way to connect with people so we're trying to do it as safely as possible."

Symington says his campaign is following strict masking, hand sanitizing and physical distancing rules. 

But volunteers and staff are not required to show proof of vaccination, because with the short 36-day campaign it would be "very hard to mandate that."

Symington, a doctor, says he has had both shots. But he says he doesn't have a medical opinion on whether or not this is a safe time to hold an election.

"We can't really change the election now, it's here. And I'm standing up because I want to make a change because now's the time. I can't just shrivel back and not do my job," he says.

Sudbury Liberal hopeful Viviane Lapointe says any volunteers working in her campaign office have to be double vaccinated against COVID-19, but they aren't asking them to show proof. (Erik White/CBC )

Sudbury Liberal Candidate Viviane Lapointe, a long-time health care executive, says it's "important" to her that voters are "confident" in their safety when interacting with Liberal campaign staff.

She says anyone wanting to work in the campaign office or knock on doors has to be "fully vaccinated," but is not required to show proof they've had the shots. 

"People are responding really well. They do want to talk to their candidate. They want to share what their main issues are, what their concerns are," she says. 

"They want to be heard and we're there to hear them."

Sudbury NDP candidate Nadia Verrelli's campaign is focusing more on calling voters during the early days of the race instead of knocking on doors in the middle of the COVID pandemic. (Sudbury NDP )

The New Democrat campaign looks very different in Sudbury at the start of this race to replace retiring Liberal MP Paul Lefebvre. 

Sudbury candidate Nadia Verrelli and Nickel Belt hopeful Andréane Chénier are sharing a campaign office and a campaign manager in Bill McBain.

He says while it's normally a hive of activity, there are only a handful of people working in the office this time and they all need to be double vaccinated.

McBain says volunteers who would normally be calling voters from the campaign office are now working from home.

With many expected to vote early and by mail in this election, he says they are trying to reach as many people as possible early on in the campaign, which has meant fewer volunteers going door-to-door.

"I'd like to say it's situation normal and on you go, but no it's a challenge," says McBain.

"Our prime concern is that people feel both engaged in the political process and they feel safe and are confident in their safety going forward."

All three major campaigns in Sudbury say they are avoiding large, live events this election.

There are several groups planning to host debates and all candidate meetings before the vote on Sept. 20, but the parties say they will closely examine the proposed COVID precautions before deciding whether or not to take part. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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