How is door-to-door canvassing done in Canada

We interviewed Brandon Reddy, a Canadian political data expert and campaign consultant who has worked on campaigns for over 10 years. We discussed Canadian politics, differences with the US, and how Qomon assisted with their door-knocking strategy.

Mar Cáceres
7 min read
How is door-to-door canvassing done in Canada

The Political Landscape in Canada

The Canadian political landscape is influenced by three factors: 1)- it is a Constitutional Monarchy, 2)- it uses the Westminster Parliamentary system of governance, and 3)- it is a federal system with powers distributed between the Federal Government and Provincial Governments. Canada's political administration has three different levels:

Federal (Government of Canada): Throughout Canada's history, only two parties have held power in one form or another: the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. Other parties have since been elected like the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Green Party of Canada, but have never held power. One regional party, Bloq Quebecois, who have become a mainstay in Parliament, was founded on the promise of an independent Quebec. In more recent years, however, they have become the voice for Quebec and Quebecois culture. They only run candidates in Quebec and reached their peak in the 1990s when they were the official opposition party (held the second most seats in parliament).

Provincial Governments: Each province has its own government and with it, its own parties. The NDP at the federal level is the same party at the provincial levels. Several parties have Liberal and Conservative parties but they aren't always associated, or even politically aligned, with their federal namesakes.

Municipal Government: Municipal governments aren't actually a recognized form of government in Canada's constitution. Instead they are an act of provincial legislatures (where they get their powers from). In each province, the governance structure of municipalities vary. Sometimes within a province, a larger city may have a specialized charter which gives it special powers that other cities do not have (examples of these include major cities like Toronto and Vancouver). There are some short-lived parties at the municipal level that rarely have associations with federal or provincial parties.

What is the Main Difference Regarding Political Campaigns with Respect to the US?

Though Canada and the US share not only a border but also certain key cultural values, the political systems are vastly different. This affects how campaigns operate and how they are managed.

One of the main differences would be money. In Canada, there are restrictions on who can donate and how much they can donate. To donate at the federal level and also in many provinces, there are strict residency and age rules where the person's identity must be verified. Donations are also made public and corporate donations are prohibited. In the United States, while the rules differ greatly from state to state, generally speaking American campaigns can accept donations from individuals, corporations, and even anonymous donors, often with few limitations. This leads into the next big difference: spending limits. In Canada, at each level of government there are formulas in place which limit how much a party, candidate, or third party advertiser may spend during the election period. This formula is often based on geography and population. The United States, by comparison, usually has very few spending limitations.

Another difference between the two neighbors is the type of data they have available. In Canada, campaigns are provided with a voter list that includes names and addresses. Phone numbers, email addresses and other pieces of information have to be either purchased or acquired organically. For the United States, it varies from state to state: some states will provide you with the name, address, date of birth, phone number, gender and race of a voter, whereas others may only provide you with the name and address. Data at the personal level is also more easily purchased through third party distributors, whereas in Canada there are certain privacy laws in place which prevent this practice.

Unlike in Canada where party affiliation differs from federal to provincial levels, the United States has a two party system which is aligned from the National level right down to the local municipal level.

Something that they do have in common is that campaigns throughout North America are beginning to build trust in grassroots advocacy and are realizing the power that individuals can hold. But another thing they share is how vital door knocking is for their campaigns.

Finally in Canada, provincial elections are governed by provincial laws, and federal laws are governed by federal laws. This is in stark contrast to the US, where state laws often dictate who is on the federal ballot and who can vote federally. By separating laws in Canada, this drastically reduces how much a province can interfere in a federal election, and vice versa.

Why Go Door Knocking to Reach your Voters?

According to Brandon, in Canada, how campaigns canvass has gone back and forth between door knocking and phone calling like a pendulum.

If we go back in time to the 1990s and early 2000s, the trend was to make phone calls to reach voters. At the time, phone directories made it very easy for individuals and political campaigns to contact voters. With the introduction of cell phones and associated privacy laws, it became difficult to reach voters by phone. Not to mention that campaigns could no longer trust the integrity of data they were collecting because people were more likely to lie on the phone. Phone banking alone was no longer a viable option. Resultantly, starting in the late 2000s and early 2010s, door knocking started to become the primary mode of contact again. Though it took volunteers more time, it proved to be more reliable.

“There are more accessible doors than phone numbers.”

With the Covid outbreak in 2020, lockdowns throughout the world and social distancing, canvassing became impossible. Despite this, political campaigns didn’t stop. To fill the need, campaigns began to focus more on calling, social media and emailing strategies. And now, two years after the first COVID-19 lockdown and returning to what we once called "normal," door knocking is starting to happen again. It's even making its way to Europe as more and more political parties adopt this form of mobilization. After more than 10 years of experience in the political field, Brandon states that “in a campaign you are flying blind if you are not canvassing. If you only use social media  and ads you won't really know where you stand”. 

“Canvassing definitely does help to win elections.”

How does Canada Feel about Door Knocking?

Door knocking has been happening in Canada for a while now, so citizens are used to getting canvassers at their door steps during the election period. Moreover, political parties have the legal right to go door knocking during election periods. 

“Door knocking is our bread and butter.”

Why Qomon for Canvassing?

“Out of all the other door knocking and canvassing apps available, Qomon is probably the easiest one for volunteers to learn and to use.”

“It is simple with big bold letters, some of our volunteers are older so, for them, they feel really comfortable using the app”. To help them integrate with the use of a mobile app in the field the campaign decided to organize their volunteers by teams, partnering older members with younger ones that had already downloaded and used the Qomon app. When it came to using the Qomon CRM as the main platform for managing all his voters, he said: “For me, on the back-end, pulling data or mobilizing our teams to go canvassing was super easy."

Originally, he considered using Qomon only as a door knocking app, but he soon realized that the product combined a lot of features that would be needed for the campaign, such as the database. It made more sense for him to have everything in one fully integrated place instead of using one platform for a CRM and another for canvassing. When it came to costing, his campaign manager said that "this (platform) is storing the most valuable part of our campaign: the data. So it's not an area where I want to be cheap.”

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