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Rex Murphy (Deborah Baic)
Rex Murphy (Deborah Baic)

Rex Murphy

Pity the parties' foot soldiers Add to ...

Cheered by the thought of another election? I didn't think so. Well, if you're not exuberant at the prospect, spare a thought for the foot soldiers of the business. The candidates.

The lads and lasses at the top of the politics game, the high-powered aides and consultants of the leaders, the fundraising mavens, the national campaign staff, the whitehairs and fixers of party backrooms - these have it easy. They make the call. They get to feel the shivers of importance as they draw up the campaign blueprints, get to go to really important meetings and burble on about the "ballot question" or the leader's tour - who gets to travel with Stephen or Michael or Jack.

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Some of them achieve the ultimate beatification of appearing on TV panels as "party strategists," or are invited onto the op-ed pages of the nation's newspapers, to kick the shins of their rivals and deliver the low blows that just wouldn't do coming out of the mouths of their leaders. They're on the speed dial of every consequential reporter's BlackBerry, have the best seats on the campaign jets, see the internal polls before everyone else, decide the campaign themes and write all the really important press releases.

It's a great adrenalin rush for this crowd and as thorough an ego-massage as the world affords, outside the courts of Hollywood A-listers or corporate tycoons.

But if you're not one of this crowd, and if you're not an acknowledged "star candidate," either, if you're just another candidate (how cruel that designation is) then, very probably, you're looking at this impending election with more reluctance and deeper exasperation than even the long-suffering electorate you will shortly be obliged to solicit.

Backbenchers and under-the-headline candidates are merely wallpaper when the real action starts, dots on the map of the central party's war room. They can barely get through to party headquarters once the writ is dropped, have less influence on the direction of the campaign than, say, the "communications director" of some second-tier cabinet minister.

They're given a campaign book, administered the requisite talking points, told to memorize the slogan, and get out and knock on all those doors. It can be, except for the sturdiest sensibilities, a very humbling and humiliating experience. Now a very few candidates, true eccentrics - what the biologists call "sports" - actually enjoy the marathon ordeal of campaigning. These are a set of hyper-extroverts, like the manic Fuller Brush salesmen of days gone by, who live for encounters with other people, regardless of whether the exchange is bitter or friendly, useful or pointless. They just like being out .

But spare a thought for all the sane rest. If we have this election, it's a fair bet most of the candidates who harassed you last year at this time are going to be harassing you again.

They know this. They also know - and they're right in their perception - you're not Christmas-eager to see them again. They know you threw away the banal pamphlets they handed you at the door as soon as they turned around to seek the next victim. They still see from last year the eyes that glazed over as soon as they started their stock pitch. They remember even more acutely all those doors that opened on bellicose voters who hated - hated, mind you - (a) their leader or (b) their parties' policies or (c) them, or, horror! (a), (b) and (c).

They also know if they have to go at it again this year that, really, they have nothing new to say. There isn't anything new to say. Essentially, this election, if we have it is one question: Do you like Michael Ignatieff or Stephen Harper? Voters may indeed stop and discuss with them subsection(c) of the third clause of the Accountability Act, and they will have to discuss that subsection with the voters who do. But the vote, when it comes, will have no reference whatsoever to that long, tedious, useless waste of both interlocutors' time.

The voters will be bristling. The candidates will be ranted at - rightly - but have to take it. They will be polite because they must be, even during the most aggravating provocations. Some of them will carelessly say things that will put the national campaign in a fit, and they will be stomped on by some stripling message-adviser on a conference call from Ottawa. They will swallow their pride, and go out the next day to knock on yet another set of indifferent-to-hostile doors.

Every now and then, however, some voter will smile and offer a cup of tea. Another will thank them for answering a letter or taking a call a month or a year ago, and say as well how much they helped. A couple of strangers will even volunteer, for all the right reasons, to work on their campaigns. And the sinking heart of the ordinary candidate-soldier will take life and lift from these few moments and press on, press on mightily.

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