By Takara Small
It’s 9:30 p.m. and Johan Boyden is running through traffic at the intersection of Broadview and Danforth. He’s just come back from giving a speech on democracy at University of Toronto and he’s late for our interview. He doesn’t wait for the light to turn green. An irate driver honks his horn, gives him the finger and curses. Boyden ignores him and jogs the last couple of steps to the sidewalk.
When he arrives, his glasses are slightly off centre and his backpack is falling off his shoulders. All day he’s been knocking on doors in the Toronto-Centre riding trying to get people to notice him.
But getting noticed isn’t easy. Boyden, 27, is a member of the Communist Party of Canada, one of a handful of fringe parties that most media outlets are ignoring. “We have to fight to get in,” Boyden says. “People want the information, want democracy but it’s still a struggle for us to be heard.”
The Communists aren’t the only ones in obscurity. The Canadian Action Party, Marijuana Party and Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party are all fighting to get their message out. Since most voters are turned off by the unfamiliar and these parties have little money to campaign, it’s hard for a candidate to win any votes let alone a seat.
For Liz White, head of the Animal Alliance Environment Voters party, each vote helps pay for every poster and pamphlet she hands out. Every vote she’ll get in this election will earn her party $1.95 from Elections Canada. Every cent keeps their campaign afloat and out of bankruptcy. But it’s a campaign she realizes her party is unlikely to win. Even with $1.95 per vote, 3,000 votes only adds up to about $6,000. This is barely enough to pay for one national TV advertisement.
Instead, White has to pound the pavement to get her message out. Every night between 4 and 8 p.m., she walks the streets of downtown Toronto knocking on doors. She shakes hands with mothers, fathers, teenagers and the elderly house after house.
The environment and animals need protection she tells them. She wants consequences for corporations that pollute the air and land.
After an hour, her hands start to tingle from the cold. She doesn’t own a car so she’s forced to walk in order to keep warm. She speaks with bitterness, her demeanour dead serious. “Bob Rae won by a landslide last time,” she says. “He’s gonna win this thing without knocking on one door.”
White targets students in particular, arguing that the Harper government doesn’t have their interests in mind and that, if they complain about it, they have a duty to vote against it.
“You get what you deserve,” she says with a stern look. “I wish it wasn’t true, but it is. If people don’t vote for change then they can’t complain.”
Connie Vogel, leader of the Canadian Action Party, is also proposing change. Her party’s mission is to move Canada out of the United States’s orbit and withdraw from NATO and NORAD. “People need to get active in the fight for a free Canada,” she says. “People can either stick their head in the sand or cut their throat because problems won’t disappear on their own.”
Not everyone shares the passion of the fringe parties.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t vote for them,” says Olivia Mauceri, 19, a second year fashion communication student. “I don’t think they take politics seriously. I don’t really think voting for them would make any difference.”
Blair Longley, the leader of the Marijuana Party, agrees. Despite putting in long hours and losing sleep — he is often the only one answering telephones at party headquarters — he acknowledges it could all be for nothing.
“The system is so fundamentally fucked, that it’s gonna make no difference if they vote,” he says.
The snap election has drained the party’s already meagre resources. That means longer nights and less sleep for the same pay. The party is under such financial distress that it couldn’t afford to run a candidate in each Toronto riding this year. Toronto-Centre is just one of the ridings without a Marijuana candidate October 14th. “We couldn’t pay all the candidates this year. Every other time we’ve been able to do it,” he says. “All the smaller parties are having a hard time, it’s a vertical cliff not an even playing field we’re on these days.”
The time has taken its toll on him. He’s starting to feel burned out. “After this election I’ll have to find something else to do,” he says. “I’ll have to get some other job.”
So why do it? What motivates people so defeated and disenchanted to keep fighting an election they have no hope of winning?
White thinks that, if she gets enough votes in the upcoming election, maybe the major parties will take notice and follow suit with similar policies. Longley’s reasons are less pragmatic. “I do this because I can’t complain if I do nothing,” he says with a sigh.
Boyden doesn’t share White’s bitterness or Longley’s resignation. “I always just hope to get more votes than spoiled ballots,” he laughs. He drinks the red wine that’s left in his glass. As he heads to pay his tab, the corner of yesterday’s Toronto Star peeks out of his black backpack. A headline reads: A little problem with capitalism. Boyden isn’t the only one that sees something wrong with the way things are.
A teenager at the opposite table smirks at Boyden’s dishevelled appearance and whispers something to his friend. They both laugh out loud as he walks by the table. For the second time tonight Boyden shuts out the distraction.