He has been knocking on doors for years. He knows his pitch very well by now. As he approaches one of the doorsteps at Roxton Road, in Little Italy, he gently knocks on a door and patiently waits for someone to open the door.
“Hi there, I’m sorry to bother you,” he said. “My name is Mike Layton, I’m running to be your city councillor. I’m just coming by to say hello and see if there are any issues on your mind.”
Though he’s only 33, Layton comes from a family of politicians. That upbringing has given him plenty of experience with doorstep campaigns.
“I grew up with blisters on my knuckles from canvassing,” he said.
Before he became the representative for Ward 19, Layton knocked on doors for his father Jack Layton, his step-mother Olivia Chow, and former candidates Rosario Marchese, Peter Tabuns and Joe Pantalone. As a councillor for Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina and with a surname that resonates with most Torontonians, canvassing for re-election has become much easier.
“After being a councillor,” Layton said, “many people know what you’ve been doing or read your blog, and most of the times they are really interested in what you have to offer.”
For Lekan Olawoye, however, canvassing is a greater task. A first-time candidate, Olawoye has decided to challenge 14-year incumbent Frank Di Giorgio in Ward 12 York South-Weston.
“Some people think you are Jehovah Witness or they think you’re selling them something, and before you say anything they just close the door on you.”
Olawoye got into the race on Jan. 2, and went out canvassing for the first time only two days later. Sometimes, he said, his novice status helps him connect with the community.
“At the doors they say, ‘I’ve never heard of your name. … Tell me about yourself because we need new faces,’” Olawoye said.
Canvassing has been a fundamental political practice since even before Canada existed. Dr. Nelson Wiseman, professor and researcher of Canadian politics and elections at the University of Toronto, explained that door-to-door campaigns have become less and less important in federal and provincial elections. But they’re still effective at the municipal level.
“In federal and provincial elections people vote on the basis of party (more) than they do on the basis of the local candidate,” Wiseman said, “which they really can’t do in a municipal election, so the person is very important.”
Wiseman acknowledges that there is an advantage for the incumbent, whose face and name are recognizable.
“If you are an opponent, door-to-door can help you if you can cover enough doors,” Wiseman said. “Otherwise you are almost certain not to get elected because no one knows who you are. … If you are an incumbent, you still need to canvass or your supporters will start to doubt whether that candidate cares about them.”