Volunteers power candidates’ campaigns to election day

The two campaigners walk up to the residence and knock on the front door in Ward 26. When the knock is answered, the Don Valley West candidate swings into action.

“Hi, I’m Ishrath Velshi,” she says, “and I’m looking for your support.”

When the exchange between candidate Velshi and the resident ends, it’s Javed Akbar’s turn. With a clipboard and bundles of brochures in hand, Akbar notes whether the resident supports Velshi or not.

By day, Akbar goes to high school. But after hours he volunteers his time to the Velshi campaign. This way, he said, he can clock his mandatory volunteering hours.

Glenn Gustafson, campaign manager for Ward 28 incumbent Pamela McConnell, said that volunteers are serving the hundreds of candidates running in the Oct. 27 election, and mostly for free.

“Volunteers are the lifeblood of any election campaign. I mean, it’s impossible for a candidate to knock on every door and speak to every voter,” he said.

Paul McKeown, Ishrath Velshi’s campaign manager, has volunteers out delivering literature and canvassing, but all that changed on Oct. 2.

“Once the city opens the sign campaign on the second of October, we’ll have a whole team out throughout the ward installing signs,” McKeown said.

Gustafson added that volunteers can sometimes work in close contact with constituents, knocking on doors and on the phones.

“They’ll also bring the feedback that they get on the doorstep to the campaign, so that the campaign has a sense of what’s going on,” he said.

The impetus for volunteering varies. Mehboob Tejanji is retired and wants to get involved in the community to bring about change.

“I was in Canada until ’95 for 20 years. And then went overseas. And just got back three years ago. So I’m kind of feeling my way into the community,” Tejanji said. “I want somebody in our councillor’s role who can make a difference.”

Tejannji’s volunteer work includes co-ordinating flyer deliveries, students and volunteers in the Concord and Wynford areas.

“And then, in our discussions, if I have something constructive to make and input, I do that,” he said.

Gustafson said that some people join campaigns because they have a personal connection to the candidate, or they receive a call or read a leaflet. Tejanji said he knew Velshi for many years and decided to join her campaign.

Paul McKeown said the Velshi campaign will have “in excess of 200” volunteers, while Gustafson, working with the McConnell campaign, said they have “only a handful” now, but their ranks will grow as election day draws nearer.