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Campaigning during a pandemic comes with challenges, local federal candidates agree

Guelph's four major party candidates agree public safety is a top priority as they go door-to-door in search of votes
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As the canvassing for votes begins in Guelph, local major party candidates are campaigning a bit differently this time around as they navigate the complexities of speaking in-person with prospective voters during the fourth wave of COVID-19.

While each of the declared major party candidates – incumbent Liberal Lloyd Longfield, the Conservative Party's Ashish Sachan, New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate Aisha Jahangir and Green Party of Canada's Michelle Bowman – will be out canvassing door-to-door, along with staffers and volunteers doing the same, they all proclaimed the importance of taking precautions. Though they're certainly not all taking the same approach.

Jahangir, who is on her second campaign and works as a mental health nurse, said she wants to ensure her volunteers, canvassers, supporters and the public are safe.

“Obviously we are still in the midst of a pandemic, it is our fourth wave and that has been openly declared and understood. Taking that into consideration, obviously, we want to make sure our volunteers, our canvassers, our supporters and more importantly the public is still safe. So, obviously, we are going to continue having pandemic guidelines in place, such as masking and social distancing,” said Jahangir.

Longfield said the biggest thing for the Liberal Party is making sure every one of the staff and all volunteers are keeping their masks on for the safety of themselves and the general public.

The incumbent said he has transitioned some events over to Zoom and has been finding ways to connect virtually.

“The health and safety is going to be different, naturally. We’ve always had safe campaigns and we’ve done things around awareness of what happens at the door and not going into houses, personal safety has always been something we brief our volunteers on,” said Longfield. “Now we have to add to that wearing a mask and keeping physically distanced."

Michelle Bowman, the candidate for the Green Party of Canada, is an adjunct professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, said although this is her first time campaigning she has been involved in other campaigns.

She said her party will be checking for changes in health guidelines daily and be prepared to switch to a phone canvass if required.

"There are procedures, knocking and going back a few steps, and masks and hand sanitization, and if anyone is uncomfortable, just leaving," said Bowman.

Sachan, a veterinarian and toxicologist, said the current campaigning is different from 2019 when he was a candidate in the previous federal election.

“It is difficult sometimes with the mask, but I think considering the safety is extremely important for the team and people we are interacting with, so we are going along with all precautions possible following the health and safety guidelines,” said Sachan. “I must say it is a worthy cause to do something for the country."

When it comes to vaccinations, Jahangir said the NDP is strongly suggesting their staffers are vaccinated, with campaign manager David Josephy saying “anyone that is going out and meeting the voters must be vaccinated.”

The Liberals have taken a slightly different approach, saying they are not enforcing a vaccine mandate on staffers, but are recommending it and ensuring a stringent mask-wearing policy is in place.

“We recommend it, but, we can’t check whether they are vaccinated. If we required it, we would have to have a way to check – I guess we could go through their proof of vaccinations, but that isn’t part of our protocol,” said Longfield. “You don’t know the status of the people you’re visiting, and you really don’t know the status of the people you’re working with, so it’s just best to keep your mask on.”

The Green Party issued a similar statement when it comes to vaccinations, saying it is encouraging those who are eligible to get the jab to do so, however, it will not be enforcing a vaccination mandate for staffers and volunteers.

“I believe strongly that anyone that can get vaccinated should do so – it protects immunocompromised people, children under 12, and those for whom vaccines are not recommended,” said Bowman. “It's also important in preventing further COVID waves from occurring and preventing new COVID strains from spreading globally.”

The Conservative Party will also leave the decision of vaccinations up to the individual, with the party straying away from mandatory vaccinations for staff, although officials said they will confirm the vaccination status with all staffers and volunteers

“Everyone is vaccinated on our team, and we will still follow social distancing guidelines and masking guidelines," said Sachan. “We are doing everything possible to campaign safely so that our teams are safe and the people we interact with, the citizens, are safe.”

When asked if this was the right time to call an election, Jahangir said undoubtedly no, and voiced her frustration with the Liberal government for calling a snap election.

“There is enough polling that has been done, and the general public are very unhappy that Justin Trudeau has called a snap election in the midst of a pandemic. The government should be going back to the house and doing the work that they were doing, and continue working alongside the other counterparts in the minority government situation,” said Jahangir.

On the flip-side, Longfield said he was relieved the election was called when it was.

“I’m working on the business recovery and community recovery, when it comes into the fall there is a lot of work to be done. If there was an election in the middle of the fall, it would have taken away from some of that work that we have to do,” said Longfield. “Having an election and a campaign through part of the summertime and into the early fall hopefully isn’t going to interrupt the work that needs to be done going forward.”

Similar to the NDP, Bowman said the Green Party believes this was not the right time to call an election, however, there could be a benefit to a change in leadership at the federal level.

“I definitely, definitely wouldn't have called an election during a pandemic. I think it is an irresponsible thing to do,” said Bowman. “That said, the positive side of calling one is that the current government is not doing nearly enough to respond to the climate emergency.”

As for Sachan, he agreed with the two other party candidates in saying this was not the right time for an election and instead it should have waited until COVID recovery efforts were over.

“Of course it is not the right time, we are in a state of recovery,” said Sachan. “I think it hurts our democracy to some extent because it does not allow us to interact with our citizens of Guelph.”