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Three campaigns to influence election

Ann Rowan — August 1984

In Canada, the number of people dedicated to finding ways to promote disarmament (and questioning our government’s role, in the, search for peace) has grown from hundreds of activists to hundreds of thousands of people. The peace movement is now recognized as an important constituency by all the political parties, and the 1984 election is the first time that the peace movement can “exercise its muscle.” How is the peace movement intervening in the political process this year and wiIl its efforts be successful?

On the national level, three different campaigns have been organized with the objectives of increasing the importance of the peace and disarmament issue both in the mind of the voter and in the policies of the candidates However, specific tactics for achieving these objectives vary among the three campaigns.

The Peace Petition Caravan Campaign has been focusing on canvassing Canadians, on a riding-by-riding basis, in order to ascertain the proportion of the population who support what organizers consider to be a basic peace programme.

The Election Priorities Project, sponsored by the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, has concentrated on a process of educating and surveying the candidates on the issues of disarmament and development, and then publicizing the results of the survey.

“Canada for the Freeze,” sponsored by Operation Dismantle, is a phone bank campaign oriented towards pressuring candidates into supporting a nuclear freeze.

The Peace Petition Caravan Campaign was launched in March of this year and will end late in October. Since March, canvassers have been going door-to-door to ask residents to sign the petition if they agree to the demands of the Campaign. The demands are to stop cruise testing, to make Canada a NwFZ, to redirect government spending from the military to human needs programs, and to ratify these three demands by a free vote in Parliament.

Although the PPCC canvassing effort was not organized initially as an election-related campaign, the recent calI for an election has made the PPCC a valuable medium for peace movement involvement in the election. Canvassing efforts and tabulations are done on a riding basis, ensuring that the results of the canvass are “candidate-specific.” Each candidate’s stand on the issues can be challenged more effectively by referring to specific riding results than when nation-wide survey results are used.

The election strategy of the PPCC is being defined and implemented on the local level rather than being nationally directed. The local coalitions; organizations, and individual riding committees of the PPCC are in a better position than is the national office to define effective strategies. That is, a riding committee can evaluate the strengths and capabilities of its human resources; it can easily tabulate the number of signatures produced by the canvassing effort; and it is cognizant of the general mood and concerns of the riding as weIl as the local response to the Peace Petition.

The national PPCC is still scheduled to end on October 20 (when the signed petitions will be presented to the standing members of Parliament) but during the election period, the number of signatures coIlected within a riding can of course be used to encourage candidates to take a strong stand against the arms race. The canvassing effort is not only a method for raising the issue of peace in a personal manner, but it is also a way to generate interest and action among people who have been passive supporters of the peace movement.

The Canadian Council for International Cooperation, along with twelve other development and disarmament organizations, have initiated another non-partisan project caIled Election Priorities: An educational project on Peace and Development.

The process of educating candidates on the issues of develop.ment and disarmament will be accomplished. througn the distnbution of candidate packets, which contain a rather extensive and insightful analysis of the connection between these two issues.

The EPP is a national project but, as in the case of the PPCC, the real work will be done by riding committees who will present the EPP packet to the candidates, interview them and then will make these results public.

After the EPP riding committees are formed, discussions are initiated on the most effective strategy for implementing the EPP within the specific riding. Once this is decided, the riding committee sends the information packet to the various candidates and arranges an interview. During the interview the candidate will be asked to respond to the 13 questions of the EPP, though a candidate may choose to respond by mail.

To ensure that the candidates take the interview (and the EPP) seriously, riding committees will seek the endorsement of local organizations in the peace, development, church, labour and other communities. This is another point where the canvassing efforts of the PPCC might be helpful to groups participating in the EPP. The number of Peace Petition signatures can be reported to the candidate in order to substantiate the importance of the peace issue to his/her constituency.

The method of publicizing the results of the candidate surveys is left to the respective riding committees. The decision-making process is decentralized so as to all ow for the actions that best suit the resources of the group, and the characteristics of the riding.

Both the EPP and the PPCC are nation-wide campaigns with separate central organizations. However, at the local level (and specifically within the ridings), there have been some rather successful co-ordinated efforts. While PPCC canvassers concentrate on contacting the voters, the EPP people will concentrate on surveying the various candidates. The impact of the meetings with candidates will be strengthened by the results of the canvass done within their riding. Morever, the EPP and PPCC riding associations can draw on each other’s strengths, members and ideas for formulating riding strategies and organizing events. At least within Toronto, contacts have been made between the two campaigns, and planning is underway for joint projects, workshops and events (for example, in the Spadina riding a joint all-candidates meeting is being planned.)

However great the benefits of co-operation between EPP and PPCC, there are reasons for maintaining a certain degree of autonomy between the two campaigns. By far the most important of these reasons is that the political content differs. The three demands of the PPCC are included within the 13 questions raised by the EPP, but the EPP deals with development issues which are not dealt with by the PPCC, and for that reason the two campaigns are not synonymous. The canvassing effort of the PPCC is also different from the process of education used by the EPP.

“Canada for the Freeze” IS a recently initiated campaign that has as its goal the election of a new House of Commons within which 70-80% of all MPs, from all parties, are on record as supporting the freeze. (In the past, the Canadian government has voted against the freeze every time it has been raised in the United Nations.)

Operation Dismantle is organizing a phone bank that will survey the candidates of all parties in all ridings. Pressure on reluctant candidates. to support the freeze will come from organizing constituency contacts and media exposure. Organizers feel the nuclear freeze issue has the support of most Canadians, and that it will therefore be in the candidate’s interest to go on record as supporting the freeze.

This freeze campaign is different from the other two national campaigns both in structure and as to the scope of its focus. It focuses on extracting from candidates the support for the single issue of the nuclear freeze, rather than on the broader issues of peace and development contained in the other campaigns. In addition, organization of the Freeze campaign is much more centrally directed and implemented than either the PPCC or the EPP.

At this early stage, it is hard to evaluate how “Canada for the Freeze” will interact with the other campaigns, since there seem to be few mechanisms for interaction in the context of its campaign. However, any publicity or media generated by any peace campaign should benefit all three efforts by placing the peace issue more squarely in the public eye during the crucial election period.

The question of the probable success of these three campaigns must be divided into two parts. Will they be successful in the federal election of 1984? And will they be successful in the longer run (i.e. beyond the election)?

As long as the international situation remains relatively quiet until September 4, domestic economic problems and suggested solutions will probably be of primary concern to most Canadian voters. But the peace issue can be a deciding factor (and therefore an important issue) when the distinction between candidates 9n economic issues is slight.

During this election, the peace movement should continue to stress the fact that military spending creates fewer jobs than does spending in other fields, and that in times when government budgets should be there is a critical trade-off between military spending and spending on social programs. But it is unlikely that these arguments will capture the imagination of the Canadian voter this year.

There will be some ridings where these peace campaigns will be very effective and important. And there is a good chance that “Canada for the Freeze” can achieve its goal. But it is doubtful that the 1984 elections will produce a major victory for the Canadian peace movement.

More important!) to the organizers of these three campaigns is the long-term building of an effective peace movement. Though the majority of Canadians probably favour a programme of nuclear disarmament, it is a long step from majority public opinion to building a movement which is capable of reversing government policy.

This type of building requires a strong grassroots organization and support, which the PPCC and the EPP are fostering and mobilizing. The success of this type of effort cannot be totally evaluated in this election, but positive results should show up in future elections.

Considering the pace at which the peace movement in Canada has grown, we should be encouraged by the visibility of the peace issue in this election. The challenge is to keep our momentum going and to maintain the pressure on elected officials after the election.