OTTAWA — Whether he’s vibing to booty-shaking beats on TikTok, wandering an orange-spangled island oasis on Nintendo Switch or even staring down at crowds from a giant projection on the side of a building, the NDP want voters to see leader Jagmeet Singh’s face — a lot — over the next few days.
And every time he'll be accompanied by the same message: vote.
It’s one way parties are waging the uphill battle to get supporters to the polls at a time when experts say it will be harder than ever to get people to vote.
“I think every motivational, persuasive and other tactic possible will be employed, because the pandemic could be a major hurdle to getting people out to vote,” said Tim Powers, strategist and conservative commentator.
Fewer polling stations, long lines and concerns about gathering indoors with other voters could keep people at home on election day, according to strategists.
With Conservatives and Liberals neck and neck in the polls, the next government could be decided by the campaign that motivates their supporters to overcome those obstacles.
Traditional means of getting supporters to the polls are likely to be complicated by pandemic protocols, Powers said. Rather than chauffeuring supporters by bus to cast their vote, individual cars may have to be deployed and sanitized after each ride, for example.
The polling stations themselves are likely to be farther away, as schools and landlords opted out of hosting crowds of voters during the fourth wave of the pandemic. That means fewer places to vote and potentially longer lines.
Former NDP campaign adviser Brad Lavigne noticed people leaving the line at the advance poll where he cast his ballot after a long wait.
“You need to remove all the friction between them and the ballot box,” said Lavigne.
“You have to dig a little deeper as to what is standing in the way of them voting.”
That means leaning more heavily on modern means of reaching people, said Liberal strategist Jackie Choquette, who serves as executive vice-president of the Ontario Liberal party.
“It used to be that we would simply call people and knock on their doors and now you'll see the Liberals are doing things like sending out text messages, emails, posting on social media — any way they can to try and reach people where they are and remind them that it's election day,” Choquette said.
Parties also made an effort to encourage core supporters to vote early and saw an increased turnout of 5.8 million ballots cast at the advanced polls and a record 1.2 million people registering to vote by mail.
That should take the pressure off on election day, said NDP strategist Kathleen Monk.
“That’s really significant and then you start thinking about how much less work that has to get done on E-day. There's still a lot of work but less work,” said Monk.
For those voters that have yet to cast their ballot, parties are left to get creative.
The NDP have reached out to young voters on video games. Singh has chatted with them as he livestreams his games online or shared the NDP’s virtual island paradise on the popular "Animal Crossing" game.
On Wednesday night, Singh sat in a large black chair in front of a computer as a bright ring light in lit his face. The NDP leader, while nearly alone in an e-gaming studio in Vaughan, Ont., was chatting with a 3,000 people on his Twitch, an online gaming service. There were thousands more on other streams watching.
He spoke about why it’s important to vote as people told them about themselves online, tuning in from across Canada and even into the United States.
Strategists agree it’s all for naught unless parties can convince supporters that their vote matters.
“You heard the prime minister making the calls to progressive voters, to the NDP voting pool, to others saying ‘you don't want to waste your vote, you’ve got to get out and vote,’” Powers said.
“Erin O'Toole has been, in the last couple of days, really trying to get people beyond their frustration at the election being called to a motivation of going to vote and express that frustration.”
In the last few days of the campaign, he said to expect leaders and their teams to pull out all the stops to make sure voters make the extra effort on Monday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 16, 2021.
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press