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The Conservative Candidate HQ on Baseline, Ottawa, September 2015
The Conservative Candidate HQ on Baseline, Ottawa, September 2015

Every morning, after I drop Mark off at daycare, I walk briskly up Clyde Street, still half asleep and not yet caffeinated. Once I reach Baseline, I speed up. If I have to wait for the pedestrian signal to turn green before crossing to Merivale, I seethe with impatience. Afraid of being late? Nope. I’m a freelancer, remember? I don’t have to check in at 9 a.m.

It’s just that I don’t want to linger at this particular busy intersection.

See, this is where the campaign HQ of Abdul Abdi, the West-Nepean candidate, is located. The Conservative candidate. His staff went a bit overboard with campaign signs and covered the entire length of the metal fences along the sidewalk, twenty meters or so of dark conservative blue.

And every morning, I’m paranoid that some journalist reporting on the federal campaign will snap a candid shot of “supporters around the Conservative HQ” or “pedestrian walking by the Conservative candidate campaign office” and that I, the innocent passerby, will be featured in it.

That would be embarrassing.

Damn campaign signs. I hate them.

They changed the way I see our neighborhood as well.

We’ve been living in the same house since we adopted Ottawa as our HQ, back in 2002. We are in a newish lower middle-class residential neighborhood, a mix of semi-detached, single-family houses and townhouses. We all get along just fine, the Canadian way—we nod to each other on our way to the community mailbox, comment on cute babies and dogs, and occasionally mention how hot or cold it feels if we feel social that day.

I’m fine with cordial yet superficial neighbourhood relationships. It’s amazing how little I know about the people around us, come to think of it. For instance, the folks on the other side of the wall we share have always been a mystery to me, and I’m not talking about one family but a succession of tenants or owners over the past ten years. First, there was a couple—we realized they had had a baby the day they moved out. Then there was an old woman and her daughter—I don’t think I ever heard the sound of their voices. New people moved in last year, and I still have no clue who actually lives there—sometime I see a fifty-something guy fixing stuff outside, sometime I see a thirty-something woman, sometime it’s a whole gathering of people chatting in a language I don’t understand. I think they are South-East Asians, although the language they speak doesn’t sound like Tagalog.

Feng and I work from home and I walk to do errands, so we spend a lot of time in the neighbourhood. I try to keep my distance because I don’t want to get involved in social activities I can’t escape from (BBQ invitations, playdates, community meetings) or being asked for favours that are hard to decline. For instance, a neighbour down the street has been repeatedly asking me to “hang out” because she wants to brush off her French (and also, she doesn’t work and I think she is bored during the day). There is also the self-proclaimed “community leader” who always tries to get people to team up to [insert random activity that is usually scheduled at 8 a.m. on a Sunday].

To me, the best way to avoid neighbour drama and coexist peacefully is to be 50% neighbourly and 50% neutral and distant.

But each political campaign threatens the equilibrium.

Canadians don’t march the streets like French do. Instead, they use two of their prized possessions to express their personal opinions: their car and their front yard.

Bumper stickers are common here, and they reveal a lot about the driver—political opinions, stances on various social issues, work and academic affiliations and of course favourite sports teams.

Houses can “talk” as well. Well, at least, the signs planted in the front yard do. For instance, the family down the street “supports Canadian public radio”, and the one a bit further says “no to tar-sands pipelines”. One guy supports the public health system and another one the main government workers union.

Toward the end of the summer, campaign offices started to canvass communities, moving like pawns on a checkboard. They distributed signs, and now, almost every house display signs of support for a political candidate.

Too much information. To me, politics is to be debated in the media and with friends or family. I’d rather be in a non-partisan neighbourhood.

Now, when I walk around, I know that the grumpy guy at the corner of the street supports the Conservative (“no wonder!” I sniggered), that most Asian families seem to favour the NDP and that there is a cluster of Liberals around the Tim Hortons.

To me, endorsing candidates openly is kind of a “only in Canada” cultural facts. French may share their political views or debate when needed, but ultimately, the secret ballot is valued. They wouldn’t use yard signs, or else there would be trouble. Can you imagine a Front National supporter realizing he is living by a family endorsing the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire?

Yeah, it wouldn’t go down so well.

Maybe I should be grateful that in Canada, you can express an opinion and that everybody respects it.

I am voting, but our front yard and car will remain neutral.

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