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 neighbourhood 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 neighbourhood, 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—sometimes I see a fifty-something guy fixing stuff outside, sometimes I see a thirty-something woman, and sometimes 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 be 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 the 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 displays 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 fact. 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 next to 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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16 Comments

  1. Lynn October 14, 2015 at 8:58 am

    Agreed – it is strange. We never put a sign on our lawn – partly because we are somewhat wishy-washy and uncommitted, but also because we live in an ultra conservative riding and the only other signs on our street are all conservative. I always feared we’d be lynched or something if I put out any other kind of sign.

    It does make me look sideways at our neighbours WITH signs, though. Clearly declaring their love of the convservatives? INTERESTING.

    Reply
    1. Zhu October 14, 2015 at 1:51 pm

      I feel so bad I can’t help but judging other neighbours who happen to have different political opinions. I mean, I dislike the Conservative party but I don’t think all their supporters are awful people. Yet, I can’t help but assuming… it’s bad!

      Reply
  2. Martin Penwald October 14, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    It seems that there are complicated rules to plant a sign in one’s yard. Moreover, I’ve heard that sometimes, partisans will plant a sign in your yard without asking permission, which is particularly rude.
    In order to be avoid the association with conservatives, you should hold a communist flag in your back when you come along the conservative HQ.

    Reply
    1. Zhu October 14, 2015 at 1:51 pm

      I’d rather fly the anarchist flag!

      Reply
      1. Martin Penwald October 14, 2015 at 2:09 pm

        As long as the conservatives fear for their life, it is all good.

        Reply
        1. Zhu October 14, 2015 at 7:56 pm

          I don’t think they are feeling super confident right now 🙂 I hope they aren’t, anyway!

          Reply
  3. Jeruen October 14, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    I noticed this in the USA as well. Perhaps it’s just another manifestation of the North American trend to overshare? Like, when you’re visiting your doctor, and while waiting you know the whole story of the secretary’s weekend?

    In the Philippines, during election time, there will also be plenty of signs on private lawns and houses. But for the most part, these are because the candidate went there and paid the homeowner to display his campaign ad. And perhaps they also got paid to vote the candidate as well.

    Reply
    1. Zhu October 14, 2015 at 7:56 pm

      Interesting theory. Do you find as well that Americans tend to overshare? I noticed it too, I was wondering if it was just me!

      Reply
  4. petite yaye October 14, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    Je trouverai ça vraiment bizarre d’afficher mes opinions sur ma pelouses, mais je suis la première à les revendiquer haut et fort quand elles me semblent justifiées. Ah zut, j’oubliais… rien de plus normal : I’m french !!!

    Reply
    1. Zhu October 15, 2015 at 7:32 pm

      Oui, je vis la même contradiction! Mais débattre, pour moi, ce n’est pas la même chose. On n’impose pas son choix on… en discute 😆

      Reply
  5. Holly October 14, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    Agreed, I have noticed this a lot everywhere also. I am not a big fan on the whole campaign poster in the garden either. I think that’s the conservative English person in me (although, believe me, that’s the only way that I am conservative). I guess it does generate discussion about politics and I think we need more of that.

    Reply
    1. Zhu October 15, 2015 at 7:32 pm

      English don’t do that either, do they?

      Reply
  6. Christiane November 1, 2015 at 9:53 am

    It’s funny because my neighborhood had very little campaign signs which i am grateful because they are such an eyesore !! In Ivory Coast, people discuss politics but never their preferences due to fear of backlash. In the States, people discuss it so freely and my old neighborhood had tons of signs on their lawns.

    I made the effort to know almost all of my neighbors in my neighborhood here because i don’t have my family around and sometimes i need a bit of help.

    Reply
    1. Zhu November 1, 2015 at 5:43 pm

      How is Ivory Coast doing these days? It is a bit more stable?

      Reply
      1. Christiane November 2, 2015 at 12:56 pm

        Ivory Coast is somewhat stable now. They just had presidential elections last weekend and it went well. The current president got reelected so hopefully he make more effort to bring Ivory Coast back to what it used to be, or maybe better than before.

        Reply
        1. Zhu November 2, 2015 at 1:31 pm

          The entire continent deserves so much better than civil wars and exploitation… I like hearing that a few countries are doing better. The young population has energy, ideas and Africa can bring so much to the world.

          Reply

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