It’s a rare candidate who makes national headlines for launching a nomination campaign to be a third-party candidate in a federal by-election, but Grant Gordon accomplished just that when he launched his Get Me on the Ballot campaign for the Liberal nomination in Jack Layton’s former riding, Toronto-Danforth.
The web-based campaign raised eyebrows for its tongue-in-cheek bid for supporters of other parties to join the Liberals to get him on the ballot, even if only to raise the quality of debate in a riding the New Democrats are widely expected to win.
Gordon’s no stranger to bold campaigns. As the owner of an ad agency that specializes in “branding the good guys” – environmental organizations and sustainable companies – Gordon created the Flick Off campaign and other successful ads.
But his frank assessment of his party’s odds in the by-election caught many by surprise.
“I just wanted to create a piece that reflected me,” he says of the ballot campaign. “I just wanted to put that out there in an ironic voice and sort of say, ‘Since it’s over, why not get me in there because I’ll be fun.’ I just wanted to be playful because that’s the way I am. That’s the way I talk.”
That tongue-in-cheek style has carried over to his by-election campaign. One of his pamphlets compares the federal Liberal and NDP track records by putting a list of Liberal accomplishments next to a blank orange field. His clever and unique marketing speaks to a discomfort with the traditional image of a political partisan.
“I never dreamed of becoming a politician. I’m not the guy who ran for student council in high school or university. The reason I’m running is I feel like I can make more of a contribution to change on the inside than I can on the outside,” he says.
His approach indicates the party has become less centralized, he says.
“The party really got walloped in the last election. It was disassembled and it’s getting put back together. They’re rebuilding from the ground up,” he says. “I am writing all my own campaign material. This is me running with the full support of the party, and they’re not putting words in my mouth.”
Gordon says the riding has been neglected and needs a community-minded MP who’ll advocate for small business.
“The small businesses are really struggling. When you start going into store after store and you ask, ‘How’s business?’ a lot of stores are saying it’s very difficult,” he says.
“I know what that’s like. I run a business and sometimes at the end of the year I have to write a cheque to my own company,” he says. “I think an MP can be an advocate for them. I want to see what I can do to help all of the BIAs in the riding, chamber of commerce. What can I do to help market this place to all the people who live here? There’s no buy-local campaign, and I think people who live in this riding should feel a compulsion to shop here and dine here as much as possible.”
Asked about what he’d do for the queer community, Gordon says he’d like to address the problem trans Canadians face with identifying their sex on passports. He thinks the Australian model, which allows a neutral option, is best. Gordon says the riding’s diversity, including its growing gay and lesbian community, is its key strength.
“I have an uncle who never came out, and he got HIV and he had a terrible death,” he says. “He was much older, from another generation where it wasn’t okay to be gay, and it had a profound effect on me. I just feel such regret that he wasn’t in a community that made him feel safe.
“I want my kids to grow up in a community that’s not just culturally diverse, but socially and economically diverse as well,” he says.