Campaigning against the grain

Student implores Calgary West to vote out Tory politician

Josh Kertzer, ArtSci ’06, is campaigning to unseat Calgary MP Rob Anders.
Josh Kertzer, ArtSci ’06, is campaigning to unseat Calgary MP Rob Anders.
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Like many young people across the country, Joshua Kertzer, ArtSci ’06, is unhappy with politics in Canada. Unlike most, however, the 21-year-old political studies student has taken his dissatisfaction in an unexpected direction.

Kertzer, a Calgary native in his final year at Queen’s, has teamed up with fellow Calgarian and University of Toronto law student Erin Runnals in a second attempt to prevent the re-election of Conservative MP Rob Anders in the riding of Calgary West.

Kertzer and Runnals first ran their “Vote out Anders” campaign in the 2004 federal election.

“Basically, I knew of Rob Anders’ record, what with the Mandela incident and his stance on gay marriage, among other things,” Kertzer said.

Anders has represented Calgary West, first as a member of the now-defunct Reform Party and later with the Conservatives, since 1997.

In 2001, Anders caused a controversy when he referred to Nelson Mandela as a “communist and a terrorist” after the Canadian government granted the anti-apartheid leader with honorary citizenship. Since the incident, Anders has been a backbench MP in the House of Commons.

Kertzer cited Anders’ lack of parliamentary clout as another reason not to re-elect the MP.

“Even if you agree with his views, the Conservatives are trying to paint themselves as moderate, and you can’t look moderate if you have people like Rob Anders standing up and speaking their minds,” he said. “At the end of the day, he won’t be advocating anyone’s views because he’s not being given the chance to speak for the party.”

Kertzer’s opinion still faces opposition from some Calgary West voters, one of whom, who asked she remain anonymous because of her affiliation with the Conservative party, said she’ll vote for Anders solely because he won’t be allowed to speak up.

“Most of the people in the community are embarrassed that Rob is our candidate, but running as a Conservative, he’s unbeatable,” she said. “I’m a Conservative, but I hate the idea of voting for that guy.

“I seriously debated defacing my ballot, but now that the Conservatives stand a chance, I’ll vote for Anders,” she said. “I’ve never seen him having any influence, and I want the Conservatives in power.

“He is very confident, and he’ll win by a landslide.” Despite the likelihood that Anders will be re-elected, Kertzer said that the “Vote Out Anders” campaign had more far-reaching goals.

“We wanted to show people why they should get involved in the political process and talk to candidates,” he said.

The 2004 “Vote out Anders” campaign included lawn signs, flyers and an “All-Party Block Party” for constituents to meet with candidates, Anders was invited, but declined to attend, Kertzer said.

Kertzer credits the campaign with inciting more political interest and activity among citizens.

“Voter turnout in the riding ended up being 68.5 per cent, which was the highest in Alberta and one of the highest in the country,” he said. “The website [voteoutanders.com] got around 350,000 hits in June, which was pretty impressive because there were 100,000 people in the riding.” While Kertzer said much of the reaction was positive, the campaign also recieved a barrage of negative emails, calling the group of around twenty volunteers everything from “totally absurd” to “animal activists and tree huggers.” Kertzer said he chose to organize a web-based campaign because he thought it would spread his message more effectively.

“Now, with the development of the Internet, you can circumvent the standard procedure of politics,” he said. “It’s a complex interdependence instead of a straight line back and forth between the media and politicians, and different groups are now able to set the agenda in certain ways.”

Although Kertzer and Runnals are maintaining their anti-Anders website, their campaign is significantly smaller this time around.

“Logistically, being away makes it hard, so we aren’t doing the ground campaign this year,” he said. “However, we are updating the websites and we act as an information resource for members of the riding.”

The Anders campaign office did not return the Journal’s phone calls.

Blair MacLean, the campaign manager for Kingston and the Islands Conservative candidate Lou Grimshaw, applauded Kertzer’s efforts.

“An anti-candidate campaign is an interesting take and he is free to do whatever he wishes to do,” MacLean said. “It’s a bit unusual, but we’ll have to wait and see whether it is effective.” MacLean also commented on Anders’ well-known and controversial statements about Mandela, whose face now graces “Vote out Anders” shirts and lawn signs.

“Individual members of a party often say things they wish they didn’t say, and I think this is an example,” he said. “It was a cheap shot, really. Mandela is a hero.” Despite disagreeing with Anders’ comments, MacLean maintained that the Conservatives are united in their positions.

“All of us Conservatives across the country are focused on one thing—getting our message out to as many people as possible,” he said. “I think all the candidates stand for our party platform, and it’s a reasonable one, really.”

Kertzer credits the political studies program at Queen’s with preparing him to take a stance against Anders.

“The program has an emphasis on thinking critically, and I think that really carried itself through the campaign,” he said.

Kertzer said he disagrees with the commonly held notion that young people are apathetic about politics.

“I think students in general are less apathetic than people give them credit for,” he said. “At Queen’s, you can walk through the student Ghetto and see election campaign signs.”

Despite his optimistic outlook, Kertzer said he sees room for improvement when it comes to youth involvement and the behaviour of politicians such as Anders towards younger voters.

“In the last election, there was a debate held at the University of Calgary, which is in his riding. He was asked about tuition, and basically his response was that there are more important issues to care about,” Kertzer said. “It takes a lot of gall to stand up in front of a group of students and say that their issues don’t matter.”

Kertzer said that as long as politicians like Anders don’t need young voters to win, they won’t care about the issues facing students.

“Because young people don’t vote, politicians don’t feel they have to cater to the issues that matter to them,” he said. “So young people think the politicians don’t care about their issues, and don’t vote, which creates a self-perpetuating cycle.”

Kertzer’s anti-Anders campaign has some company in this election. Saskatoon Conservative Maurice Vellacott is being targeted by an online campaign called “Vote out Vellacott,” similar to the Anders campaign.

Kertzer said he thinks alternative methods of political involvement will only increase, despite the expense and time needed to create campaigns like his own.

“We went through a lot, from seeking legal consultation to ensuring we adhered to national guidelines, so the incentive is for people to be involved in a standard way,” he said. “But I think if this trend of young people feeling disillusioned with mainstream party politics continues, you’ll see more of them getting involved in alternative ways.”

Despite all of the hard work Kertzer has put into the campaign, the anonymous Calgary voter doesn’t predict any big changes.

“I think Anders is very, very confident, and he should be,” she said. “People here want a Conservative government, so they’ll just hold their noses and vote.”

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