‘It’s irresponsible to be having an election right now’: Is campaigning safe in Barrie, Simcoe County?

Doug Shipley feels the difference at the door.

A veteran of prior municipal and federal campaigns, the is used to the clichéd shaking hands and kissing babies aspect of electioneering. But in a pandemic, the mindset has shifted — for himself, his family and a team of volunteers.

Now, when he gets to a door, he knocks on it, immediately takes a few steps back and apologizes for getting into the occupant’s personal space. And there will be no bands of volunteers from his campaign shuttling voters to the polls this year.

“We’re still going to some doors, but not as many,” he said. “We’re masked, we’ve got hand sanitizer with us, we’re not shaking hands or greeting people. It’s just a different campaign. Someone comes to the door and says someone in that house has COVID; if you don’t think that weighs on your mind, absolutely it does. I’m very concerned. I’m double-vaccinated, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get it. I have a wife and kids at home. We shouldn’t be having an election right now.”

Shipley says his campaign is relying more heavily on telephone calls, mail-outs and social media than in past elections. But he’s been told by a few volunteers that they just don’t feel comfortable helping out this time.

“I don’t think campaigning has really changed in 150 years; maybe it’s time to redo the whole thing,” he said. “A lot of people are disappointed this election was called — the timing and reason for it. People have opened up their eyes. By now, I probably would have shaken 15,000 or 20,000 hands. It’s odd to me.”

The for running safe debates and polling stations. But with , some consternation is being expressed by medical officer of health Dr. Charles Gardner over whether in-person voting, protesting, debating and campaigning can ever truly be safe during a pandemic.

“It was a concern to me and my (medical) colleagues,” he said recently. “This needs to be managed well. There’s still the potential for gatherings.”

Liberal candidate , who also ran in previous municipal elections, says she hasn’t had an issue recruiting volunteers and is “in awe” over the number recruited to her campaign. But there has been a noticeable shift in tone between municipal and federal politics.

“The division is really strong,” she said. “Nobody has really come out and said what the issue is. We’re in a pandemic and people are really struggling with staying home. I feel there’s a lot more anger out there.”

Saari says her signs have been damaged and a 12-year-old volunteer was yelled at while walking down the street recently.

“The negativity is something I’m not used to,” she said. “I can take it. I just wasn’t prepared for it to happen to my volunteers. These people are volunteering and I wish people would have more respect.”

NDP hopeful , a rookie candidate, said her team is working remotely instead of through a typical campaign office.

“When we do meet, we are outdoors and distanced and masked,” she said. “It’s irresponsible to be having an election right now. We’re in the middle of a crisis.”

The riding’s returning officer did not reply to Simcoe.com’s request for an interview to discuss voting safety and whether Elections Canada is having difficulty finding staff to work local polling stations.

And People’s Party candidate could not be reached for comment.