Politics vs. Playoffs

Do the Oilers make it harder for candidates to get our attention?

Imagine this: You’re running for a seat in the provincial legislature. It’s a beautiful evening, so you and your campaign team go out door-knocking.

But, door after door, you can hear the sounds of televisions in the background. Some people don’t answer the doorbell at all. Then, comes a roar from the neighbourhood as the Oilers score.

And you wonder if you should be out doorknocking at all on an Oilers game night.

We know that we’re going to have Oilers playoff hockey for at least another week. But, if the team goes deep into the playoffs, you have to wonder — will it distract from the provincial election campaign? Let’s face it — the Oilers dominate the news cycle come playoff time, but are they too much of a distraction as we head towards a late May election?

“I can say that no one likes door-knocking during playoff games,” says Edmonton-City Centre MLA David Shepherd, who is looking to hold the seat for the NDP. “Lots of people won’t answer the door, and those who do are generally distracted and not interested in talking. I think most politicians will avoid it if they can by going out before the game starts. Outside of an election, I’d absolutely avoid it.”

But that’s the issue — we are in an election campaign, so there is no avoiding the clash between politics and playoffs.

“With things being so tight going into this election, I don’t know that anyone running can afford to lose any time at the doors. My guess is that knocking and phoning will continue right through May. I imagine it (when the Oilers play) will be a consideration for holding larger events, like rallies.”

Richard Wong, the UCP candidate for Edmonton-City Centre, was once the chair of the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation. So, let’s just say he cares pretty deeply about how well the team does in the playoffs. But he knows that a lot of people in the riding care, too. And he said when he goes to doorsteps, he finds a lot of people are friendly and in good moods — because of the playoffs. And, he said, whether the people he meets support him or not, the Oilers make for a great conversation starter.

“I find that people are pretty happy, and willing to talk,” he said. “Fans across the political divide are united by cheering for the team.”

But, he said that he’s mindful of when the games are on.

“We always try to be respectful of people’s time,” he said, noting that his team doesn’t go to the doors past the dinner hour. “We try to wrap it up a half-hour before puck drop. We know that people are preparing to watch the game, they may be going out or having friends over for the game.”

Could the playoffs affect the election day itself? It’s a question I asked Jared Wesley, associate professor of political science at the University of Alberta, before the end of the NHL regular season. At the time, we didn’t know if the Calgary Flames would make the playoffs or not (they didn’t). But the Flames may have had a bigger effect on the election than the Oilers, because Calgary is expected to be the battleground in which this coming election is decided.

But, he said that the number of advance polls available will allow people to vote when it’s convenient, and creates less worry about turnout being affected by the NHL playoffs. He said that in some recent provincial elections across Canada, nearly 40 per cent of the votes have come in the form of advance ballots.

“It’s a good question,” said Wesley. “We do know that, in certain circumstances, that weather comes into play as well. But, I think the difference now compared to what it was 10 years ago is that there are so many advanced voting opportunities for Albertans. And parties that know what they are doing try to get their vote in the bank early.”

What about political engagement at the municipal level? Does that suffer during the playoffs?

Edmonton city councillor Erin Rutherford said she was pleasantly surprised by the attendance for an online event, held before Game 1 faced off. But, she said she made sure that the event was over before faceoff.

Coin. Tim Cartmell said he “still has a full inbox of concerns,” so the Oilers aren’t slowing down engagement at the municipal level.

“It is spring, the usual spring complaints are coming in: street sweeping, noisy cars, construction barricades — with no construction work happening.”