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Campanelli’s campaign cachet contagious

Campanelli and Jennings outside campaign HQ

Carmela Campanelli got her first taste of grassroots politics in 1957, volunteering for Louis Saint-Laurent’s Liberals in their battle against John Diefenbaker.

Now putting her formidable people skills to work for NDG–Lachine MP Marlene Jennings’ 2008 campaign, she has the capacity to ruin a cynic’s skepticism in minutes, and enough perspective to soundly trounce the notion that politics can’t change things in the long run. Since before there existed a Charter of Rights, Medicare, EI, or official bilingualism, she’s soldiered through fair weather and foul on behalf of three successive generations of Parliamentarians.

Campanelli relocated to Montreal from Italy after the Second World War, leaving behind a town where ordinary people had little say in the running of their affairs. Being able to get involved in the democratic process made Canada seem full of possibilities by comparison. “When I talk to people I tell them how lucky we are in this country,” she says. “Here you count.” Those who disdain the political scene have little right to grumble in her opinion. “Apathy – it’s no good. Don’t just sit home and criticize,” she says. “Don’t be a complainer. Be a doer.” This year marks her seventeenth straight time leading by example – “I’ve never, ever missed an election.”

Working the phones on a busy afternoon at campaign headquarters, she finds her canvassing beat to have changed little over the years, encountering familiar voices and familiar themes again and again. “You talk to a lot of the same people and you get to know them,” she says. “They feel like someone’s listening to them. Sometimes they have a lot to say.” In spite of public hand-wringing over declining participation and mounting disillusionment, she sees neither more nor less cynicism towards politics than when she started. “This is something that’s been said for centuries,” she notes affably. “Times change. Be patient. When the time comes, the young people do exactly what they have to do.”

“This is an exciting time,” she says of the current race, noting climate change in particular as an impetus providing new blood. “I see young people getting more involved… it’s very busy.” As she shows new volunteers the ropes, her depth of experience puts issues in a more philosophical context. “We’ve come a long way. The young people, you have to let them know we had to fight for these things we take for granted now.”

In one of the reddest ridings in the country, many of Campanelli’s conversations with voters would make volunteers elsewhere green with envy. Her candidate is exceptionally popular. “There’s something special about NDG! We’ve been very lucky. We’ve had amazing MPs.” She warmly relates having worked alongside Warren Allmand during his tenure as Justice Minister, when he toiled against stiff opposition to abolish the death penalty, an issue predating the political memories of most Canadians. “I really admired Warren,” she recalls. “He was so dedicated. A real man of integrity.”

Her impression of Marlene Jennings has so far matched his example in every way and more. “Marlene took over and she’s doing a great job for NDG,” she says. “She’s amazing.”

Jennings is indeed an easy sell in the riding, with a high profile in the previous Liberal administration as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and the Solicitor General, and notable efforts in opposition working for employment equity among women, first nations, and minorities. Her appreciation for Campanelli’s expertise and background in the community is known by everyone working on the campaign: “Carmela’s been there for us every time from start to finish, so everybody knows her... I don’t know where she gets the energy, she tires me out!”

Campanelli urges voters to do whatever they can to get to the polls October 14. “You have to get out and participate,” she says. “We pick people up any time they want, door to door, they just need to give us a call and let us know.”

Polling station information is available from Elections Canada at 800-463-6868 or


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