Cold canvass for a cause

Two canvassers’ fight against the freeze

Justin Lecocq, a canvasser for the Wilderness Committee, braves the cold to educate Winnipeggers about conservation. Jonah Oneil

No one likes standing in the cold when it’s -30 C and frostbite is nipping away at your nose. But for people like Justin Lecocq and Sabrina Deforest, two canvassers for the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, the biting cold is a harsh reality they face each day.

Lecocq and Deforest combat unforgiving Winnipeg weather for 15 to 20 hours a week, going door-to-door to promote the Wilderness Committee’s work to protect various western Canadian wilderness areas.

The committee has accomplished various environmental feats, including the protection of over 40 wilderness areas and their wildlife inhabitants.

Canvassers speak to about 60,000 people each year through thick and thin. The winter is one of the toughest elements canvassers face.

“The cold matters,” says Lecocq. “Your fingers are numb, your toes are numb. You’re just hoping some very, very nice person lets you into their house to talk for a few seconds.”

“[Canvassers] overcome quite a great deal of obstacles standing in -30 C, talking to people who aren’t really receptive. It’s a really admirable, respectable and heroic thing they’ve done,” canvassing director Robin Bryan explains.

For Lecocq and Deforest, the kindness of strangers is one of the most treasured aspects of canvassing.

“People are generally nice … if [they] see a value in what you are doing,” says Deforest.

Canvassers have a short window to convey their message about Manitoba conservation. Just a few more seconds to speak with potential donors makes all the difference.

“It can be discouraging because you are talking to a lot of people who don’t necessarily care,” Deforest continues. “Sometimes it’s one or two [nice] people that really keep you going.”

When faced with the harsh cold, sometimes all canvassers need is a big smile and for people to show appreciation for what they do.

“We feel like we’re doing a real good thing for the world … we’re doing a really respectful thing,” says Lecocq. “When people pat my back and tell me, ‘You’re doing something really good. Thank you for your work,’ those kinds of experiences are amazing.”

But not every knock on a stranger’s door gets answered by a smiling face.

Laughing, Lecocq recalls one of his worst canvassing experiences.

“I knocked on a guy’s door and he swung it open and said to me, ‘What are you selling?’ He screamed at me ... and said I’m taking away jobs from all the loggers, and I’m just a left-wing fundamentalist.”

Fortunately for Lecocq and Deforest, that kind of negative experience is rare. For the most part “apathy is the biggest obstacle to overcome.”

At times canvassers find it hard to get people involved in environmental issues, even ones in their own province. Their conservation efforts can be overshadowed by worldwide environmental concerns. But Bryan believes the Wilderness Committee and canvassers are “here to stay throughout the years … and increase the knowledge people have access to.”


Published in Volume 64, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 4, 2010)

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