Possibly the dumbest things Doug Ford ever did

Rob-Ford Now coverWhen I first saw this article in the Toronto Star, I thought maybe it was a spoof, or somebodies wishful thinking. Apparently Doug Ford has lost the DVD’s that contained ALL their contact databases from the 2010 Mayoralty election.  Mitch Wexler had been hired to manage the data, and to do some supporter profiling to help with their efforts to identify Ford supporters. According to the Star, after the election, he handed Doug Ford all the electoral data on two DVD’s.

“I made two DVDs with all of the data from the campaign — entire voters’ list with contact info, supporters, non-supporters, signs, volunteers, all voter contact records, etc. — and gave them both to Doug Ford,” said Conservative data expert Mitch Wexler.”

That is not how Doug Ford sees it. Again, quoting the Star: “Councillor Doug Ford claims the mayor’s former campaign manager, Nick Kouvalis, is refusing to turn over valuable 2010 voter database information.”

Oh My God! Is that not the DUMBEST thing you have ever heard of in Canadian politics? Firstly, the Ford Nation database is an awesome collection of detailed data. It was an impressive database before the 2010 election, but all those thousands of volunteers were busily adding more and richer detail on the Toronto electorate for a whole year in 2010. Nick Kouvalis obviously has access to all that juicy data, and he has joined the John Tory team.

There is a little known fact that comes to bear on this situation. Most Canadians think that personal information about them is protected. You would think that someone with access to a political database like this would not be legally able to just use it, or hand it over to some third party. Well, in all of Canada, (except BC), the privacy act(s) specifically exempt users of data from the provisions of the privacy act, if the data is being used for’ POLITICAL PURPOSES’. I would argue that Nick Kouvalis handing all the Fords data over to team Tory is a political use of data. Even if it isn’t totally legal, good luck proving it happened Douggie. Even if you can prove it, the damage is done.

And what’s with LOSING the freaking disks? Hello Douggie? Is there anybody in there? I have an image of the DVD’s being used as coasters on the coffee table up at the cottage. This electoral data is the most important political asset he owns. Now what are you gonna do Doug? John Tory probably knows every supporter you ever had prior to October 2010. You may (or may not) still have all those paper records from Robs 10 years as a councillor, but what about all the data from the election? What about that supporter profiling? Team Tory is gonna tear through YOUR supporters lists, and tear the heart out of your campaign before you even get started. Maybe you could sue somebody, ROFL.

And to cap it all, Doug Ford goes PUBLIC with his accusations against Kouvalis. ‘Hey World! Look at what an idiot I am!’ Yesterday I believed that Rob Ford was in a good position to win this election. Today, I doubt he has a snowballs chance. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy.

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Trudeau’s Liberals going for the Conservatives throat.

I am not a big fan of the accepted wisdom that politics happens on a left/right continuum. That creaking old paradigm does not mean much to most of the electorate. Perhaps I should be a bit more nuanced with that observation? While there are many Canadians who view themselves as ‘left’ or ‘right’ wing, there are far more Canadians who will give their electoral support based on the issue or issues that affect them personally, irrespective of ‘left’ or ‘right’ bias. According to the accepted wisdom, the Conservative Party is the party of the Right. Their base is therefore an ideologically motivated monolith, that can be counted on to vote CPC. On the ‘left’ flank of the Liberals sit the NDP. Again, the accepted wisdom is that the NDP’s  ideologically motivated ‘base’ can be relied on to vote NDP. In the ‘centre’ sit the Liberals, who alternate between left and right in a morally bankrupt dance to win power at any cost. Well I am sorry, but when your definition of what motivates people captures no more than a third of the electorate, it is time to dump it.

And dumping the paradigm seems to be what is on Trudeau’s mind nowadays. In the early days of the Liberal leadership race last year, Justin Trudeau came out publicly in support of the NEXEN takeover in the Oil patch. Shortly thereafter, Trudeau announced, (on a visit to Alberta no less) that he supported the Keystone Pipeline, but not the Northern Gateway pipeline through the Rockies. The shock value of a Liberal leadership contender reaching out to Albertans and a key CPC constituency was good for a lot of headlines, but it was also revealing inasmuch as it is the first attempt to directly target a true blue Tory constituency since the Reformers co-opted the PC’s. Since then we have seen Trudeau reaching out to libertarians by supporting Marijuana legalisation. While many would assume that legalising marijuana is anathema to all Conservatives, the fact is that there are plenty of Conservatives who will support the policy, irrespective of party lines. If you still doubt that Trudeau is aiming squarely at the Conservatives, he publicly threw down the gauntlet in his speech to the Liberal policy convention yesterday. “Conservative voters are your neighbours, not your enemies, ‘these are good people,’ Trudeau tells convention

In my opinion, this is strategically sound. Past elections have featured the Conservative Party shaping the issues, and defining the Liberals and Dippers in the public eye. The Conservatives have spent untold dollars and volunteer hours building their constituencies one issue at a time. By the time the election rolls around, the Conservatives have had another large slice of the electorate in their back pocket, leaving the Liberals desperately trying to win their supporters back. And whilst the Liberals are scrambling to stand still, the CPC unleash the hounds and pick and choose who, how, and when to attack. Whatever happens over the coming year, the Conservatives are going to have to watch their back. They will surely try to expand their appeal, and further build their constituencies, but they are going to have to balance TWO priorities. Every time they go to a podium, they are going to have to think hard about whether they are trying to win over new supporters, or circle the wagons around one of their existing ‘base’ constituencies.

If Trudeau has made the best strategic decision by targeting the CPC support issue by issue, the tactics leave something to be desired. When the CPC goes after a constituency, they go after it retail. They reach out to community groups, they leverage their paid AND earned media, and they never stop identifying individuals who are committed to supporting them on a specific issue. This is so important because it enables them to target their supporters and communicate with them directly, one on one to lock down their support as soon as the writ is dropped. Voters are invited to sign petitions, to donate, to join CPC friendly community groups, and make themselves known to the CPC by name, address, phone number, and most importantly, by email address. The benefits of this are obvious. They can counter any message that is delivered by broadcast media by narrowcasting their response directly to the constituency ‘in play’. They can do this immediately without spending any money just by clicking ‘send’ on an email blast. What is so disappointing about the Liberals failure to harvest direct contacts amongst the electorate is that it is ridiculously easy to do so. All that is needed is to ASK Canadians to sign a petition, or register as a supporter every time you present an idea publicly. When General Leslie calls for fixing military procurement, all he needs to do is invite Canadians to sign on to support his proposal, and another pile of issue specific supporters are loaded into Liberalist. Whether it is Scott Brison talking about the Conservative Deficit, or  Marc Garneau, communications are ALWAYS an opportunity to solicit actionable contact data from the electorate. Even if it is only a few hundred prospective supporters at a time, there is no reason whatsoever not to be adding hundreds of thousands of new supporters to the database every year.

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Rob Ford is in a good position to win the Mayoralty in October.

Harper-FordIf I were a betting man, I would lay pretty stiff odds in favour of Rob Ford beating his challengers in the 2014 Toronto Mayoral election. The Toronto Sun commissioned a poll by Forum, and today they released selected highlights. Like that Rob Fords approval rating has climbed from 42% on Dec.9, to 47% this week. On the important voting intentions question, Ford would win the vote of 41% or this weeks respondents, up from 33% on Dec.9.

There has been a lot of valid criticism recently of polling methodology, and the spectacular failure of recent polls to predict election outcomes. I agree that the very nature of opinion polling, and the differences between a poll or survey and the real thing, an election, make it nearly impossible to accurately forecast the effects of voter turnouts on election outcomes. His polled supporter numbers are almost enough by themselves, but  the strongest reasons I believe Ford is in a good position are precisely those things that a poll cannot readily measure.

In 2010 the Fords ran a very sophisticated ID-GOTV program right across the City of Toronto. With thousands of hard-working volunteers, they were able to canvas for support, and identify an unprecedented proportion of the electorates voting intentions. On election day, they did not drop the ball. They put their thousands of volunteers to work, and got their voters to the polls in droves. Altogether, the turnout in the 2010 election was up around 53%, as compared to 39% in the prior election. Without getting into all the gory details of the various councillor contests that were influenced by, or were an influence on the Mayoral contest, the Ford team essentially identified about 100,000 people who would not ordinarily vote in a municipal election, and got them to the polls to cast their Mayoral and Council ballots. (For those interested in those gritty details, here is a link to a turnout map by Ward.)

So there it is, my argument in a nutshell. Rob Ford won the 2010 election by motivating a large number of people who do not ordinarily vote in Municipal elections. The Ford campaign managed to identify their voters, and ran an effective GOTV to get them all to the polls on EDay. The Fords have been improving their database, and collecting ever more names and information on their supporters over the intervening 4 years. You know how Rob Ford is laughed at for handing out Fridge magnets on any and all occasions with his phone number? Well every time someone calls that number, they are identified as prospective Ford supporters, and their name goes into the ever-growing election database. I dwell on this point because public opinion polls are telling us that the bulk of these supporters have not wavered in their support for Ford despite some of the most outrageous scandals and controversies I have ever seen in Canadian politics. So that growing database is largely populated by people who are going to vote for Rob Ford if they vote for anyone. In 2010 nobody in Toronto had even remotely close to the amount of solid actionable data that the Fords had. Here we are 4 years later, and that database has been fed by robo-calling, fridge magnets, and all those telephoned and emailed expressions of support each successive scandal has unleashed. When somebody calls Rob Ford instead of the Cities service Toronto number, their personal contact data becomes Ford property. At this point in time, the Fords will have identified most of their supporters, so the re-election campaign can focus all of their resources on retaining their support, converting undecided voters, and suppressing the vote of their opponents.

Just because Rob Ford is in a very strong position, that does not mean he is certain to win. Olivia Chow has managed to establish her position as the most likely candidate to beat Rob Ford come the October vote. She will have the advantage of access to some decent data courtesy of the NDP, and many left leaning and centrist councillors. Her team will need to mine those databases heavily, and build up a new category of voter, Olivia Chow mayoralty supporters. Provided she can win over enough volunteers to avoid having to pay phone banks to ID her vote, then she will have a fighting chance to identify, and get her voters out in sufficient numbers. There is pretty obviously a good opportunity to suppress Rob Fords vote, again provided she has enough volunteers to identify all those Rob Ford supporters, and to reach them with a negative message about their chosen candidate. Lord knows there is plenty of ammunition. There ought to be one or two simple messages that will persuade much of Ford Nation to stay at home on EDay. The problem for the challenger is that (s)he will have to expend considerable resources building up his/her data. So on the one hand, any challenger has to both build their own database of supporters more or less from scratch, and run a parallel Ford vote suppression campaign with limited resources. All Ford has to do is hold onto the supporters that he has already identified, and he will have oodles of cash and volunteer hours dedicated to this one simple task.

So in conclusion, Rob Ford is likely to win the Mayoral election in October 2014. The reason is that most of his work is already done, and his supporters are a rock solid plurality of voters. If he does not win, it will be because an unprecedented number of volunteers step up to the plate for a single opponent, and enable her to run her phone banks full tilt on volunteer hours. Ideas will not matter much. It will boil down to a referendum on Rob Fords mayoralty, and the mechanical process of contacting millions of voters by phone or at their doorstep. That sucks. Politics really should be the realm of policy, and ideas, but welcome to the real world of Canadian electoral politics…

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The Ford brothers are not acceptable as elected officials at any level of government.

Buffoonery is over. Things are DEADLY serious now.

Buffoonery is over. Things are DEADLY serious now.

I have avoided the topic of the Ford brothers for the simple reason that Rob Ford was well-known as a buffoon before he was elected. Toronto voted for a buffoon, and that is what they got. ‘Let this be a lesson to us’ I told myself, chuckled and moved on. The problem is that buffoonery is the least of the troubles the Fords have inflicted on us. The Toronto Star has just published an article that reports on a Police interview with Dave Price, a Ford family friend and staffer, where he states that Anthony Smith recorded the crack video, and was murdered over it. In a separate article from CP, linked to here at National Newswatch, the gangsters who had that video were blackmailing Ford. Fords offer of $5000 and a car was not enough, they were going to meet with him and demand 150, presumably meaning $150,000.

I am bothered by the thought that mostly harmless buffoonery has brought the City of Toronto into international disrepute. I am truly sickened by the thought that Anthony Smith may have been murdered in order to provide somebody in the underworld with excellent blackmail material on Rob Ford. Personally, I am no longer willing or able to overlook the fact (as reported at length by the Globe and Mail), that Doug Ford was a drug wholesaler, with a group of sub dealers and distributors working for him in the Eighties. This is not buffoonery. It is criminality. I find myself wondering about things like giant ferris wheels on the Waterfront, and great big downtown casinos and airport expansions etc championed by the Fords. Were these things actual Ford projects, or was someone whispering in their ears; ‘I have a secret that a Casino construction contract will make go away for awhile’. Every single thing these guys have touched needs to be torn apart, and gone over with a fine toothed comb. If we are to believe allegations at the Charbonneau commission on corruption in Quebec, Ontario Construction industry is not immune to mafia influence. If the Fords have so many connections to criminals, does it not seem likely that the master criminals, the Mafia are not unaware of their past indiscretions? That calls into question every construction project that the Fords had a hand in approving. Forget about construction. Every damned thing they do as official city business becomes suspect, from Taxi and strip club licensing, to leasing vendor spaces, hot dog stands, you name it, it is now suspect.

I think that Rob Ford will probably go away now. I am pretty certain that Doug Ford will not be making his debut at Queens Park either. Murder, extortion, and drug trafficking  just do not go together with public office very well. In short, the Ford bothers are not just buffoons, they are dangerously exposed by their alleged *cough* *cough* links to criminals.

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Time for the Liberals to revive the Supporter membership category.

Liberal Supporter GraphicA little over a year ago, the Liberal Party was in the midst of a bold initiative intended to bring a lot of Canadians into the Liberal Party fold. The Supporter category of membership in the Liberal Party was conceived as an easy way to sign up a really large number of new ‘members’ by eliminating a membership fee, and conferring the right to cast a vote in the Leadership contest. The Leadership contest provided a lot of publicity for both the category, and for the Liberal Party, as well as for the actual Leadership contenders themselves.  The creation of this category implicitly acknowledged that possessing the means to communicate freely with large numbers of people who held an affinity for the Liberal Party was more important than collecting a $10 membership fee from a much smaller group of members. This acknowledgement is important, because it really strikes to the heart of the disparity between the Conservative Party, and the Liberals and Dippers in the fundraising arena. The Conservatives raise more money per donor, from a considerably larger number of donors than the other two party’s combined. So if the Liberals tried something quite innovative, and a genuine departure from past practice, so the obvious question SHOULD be: ‘So how did that work out for you?’

Over the course of the Liberal Party leadership campaign, there were a total of about 294,000 supporters signed up, a large proportion of which provided email addresses. Of those 294,000 additional new contacts, 127,000 went through the registration process and were eligible to vote. Over 100,000 of those registered to vote actually voted, so I would say that the whole exercise was a great success. I think that an influx of several hundred thousands of new names and email addresses is no mean feat, and there are continuing benefits. In the months since Justin Trudeau was elected leader of the Liberals, the Liberal Party has had access to all those new contacts, and the results have been pretty impressive. If you head over to The Pundits Guide financial contributions database, you can see from the quarterly results that not only are the Liberals raising significantly more money than last year, but they are doing it by winning over a lot more donors. In other words, new donors with first time, or smaller ongoing donations are stepping forward by the thousand. In the first quarter of 2013 there were 24,068 donors contributing M$1.70, while in 2012 there were 22,867 donors contributing M$2.33.  Q2 2013 saw M$2.96 from 38,014 donors, vs 2012 M$1.81 from 22,611 donors. Q3 2013 saw M$2,17 from 30,108 donors vs 2012 M$1.44 from 20,259 donors. The first quarter was anomalous, because of the ongoing Leadership race, but the growth in number of donors accelerated from 5% (1201 donors) in Q1, to 68% (15,403 donors) in Q2, and kept well ahead of year ago results in Q3 with an increase of  49%(9849 donors). We will have to wait until year end results are publicly posted in 2014 to see what the annual numbers are, but the quarterly numbers are painting a compelling picture of supporters opening their wallets to the Liberal Party.

So why is it that when I mention the supporter category to most Liberals, they refer to it in the past tense? It is as if they can only envision it as part of a leadership contest. Signing up lots of supporters in one short period was and is a godsend to the Liberal party bank account. Guaranteed it will produce a bumper crop of election volunteers come 2015. I should think that brighter minds than mine would be burning the midnight oil working out the details of an ongoing supporter drive. There really is nothing more fundamental to a political party’s success than the ability to communicate via email to large numbers of their supporters, so how about it?

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A veritable Conservative Armageddon

Harper-FordThere sure is a strong stench of scandal in the air isn’t there? I am thinking about quite a number of Conservative shenanigans and ticking time bombs that are all set to go off in the months to come. The most obvious and immediate is the late breaking revelations abstracted from RCMP affadavits this afternoon. In court documents, the RCMP allege that Nigel Wright, former Chief of Staff in the PMO, entered into a formal written agreement with Senator Mike Duffy offering some $90,000 and influencing an ongoing audit, in exchange for promises of confidentiality. The agreement also induced the Senator to lie to the public about the whole sordid mess with a concocted story.

Wright is cooked in his own juice now. I mean, the guy is supposedly a brilliant lawyer and businessman, who has been intimately involved in politics since his salad days. How could he NOT know that making a payment to a sitting Senator IN EXCHANGE for pretty well anything constitutes a breach of trust? And then he actually set pen to paper, and documented their ‘bribes for lies’ faustian bargain. Senators LeBreton, and Gerstein are in it up to their necks, as they were the ones who the PMO worked through in the Senate, and on that all important committee. It looks like the muck will be spread pretty widely, as there are at least a baker’s dozen of Conservatives who were involved in some shape or form. And of course, Stephen Harper is being tied into it, one thread at a time.

And the cover-up….. Oh boy, didn’t Harper know about Tricky Dick? Nixon went down in history because of the coverup. Harper has been very careful in his choice of words in Parliamentary question period, but it appears to this humble blogger that his choice of words was not careful enough. No matter what political stripes you wear, I do not think that anybody in the country actually believes him as he equivocates, and minces words. You know what I mean, many apologists can be found. Whole armies of Conservatives will split hairs, but people are paying attention now. Credit were credit is due, we have ‘angry Tom’ Mulcair to thank for getting a lot of troubling Prime Ministerial equivocations and hedging, and a number of outright contradictions into the Parliamentary record.

But it does not stop there. In fact, I suspect that this is only the beginning of a very troubling year for the Conservatives in general, and Stephen Harper in particular. The Prime Minister is going to need every scrap of credibility he can get when the trial of Michael Sona hits the headlines. Sona has already implied that he is being scapegoated, and that there was collusion within Conservative ranks. The Judge in the Robocalls lawsuit has already found that there was fraud in the last election, and that the Conservative database, CIMS was the tool used to perpetrate the fraud. Anything that Sona or any witnesses have to say about a widening circle of Robo-fraudsters is going to get a lot of attention. Stephen Harper, and the CPC had better hope that their credibility is at its peak when they are facing such allegations.

Is there anything else that I missed? Oh yeah, Dean Del Mastro is back in court in just a few short weeks. The evidence against him looks pretty overwhelming to me, and I will be very surprised if he avoids a conviction with actual penalties. The Del Mastro will start on Dec. 6, 2013. Parliament will still be sitting until Dec Friday Dec 13. I bet the Conservative front bench is looking forward to question period…NOT.

And the Senate scandal will continue to bubble away. It is clear that the RCMP is casting a wide net, and are conducting a serious investigation. Sooner or later there will be more court documents publicised. Charges will be laid, and court dates set. It is going to take many months, perhaps years before this scandal is finally put to bed. There will be many an opportunity to contrast what Stephen Harper has said in the house to what is being alleged, and testified to in court. Think about how it will play out, with the Senate case cropping up regularly as the backdrop to a string of sordid electoral scandals unfolding in the courts. Yep, a veritable Conservative Armageddon.

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The relentless collapse of the Green Party of Canada’s grassroots.

Back in May I laid out the evidence to support my contention that the Green Party of Canada is suffering a sustained collapse at the grass-roots level. To summarise my arguments, the local Electoral District associations were largely formed to capitalise on the Revenue Sharing agreements between the Green Party`s head office, and the local electoral units. Any local riding that met the basic criteria of maintaining a local organisation would receive a significant share of the per vote subsidy then on offer under the elections finance act. The central party had a perverse incentive inasmuch as their own revenues would decline every time a new local organisation was formed to take advantage of this revenue sharing deal, so perhaps it ought not surprise us that zero resources were allocated to local organising of grass-roots Green Party riding associations. On the part of the Electoral District Associations, virtually all local ridings that had more than 3 or 4 active members had already formed their EDA before Elizabeth May was elected leader of the GPC. Most of them coasted along under the Revenue sharing agreement, accumulating a small stream of cash for the next general election.

Now that the per vote subsidy is being phased out, the logic that drove the process of EDA formation has disappeared. There will no longer be any free lunches in terms of a guaranteed revenue stream, so the rewards for putting in the minimal effort to maintain an existing association in good standing are non-existent. As a consequence, my expectation that the majority of the Electoral District Associations would collapse is being borne out by the fact that an even 100 Electoral District associations have been de-registered by Elections Canada since 2010. This was not an inevitable outcome. While the EDA`s no longer have an overwhelming incentive to organise locally, the central party will no longer be losing revenues to local organisations horning in on the subsidy cash after the next election. It is very much in Elizabeth May`s interest to start organising locally, and re-building the electoral capacity of the GPC. I will go out on a (short) limb here and guess that the current leadership does not know how to organise nationally, and will not re-evaluate their resource allocation at this late date.

Here is a wee table charting the decline of the GPC grassroots:

GPC EDA formation
Year Registrations Deregistrations
2004 96 1
2005 35 5
2006 24 13
2007 56 3
2008 16 5
2009 48 9
2010 4 44
2011 2 19
2012 4 18
2013 2 19
Total: 287 136

I am not writing these posts documenting the decline and fall of the Green Party out of malice, or partisan glee. My intent is to demonstrate an electoral opportunity to the Liberal Party, and anticipate the strategy and tactics that the Liberal Party ought to adopt to capitalise on what is happening across Canada. In past elections, the Green Party sought to maximise revenues by ensuring a candidate was registered in all 308 ridings in Canada. With the loss of so many local EDA`s, and with the loss of the per vote subsidy, that will never happen again. In past elections, approximately 10% of the electorate were prepared to pledge their vote to the GPC. The GPC did not do any meaningful getting out the vote activities, so unsurprisingly, only about 60% of their voters actually showed up at the polls, and the GPC garnered about 6% of the national vote. In the 2015 general election, there will be a lot of ridings across Canada where the Green Party will either have no candidate, or will have zero resources to campaign. Provided the Liberal Party is prepared with a few well conceived policy prescriptions to appeal to Green Party supporters, then they could easily garner half or more of the Green Party vote in most of the ridings across Canada. Since that will represent the margin of victory in many local contests, it should be one of the keys to a majority Liberal government in 2015.

I do not get into policy questions very often, or very deeply. However, it may be useful to suggest a couple of areas in which the Green Party could be vulnerable. The most significant policy area for many GPC supporters is in the area of democratic reform. I think that most Liberals would recognise that Joyce Murray illustrated the potential of voting reform during the Liberal Leadership contest. A credible policy to introduce PR, or Preferential ballots will definitely set the stage to win the votes of a large proportion of Green Party voters. A second policy area that is less significant, but still meaningful is the legalisation (or decriminalization) of Marijuana. A policy offering covering both these bases will make a dramatic difference to Liberal fortunes in British Columbia, and will have a significant effect across the country. These are by no means the only issues which can turn Greens towards the Liberals, but combining both areas, and working them hard will go a long way towards replacing the GPC as the Party of choice for GPC voters left without a candidate in their riding.

Anyway, for reasons outlined above, the ongoing collapse of the GPC grassroots is probably going to accelerate dramatically next year, and 2015 will be the Götterdämmerung, with the residual organisations slipping away. I expect that there will be about 50 EDA`s that survive on the strength of local organising efforts, and the GPC will remain a national party in name only. The ways and means of capturing their electorate will undoubtedly need more refining, but I hope that the Liberal Party, and the Liberal EDA`s are not asleep at the switch, and will be giving due consideration to this one piece of the majority winning electoral puzzle.

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