Green Party Election Strategy: Rising Tide, or Beachhead Ridings?

Lifts All Boats

Lifts All Boats

I recently read an article by an articulate, and thoughtful Green Party activist, Kevin Colton. There has long been debate in the Green Party of Canada choosing between two strategic and organizing imperatives. Because Kevin put the argument so very well for the so-called rising tide strategy, I thought I should refer to it when arguing the contrary.

The first of two schools of thought is that the Green Party should build infrastructure on the regional and national level. Any success in an individual riding is short lived, and illusory because these beachhead efforts always fall short of actually winning the seat. Kevin argues, very well, that a little effort goes a long way in an area that has no infrastructure, and no organizational depth. By nurturing humble beginnings, it is possible to achieve critical mass, and move on to bigger and better things.


Establishing the Beachhead

The counter arguments are that the Green Party would enjoy an enormous boost as soon as the first candidates are elected. Once the GPC takes it’s place in Parliament, the added visibility will make it much more credible, and therefore more attractive to quality candidates, and the electorate.

I would argue that this is a false choice. There is a certain minimal level of support that will help inexperienced Riding executives to nurture their volunteer base, fundraising skills, and basic campaigning know-how. All EDA’s should get a basic helping hand. Throwing additional monetary resources at a basic EDA that has a minimal volunteer base, a mediocre candidate, little campaign experience, and no reasonable prospect of ever electing a Candidate is not a wise use of scarce resources though.

Since the GPC is constituted as a Political Party, with the stated objective of electing candidates to Parliament, GPC strategy should be focused on achieving this objective as quickly as possible. There are a number of ridings across the country which are likely to become a GPC beachhead riding. Those ridings where the electorate is fairly evenly split between 3 or more party’s have demonstrable potential to be swayed by alternate messages, or Party loyalties. Ultimate electoral success in any riding will depend upon the quality of candidates above all, followed by the numbers of volunteers, and an identified base of historical GPC voters. In these split ridings in particular, the GPC should be pouring the maximum resources available in every subsequent election. I only need point to Bruce Grey Owen Sound, or Guelph, or Saanich, etc. to bring forth examples of ridings that have grown in organizational depth, and all the skills and resources required to ‘put the puck in the net’. The fact that Bruce Grey Owen Sound is not readily winnable because of the pre-eminence of the Conservatives is beside the point. (No 3 way split present). If you were to graft their organization, and super candidate onto any of the 20 I have identified elsewhere, we would have elected our first sitting member in 2008.

Bruce Grey Owen Sound is a great case study for the beachhead strategy. In the 2003 – 2004 Provincial, and Federal elections, the riding was fairly typical, with a share of the vote of 1.7% provincially, and just over 4% Federally.

shane-jolleyIn the 2006 Federal Election, a strong local candidate, Shane Jolley stepped forward, and after significant organizational improvements Shane brought the results up by 8.74% Federally, to a total of 12.91%. (copy edit thanks to correction by Shane Jolley).In the 2007 Provincial Election, the riding was identified as a beachhead riding, and significant resources were put into the race. Shane finished with a strong second place with 33% of the popular vote. Despite a local mini-scandal whereby Shane was replaced as candidate by the dick-hibmapopular Dick Hibma, in the 2008 Federal election the Greens retained the lions share of their voters, while scoring 27.2% of the popular vote. I think this establishes pretty clearly that strong candidates, plus adequate resources can bring a low popular standing a very long way over a few short years. If this type of success can be transplanted to the 20 beachhead ridings I have identified elsewhere, then it is probable that several ridings will return an elected MP anytime from 2010 on.

In conclusion I will opine that the GPC should give basic assistance plus a little to every riding that proves capable of helping itself. For those where the future electoral prospects look solid, no effort should be spared in recruiting star candidates, focused membership drives, and providing logistical support.

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12 Responses

  1. Interesting article, but I must correct three significant errors.

    First, my result in 2006 federally was 12.9%, not 8.74%.

    Second, there weren’t “significant resources” put into the riding in the 2007 provincial. Out of riding volunteers came to help in the last few days of the campaign, for which I am grateful, but by and large it was a local effort.

    Third, I was not replaced as the federal candidate due to a local “mini-scandal”. I informed Elizabeth May that I would not be running federally again in August of 2006, and again stated it clearly in my election night speach following the provincial run in 2007.

    Obviously those who generated the so called “mini-scandal” missed the memo as well, since they were obviously hoping to ruin my electoral chances for the federal election. This likely would have backfired anyway as the attempt was so crass as to cause a significant hike in my local support (speaking from anecdotal evidence).

    So, you’ve got me curious who you are. I agree with Ard, that there’s not likely any real danger in identifying yourself. If people can’t deal with your opinions then either they’re in the wrong party or you are.


  2. Thanks for the corrections Shane.
    The 8.74% was the growth in your’ share of the vote, I have copy edited above.
    I guess I inferred the amount of support you got, based upon hearsay. I do know of a number of people who went up to help you, and I wish my commitments would have allowed me to as well. Then we wouldn’t be strangers.
    The mini-scandal was a joke. It so obviously didn’t deserve any coverage. I was slack in even referring to it in talking about the transition of candidates. I guess I have learned my lesson. The point I was really wanting to get at was that the electoral transition survived the change in candidates, therefore the prior organising efforts by yourself had a lasting impact. I will guess that you brought a whack of people in, and provided the structure to perpetuate it. I will also guess that you are still involved closely enough to help ensure that it hangs together. You’ve probably heard some people say that beachhead efforts are a waste of time because it’s all down the tubes if you don’t win. Obviously you have proven this is not the case.
    Thirdly, I was kind of tongue in cheek when I did my ‘who is John Galt’ bit in the Mission Statement. At the same time, I don’t want to detract from what I have said, and will be saying in the next little while. In all honesty, I didn’t really expect so much attention to my little blog when I started it 4 weeks ago. I was really using it as a place to park my thoughts and experience in business, and the Green Party so that others could benefit from them. I didn’t really think that anybody would notice except those in my own EDA.
    So… drumroll…….. I’ll keep you in suspense until I send you an email after I get back from tobogganning this aft.

  3. I agree with the “beachhead” strategy as opposed to the, what could be called, ‘carpet bomb strategy’. I would also opine, at least in this most recent election, that at least somebody in Ottawa/New Glasgow is listening (somewhat). I have heard that many ridings, that were considered strong contender were given healthy sums of cash (in loans or grants) late in the campaign. However, from what I have heard from the EDAs that I spoke to, the money came unannounced and late in the campaign. This meant that they could not plan anything based around this money, and that it came so late that that is was ineffective (from what I hear, it came 2 weeks prior to E-day meaning that buying new literature, signs, or event planning) as effectively out of the question. Perhaps next time they’ll have their riding picked up front and those will be able to plan their campaigns with this extra money in mind.

  4. That’s a Bingo Jason,
    I’ll have to wait until the 2008 Party financials, and election financial returns are public data before I’ll know exactly how much money was sent to different ridings, but the beachhead strategy requires more than just a random dumping of money. I guess the good news is that whatever it did end up being spent on, the EDA’s (that exceeded 10% anyway) can count on 60% of the funds coming back to them as electuon expense rebates. Since the tax refunds on donations, and this 60% rebate are the taxpayers teat that the Conservatives have suckled so assiduously, and so much better than the other Party’s, I have little doubt that these two subsidies will not be under attack any time soon ;-)

  5. I definitely had some concerns about who would run federally in the last election, and whether they would uphold our results.

    When Dick Hibma stepped forward I knew we were fine as he is a very well respected individual, and for the right reasons. He has a lot of integrity and really cares about people.

    I agree with the beachhead strategy provided it is carried out without hype, and that control of the campaign remains in the hands of the local team. The federal campaign can play a significant support role, filling in gaps and making sure nothing is lacking, but it must be locally driven.

  6. Both strategies, beachhead and carpet bomb, have their merits. The issue is what is the criteria being used to decide with strategy to use.

    With a lack of research into where to focus a beachhead, carpet bombing is definitely the way to go. As Kevin (the linked post) pointed out in his review, there is a lot of money coming in (plus more argument for PR) for more national votes. However, if the research (polling, identified volunteers, strong local candidate, etc.) demonstrates a good opportunity for success, then a beach head should be considered.

    The problem from the 2008 election is that no research was done (well, some was done but ignored) and yet the beachhead strategy was applied to Central Nova and Vancouver Centre. Dan Baril was a paid consultant to the GPC who strongly advised against running in Central Nova (and strongly advised against the May-Dion deal) yet was ignored. His recommendation was for Ms. May to stay in London. Nothing was researched for Vancouver and, in my opinion anyway, the smartest riding to run in out there was Vancouver-Kingsway (especially with Emerson’s resignation) instead of Vancouver Centre against a strong MP and one-time leadership hopeful.

    Various strategies can be discussed and you bring forth some good information to base decisions on. The question is whether anyone on the newly formed GPC Campaign Committee is listening…

  7. Shane, I agree with you that the local campaign must control the campaign. Local information and contacts are exactly that, local. Advice can come from the centre, (assuming the centre has the skills and knowledge,) but, there are some areas with great potential and zero organization on the ground. These ED’s should have organizers from the centre focussed on them, and campaign staff bought and paid for at the centre to establish the EDA infrastructure. For the subsequent, breakthrough election the local EDA ought to be in a position to take the guiding role in the relationship.
    Mark, you are correct that good intelligence is the prerequisite for targeting a riding. I think that for the next election the GPC will have to decide without consideration of existing organizational strength. We need to start from scratch with the best opportunities.There are only a few EDA’s with a solid organization across the whole country, and only a couple have a shot due to the existence of a three way split in the electorate for us to pluck a plurality out of. The only way to win in a two way race is for the GPC to basically dominate the riding, and we are years away from that occurring anywhere. That means churches, charities, ratepayers, chambers of commerce, tenants assoc’s, city councillors, the mayors, everybody on board pulling for the GPC.

  8. […] have shown in previous post that the beachhead election strategy is viable. Bruce Grey Owen Sound had phenomenal success. They went from 4% support, to a whopping […]

  9. […] other single factor. As we increase our strength, and fragment the vote in increasing numbers of targeted beachhead ridings, the NDP will have a chance equal to the GPC of benefitting from this turn of events to tip the […]

  10. […] may want to start with my list posted on here, or make your’ own by all means. Just make sure you have a purpose, and something to focus your planning on. Don’t over-complexify things. Define your […]

  11. […] conflict between the centre, (The HUB), and the peripheries, (The EDA`s) just about forever. The conflict was over general election strategies. One side arguing that the Beachhead strategy which should be to focus resources on a small number […]

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