Right off the nut I will state that the Robo-Call scandal is indicative of the power and reach that the Conservative Party has acquired from a full decade of populating and expanding their voter profiling and targeting database, CIMS. The fact that Conservatives have used this information to criminally suppress and misdirect voters does not change the fact that the data itself can be legitimately used to win election, and build a Party more or less from scratch. The legitimate, and quasi-legitimate uses to which such databases can be put are legion, it boils down to knowing who to reach out to one-on-one to people grouped by likely response to any given message. ( narrowcasting, or retail outreach). Basically, if you can parse the complete list of electors, and segregate everybody on a fixed income, over the age of 65, living in a geographic area where rents are skyrocketing, then you can tailor a political message to these people, and deliver it by phone, mail, email, robocall, or pony express should that be your desire. This is legitimate use of data, and the CPC has become extremelt adept at identifying donors, supporters, and volunteers by using these tools.
The Conservatives have CIMS, the Green Party has GRIMES, (and civiCRM), which is but a pale imitation, but directionally sound. The NDP has NDP Votes, with which I am totally unfamiliar, but I have an inkling that it is in decent shape and is growing apace. The Liberal Party however, has been sorely lacking until more recent developments with Liberalist. One very nifty thing, which I applaude is the openness of the Liberal Party in leaving it all in the open on their website like this.
The Liberals have always understood the importance of having direct contact information. I think their biggest problem has been that they see everything through the lens of how it will serve their parochial interests in the next leadership contest, rather than how they can win elections with it. A case in point is when Kate Holloway bailed from the Green Party and ran provincially for the Liberals in Trinity Spadina, It appears that the Liberal Executive in Trinity Spadina were not pleased, so they refused to turn over their closely guarded voter contact records to the Holloway campaign. Classic dog-in-the-manger politics. The reams of data collected and maintained by all those Liberal riding associations, and provincial and territorial associations were jealously guarded for use in the next leadership battle. Old habits die hard, and I am sure that a huge slice of contact information will never make it into Liberalist, BUT this database looks pretty good from the outside, and I think that it`s universal adoption by the Liberal Party is the first step in a long journey back from the Political wilderness.
So what am I talking about when I say this is the key to our Nations political quandry? Well lets take a look at how to build a kick ass political dataset. First of all, the ground rules. For a Political databse, THERE ARE NO RULES! Canadians enjoy a degree of privacy and security of data about themselves, except for one glaring exclusion. When data is collected and used FOR POLITICAL PURPOSES, it is exempted from privacy laws. Huh? So what did that mean for the CPC buildings CIMS, and how does it impact how data about YOU is collected and disseminated? Let us look at a hypothetical example, let us say that an issue based, or charitable organisations interests are aligned with the Liberal, (or NDP, or GPC) party. If both entities are dipping from the same well, then the interest group can collect all kinds of donor information, and data about their members or contributors, and there will be no legal sanctions should they siphon all that information into the political database. The Political database can be sliced, diced, and shared with anybody so long as the purpose to which the data is being put is a `Political Purpose`. The Party that owns the database does not have to pay for all those telephone operators, robodiallers, public events, fundraisers etc that went into developing the data. That is done by the third party actually fundraising and recruiting on their own behalf. When the next opportunity presents itself, the political party can dip into those very well qualified lists, and start pitching their own policies, and asks based upon the known affiliations and proclivities of the target audience.
The ability to share data indiscriminately provided it is politically motivated allows for a very labour and $$ intensive process to work. Folks, anybody who has ever had a summer job telemarketing knows that it takes a lot of time, ( and hence money) to reach out to and contact thousands, and millions of individuals. It requires dozens of robots, and hundreds of people dialling phones all day every day to build a multi-million record database. No political Party has those kinds of resources, so pinching the data, ( Sorry, I meant legally sharing political data), is the way to get the job done. Now I do not know just how palatable to the public it would be to really explain to them how their political masters have granted themselves carte blanch about basically stealing information about them for political purposes. I do not think that any sensible party would highlight the way they do this, unless they were hoping to cripple the Conservative Party by applying privacy laws to political data the same as everybody elses. There would obvioulsy need to be a heirarchy of database users, with a much more discreet effort ran by the central Party. For want of a better term, I will call the top tiers of the hierarchy tiger teams, who pursue individual segments of the populace on a retail basis. That process is not very hard to envision.
A Tiger team could be. for example, headed up by a shadow cabinet member, with responsibility for a particular demographic, issue, or cause. Hypothetically, let us say for example that the Shadow Cabinet Veterans Affairs critic was tasked with winning over veterans to the Liberal cause. She, or He would focus on outreach to veterans associations, working out the policy message that will appeal to, and help Veterans to acheive their objectives. They would start helping Liberal members of those associations to gain access to their membership lists. They would run the Liberals outreach identifying prospective supporters, proposing Liberal Policy prescriptions one on one to that list, and building both the Liberal and the veterans associations memberships, and cementing the affiliation in place. It takes time, but it can be done from anywhere. If the message is well crafted, and it serves the interests of both the association, and the Liberal Party, then come the next election, a whole bunch of committed volunteers will hit the streets and phones carrying the message to the faithful. Just look at the way the pro-life lobby rolls into action on behalf of the CPC. Damned right it works.
Just how many shadow cabinet members are there right now? Just how many years are there to build the ground organisation to win the next election? It is a question of leveraging the resources of organisations with common interests, and building a thorough picture of larger and larger groups of prospective supporters, and WHAT MOTIVATES THEM. Does all this sound vagualy familiar? Does the name Jason Kenney ring a bell? How do YOU think the Conservative Party won over so many socially conservative ethnic associations? The good news is that the Lioberals are in Opposition right now. that means that they can hold the Conservative Party responsible for every little thing the Harper Government does. The Conservatives branded the National Government the Harper Government when they were busily dishing out pork by the bushel basketful. Time to turn the tables and hold the Harper Government resoponsible for all the pain and peril that the CPC wants to dish out now. The opportunities to build bridges to community, ethnic, and civil organisations are boundless, and Canadians are doomed to have neo=conservative values imposed on them until SOMEBODY somewhere figures out that it takes hard work and solid systems to build the killer political machine that will unseat them. Just one word of un-solicited advice. Do not use the data collected this way to crimninally suppress the vote.