Complete Game Changer for the Liberal Party: ‘Supporter’ votes for Leadership.

I am betting that very few people indeed have given much thought to the Liberal Party’s new ‘supporter’ category of membership. I guess I can see why. Most Liberals thrive on the ins and outs, the manoeuvering and machinations of Leadership politics. The media are even more enthralled, as can be seen by the breathless way in which they try to follow the twists and turns, gleefully uncovering blood-stained knives under pillows. Just look at a random sampling of headlines from todays papers: Bob Rae: The Real reason he won’t run… or: Rob Ghiz out of Grit leadership race, promotes Dalton McGuinty.    Well I have a different perspective I guess, because for me, the biggest Liberal Leadership story is a previously unremarkable, and largely unremarked thing that is TRULY significant. To very little fanfare, the Liberal party has created a new membership class, that of supporter.

I must confess, when I first saw the announcement about supporter memberships I thought to myself:  ‘Gee, that’s a good idea, the Liberals will be connecting to a lot of people that way.’ and moved on to other things. The seed was planted though, and over the next few days a few tactical considerations popped into my mind. For example, the need for Leadership candidates & teams to be networking outside the Liberal Party units and EDA’s was immediately obvious. Scratch a little deeper and one corollary is that there will have to be some policy substance behind that outreach. It is equally clear that if you want to engage people who are not currently members, you have to touch them in a spot where they feel strongly about something. That something has to have a political or public policy component, and you have to touch them deeply enough that they will click on a button on a screen somewhere and become a supporter of the Liberal Party. Follow it through to the logical conclusion and you will realise that having drawn the supporter that far, you now need to retain their interest, and keep them motivated until the day comes for them to go online and cast a ballot for the Candidate of their choice in the actual Leadership vote.

You may be asking yourself at this point: ‘Big deal, that is what we always did. Prospecting for, and signing up not very committed new members for a Leadership race.’ You would be kind of correct, except for one thing. There is zero cost to the commitment, and it happens with the click of a button, outside the control of the campaign that provided the impetus. The initial conversion from interested policy advocate to supporter of the Liberal Party is about the easiest political conversion you are going to find in Canadian politics. The cost is virtually nothing, clicking a button to support something you care about. The real trick will be in keeping the supporter engaged and motivating them to go through the voting process on eday. Sound familiar? Yep, it’s a general election! Except it will be easier to vote, because nobody has to get off their arse on eday to get to a polling station.

So you are probably still asking yourself, (if you even read this far); When is BGB going to get to the point? Well I already did. This Liberal leadership contest is going to be won by whoever is best at reaching out to previously uncommitted supporters, persuading really large numbers of people to become supporters, and then maximizing the actual turnouts. There will be no intermediaries between the supporter and their vote. No delegates to skew the outcomes and ‘split’ the votes. No dis-enfranchised voters disqualified for BS reasons. Just one supporter one vote.

Based upon my past experience in Green Party Leadership races, the proportion of members or supporters who cast their votes will be quite small. For example, on the Elizabeth May leadership campaign, I had volunteers canvassing the membership by phone using an online database to manage their contacts. (It was new and funky at the time anyway, even if it is old hat now) The entire membership, and lists of lapsed members was canvassed, in decreasing preference for current members, memberships lapsed in the calendar year, and lastly memberships that lapsed more than one year earlier. Altogether the membership doubled over the course of the campaign, about 75% of the new members being committed to Elizabeth May. We ran a complete GOTV on all committed supporters over the actual voting period, but when all was said and done, only 30% of the members voted, and only 35% of the EMay supporters actually cast a ballot. Mind you, these were supporters who renewed or purchased their first membership explicitly for the purpose of voting for Elizabeth May for leader. So you see what I mean when I say that actually motivating your supporters will be at least as important as recruiting them in the first place.

I am sure that every leadership campaign team is mulling over the same or similar thoughts right now. My guess is that some of the fossilized campaigns that are flush with cash will still be stuck in the past,planning hospitality suites, and schmooze fests at Barbeques over the summer months. Where you can look for the real game changers are from the less well-known candidates campaigns, where cash will be an issue from day 1. They will be obliged to embrace the actual facts that current members and delegates do not matter because it will take a very different type of campaign to win. There will be a lot of attention to policy development, and outreach to online communities of just about every shape and form. Liberal Bloggers: You are going to be wooed time and again! You are the gatekeepers to online traffic and search engine rankings. Expect Trippi’s book: ‘The Revolution will not be televised‘ to enjoy a brief new day in the sun. There will be a much bigger broadcast media component to those campaigns that can afford it. Systematic appeals to the general population will actually have a direct payoff in recruiting new supporters from the aether. The implications are boundless, and I can say with confidence that the Liberal Party is going to be transformed almost beyond recognition by the time we all get to eday sometime in April 2013. The political alchemists that wear the Liberals colours are going to be unleashed, and I can hardly wait to see what clever innovations they bring to bear on the Canadian electorate.

Elections Canada has some serious evidence this time: Things are looking VERY grim for Conservative Del Mastro

Oh boy, the timing could not have been better if M&M planned it. I posted a couple of days ago when the first M&M article was released, telling us that Del Mastro was being investigated for overspending, with a copy of a personal cheque he wrote to cover election expenses. The story lies in the fact that he failed to report those particular expenses to Elections Canada, OR to his auditor, since his public audited statements do not include it. Del Mastro immediately went into gear. He loudly proclaimed his innocence, and spent today castigating Elections Canada for not talking to him first. (Is he serious? He was audited, and presumably if he did not explain it to his auditor then he is already guilty of a serious offense. Should they call him up to explain why he was not telling the truth? On an audit? When the penalty could stretch to a 5 year jail term?)

Today, M&M dropped the hammer on Del Mastro. The follow up article claims that Elections Canada has telephone logs that list the exact phone calls, with dates and times, and guess what? It all happened during the campaign period, and the scripts used were for the election campaign, not other work. It is almost a shame that M&M could not wait for a day or two. You see, Del Mastro was about to replay the robocall defense, and publicly pull out the `proof` that he has been preparing that he has all the paperwork in order, with supporting invoices etc. That would have looked even worse, but there it is, and here we are.

I am tempted to feel sorry for Del Mastro. He may be on his way to being the first MP to ever go to jail for falsifying his spending records, and what doubt remains that he exceeded his spending limits is fading fast. Obviously I do not know for sure if the evidence is real, and the courts will decide that, but this is very important for all of us. Finally, somebody is going to pay the ultimate political price, and electoral laws will not be quite so laughable anymore. He will pretty well have to resign now, and the fact that there is likely to be a prosecution will make a lot of politicians take a steop or two back and wonder if it is so smart to mock the Elections Finance Act after all.  It looks like there may soon be another by-election in Peterborough to go with Etobicoke Centre. My advice to Harper, lump them both together, and take your medicine in one gulp. Gonna lose them both, so change the channel as quick as you can.

Will the Northern Gateway Pipeline be the Conservatives ‘NEP’?

What do the Northern Gateway Project and the NEP have in common?

I think everybody in Canada has heard of the NEP. In essence, Pierre Trudeau dreamed up a scheme which suppressed crude oil prices paid to producers in Alberta, in order to subsidise energy costs to central Canada. It was an arbitrary, and naked attempt to seize the resource riches of Alberta. When questioned by reporters on how it affected Alberta’s interests (the energy industry), PET essentially shrugged his shoulders and responded that he did not care, Albertans didn’t vote for him….The NEP has remained a cause celebre in Alberta. I suspect that mothers must raise their children on stories of the big bad Liberals, and that if the kids don’t behave, the NEP is gonna get them. The mythic proportions continue to this day, despite the fact that the NEP was repealed with a stroke of a pen 3 decades ago. And that was the key to the power of the NEP legend. It was uni-lateral, it had a profound impact on Alberta’s flagship industry, and it gifted one region at the expense of another. For the Conservatives, it has been the gift that keeps on giving, essentially cementing their control of Alberta in place for two generations (and counting).

Fast forward thirty years, and history is in the process of repeating itself. Enbridge`s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline to a new Kitimat Oil Tanker Terminal has all the ingredients of the NEP, with the added insult that no stroke of a pen will be able to reverse it once the pipeline and tanker terminal are constructed. The pipeline and terminal will create several thousand jobs during the construction period, and subsequently a few hundred permanent local jobs to operate said pipeline and terminal. Those are the benefits to British Columbia, and they are pretty meagre. The lions share of the benefits will be felt for a few years at most, and those construction jobs will be long forgotten when the costs to BC start rising over time.

As far as British Columbians are concerned, those benefits need to be contrasted to the risks. The obvious and predictable risk is that there will be ongoing leaks and spills along the course of the Northern Gateway pipeline itself. I don’t think that there is any doubt that there will be breakages and spills over the years. As recent events have demonstrated, leaks like yesterdays Red Deer river spill, or last weeks muskeg spill in Alberta, happen all the time. These examples are in far less challenging environments than a pipeline through the Rocky Mountains with the attendant risks of seismic activity, falling rocks, avalanches etc. According to a number of different sources, the proposed pipeline route crosses approximately 1,000 streams and rivers, which aggravates the risks dramatically. You see, streams and rivers are a natural conduit to spread oil spills, and the rapidly spreading oil can cause irreparable damage to local eco-systems that centre around fresh running water.

Proposed Tanker Routes: courtesy

Then there is the risk of a Tanker accident, with the potential to utterly destroy fisheries, tourism, and extinguish life along hundreds of kilometers of shoreline of the fjords leading to Kitimat. We have heard about just how wonderfully safe modern Tankers are, but it would take a hell of a sales job to convince me that manoeuvering a massive tanker through shoals, tides, and hairpin turns for hundreds of kilometers is safe. With half a million barrels per day being shipped, there will be a number of Oil tankers navigating the sound at any given time, whatever the state of the weather and tides. There are numerous sources for finely reasoned arguments about the dangers, but the most telling challenge came in the form of a narrative Op-Ed piece in the Vancouver Sun. Op-ed: Pipeline thoughts from an old Sea Captain.

SO back to my theme and title, Will the project be the Conservatives NEP style gift to British Columbia? The ingredients are all there. The omnibus ‘budget bill’ C-38 contains provisions designed to stifle opponents to the proposed Pipeline Environmental assessments. The direct economic and health risks of any catastrophe will be borne by all coastal inhabitants in BC. The Canadian Taxpayer will be on the hook for literally tens of billions of cleanup costs in the event of a worst case tanker accident. Criticism of the proposal, and the revised environmental approval hearings will be limited to people who are directly in the path of the pipeline, or those whose economic interests are ‘directly affected’, which determination is to be made by the Harper Cabinet. This is a transparent ploy to reduce the number of people who need to be co-opted in the approval. The main beneficiary of the pipeline is not Enbridge, it is the Tar Sands producers and the province of Alberta. They will add approximately $50 million per day in additional export capacity, but more importantly to them, it will enhance their bargaining position with US refiners of Tar Sands crude. As at this moment, their US customers pay a big discount for Alberta`s bitumen products. The second Alberta has an alternative customer, they can re-direct the flow of bitumen to Asian markets if the American refiners will not meet a world market price. If Alberta can secure market prices for their synthetic crude, it will add tens of billions of dollars in NET profits annually to bitumen exporters, and government coffers. It will be apparent to British Columbians that Alberta benefitted enormously, while they bore the risks. More to the point for politicians, the risks will almost certainly be driven home again and again over the years. Every time there is a pipeline leak, or a release at the terminal, there will be graphic reminders of the costs. People up and down the coast will become, and remain embittered for the rest of their lives. In the event that there were a catastrophic tanker accident, the public reaction will be epic. I think that the fall-out from the NEP would pale by comparison. Can you imagine British Columbia`s reaction should the entire economy, and coastal ecology of BC be destroyed to serve the economic interests of Alberta, and big foreign-owned oil companies?

There are certain to be court challenges to this proposal at every stage. There are going to be a whole lot of protests, and they will be getting bigger and more vocal as we get closer to a cabinet decision on the Northern Gateway. Make no mistake, this will be bitterly contested and will go on for a long, long time. If the Conservatives continue to follow their chosen course, I find it likely that they will be obliterated in British Columbia in the near term, (the 2015 election), and if the Pipeline and Tanker terminal are constructed, they may face a permanent shutout in British Columbia.

Del Maestro in Hot Water? Has EC grown a pair?

CPC Dean Del Maestro got a rude wakeup call yesterday. It seems that Elections Canada is investigating his campaign spending for the 2008 because of a serendipitous small claims action launched by Holinshed Research Group, and Conservative friendly robodialling and call centre company. Here is a link to the story, including a scanned copy of a personal cheque issued by Del Maestro to cover elections expenses. Please note there is no such expense claimed in the actual audited financial statements for the campaign.

The CBC reported: “”All I can say is all of the expenses related to the campaign — all of them — have been fully accounted for and those statements have been fully audited and accepted by Elections Canada,” he said.”

You can readily find the detailed audited list of  Del Maestro’s 2008 Campaign expenses at the Elections Canada electoral finance database here. Please note these are the AUDITED returns, which means that Del Maestro’s Financial Agent had to go through a compliance audit, to make sure that all the little details were 100% up to snuff. The auditor, and the Financial Agent theoretically scrutinised every detail, and swore that they were telling the truth, the whole truth, etc. I am stressing this point because these financials are way past the point where it is OK for some errors and ommissions to creep in. They have had to support every line item, and swear that this is the complete picture. Guess what, there is no entry for this $21,000 expense.

The CBC reported further: “Del Mastro said any campaign expenses he paid were reimbursed by the campaign or the riding association.” Well, well, well. It is clear from the fact that EC is investigating him that he DID not disclose anything about these payments to EC. The audit is supposed to examine any oddball discrepencies like this. If there were some overpayment, or billing dispute, then by law the Campaign Bank account should have been kept open until everything was cleared up. The auditor would have examined the questionable transaction, the Financial Agent would paid any funds owing to Del Maestro through the Campaign account. and REPORTED what happened to Elections Canada. For Del Maestro to be re-imbursed by the EDA is illegal. That is because the audit is what Elections Canada relies on to prove that he did not exceed spending limits by paying expenses through some third party (Like Del Maestro’s personal account, or through the EDA or some murkier player).

It may strike you as unfair that Elections Canada simply goes after Del Maestro without giving him a chance to explain. Well put your fears on poor Del Maestro’s behalf to rest. That is what an audit is for, to explain everything in the level of detail required to establish the TRUTH. In Canada we rely on voluntary reporting, supported by an independant audit. All the questions are answered during that audit period. If  this transaction did in fact occurr, and it was not in the audited statements, then it’s game over for Del Maestro. It would not have been an accident, it would have meant that the Campaign deliberately and massively exceeded their spending limits, and then tried to deceive either Elections Canada, the Auditor, or both.

Now the second question in my post title is ‘Has EC grown a pair?’ It is a relevant question, because in the past EC has been a total Patsy when it comes to throwing the book at Elections Fraudsters. For example, the infamous ‘In and Out Scandal’ prosecution allowed the Conservatives to cop a plea bargain to keep those responsible out of jail. The CPC paid roughly a $50,000 fine, repaid the money stolen from the taxpayers and that was all EC had to say about the fact that they stole the election, and attempted to defraud the taxpayer with phony local expenses at the same time. In this new case, should their investigation show that Del Maestro did in fact steal the 2008 election in his riding, they can decide that he should say sorry, or they could actually prosecute him, (and his financial agent) for an intentional pre-meditated breach of the act. Penalties range up to 5 years in prison, (yeah right. Like EC will actually try to put a Conservative in Jail).

Personally, I am disgusted with EC. They are clearly NOT an appropriate entity to enforce the Law. Sure, they can investigate elections breaches and audit etc. but imho a credible law ENFORCEMENT agency should be carrying these prosecutions to their logical conclusion. An offense should be prosecuted ALWAYS. No matter who committed it. I find it reprehensible that EC can hide their decision making behind a veil, and prosecute or not depending on whether they are having a bad hair day. I am sure it is not as trivial as bad hair day decison making, but really, how are we supposed to know? We can only know by looking at their actions. At this juncture, Elections Canada’s credibility is on the line. This appears to be an extremely easy case to investigate, and it will not take more than a few hours to determine what the facts are. The jury is still out, and we shall see if EC has actually grown a pair. One thing is for sure, Del Maestro is running scared. This could be the straw that broke the camels back, and it could be the rock upon which his political career foundered. And another thing is for sure. The CPC in general, and Del Maestro in particular have taken no prisoners in the past, and they revel in destroying reputations and careers. Nobody, but nobody will shed a tear for him if he ends up sitting in a cell in one of his shiny new prisons.

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