Justin over Joyce, by a nose: But how they are BOTH winners.

The conventional wisdom has it that Justin Trudeau has the leadership of the Liberals all but in the bag. Well, all I can say is that the conventional wisdom is ill-informed, and I believe that the contest is a whole lot closer than it appears.

First off, Joyce Murray has a lot more supporters than was publicly suspected. According to her campaign, they actually managed to register 45,000 supporters through their third-party recruiting drive. Yes, I said register to vote, not sign up as supporters. As I posted some weeks ago, Joyce Murray was pretty smart when she targeted a massive, well organised, and highly motivated online community in her supporter drive. It did not require a massive labour intensive process to succeed, because the communications tool utilised, (electronic) is basically free, and the motivation of her erstwhile target group is STRONG. That ease of communications, and strong motivation has manifested itself again by the very high rate of conversion of Murray Supporters to registered voters. That does not surprise me in the least, as I blogged here. As a former Green, I know that the Democratic reform advocates are more deeply motivated than most Canadians, and since the means of recruiting them, via email made it very easy to register, it was inevitable that their numbers would be strong. So based upon the raw numbers, Joyce probably has more registered supporters than Trudeau, while Trudeau probably has a big edge in paid up members.

The Trudeau Campaign is in a very different place. Despite all the hoopla about 170,000 Supporters, the Trudeau campaign recruited a large number of them through their phone banks, NOT through email or online campaigns. The down-side of this is that there was a built-in bias AGAINST Trudeau rooted in the means of acquiring those supporters. They reached them, one at a time by telephone, so a great many of them had no email address on file. This meant that given the very short time frame to register to vote, only a fraction of the Trudeau supporters will have ended up being eligible to vote. Trudeau has got to be chewing his fingernails by now, if the conversion rate for supporters to registered voters was so very lame, are his registered supporters sufficiently motivated to actually cast their ballot after all? I have zero information to share on that score, except the general observation that Joyce’s supporters are going to turn out in very large numbers, and Trudeau’s supporter turnout will definitely be lower. On raw vote counts, it will be extremely close, but that does not mean that Trudeau will lose.

You see, there is something to be said for clunky, old-fashioned, slow and expensive phone banks. Every contact can be targeted. While Joyce was racking up big numbers of supporters, she could not control WHERE THEY CAME FROM. Boy, is she gonna ROCK BC! Actually, she is going to just sweep aside everybody else in BC, and there will be a titanic battle in Urban centres across Canada. But superior organisation, and the highly targeted phone campaign by the Trudeau team will still likely tip the balance. The reason is that despite the very low registration rates ‘enjoyed’ by team Trudeau, their conversions are going to yield a very efficient vote. By efficient, I mean that they are going to win maybe 100, maybe more ridings by just a handful of votes. So there it is, I predict that Joyce will be in a dead heat with Trudeau in terms of ballots cast, but unless Trudeau’s turnout is really really pitiful, he shall win it in rural Nova Scotia, and across the Province of Quebec. It is going to be close though, so nobody should loaf around figuring it is in the bag.

So what to do with Joyce once the dust settles? Well, she has proven something very specific and relevant to the Liberals fortunes. Look at this very interesting article on election results based upon polled intentions of the electorate under a preferential ballot system, ( Actually, that is official Liberal Policy for democratic reform). The outcomes are extremely favourable for every party except the Conservative Party. That makes intuitive sense because the Conservatives have pursued a deliberate policy of solidifying support from their issue sensitive base by contrasting it against, and vilifying those who disagree with them. Hmm, not very conducive for being liked by at least some of your opponents. So preferential ballots are good for the Liberal Party. Joyce has proven something else. Democratic reform is a very strong motivator. It is capable of drawing tens of thousands of supporters in from different party’s, and those supporters mean business. While Joyce pulled in maybe 50,000 names, the sheer size of the Leadnow, Fair Vote, etc memberships suggests that there are as many as a million motivated Canadians standing behind electoral reform. So here is some food for thought, Joyce should be offered the job of building up a strongly motivated community of Liberals, dedicated to bringing Preferential ballots, or a Royal Commission on electoral reform to Canadians, just as soon as the Liberals form the next Government. There is plenty of time to turn this issue into a Liberal issue before the next election. Put half a million democratic reform supporters into Liberalist, and there will be an amazing number of pony tailed-activists canvassing in YOUR riding for YOUR candidate in 2015. And the money, Oh La La! Joyce will have plenty of funds to carry the electoral reform message to the electorate. People who really care will respond well to asks for time and money to support their cause. And guess what? If it succeeds, the Liberal Party will have a permanent advantage with the introduction of preferential ballots, because there they are, with a brand that has very broad appeal indeed! And if it doesn’t succeed? Well, the democratic reform advocates have been patient and are used to not succeeding. They will dig in their heels, and organise an even stronger community for the next election.

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Uniting Progressives: A meaningless Mantra for the Liberals.

Every time I hear, or read about ‘uniting the left’, or ‘uniting progressives’ to get rid of the Conservatives, it makes me wince. And every time I read some journalist – pundit pontificating on the certainty of perpetual Conservative governments unless the LEFT unites, I get even more irritated. I mean, am I the only person in Canada who has noticed that the left – right spectrum has very little to do with electoral outcomes in a Canada? So here is the conventional wisdom. The Canadian Political spectrum is made up of the NDP on the left, the Liberal Party straddling the centre, and to the right we have the Conservative Party. In this one-dimensional world, individual electors fall in a nice neat continuum from left to right. The issues that actually motivate the electors are of course all nicely aligned left to right as well. The electorate, like nice little sheep know their place in this continuum, and take timid baby steps to the left, or to the right according to what way they are ‘leaning’ in the current electoral cycle. The pundits breathlessly analyse how the Liberal Party is leaning right this time, so the Conservatives are going to suffer as more of their end of the spectrum fall under the sway of the Liberals, or perhaps the Liberals are ‘campaigning from the left’ again, and stealing away all those socialists who fell under the sway. The natural conclusion is that the Liberals do not stand for anything, (because they swing both ways you see), while the principled Party’s of the left and right are ‘too extreme’ to govern in accordance with the majority of Canadians who dwell in the political ‘centre’.

What a crock! Socialists exist of course. Libertarians exist too, as do religious fundamentalists, and social conservatives. But how the heck do all these different ideas, beliefs, and ideals fit into that neat little left right continuum? The fact is that people are motivated by ISSUES, not by some imaginary political spectrum. There are things that Matter to them, and there is everything else, whether left, right, or not readily pigeonholed, which is mostly white noise. I have blogged about micro-targeting, segmenting the electorate, and the realities of modern electoral politics. The REAL world of electoral politics is made up of a whole lot of different issues, and ideals that constitute a much broader array of choices than left or right. These issues and ideals are held dear by people of different sexes and ages, not strictly by ‘seniors’, ‘women’, or other broad demographic groupings. This has always been the case, but it is only in very recent times (meaning the past decade) that the low costs and ease of communications, and computing power has made the old style targeting of broad demographics and right left spectrums essentially nostalgia of ageing pundits.

So what does this have to do with ‘uniting progressives’ or ‘the left’ to defeat the dreaded Conservatives? In essence, I would argue that there is no left to unite, and ‘Progressive`is a largely meaningless word. If the Green Party, the Liberal Party, and the NDP were to actually unite, they would be obliged to harmonise their policies before presenting them to the electorate. If their current voters were all nicely lined up on a left right spectrum, then it would be a simple matter of arithmetic, adding up all those votes for an instant and overwhelming majority. But Left – Right is NOT what motivates the majority of their current supporters. If there were indeed such a shakeup, then the Conservative Party would be very busy crafting policy messages for people who live on a whole another spectrum. The spectrum of `where do you stand on the issues that motivate ME?` The new party would be busily thrashing out their platform in a huge policy slugfest. As the new united left entity harmonised their policies, they would be shedding supporters who agreed with the predecessor party`s policy, but could not abide the new policy. Those electors would be up for grabs, and you can bet that the Conservatives would be looking hard for the issues that would draw them into the Conservative column on EDay. Maybe the united left would win, maybe not, but a slam dunk it would NOT be. And what would happen if the ‘left’ party’s simply collaborated to run a single candidate WITHOUT consolidating their policies first, (a la Joyce Murray)? Well, a lot of their past supporters would blow them a raspberry, and follow a coherent policy offering by the Conservatives.

So what it really comes down to for the Liberal Party is; How are the Conservatives, (and the NDP) to be defeated if merging three Party’s is not the answer? The answer is disarmingly simple. Stop treating the electorate like they were monolithic demographic blocks, and start treating them like they were individuals who happened to share their political motivations, and policy interests with other Canadians from many different backgrounds.  I get the feeling that the Liberal Party has conceded the `right`to the Conservatives, and to a lesser extent the `left`to the Dippers. Well that is just plain dumb! Do you really think that well-heeled capitalists do not care if they are breathing air contaminated by industrial pollutants? Perhaps you feel that religious and social conservatives never ever considered that a social safety net is a handy thing when you are down and out? And those trade unionists, are they are all dyed in the wool socialists who would never consider abandoning the NDP? Of course not, but just how the heck do you get to develop a dialogue with them, and draw them into the Liberal fold? Well the starting point is to develop the means to communicate with them ALL over the entire course of the electoral cycle. And that means collecting reams and reams of email addresses and data about individual Canadians. As I have blogged in a prior post, the Real world of electoral politics requires that the Liberals build and populate their electoral database, Liberalist, with information on every single Canadian voter. Since the means of communicating directly with them is determined by possession of a valid email address, the most fundamental task for Liberal organisers is to employ any device they can conceive of to amass accurate confirmed email addresses for as many electors as possible. The second task, ( and it should be pursued concurrently) is to solicit, and acquire data on what motivates each and every voter in Canada. That means using communications to solicit responses that actually tell you what people think is important. And I cannot stress enough that the so-called ‘strongholds’ on the left right spectrum are NOT locked into the Conservatives and NDP respectively.  Those demographics are made up of individuals. By reaching out to, and making contact with them as individuals, it is possible to delve deeper into the whole range of policy issues that motivate them. Now, building and weaving those motivations into a coherent policy package or election plank is a big task, but the basic facts are pretty clear. You have to start with the means and methods to communicate directly with the electorate.

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ROFL: The Green Party ‘concedes’ Labrador to the Liberals.

I did not get a chance to watch tonight’s debate yet, but I did get a good laugh at the headlines about Elizabeth May`s very canny playing of the Liberal Party on Saturday. Elizabeth May announced that the Green Party would not be running a candidate in the anticipated Labrador by-election. And some people actually bought it!

As I blogged 2 months ago, the Green Party is in a sticky situation. Firstly, the number of Electoral District Associations has declined as their funding from the per vote subsidy dries up. If you carefully examine the databases over at Elections Canada, you will see that the overwhelming majority of surviving EDA`s have received substantially ALL of their cash receipts in transferred per vote subsidy (Revenue Sharing) allocations from the central Party. That source of funds is drying up, and the steady flow of EDA`s being de-certified by Elections Canada for failing to file, is about to turn into a flood. In the 8 weeks since I last checked, 4 more Green Party EDA`s have been de-certified, and the impact of losing the subsidy is still to come. It is NOT going to be a good year for the Green Party, as they have long ago forgotten how to support and strengthen EDA`s. What this means is that the Green Party is going to have little or no ground game in place in 90% the ridings in Canada for the next general election. By no ground game, I mean they will not be able to beg the EDA executive to be candidate and financial agent for a make-believe campaign, lol. Everywhere they fail to field a candidate means zero votes counted, so without question, the Green Party vote, such as it is, will collapse in 2015, (with the exception of a number of strong BC Ridings).

Now this is the bit where Elizabeth May has scored a coup, turning a disaster into a triumph. She is undoubtedly aware that the Green Party is going to suffer a drastic reduction in votes in 2015. Obviously the Green Party will be in trouble if they fall to 3% of the vote. How can they preserve their significance? What Elizabeth May has achieved has been 2 parts luck, and 1 part sheer opportunistic cunning. First of all, two out of three November 2012 by-elections were in two relatively strong regions for the Green Party, Calgary, and British Columbia. While the Green Party is spread a mile wide, and an inch deep, they have enough resources in terms of volunteers, and cash to mount a respectable by-election effort pretty well anywhere in Alberta or BC. As a past member, I was bombarded along with the entire mailing list looking for phone bank volunteers for Calgary, and a lesser extent Victoria. The results were good enough to create an impression of strength. I guess I cannot fault most Canadians for not knowing just how fortuitous the chance for two competitive by-elections should occur at the same time. I have spent many hours poring over Green Party membership lists, and canvassing key ridings for various internal GPC Leadership and council elections. Calgary Centre, and Victoria are two of about 25 Electoral Districts where the GPC would be capable of concentrating enough volunteers, money, and identified supporter base to have a credible showing in a by-election.

When the Liberal Party Leadership campaign got under way, Elizabeth May seized her opportunity, and threw whatever support she could to the Candidate who openly supported her plan for electoral co-operation. Joyce was eager to accept, after all, political endorsements from David Suzuki are nothing to sneeze at in BC, or the rest of Canada for that matter, and Elizabeth May and David Suzuki go waay back. It is also fair to say that Joyce, being a regional BC politician should over-estimate the strength of the Green Party. BC has long been a regional `stronghold` for the GPC, with respectable double-digit results in numerous Ridings on EDay. If she had experience outside BC, she would know that the GPC she knows is anomalous in the wider Canadian context.

So with a decent pair of by-elections in her back pocket, and the windfall publicity that the Murray campaign was generating for her co-operation proposal, Elizabeth May immediately ran into a problem. Peter Innashue Penashue (updated Mar24) resigned, and an immediate by-election is looming in Labrador. Now if Victoria, and Calgary are the perfect by-election seats for the Green Party, Labrador is the single worst riding in the entire country! I am not exaggerating here folks, and the reason why can be captured by two words: Seal Hunt. A decade ago, the Green Party of Canada adopted a policy condemning the Seal Hunt in Labrador. It was rescinded shortly thereafter, but the damage had been done. To this day the Green party is synonymous with PETA in Newfoundland and Labrador. The last time I saw GPC data, there were a grand total of 26 past and present members in the entire province of Newfoundland & Labrador. 2 of them are in Labrador. If the Green Party were to run in the Labrador by-election, the result would make the November by-election in Durham Ontario  (4%) look good! Given the context in which Elizabeth May is making decisions, she played her hand marvelously by announcing on the eave of the Liberal Party leadership debate, that the Green party would  co-operate with the Liberals by not running a candidate in Labrador. I read this Gem of a quote in the Winnipeg Free Press article on Elizabeth May`s appeal. `In a news release, Liberal leadership candidate Joyce Murray claims she orchestrated the bid to elect a Grit, saying she called May and asked her not to run a candidate in the Labrador by-election.` ROFL, methinks somebody got played, and it sure as heck wasn`t Elizabeth May!

So there is Elizabeth May and the Green Party, hanging on by the skin of her teeth, but she is playing her hand out to the last card. I admire her for that, she has proven again that she is a very capable tactician. The real question is, will the Liberal Party take the bait, and breathe some life back into the Green Party in the form of an electoral co-operation deal? If my advice were solicited, I would suggest that the Liberal Party would be better off to let them wither on the vine, because they will not be able to influence the outcome in more than half a dozen ridings in 2015. Give them a free lunch in a couple of BC ridings, and they may survive long enough to start building their party locally again.

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Building the Database: Conservative Union busting campaign.

So I have blogged on what the bare existence of the Supporter category of membership means to the Liberal Party. In a nutshell, it means that the Liberals have woken up to the fact that a robust and healthy contact database provides the means to establish a dialogue with Canadians with an affinity for the Liberal Party. It is an encouraging start, but Liberals everywhere need to wake up to the fact that the Conservatives are so far ahead in this game that it is going to very hard to catch up to them before the 2015 election. One of the most useful tools to build up a political database is to create a petition, and I have TWO specific cases I picked up from a few minutes worth of Facebook feeds to illustrate my point.

Today on Facebook, I came across a ‘shared’ story which was in essence, a data harvesting exercise by the Conservative Party of Canada, er, I mean, Stephen Taylor and the National Citizens Coalition. The article is a very simple blurb:

“Union bosses are spending millions of dollars on extremist political campaigns, like supporting separatist parties during the last Quebec election, attacking political candidates they don’t like, and by supporting causes the union rank-and-file would find shocking.

Isn’t it time to stop forcing workers to pay for the extreme views of the union bosses?

— National Citizens Coalition”

The blurb is attached to a link to the actual petition form, located here.  I will liberally paraphrase the ‘privacy policy’ of this petition  it as follows: “Sign up here and we shall be contacting you for future campaigns. We shall use your information for whatever purpose we want, but we will not sell it.” Read it if you want, at this link.

The purpose of this petition is pretty obvious. They are harvesting names and contact information to match with a set of policy ideas. This will tell them something specific about all signatories about their political ideals, and what motivates them. I can guarantee you that anybody who signs this petition will be invited to recruit their friends, contribute funds, time, and votes to the cause in the future. Please note that the petition does not state anywhere WHO it is going to be sent to. It is just a giveaway of contact data to the people who started up the petition site. Those who sign up for it, are almost certainly going to be voting Conservative come the 2015 election, and the Conservatives will raise thousands of dollars from them that they otherwise would not have.

The second petition I saw is a bird of a different feather. It is one where the ideological enemies of the Conservatives are voluntarily harvesting data to help the Conservatives to build up the size, and quality of the information in their database. The petition is circulated by Leadnow, and is entitled: Tell Prime Minister Stephen Harper: Don’t silence Canada’s federal budget watchdog! Take a closer look at the petition iteslf. The act of signing the petition automatically creates a form that contains the personal email address,  name, and postal code to the following recipients:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper;
Kevin Page, Parliamentary Budget Officer;
Sonia L’Heureux, Assistant Parliamentary Librarian;
The opposition party leaders;
Your local Member of Parliament

At the time of writing, 14,889 Canadians had provided Stephen Harper with their email addresses, along with the fact that they are very supportive of Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer. That is a handy little piece of data for the Conservative Party to play with! Of course, the same information has been provided to Bob Rae, Tom Mulcair, and Elizabeth May. I am pretty sure that the NDP will be harvesting all those email addresses and names from the petition, and tagging them for future communications. I am equally sure that Elizabeth may and the Green Party will be doing no such thing. Will Bob Rae be picking up that data for Liberalist? I sure hope so. This is a no brainer for the Liberal party to follow-up on with those petitioners.

And just to put this into perspective, the Liberal Party has collected about 100,000 email addresses over the course of the current Leadership campaign. These two petitions alone will garner perhaps 25,000 or more email addresses in an afternoon or two. These petitions provide a wealth of information about the signatories. When their contents are merged with a full-scale political database, they will contribute to a much better understanding of the motivations driving the signatories. And as I said earlier, they are simple little things that a couple of different groups whipped up to harvest some actionable data one afternoon. The Conservatives have been raising petitions, and gathering this kind of data for YEARS. If you wonder how they can mobilise so many resources, from such a small proportion of the Canadian population, wonder no longer. They have ridden this kind of effort right into a majority government.

Time for the Liberal Party to step up its game a few notches!

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Liberalist 101: The Fundamentals of effective political databases.

I have blogged repeatedly on what the Liberal Party needs to do to effectively contest elections in Canada. THE most important thing that will need to happen is to implement a far more sophisticated approach to populating, managing, and deploying their electoral database; Liberalist. In this post I shall strip down the task to its fundamentals. In order to compete, the Liberals will need to build up Liberalist with many hundreds of thousands of individual names and email addresses. They will need to engage those people ever more deeply with the Liberal Party, and they will need to effectively mobilise resources from their database. There was a fortuitous article in the Globe and Mail that supports, and illustrates much of what I have to say. It is, after all, the Conservative Party who parlayed these techniques into a majority government, so both their successes and failures should be closely analysed if the Liberal Party is to match and surpass their record.

BUILDING THE DATABASE: In order to communicate directly with the electorate, the Liberal Party needs to acquire the means to do so cheaply, and effectively. With the adoption of the Supporter category of membership, the Liberals have clearly determined that the acquisition of a LOT of email addresses is a major priority. The attraction of communicating electronically ought to be obvious to all. Such communications are managed through sophisticated databases, such as Liberalist. There are all sorts of nifty applications available for targeting to, and then measuring, and quantifying reactions to electronic communications. And over all other considerations is the fact that sending emails is essentially FREE. The basic pre-condition to employing them is that you need to collect email addresses for as many people as possible. An analogy that everybody is familiar with is that of print media, building their circulation. The more people who are receiving the publication, the more rewarding advertising in the publication will be. This allows the publication to charge more money for their advertising. The same rationale applies to a political database. The more people who you have email addresses for, the more people are available to you for delivering whatever message it is you wish to convey. The supporter category has proven to be pretty useful tool for the fundamental task of making the initial contact with several hundred thousand Canadians. While that is a good start, it is still only a tiny fraction of potential supporters for the Liberals. The Liberal Party should expand upon the supporter category, and embark upon a continuous, ongoing program to acquire as many electronic contacts as they can. There are many ways to populate a political database with newly acquired contacts. Petitions, event attendees, Leadership and nomination contests. This should be the most basic of tasks for political activists and organisers, to collect the names and means to contact people, so that you can direct future calls to action to them.

ENGAGING WITH SUPPORTERS: The bare fact of regular email communications will start to establish a deeper engagement with the contacts within Liberalist. The Liberal Party will want to carefully start gathering more information about what is of interest to each specific person with whom they have contact. With every email sent, there should be carefully worded calls to action that will tell us something useful about those who respond, and even who do not respond to them. For example, a call to action that requests a small donation to support a specific policy event will identify any people who make a donation as people who feel more strongly about that issue than those who do not respond. In the future, those who donated should definitely be on the distribution list for communications about that issue. Those who failed to respond can be dropped from that list, and the Liberal Party can attempt to engage them on a different front. It is a demonstrable fact that regular feedback and communications is the key to building a relationship, and can be counted on to yield an improving relationship in terms of votes won, money raised, volunteer hours offered, and pretty well all the things that a political Party needs to secure from its supporter base to be competitive.

CALLING SUPPORTERS TO ACTION: The call to action is basically the point of purchase for the Liberal Party. Liberalist will ultimately be used to harvest many different good things from the individuals within it. There will be GOTV emails to get Liberal supporters out to the advance polls. There will be asks for donations to EDA’s, the Central Party, and presumably a number of issue specific funding requests. There will be requests to volunteer for specific, or more generic tasks (like phone banking to support a by-election campaign). In short, the Call to Action is how all the hard work in building Liberalist pays off. As such, it should be designed to do more than just gather donations, or register to attend an event. A properly conceived call to action will quantify and enhance the level of engagement of the recipients, by asking for several things at once. For example, readers can be invited to visit a web page to find out more about the issue. Then a second ask to sign up to receive updates about that particular issue as it develops. Then the meatiest ask of all, to volunteer, or donate to support the activity. This will provide the means to measure more than just the raw fact of who donated, and who did not. It will start to flesh out a more nuanced understanding of where supporters stand on specific questions, and help to target future communications to those most receptive to the message.  It will be the means by which people are more effectively engaged in a dialogue with the Liberal Party.

So you can see that effectively building and exploiting a national database is the key to building up the capacity to contest elections in Canada. There are a great many different initiatives that can support these objectives, and I shall be blogging on exactly that in the future, but the fundamental reality is that the key to victory in the next election is to do these things, and to do them well.

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The Real world of Electoral Politics: Coming soon to a Liberal Party near you!

Every time I think about the long decline of the Liberal Party, I recall vividly a conversation I had over coffee with my local Liberal counterpart back in 2007. We were discussing a municipal election, and the conversation turned to local Green Party ‘doings’. I was pretty chuffed at the time. My constant harping and lobbying of the GPC central office was having an impact, as the Green party was actually working on a couple of different voter contact databases. (CiviCRM, and GRIMES). It was looking like we would soon have a viable tool to upload and preserve all our local electoral data in. The municipal election was providing us with reams of data on local voter issues, and key little tidbits on the electorate like School Board affiliation, home ownership status, voting intentions and current updates on the raw contact info like addresses and current phone numbers. I will paraphrase my Liberal counterparts response: ‘I don’t know why you are making such a fuss about ID’ing and GOTV. It is not complicated. All you need is lots of volunteers on EDAY and bang doors getting people to the polling booth.’ At that time, I was a partisan Green, so I bit my tongue and nodded vaguely back to him. My mind was boiling though. Could it really be true that my Alma Mater, the Liberal Party was led by people who just did not understand what was happening to electoral politics in front of their noses?

So there is the context for my impulsive decision to rejoin the Liberal Party in 2012. I had read that Liberalist was purchased, and that the age-old Liberal practice of hoarding electoral data locally was on its last legs. When I learned that a solid, effective measure had been adopted to shoehorn ALL the data from the next leadership contest into Liberalist, through the good offices of the Supporter category, I became a supporter on the spot. You see, I am terrified by the prospect of Canadian electoral politics being polarised between two ideological extremes. If my children are to grow up in a country that seeks to implement policies that work for ALL Canadians, rather than chomping on ideological popcorn policies that reward one or the other extreme, then the Liberal Party MUST succeed in adapting to the political paradigm shift that is sweeping them away. The shift in essence is to leave behind the idea that ‘all politics is local’ and the corollary that location-based data is what it is all about. The new paradigm is that all politics is affinity based, with location being relegated to second tier tactical mapping of polling stations, EDA boundaries and a basket of important, but secondary highly distributed ‘local issues’. Please understand, I am not arguing that location-based politics is dead. It is alive and well, but there is a whole another world of much broader communities of interests, and communications tools that strike out across ALL physical locations. It is this ‘higher plane’ of electoral politics that has determined who wins elections in Canada, because it strikes closer to the root of individual motivations, and determines where increasing numbers of Canadians place the X on the ballot on EDAY.

In the past, this higher plane was crudely called ‘demographics’. In essence, Politicians segmented their electorate along broad lines like age groupings, Sex, and to a much lesser extent ethnicity and mother tongue. The means of communicating with these segments was called the ‘Air War’ because it largely consisted of crafting messages targeting specific demographic groups, and delivering those messages through the print, and broadcast media. This was inefficient, because the message intended for, say senior citizens had to be delivered simultaneously to ALL Canadians through a press conference. Nuance and careful parsing of the message was critical, so as to attract the intended recipients, without turning off the balance of the population. The politicians (and the War Room) eagerly awaited the next days newspapers, and the evening news broadcasts, crossing their fingers that the media did not alter the message too much, and that appealing to the seniors did not leave everybody else cold. It was, at best a crude instrument. The means of communications dictated the message, and methodology. The interlocutors, (the Press) were all-powerful brokers, shaping and defining who gets to hold power. There was incremental progress towards more sharply defined electoral groupings that were NOT based strictly upon where, how old, or which sex. Much of that was lumped under the heading ‘Ethnic Press’, or specialty publications, and the power of that particular set of interlocutors rested on the fact that a more carefully honed message could be delivered, without worrying about offending a broad demographic. Despite all the attention paid to, and importance of the Air War, elections were fought primarily on the ground, because the only way to communicate an un-filtered message was to knock on a door, deliver a pamphlet, and starting in the seventies and eighties, to telephone electors.

So what is the paradigm shift of which I speak? Simple, the process of segmenting the population into ever more discrete groupings has been made virtually free by the low costs of computer power. The means of enabling two-way communications between really large, or small numbers of people has evolved due to the essentially zero costs of  electronic communications, and near universal access to the same. Instead of a focus on broad demographic groups, it is now possible to segregate databases into ever shrinking subsets of people, and store actionable data on those subsets for instant retrieval. When I say ‘actionable data’ what I mean is that you can now DO SOMETHING useful with those little subsets, or segments of the electorate. To whit, you can send them a message for free, that they can react to instantly with a tangible, useful outcome. Now given my past assertions that people are motivated by things other than a broad affinity, the logical conclusion is that political databases can be used to segment a broad population according to what turns their crank, and drives their political actions (voting, donating, volunteering, policy wonking, lol). It does not matter WHERE those people are physically located anymore. You can dialogue directly on the basis of what really matters and motivates, engage and draw political resources from them in perpetual campaign mode, and then `outsource`the reaping of their votes to the geographically organised Electoral District Associations come election time. Oh Lord, the means and methods of doing this effectively are as boundless as human imagination! This is the present in which chunks of the Conservative Party dwells, but it truly BELONGS to the Political Party that dwells at the centre. The pragmatic Party that eats from whatever policy plate is serving the best meal today. The Party that can appeal, without reservation, to ordinary Canadians with ordinary desires and motivations across this great country. The Party that can solicit their feedback and input, and then craft pragmatic policy prescriptions that are intended to WORK, as opposed to narrow, futilel, ideological policy failures. And the whole g`damned thing rests with the creation of a political database soon to be populated with large quantities of actionable data, namely Liberalist.

So the basic tool has been created, and the process of populating it with contacts and supporters with the means of communications (email addresses) is underway, but hold on a minute… That process just hit a brick wall. The Party that is struggling to enter the real world of politics has conceived of the supporter category as an effective means of collecting data, but what happens now that the leadership contest is over? Well, the Liberal Party now has 300,000 members and supporters, spread across 308 local Electoral District associations. I am guessing that it is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time within a National organisation like this. Creating and growing the population within Liberalist is directly analogous to a media organisation building it`s circulation. The media builds circulation and readership because the more people are exposed to their message, the more tasty results they can enjoy. To whit, they can charge advertisers more money. For the same reasons, one of the primary objectives of the Liberal Party must be to build up the sheer volume of people whose email addresses are stored safely within Liberalist. Guess what? Individual units of the Liberal Party posses reams of exactly this kind of data that have never made it into Liberalist. Prospective candidates possess standalone databases, which they are jealously guarding to wage nomination battles. I personally know of several of these, which number in the tens of thousands of unique contacts. They do not have huge numbers of email addresses, but hey, every incremental addition counts. Many EDA`s also possess standalone databases, perhaps they are older, and polluted with a lot of bad data, but it is surely worth the exercise of scrubbing that data, and fixing the holes in it, when building circulation and national success is the objective isn`t it? There are like minded, or loosely affiliated politicians, and interest groups that can give Liberalist a hefty shot in the arm. The Provincial units, and Provincial Liberal Party`s spring to mind. Canada`s privacy acts specifically permit the sharing of personal contact information, provided it is `used for political purposes`, so brokering agreements to pool and share data with say the Liberal Party of Ontario, or the Smitherman mayoral campaign are prospective sources of really large chunks of data. So the most obvious pools of data are those which already exist. If YOU my reader possess such data, then perhaps you should be contacting the Liberal Party to arrange a transfer?

Moving forward, I shall draw on my media circulation building analogy for inspiration. Ever been to the Exhibition in Toronto? Ever noticed how at public gatherings, radio stations, and sometimes print publications have booths promoting contests, giving free subscriptions, and gathering names and emails on lists? They do not make money on that activity, right? WRONG! They are building their circulation in order to charge advertisers more money. Now it costs folding money to set up and staff booths at the Ex, but what about online venues, where the `booth`can be virtually created, and staffed by a happy little database app. and a sign-up page, busily collecting email addresses, and data on the interests of visitors for almost zero cost? Now imagine that the `booth` is located on an issues related website or portal. The visitors can be reliably assumed to have an interest that can be associated with their unique record within Liberalist. I mean, come on folks. Anybody can create and `staff`such a booth. Here is one right now: JOIN THE LIBERAL PARTY DUMBASS!  Ok, not much of an effort, and I do not anticipate a whole lot of new Liberal memberships generated by it, but everybody who DID follow that link would be identifiable as someone with a sense of humour, with an interest in political databases, because of the context in which they clicked on the link. Now imagine for a moment that there were Liberal Party members and activists who had a burning policy interest that they shared with many other Canadians. Could these members not create interesting, even totally absorbing websites complete with policy forums where fellow Canadians could argue about their interests, and, say, formulate policy prescriptions to present to the electorate come election day? Imagine that there were reams of links to articles and journals concerned largely with their shared interest. Imagine that Liberal Party Shadow Cabinet members were tasked with delivering speeches, touring the country promoting membership in their forums and issues based websites. Imagine that policy announcements did not happen through sorry assed press releases, but were released through dedicated online communities. Would these virtual communities not be the perfect venue to gather data about supporters, while simultaneously engaging people continuously in something that really matters to them? So long as something like the supporter category exists within Liberalist, the processes to deliver a flow of new subscribers can be created and enhanced every time a Liberal organiser with her head screwed on tight figures out a new venue or channel.

Does that sound far-fetched? The real world of politics I describe is there in plain view for all to see. How do you think it is that the long gun registry managed to shoe-horn the Conservative Party into a majority government position? The Conservatives sure did not pooh-pooh the idea of organising people around a single issue. Jason Kenney does not whine that it is complicated and time-consuming to campaign in between elections. They rolled up their sleeves, and recruited people to organise long gun owners into a massive voting block, collecting email addresses and data as they went. They created a community of people with a moderately burning issue, for the express purpose of influencing electoral outcomes. Then they learned a salutary lesson. As much as they did not want to lose this community, they had to deliver the goods, and eliminate the Long Gun registry, and all vestiges of it. Then they did something painful, but necessary. With the long gun registry gone, the community they created tried to become a Canadian NRA, with a machine gun in every closet. The Conservatives recognised it was not useful any longer, and they threw it under the bus. No more NRA light activists on advisory committees, or gadding about the globe at arms trade conferences. Goodbye to the second best issues based community they ever created. However the extremely succesful community they have created around the pro-life movement shall NEVER suffer the same fate. The Conservative Party will string them along for decades to come. There will be private members bills galore, carefully orchestrated to keep the issue in the TARGET publics eye, while NEVER achieving it`s objective. There will continue to be hundreds of websites, churches and religious groups, abortion clinic protestors, massive electronic mailing lists, and fundraising circles. Even though they could criminalize abortion at their whim, they would never allow this die-hard constituency to win, because then they would go their separate ways, and they might actually start voting according to other issues, issues that are NOT owned lock stock and barrel by the CPC.

So there it is, the real world of Canadian politics in action. And all that is needed for the Liberal Party to take on, and beat the crap out of their political opponents is for them to recognise in what way the world has changed, to create the tools to engage and motivate the electorate, and start the arduous process of stuffing Liberalist full of identified Liberal Supporters, engaged through their policy interests, and continuously being fleshed out with calls to action.

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Liberal Party Supporter woes, And Joyce Murrays turbo booster.

Joyce MurraySo yesterday there was some `bad news` for Liberals in the media, naturally followed by further revelations and commentary today. Well I have news for you, it is not as big a deal as some J Trudeauwould have us think.

As I have repeated many times, the real value of the Supporter category to the Liberal Party is that it makes it very easy for ordinary Canadians to declare an affinity to the Liberal Party, and provide the means to communicate for free, namely their email addresses. How many of them actually vote for the Leadership candidate of their choice, while a pressing issue for the candidates, is nowhere near as important as the bare fact of their entry into Liberalist database, with a few tidbits of data to tell us more about them. The important things for the Liberal Party moving forward will be firstly in finding another good excuse to draw Supporters into the Party now the Leadership recruiting drive is over. Secondly, and at this juncture in time the more pressing thing is to develop processes for engaging all those new contacts more deeply, and turning their declared affinity to the Liberals into a deeper commitment. In my opinion, the best tools for both these purposes are to reach out with policy messages, and calls to action that will engage supporters on a personal level. Ideally, this outreach will provide people with a means to DIALOGUE, perhaps through online policy formulation and discussion forums, or even a series of policy events, speeches etc that can draw the really committed in person. But I will put that off for a future post, as I have some pointed criticisms and observations to make.

Observation number one is that, as far as I am concerned, a Supporter is only a supporter when the means to register, and vote exist. In other words, the entire logic of harvesting supporters for the Liberal Party, and Liberalist, is that with an email address, and the self-declared affinity for the Liberal Party, the Party has a free means of communication. That is groovy, and will pay off in spades every single time a supporter clicks on a link in an email, or at the very least receives and acts on a GOTV email on some future election day. For the Leadership contestant the value of the supporter is as a prospective ballot in the upcoming vote. This is the what provides the incentive for the leadership campaigns to mobilise lots and lots of volunteers, network etc., and sign those supporters up. In past contests, the campaigns were selling memberships, so there was a monetary incentive that was shared by the Party and the leadership campaigns. While I love the supporter category because of it`s ease, simplicity and guaranteed means of cheap communication, there is no question that an actual membership fee, and the increased level of commitment to the Party that comes with it is of significant value to the Party. When I read the Trudeau team has signed up approximately 100,000 `supporters`without an email address, I scratched my head and asked myself`In what way are those supporters any better than a random voter whose vote has been identified in a regular election campaign?` I am afraid that for the candidate, they are far more important, but to the Party, they are no different really. There is absolutely no way that the Liberal Party should be dishing out very large amounts of money to send mail to that many people, solely for the purpose of having them vote in the leadership contest.

It actually bothers me to make that assertion. I spent some time volunteering at the Trudeau office in downtown Toronto, and I really do believe that Trudeau is the best leader for the Liberal Party, due to his ability to attract large numbers of people to swell the Party`s ranks. I am not spilling any secrets when I say that there were a significant number (very surprising actually) of people who did not have email addresses being tagged as supporters at the end of a phone call. Personally, I was very meticulous in securing, and verifying email addresses, but every time some sweet elderly lady from, say, Pictou told me she had never used a computer, I wondered why I was bothering to tag her as a supporter. Really, those contacts should have been asked to purchase a $10 membership, because the logic of the category is defeated when there is no electronic communications possible. Aside from those without email addresses, the volunteers were not always overly meticulous in recording, and verifying email addresses over the phone. As anybody who has worked in or managed a call centre environment can tell you, the data collected over the phone is always liberally sprinkled with errors from mis-hearing, or simple keyboarding errors. You have to ask for email address, then spell out and record it letter by letter, because if you do not, then a significant proportion of contacts will have incorrect email addresses entered into the system. I was pretty taken aback when I read yesterday that the Liberal Party was actually mailing stuff out to supporters to enable them to vote when there was no email address. Snail mail costs real money! There are printing costs, envelopes, and the actual postage to pay for. The time frames are just too short to realise a return in terms of people responding to the call to action, and then the call to action does not include asking for money to pay for the whole exercise! Notice I do not say that mail shots are worthless. They are not, when they are carefully targeted, a message painstakingly crafted, and designed to raise money, they can sometimes be very effective. In this instance though, NONE of those things are in place, so the money will be spent for an un-measurable return to the Liberal Party that is footing the bill.

OK, I have beaten that theme to death. Mail shots are expensive, and have to be carefully managed to yield funds, not consume them. In defence of the Liberal Party, the whole logic of the supporter category is foreign and new to the Liberal Party. It will take some time for the cost-benefit equation to be internalized, so I will not sit here, an armchair critic and hurl brickbats at those who made this error. It will not be the first time mistakes are made, and the experiment with unpaid `membership lite` supporters will inevitably contain many errors and successes to learn from.  That is the key, learn from the errors, and do not repeat them in the future. The lessons to take home so far are: Supporters value = email addresses. Collecting and verifying that address is the most important thing for the Party in populating Liberalist with actionable data.

Now I am going to indulge in some speculation, and draw a surprising conclusion. The Trudeau campaign has just lost the lions share of those 170,000 odd supporters they claimed. Should the Party be footing the bill for mail shots to un-contactable supporters? I guess if that was their promise, then the Trudeau campaign was relying on them to stick to the deal, and the mail should go out. Forget for a moment if that is an error, or whose fault that is, and consider that the entire calculus of the front-runner has been overturned (in my mind anyway). The mail will go out, and based upon my past experience, PERHAPS 10% or 15% of the recipients will answer the call to action in time to secure the right to vote for the candidate of their choice. I doubt it will be that many. The response rate will depend on how well designed the call to action is, and it will depend far more on how many follow-up calls the Trudeau campaign can make between the dates people receive their mailer, and the response needs to be postmarked. Turn your thoughts instead to actual turnouts when the voting starts, and who shall take the crown.

I recently blogged about how effective the supporter category could be moving forward, if prospective supporters were being recruited based upon dearly held beliefs, rather than a vague affinity for a candidate or the Liberal Party. Any such recruit would not only self-identify with the Liberal party, and provide the means of free communications, but they would also provide a richer base of information about themselves. To whit, they would tell us the policy that they joined the Party to support, and it would almost certainly be something much dearer to their hearts than a simple and impulsive affinity. Any call to action directed to people based upon a dearly held belief is going to have a response several orders of magnitude stronger than the response of a generic supporter. I also recently blogged on how Joyce Murray has based her camapign on appealing to Canadians on several policy fronts. Most notably, she has enlisted several electoral reform organisations, that are PRIMARILY BASED ONLINE, those being, Leadnow, Fair Vote Canada, AZAAZ, and I believe other like-minded groups. I can tell you based upon my experience in the Green Party, that Democratic Reformers in Canada are probably the most earnest, zealous, and politically MOTIVATED  people in Canada. They rank up their with the Conservatives abortion nut-clubs for dedication and motivation. (I apologise for the analogy there to all my democratic reform minded friends.) I do not actually know  just how many supporters Joyce recruited from these sources, but she claims `tens of thousands`. The Trudeau Team claims about 70,000 supporters with email addresses, plus 100,000 sitting at home waiting for a letter until they can register. I think you can see where I am going with this.

There are TWO separate calls to action that really matter to the leadership contestants. The first step is to complete the registration to vote, and the second is to actually cast a ballot. As I said above, Joyce Murray has a small army of highly motivated supporters, who signed up as supporters for this express purpose. The response rates of Joyce`s supporters to both of these calls to action is going to be an order of magnitude stronger than that of the Trudeau supporters. Trudeau has a large army of supporters, who like him, some of them a whole lot. But the overwhelming edge I, and most other Canadians thought he enjoyed is actually 100,000 supporters lower than anticipated. Let us hypothesise that Joyce sheds 30% of her supporters from failing to register, and Trudeau sheds 60%. The odds just shortened dramatically. If the same thing happens in actual turnouts, it`s getting pretty damned close. Folks, I think that this contest has just become a real horse race, at least as far as raw numbers are concerned. The task for the Trudeau team is to carefully focus on those people waiting for their letter from the Liberal Party, with all their supporter registration info within. Even with all those phone banks cranking out calls, the Trudeau campaign does not have enough time to contact all 100,000 of them, so they are going to be focusing their efforts on all the ridings where their mail registered supporters equate to a majority of votes. For Joyce`s campaign, they shall be doing the same thing, with the important exception that they can walk their supporters through the registration process over the phone, with `ìnstant gratifcation` when the supporter clicks the last button online. When the ballots are being cast, once again, the ease of communications of a predominantly electronic communications channel will play out in Joyce`s favour. I will be VERY surprised if Trudeau’s supporters actually turn out in numbers exceeding 25% or so. That is not based on evidence I can share,  but I have managed GOTV`s for this type of Leadership contest before when I was Ontario organiser, and ran Elizabeth Mays national canvas and GOTV for the leadership of the Green Party back in the day. I can tell you that hero worshiping acolytes do not vote in the numbers that hardened policy advocates do. That is not dissing Trudeau`s supporters, it is a straight observation of facts. On Balance, I think that the powerful Trudeau organisation will tip the balance by focusing on those mailed registrations in key ridings, but I seriously think that this is not going to be a cakewalk for anyone.

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