I just followed a link to a Globe & Mail article: “Inside Justin Trudeau’s war room“. I was elated at what I read, because it confirms my belief that the Liberal Party is going to re-write the book on electoral politics in Canada. That is not a shallow conclusion based upon Trudeau partisanship. It is a conclusion arrived at after nearly a decade of close observation of, and occasional close involvement in political organising and electoral politics. There are a range of considerations underlying my conclusion.
I have blogged repeatedly on the significance of the supporter category to the Liberal Party. I start from the simple and obvious premise that electoral politics is no longer about ‘broadcasting’ a one size fits all message through traditional media channels. Broadcast politics is quickly being replaced by ‘narrow-cast’ communications, direct to the voter without the inconvenience of the media filtering, massaging, and altering the message before presenting it to the electorate on the screen or headline. If this is indeed the case (and the success of the CPC amply proves it is), then the corollary is that no political party can hope to succeed without possessing the means to communicate directly, one on one with masses of people. Enter the Supporter category of membership introduced by the Liberal Party early last year. As I blogged here, and here, by creating a dead nuts simple method to collect the name, email address, and location of people with an affinity for the Liberal Party, the Liberal Party has managed to create a direct channel to literally hundreds of thousands of Canadians.
This first step, of creating the tool, (Liberalist), and populating it with data, (through the leadership contests massive Supporter recruiting drive) is not the end of the road by any stretch. The process is actually pretty dynamic. As the communications tool is utilised, with targeted email communications being directed at Supporters, the responses, and feedback from the recipients of the communications serves to enrich, and broaden the information the Liberal Parry holds about a growing number of Canadians. To illustrate my point, let us consider a putative email that relates to a specific policy message. The policy message does not matter, but hypothetically, let us assume it is a call to support democratic reform, in the shape of a preferential ballot in future elections. The call to action could readily be to donate a few bucks to fund a policy workshop, and advertising campaign supporting the concept. Every supporter or member who responds to the call to action has now been identified and quantified within Liberalist, as an issue advocate in this policy area. This broadening of the data allows future calls to action in this policy area to be directed specifically towards those Liberals, and Canadians in general who are passionate about the issue, and are most likely to support the principle with their money, volunteer hours, and policy expertise. Multiply this across different policy areas, and you have multi-channel communications medium, direct to the electorate, with simple feedback mechanism continually enriching your data.
At this moment in time, the Liberal Party is re-tracing ground covered by the Conservative Party years ago. That of building direct contact lists of Canadians complete with enriched data about their political tastes and preferences. The Liberals are able to catch up with, and overtake the Conservatives by virtue of the fact that the Supporter category is free, electronically based, and offers value to subscribers by gifting them with a vote for the next leader. I have argued recently that the ability to build a massive actionable database of supporters is far too important for the Liberal Party to discard once the Leadership race recruiting drive comes to a close. It will in all likelihood be expanded, and continued over the coming years to continue the dynamic process of building and enriching the communications link directly onto the screens of Canadians. The explicit exchange of value currently offered is for Supporters to be rewarded for providing their contact information to Liberalist, by receiving in exchange the right to vote for the next leader of the Liberal Party. An historic opportunity now exists for the Liberal Party to move beyond catching up with a clever twist, and innovate their way into a truly awesome juggernaut.
Trudeau has proposed that the Liberal Party can make a connection with the Canadian public by selecting ALL Candidates through an open and contested nomination process. Well, that is not a bad idea, and I am sure that it would help by mirroring the success of the supporter category in 338 local contests, but IMHO it has serious limitations. To whit, it does NOT create a continuous process of building Liberalist, enriching the data on Canadian voters and engaging the Canadian electorate. It is basically a one-off gimmick, that will come and go the same way the leadership Supporter drive is about to end. It`s a slick, and potentially rewarding tactic, but because of it`s transitory nature, it is empty of strategic significance. What is needed IS a continuous process, that chugs along day and night yielding positive outcomes.
Please indulge me for a moment in fast forwarding to a hypothetical Fall 2014 policy convention. Server after server is coming online as the number of viewers and participants ramps up 100,000 – 200,000 , 350,000. Joyce Murray, the Liberal Party’s Democratic Reform advocate has taken the stage to speak in favour of the preferential ballot election plank. The petition to the policy convention is presented. 217,000 pledges from Proportional Representation Supporters pledging $10 each to support the Prop Rep plank in the 2015 campaign. The tension is palpable, the votes are being counted…. Victory! In an historic moment, the Liberal Party has adopted the preferential ballot plank for their 2015 election campaign! The pledges are being redeemed quicker than they can be counted, and slowly the blurred numbers on the screen are settling down to readable numbers. $3,500,000 raised in 1 hour! Justin Trudeau takes the stage to announce Marc Garneau, the Liberal Party Employment and Jobs strategy advocate speaking in favour of EI reforms to provide skills training for 1.2 million unemployed Canadians… The number of viewers drops by 100,000 then starts to ramp up again, as unemployed Canadians flock to their computers to cast their supporter ballots, and redeem their pledges…
Does this sound far-fetched to you? Well maybe it is unlikely, but it is not a difficult outcome to achieve if the will and leadership is present, and the reason is pretty darned simple. People have an affinity for political brands, but they are well and truly motivated by policy issues that strike closer to home than that. The Liberal Party, under (I presume) Justin Trudeau is going to want to keep building their supporter lists, and in Trudeau’s own words, will be looking for ways and means to reach out to Canadians, and entice them into the Liberal Party fold. To quote yesterdays Globe article:“Organization is key,” Mr. Trudeau says. “To me, it means creating a structure in which every single citizen can connect directly and easily if they want.””. Now that can mean a lot of different things, but it is further re-inforced by a second quote from Gerald Butts, a senior Trudeau strategist: `Mr. Butts says, that the traditional levers of government have become ineffective and the only way to make change is to “develop and maintain a national, grassroots, volunteer movement.”`. I will take them both at their words for now, because enlightened self-interest is going to drive the Liberal Party to extend and expand upon their recent success with the Supporter category, and I cannot think of any stronger motivational tool and process than an explicit bargain to mutually support the Party on the one hand, and the policy aspirations of Canadians on the other. The mechanisms for achieving the kind of outcome I envision are actually pretty simple. Think of Jason Kenney, but spread your mental wings a little and multi-task with an even dozen Liberal policy advocates. Each advocate is going to have to work pretty darned hard networking, and making contact with advocacy and interest groups. They will need to have online tools to foster participation, and the consequent policy development, but the prospective rewards are significant. The focus, as with Kenney is to build up the Party database with a rich collection of policy preferences of large numbers of Canadians, and with the correct focus, it is entirely possible to leave Kenney and the Conservatives eating Liberal Party dust.