Robocalls Case: If the CPC did not do it, then someone stole the data. Call in the RCMP please.

I am not too happy that Elections Canada is getting nowhere with their robocalls investigation. Back on the EDay in question, I too received a robocall informing me that my polling place had changed. At the time I shrugged it off as Elections Canada incompetence, because I had already voted at the normal place. I am 100% certain that personal data about myself is in the possession of the Conservative Party. The investigation into electoral fraud has been conducted by a relatively toothless Elections Canada. Marc Mayrand, the head of Elections Canada testified before a Parliamentary committee that the Conservative Party has been stonewalling, and delaying EC’s investigations. This does not surprise me, as EC does not have the power to compel anybody to answer questions. Well that sucks, and I am wondering if I am entitled to have a real genuine investigation of what happened to my personal data back in the 2011 General Election period (and since then for that matter)?

On May 23, Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley ruled on the lawsuit seeking to dismiss election results in 6 ridings. Here is the complete text of the ruling. I read here that: “Judge Richard Mosley ruled unequivocally that fraud did take place and his judgment linked that fraud directly to the Conservative party’s internal database — but found no evidence that any Conservative candidate or official was involved.” So if I have all this straight, the Conservative Party has claimed it was not they who made the calls. The Judge has ruled that it was in fact data from their CIMS database that was used to make those calls. If it was not the Conservatives, and the usage was not permitted, then somebody stole that data. That data includes my name, phone number, possibly huge swathes of personal data about me, including what my voting intentions were. Now it is true that an elections offense is investigated by Elections Canada. It is also true that  data used ‘for political purposes’ is exempt from many of the provisions of the privacy act. But if the Conservative contention that the data was stolen is true, then that is no longer an elections offense is it? If the personal data on potentially millions of Canadians was accessible to data thieves, then it is no longer ‘political purposes’ the data is being put to, is it? So I guess the privacy act exemptions on political use should no longer apply? So why is elections Canada investigating a case of data theft? Why is Elections Canada investigating a breach of the Privacy act? Should there not be a real police force investigating this crime ( or crimes)? A police force with the resources to conduct a forensic analysis of the Conservative Party’s database, retrieve my personal data from criminal hands, and bring this case to prosecution?

I am not a Lawyer, which is why there are so damned many question marks in the previous paragraph. What I am, is a Citizen of Canada, and I have just discovered that very, very, personal data about myself has fallen into criminal hands. I believe there is something like 13,000,000 individual records in CIMS. This is, in fact, the biggest, most comprehensive case of data theft ever to occur in Canada. All kinds of personal data is stored in CIMS, not just who everybody wants to vote for, but people who signed petitions, people who emailed their MP’s, and what they were emailing about. Credit card information for hundreds of thousands of political donors. The types of data are endless, and range from picayune to potentially devastating. Is there a lawyer reading this post who can answer some of those question marks above? I want somebody to get to the bottom of this, and Elections Canada is probably not the appropriate investigative body.

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Campaigns really DO Matter: Robocalls, Polling and the electoral impact of Big Data

Two weeks ago, British Columbians were preparing to cast their ballots in an election that was widely expected to be  the NDP’s to lose. You see, public opinion polls on voting intentions had been published showing an almost insurmountable gap between the NDP and the second place Liberals. The polls were mostly properly conducted, they reflected the stated intentions of representative, and sizeable samples of the BC Electorate. The condidtions for accurate polling were in place, but lo and behold, when the votes were counted, the Liberals had achieved a bare majority, apparently snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. This was not the first time that publicly released polls of voting intentions missed the boat big time. In the Alberta Provincial election, the Wildrose Party went from top of the polls, to a pretty sorry second place at the finish line. In the last Quebec election, the Liberals evaded a much ballyhooed oblivion with a strong last-minute finish. There has been a lot of gnashing of teeth over the ‘failure’ of the publicly released polls to accurately predict an election, and untold column inches spilled over analysis of how to compensate for turnouts, and what sampling methodology is failing and what is working. Well in my opinion, the answer is as simple as the headline from this (absolutely correct) CBC Article: “B.C. election proved campaigns matter more than ever

It is worth noting that in all three Provincial Elections with surprising results, it was the incumbent, Governing Party that defied the odds. Is that a coincidence? IMHO, that is not coincidental. You see, it is the premise of this post that we are living in a New World of Electoral Politics. This world is where big databases are parsed and segmented according to tastes, preferences, affinities, and location. This is the world where elections are won or lost by closely targeting very specific groups of voters, crafting, testing, and verifying the message that can sway these micro-groups. Delivering that message effectively ON TARGET and building the support of a bare plurality, one riding at a time is the primary objective. This world is highly dynamic. It focuses on electors who are undecided, or relatively uncertain of their first choice in voting intentions. In such a world, it is incredibly important to understand what motivates small, select, and distinct groups of the electorate. A little appreciated fact of life in Canada is that Governments have nearly infinite resources for opinion polling, focus groups, and acquiring sophisticated datasets about target groups. It is not surprising to me that the results of untold millions of dollars worth of Government funded opinion research are considered a  State secret. In  nutshell, the incumbent will always have a massive advantage in any election, inasmuch as they can easily assemble a complete picture of who can be motivated by which message long before the writ is dropped, and the electorate is in play.

So what do Robocalls have to do with this post? Robocalls are a big data communications tool. As has been illustrated by the recent finding in the robocalls law suit, it is easy to abstract list of contacts based upon any number of variables (Like which Party they support). The mechanics of targeting and launching a robocall campaign, whether large or small is as simple as falling out of bed. And the cost of robocalling is so damned cheap, that virtually any political party that possesses a robust electoral database can flood the phone lines with negative messages for pennies a pop. It is not just robocalls. Robocalls are mildly irritating to the recipients, so their best use is to sway the OTHER sides voters with them. They are tailor-made for vote suppression tactics, like pointing out the opponents failings to his or her supporters. Email communications are an even more versatile tool, because they are even cheaper than robocalls, and they are good for positive, vote winning communications with reams of people on short notice. Then there are more conventional message delivery media, like direct mail, admail, live telephone calling, door to door foot canvas, and at the broadest level of all, targeted print and broadcast media buys. These all have one thing in common, that their efficacy improves dramatically when they are targeted based on issues research, and solid information on large numbers of electors.

Campaigns are dynamic events, and they DO matter. When the media commissions a voting intention poll, they are basically paying for a snapshot, at a moment in time, and the snapshot they are taking is intended to reflect an amalgam of the entire electorate. The individual campaigns couldn`t really care less about what the entire electorate is thinking. They are focusing on small subsets of the electorate, and directly influencing them to vote one way or another, or even not to vote at all. The effective campaigns have access to hard data on what messages will work with what segment of the electorate, and there are multiple campaigns each working on influencing small numbers of voters to tip one way or another. There is just no way for low-budget media bought voting intention polls to keep up, and accurately predict what is actually going to happen, because the decisions and actions that will determine the election result are happening under their radar. All this campaigning is happening in real-time, and it can be extremely effective. Campaigns are each working simultaneously on different population segments, so polling for, and capturing the significant movements is kind of like trying to model next weeks weather. There are just too many variables interacting to draw any useful conclusions. The media polls are not focused on the groups that are actually in play, and there is no way that a polling company can predict just what kind of voter suppression, and voter conversion campaigns are happening, and how effective they are. This is perfectly illustrated by a quote from this CBC Article interviewing the BC Liberals internal pollster, Dimitri Pantazopoulos:   `”At the end of the day the more important thing is understanding what motivates people to vote, and how to actually communicate with people and what are the underlying factors that will turn the undecideds one way or another.” And you know something? Dimitri was the one measuring the effectiveness of the BC Liberal Campaign, so I am perfectly willing to take his word for it.

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The Green Party demostrating strategic and tactical smarts on Vancouver Island

The Greens are running a tight ship on Vancouver Island these days. In the wake of Andrew Weavers win in Oak Bay Gordon Head on behalf of the BC Green Party, I decided to have a closer look at the BC Provincial election results in the Victoria area.

Knowing so little about BC Politics, I trotted off to find the Provincial riding maps, and past Provincial election results in the area. From that point it was a quick and simple matter to visually contrast the Provincial riding maps and compare them to the Federal ridings. You see, the typical Green supporter does not really differentiate between the Provincial and Federal Green Party’s in their area. A Federal Green voter is extremely likely to vote Green Provincially, so it would be reasonable to expect that the $million plus that the Green Party of Canada has sunk into Saanich Gulf Islands would be reflected in the Provincial results. The bulk of that money has been spent over the past 4 years in staffing offices in SGI, and systematically building supporter lists in the district.

In November 2012, Donald Galloway representing the Green Party of Canada ran a hotly contested campaign to win the Federal riding of Victoria, which is immediately adjacent to SGI. As I have posted before, the Greens have become extremely good at mobilizing volunteers from across the country to work virtual phone banks for a targeted canvas. In essence, they bombard their supporter lists with emailed invitations to volunteer to telephone canvas from their homes. It is very easy for volunteers, basically they get an emailed link to log in to the canvassing database. They log in, a name and phone number pops onto their screen, alongside a simple script, and they start dialling and recording voting intentions. Whether they work for 10 minutes, or 10 hours, all the data they collect is automatically preserved, and has gotten the campaign that much closer to identifying all their prospective supporters in the area. It takes literally tens of thousands of volunteer hours to fully canvas a riding. The biggest stumbling block for building up identified voters lists is the sheer volume of work involved in actually knocking on all those doors, or dialling all those phone numbers. By calling on hundreds of volunteers from all across the country, the local GP campaign can focus on key objectives, while the donkey work of identifying, and subsequently getting out the vote can be handled by volunteers from far and wide. Well the Green ID and GOTV virtual phone bank was firing on all cylinders on behalf of both Galloway in Victoria, and Turner in Calgary Centre by-elections. Galloway ran a strong campaign, in the riding adjacent to Elizabeth May’s stronghold of SGI. He was able to call on hundreds of local volunteers, and the Federal Party infrastructure of paid staffers and offices just across the riding boundary. The upshot of all those resources being mobilized to support a strong candidate, and a strong EDA was a pretty close second place finish with over 34% of the popular vote in Victoria.

So fast forward to the BC Provincial election 6 months later, and you can see the strategy of building an Island stronghold being implemented. At this point I wish I knew how to create poll level maps, and a geo coded database of vote results. But I don’t, so I will have to support my argument with fuzzier information and generalized conclusions. Have no fear, a poll by poll analysis will bear me out, but I am both too lazy, and insufficiently skilled to actually do all that work.

First of all, in BC, the Provincial riding boundaries are not really related to the Federal boundaries. The Federal Electoral Districts have 2-3 times the population as a Provincial riding.  As a result, the Federal Saanich Gulf Islands for example incorporates the entirety of one Provincial riding, and pokes into significant corners of  two more. The same holds true for the federal Victoria riding. So between SGI, and Victoria, there are larger, or smaller overlaps with 5 Provincial ridings. The Green Party of BC put their strongest candidates into ridings where the Greens had thoroughly canvassed, and identified large numbers of supporters federally through GPC campaigns.

Adam Olsen, who is a well recognised 2 term city councillor in Central Saanich ran for the BC Greens in Saanich North and the Islands. This riding is completely within the boundaries of SGI federally. Jane Sterk, Leader of the BC Greens ran in Victoria Beacon Hill, which is completely within the boundaries of Victoria federally. Andrew Weaver, a very well known Professor at U Vic ran in Oak Bay Gordon Head, which is split between Victoria and SGI Federally, while the relatively weak candidate in Victoria Swan Lake was Spencer Malthouse (my apologies Spencer), in a riding that overlaps with Victoria Federally.

The results are laid out in the table below. Please note the growth in Green Party of BC votes were exceptionally strong where the riding boundaries overlapped with SGI, and a lesser extent where the overlaps were with Victoria.

 

BC Green Party LIBERAL NDP
2009 2013 2009 2013 2009 2013
Federal Overlaps with: Provincial Riding Votes % Votes % GROWTH Votes Votes Votes Votes
SGI & Victoria Oak Bay Gordon Head 2152 8.91% 9602 40.09% 346.19% 11266 7124 10736 6772
SGI Saanich North & Islands 3016 10.91% 9294 31.86% 208.16% 12513 9629 12118 9681
Esquimault-Juan de Fuca & SGI Saanich South 1551 6.56% 3612 15.16% 132.88% 10728 8473 11141 10824
Victoria Victoria Beacon Hill 3768 16.64% 7852 33.72% 108.39% 5998 3981 12591 11335
Esquimault-Juan de Fuca Juan de Fuca 1645 8.53% 3253 15.46% 97.75% 6624 6513 11008 11272
Victoria Victoria Swan Lake 2459 12.01% 4502 22.62% 83.08% 5456 4509 12389 10891
Nanaimo-Cowichan Cowichan Valley 2807 11.64% 4662 18.79% 66.08% 8734 8786 11575 9923
Nanaimo-Alberni & Nanaimo Cowichan Nanaimo North Cowichan 2004 8.96% 3043 13.41% 51.85% 7956 6984 12159 10538
Vancouver Island North Comox Valley 2338 8.56% 3292 11.48% 40.80% 13016 12817 11593 11024
Esquimault-Juan de Fuca Esquimalt Royal Roads 3370 16.71% 4486 21.61% 33.12% 6098 5959 10705 9997
Nanaimo-Alberni & Nanaimo Cowichan Nanaimo 1852 8.96% 2198 10.53% 18.68% 7497 7812 11057 9548
Vancouver island North North Island 1561 7.25% 0 0.00% -100.00% 8411 8862 11232 10595
Nanaimo-Alberni & Nanaimo Cowichan Alberni Pacific Rim 1250 7.41% 0 0.00% -100.00% 5373 5981 10007 9829
Nanaimo-Alberni Parksville Qualicum 2465 9.57% 0 0.00% -100.00% 13265 13405 9803 9899

 

As you can see, over a 4 year period, the Green vote grew appreciably in every riding on the Island. If you look at the raw vote counts though, you will see that the truly impressive growth was happening in ridings where the Greens were strongest to begin with. In short, the possession of a strong ground game, access to extensive supporter and voter lists, and the mobilization of a nationwide virtual phone bank in support of a campaign is sufficient to propel the Greens within striking distance of winning in select ridings.

The implications for the next General election in 2015 are twofold. Locally, on the island itself, we can expect to see a concerted effort to continue to build on past successes. Provincial, Federal, and Municipal Greens will be co-ordinating and sharing resources in an un-precedented way. SGI will be an easy win for Elizabeth May, and Victoria and Esquimault-Juan de Fuca will be squarely in the GPC`s sights. I fully expect that there will be stronger campaigns in ALL the Vancouver Island ridings, and the process of building a regional stronghold will continue.

The wider implications are that the Greens will be paying a LOT more attention to Federal By-Elections. I would expect that Calgary Centre will have a well funded and organized campaign in 2015, based upon their excellent showing in the November By-Election. I doubt very much that the GPC will spend a nickel on the upcoming Bourassa by-election in Quebec, but they will be weighing their future chances in any riding where a by-election is going to be called. With a few months heads up, they are now fully capable of pledging the monetary support to entice a strong local Candidate. With the proven ability to mobilize a seriously massive volunteer phone canvas, they can strategically use a by-election build the local electoral database in preparation for the general election in 2015. In this respect, the Green Party is incrementally creating the conditions to win in a handful of ridings come 2015. I for one will be following their efforts with interest.

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BC Liberals Advertising for the Greens in Victoria!

Vote Green! Brought to you by the BC Liberals

Vote Green! Brought to you by the BC Liberals

I was tooling around on Facebook this morning, and some of my Green Party of BC FaceBook friends were talking about this full-page advertisement for Jane Sterk and the BC Greens in the Times Colony. You know, one of the most read newspapers on Vancouver Island. The thing is, this advertisement is bought and paid for by the BC Liberals. What I know about Provincial politics in BC could fit into a medium-sized tea-cup. I do know that it is a hypercompetitive, take no prisoners environment, and this ad highlights that fact. The purpose of the ad is obvious. The Liberal Party believes that the NDP and Greens are feeding from the same plate. There are two tactical outcomes this ad is promoting. The most favourable would be that the NDP and Green split is even enough that the Liberals can achieve a plurality in some, or all of the Island ridings. The second, deeper game is that the Greens should tip the balance and elect Andrew Weaver MPP for Oak Bay. This secondary objective denies the seat to the NDP, and establishes a Green presence in the Legislature.

The benefit of that first outcome is obvious. Every dipper who votes Green is one vote closer to the coveted Governing Mandate for the BC Liberals. The second outcome is useful in a tactical sense, (Like helping decide whether the Liberals or the NDP have more seats on E-Day). Strategically, there is probably some more subtle thinking at play. If there is not, there surely ought to be!  The most likely winning Green candidate, Andrew Weaver (Oak Bay – Gordon Head) is a heavy hitter. His election to the BC Assembly will represent a coming of age for the BC Greens. There is no doubt that adding Provincial representation to the Federal presence of Elizabeth May will be a big boon to building up a considerably stronger regional Green stronghold in BC. There will be another constituency office, staffed to the max, generating plenty of column inches in earned media over the coming years. The BC Greens definitely eat from the same plate as the NDP. If the BC Greens do in fact elect Weaver, then the Greens are going to consolidate that win, gain credibility, and build for the next election from a much stronger base. The BC Liberals will be a major beneficiary of a stronger BC Green Party, as the bulk of the growth in Green support will come at the expense of the NDP. Put it all together, and an enhanced BC Green Party will in the long run be a huge boon to the BC Liberals. The implications for the Federal Liberals in BC are a little more ambiguous. You see, they have serious prospects of eating from the same plate as the Greens and Dippers come 2015, so strengthening the Green brand in BC will cost them only a little less than it costs the Dippers, but that federal analysis will have to wait for a more opportune time.

Anyway, I think that most of what I said here today is pretty obvious and un-remarkable. What was remarkable to me is this big media buy by one Party on behalf of another Party in a General Election. I think it is unprecedented, can anybody else think of similar examples? I would be interested in knowing, as a student of the dark arts of Canadian electoral politics, lol.

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Liberal Party open contested nominations: Awesome plan, but Pro-Life is the fly in the ointment.

At great risk to life and limb, I am going to open a can of worms that the Liberal Party is just going to HAVE to deal with soon. Over the course of the leadership contest, the bold experiment of opening up the vote for all Canadians through the supporter category of Liberal membership has quite impressive and positive results. In fact it was so succesful, that for a short while, the Liberal Party is going to match the Conservative Party fundraising prowess, by tapping into this new pool of friends for monetary contributions. Justin Trudeau re-inforced the Liberals movement in a more open direction in his acceptance speech. Trudeau categorically stated that ALL nomination contests would be precisely that, an openly contested election of the Liberal Party’s candidate for each riding.

For very practical reasons, and a few philosophical ones, I applauded that iron-clad commitment. Philosophy aside, the biggest practical reason is that the Liberal Party has a long way to go before Liberalist has enough committed and motivated supporters to build the monetary and organisational strength of the Conservative Party. Over the coming 2 years, there will be 338 candidates selected, one for each federal riding across Canada. Whether those candidates are selected by closed membership votes, or Primary style supporter votes as I hope, there are going to be a LOT of new members and/or supporters keyed up and ready to GO in the next General Election. It is not unreasonable to expect anywhere from a few hundred new supporters in smaller weaker ridings up to thousands of supporters in perhaps 100 Liberal hotbeds. When added to the hundreds of supporters already identified, many EDA’s will have literally thousands of formally ‘registered’ supporters to call upon for their votes, for their volunteer hours and skills, and yes, for their money. With this kind of boost to the numbers, I would anticipate great gobs of cash, badly needed to fight the next election. This is the positive aspect of contested nominations, and it is hard to refute its significance.

In another vein, I have watched the leadership of the Conservative Party, and I have always been vitally interested in just which constituencies their prowess, and electoral strength actually comes from. From the early days of the Reform Party, the Alliance iteration, and the final destruction of the vestiges of Progressive Conservatism with the birth of the CPC,  the Pro-Life movement has been front and centre. According to this Angus Reid Poll, “…one-in-twenty respondents (5%) would actually forbid women from having an abortion.” I do not think it will take much convincing for you to agree with me that this 5% is probably one of the best organised issues based group in the country. I mean, seriously, for most of the pro-life movement, they are literally on a mission from GOD. 20 years ago, this was an issue that divided Canadians right across Party lines, and geographical areas. It was treated pretty gingerly by politicians, and was characterised by open votes in Parliament for that very reason. If you CANNOT whip the vote, you better not even try to. Over the ensuing decades, the Reform Party (think Stockwell Day) and the successor party’s managed to turn this issue into what looked like a partisan issue. There is little doubt that Pro-Life movement has come to be associated with the Conservative Party, and that association has been integral to the fundraising, volunteer, and resulting organisational strength of the CPC. You see, it may only motivate 5% of the populace, but that motivation is strong. Strong enough to get thousands of volunteers out of bed early every day during an election, and hit the streets canvassing kits in hand. The long association of the Reformers and Alliance Party with the Pro-Life movement carried those supporters, and the Party they adhered to through to the grail itself. Majority Government!

Now that is where the wheels are starting to come off the bus for the Conservatives. It is not news that abortion is truly a third rail for the Harper Conservatives. Yes, their Party cannot survive in its current form without the organisational muscle the pro-life movement brings to their ranks, but at the same time this is a divisive issue, where passions run high on both sides. The fact is that it is not possible to win a majority from the electorate while openly seeking to re-regulate abortions in Canada. I would go a step further, and say that even a back-door attempt to pass a major pro-life bill would paralyse the Canadian government by mobilising literally millions of pro-choice men and women across the country to take to the streets. So it is perhaps not surprising that Stephen Harper has categorically rejected any and all attempts to introduce legislation, but he is definitely walking a tightrope, with the fiery pits of political oblivion boiling below. The danger for the CPC is pretty clear. The pro-Life movement might well feel an affinity for the Conservative Party after long association, but their primary motivation, their driving force is predominantly the drive to criminalize abortion. By taking away any hope that a majority meant their victory, their motivation has been removed, and THAT makes for a pretty shaky loyalty to the Conservative brand.

Back to the discussion about open contested nominations, and the potential of the supporter category of Liberal membership. I doubt I need to say it by now, but I think that any Liberal with half a brain knows what is likely to happen when the nominations are thrown wide open. If the nomination contests are open to paid Liberal members only, then a significant number of pro-life activists are going to be joining the Liberal Party, and they will bring little in the way of loyalty to the Liberals with them. If the nomination contests are open for the supporter category to vote, I think that Joyce Murray’s Leadership campaign has amply demonstrated that it is easy for people with zero interest in the Liberal brand to sign up on the spot, and they will do so to support pro-life nomination candidates. I would be willing to bet that Rob Anders for example, or his ideological clones will step forward. They will sweep the nominations in a number of ridings, and be standing for Parliament as Liberal Candidates all over the place. It will mean the death of the Conservative Party, but I suggest that it would be the death of Liberal Party hopes for a majority, or even a coalition government anytime soon. The only un-ambiguously pro-choice Party in Canada is the NDP, and I suggest that if the Liberals field a strong and vocal pro-life caucus of candidates, Canada through a plurality of pro-choice electors would engage in an interesting experiment with the first majority NDP government at the Federal level.

So there it is, and a major conundrum it is. The pro-lifers are motivated to bail from the Conservative Party, provided a credible path to criminalize abortion exists elsewhere. The Liberal Party has an awesome opportunity to engage many hundreds of thousands of Canadians in open primary style nomination contests, but it is probable that this will draw in a fifth column of highly motivated social conservatives. Thats the problem with democratic processes isn’t it? Even the folks we do not like get to have their say. What to do, oh what to do? All I can suggest at this time, is do not simply turn away from the idea of open primary style nominations. That is one potential key for a majority Liberal Government in 2015. Lets try to figure out how to have our cake, and eat it too, ok?

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Actually, jury is still out on efficacy of Attack ads against Trudeau

Hmm, this is a bit embarrassing. Yesterday I posted that the Ipsos Reid poll commissioned by postmedia and CTV demonstrated that the attack ads were not working. The word I used was emphatically not working. Well I have to climb down a little (a lot) from that statement. I argued that because the sample that had seen the attack ads had significantly higher Liberal voting intentions it showed that the attack ads were actually backfiring on the CPC. Acrtually, the evidence does not suport that conclusion. The attack ads were presumably targetted at Liberal voters in the first place, given the fact that attack ads are intended to suppress support of the intended victim. That is presumably the reason why those CPC media buys were concentrated in the Maritimes, and Ontario in the first place. The proper conclusion to draw was that the CPC were effective in their targeting. To determine if the ads were effective or not, we would need to see what happened to Trudeaus support amongst that subset of the population that saw the ads.  One interesting conclusion that may still be supported by that data is the migration of support from the NDP to the Liberals in the sample of those people who had seen the attack ads prior to being surveyed:

-“Wright says the numbers indicate the ads may have actually helped the Liberals by having a handful of New Democrats “switch their soft support from the NDP to soft support for Justin Trudeau.”

Anyway, I guess we shall be reduced to reading opinion poll tea-leaves still with respect to the efficacy of attack ads, unless someone wants to spend a whack of money on a publicly released poll or survey examining the question properly. At the end of the day, that particulr Ipsos poll is just another voting intention story. Good news for Liberals no doubt, but nothing quite so earth shattering as proof that Trudeau is negating a major attack ad campaign.

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An Opinion poll actually worth noting: Conservative Attack ads emphatically are NOT working.

Opinion polls can be extremely significant when they are used properly. When you are quantifying what things are of interest to specific people, you can garner useful actionable data, useful for political purposes that is. But the opinion polls that new organisations typically commission are next to useless. I mean, how can anybody gain anything useful from the hypothetical question beginning with: ‘If an election were held tomorrow’, when there is no question that an election will NOT be held tomorrow? Certainly you do not see Political Party’s blowing their hard-won dollars on such questions. Politicians want to know Which people can be swayed by Which message, and the polls they commission sure as heck do not make it into the daily papers.

All that said, I have been waiting for the next published poll for a week or so, because there is a question I wanted answered to my satisfaction. Are the Conservative advertisements attacking Justin Trudeau having the desired impact? Well much to my delight, that specific question has been answered today by one of the best pollsters out there. Ipsos Reid was commissioned by Postmedia and CTV to survey 1059 Canadians in an online survey on precisely that question. Incidentally, Canada.com has recently started doing something very clever. Instead of just printing poll results, they are creating interactive graphs and displays of digital data. It is clever, because by investing on better quality data, and then presenting it in a much more useable format, they are rendering standard presentation of such news obsolete. Who will bother going to read a National Post, or Toronto Star article on a poll, when they can see decent data, sortable on demographic, or geographic basis online? Go and have a look, click the ‘by region’  and ‘by gender and age’ tabs, and ask yourself  if you will be looking at future polls that are clickable and sortable like this.

To make a long story short, the survey invited Canadians to review the ads first, then questioned the respondents as to what impact the attack ads had on their voting intentions. The headline result is that for those Canadians who had previously seen the attack ads, (39%) there was a significantly higher probability that they would support the LIBERAL Party! I guess that means that Justin Trudeau’s ‘Mr. Positive’ campaign is working very well. It is not just vaccinating Trudeau against negative ads. The ads are turning viewers into Trudeau supporters! This is a pretty significant outcome. We have all been bombarded with wise punditry claiming the only effective response to an attack is to hit back, hard and low. Well, I think that the jury, the voting public has returned the verdict, and that verdict is that positive can work too. What does this mean for the future? Hell, I don’t know. We are in un-charted territory. All I can say is hat’s off to Trudeau, and his team. Just keep on turning that positive image into new supporters, and donors, and Hope and Hard work might just win the day!

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Whither the Green Party? Probable Strategy for 2015

I just took a gander at the Elections Canada databases to see the current state of the Green Party EDA`s. Like them or not, the Green Party remains a factor, and their 2015 campaign will play a role in determining the outcome of the 2015 election. I have a couple of general observations to make, and I have to say that the Green Party has some very impressive strengths, and some very telling weaknesses. It will sound like I am talking out of both sides of my mouth, but I will demonstrate why I expect that the GPC will have a very successful 2015 election, while at the same time they will have a greatly reduced impact on the outcome of the next general election. Be patient with me, and I will amply prove both points.

Back in January, I posted on the cynicism of Elizabeth Mays offers and entreaties for electoral co-operation with the Dippers and Liberals. The crux of my argument was that the Green Party will have a much smaller impact in 2015 because they will probably not be running a full slate of candidates. Every electoral district that they fail to field a candidate in will not have a single ballot cast for the Greens, so their impact in those ridings will be limited to a small number of disappointed Greens who fail to vote at all, while the balance of their voters cast a ballot for their second choice party. For those ridings where they do field a candidate, they will not have anywhere near the kinds of resources that they have had in the two or three past elections. That is primarily due to the loss of the per vote subsidy, which represented the lions share of the money accumulated in local Electoral District Associations coffers. (The Green Party used a fund sharing formula which forwarded a generous chunk of the subsidy funds to the EDA in which the underlying votes were earned). In fact, I can tell you with certainty that the majority of Canada’s GPC EDA`s were only incorporated for the purpose of receiving those per vote subsidies in the first place. The loss of the subsidy will result in folding up the EDA in a great many instances.

A second significant loss of resources was that a great many EDA`s spent relatively big money on the last general election, but then failed to achieve the 10% threshold to receive a 60% rebate of their electoral expenses. This had a dis-proportionate effect on the financial resources of some of the strongest EDA`s in the country. That impact will show up in the next general election in the form of weak campaigns in many places where  the GPC was once strong. These dozen or two ridings will deserve special attention by the Liberal Party and the NDP because there will be approximately 5%-6% of the electorate up for grabs there. In my books, that big of a shift in that many ridings has national significance.

The third factor to take into account is the lack of field organising infrastructure within the GPC, and the related lack of incentive to expend resources on recruiting and assisting a full slate of Candidates in 2015. Elizabeth May has done many good and effective things at the GPC. The greatest failing of her version of the GPC is the total lack of interest in building local infrastructure. I will not go into the facts that underly this conclusion, you can search the archives of this blog if you want names, dates, and details on the lack of field organising. Suffice it to say that I was intimately aware of the circumstances, and this conclusion is not idle. The main reason why the GPC has run a full slate of candidates in the past was to earn the per vote subsidy that came along with every vote. That is why there were so many `ghost`candidates, whose names appeared on the ballot, but who spent $200, and canvassed a few people at their favourite coffee shop, while calling it a campaign. The loss of the per vote subsidy eliminates the incentive for the Green Party to field a full slate of candidates, and the loss of the subsidy removes the incentive to even have a local EDA. I seriously doubt that the Party will create a field organising team, and dedicate real resources to run a full slate minus the incentive of the subsidy.

There is one piece of  objective evidence that my contentions are true. The number of registered Electoral District Associations has been in a steady decline since the last actual real field organiser was fired back in 2009. (She did her job TOO WELL! She actually formed a lot of EDA`s and the head office wanted to keep the per vote subsidy in their coffers, not flowing to Quebec EDA`s). I have updated the table below to reflect the 5 Electoral District Associations that have been de-certified by Elections Canada so far in 2013. Believe me, the trickle is going to turn into a flood by the end of this year. Please note that there have been a grand total of 10 EDA`s formed since 2009. That is pretty serious evidence that there is zero field organising capacity at the GPC, given the hundreds of ridings with no organisation at all.

  GPC EDA formation
Year Registrations Deregistrations
2004 96 1
2005 35 5
2006 24 13
2007 56 3
2008 16 5
2009 48 9
2010 4 44
2011 2 19
2012 4 18
2013 0 6
Total: 285 123

So that summarises my case that the GPC will have a greatly reduced impact on the outcome of the 2015 general election. Now I shall move on te the case that the GPC will have a very succesful 2015 election result.

The Green Party has had an internal conflict between the centre, (The HUB), and the peripheries, (The EDA`s) just about forever. The conflict was over general election strategies. One side arguing that the Beachhead strategy which should be to focus resources on a small number of key ridings, and actually getting a member of Parliament elected there. The other side argued for a `rising tide`strategy, which supported building electoral capacity in EDA`s across the country. This strategy anticipated ever stronger EDA`s with ever-increasing financial, and volunteer capacity to fight future elections. A key argument in favour of field organising,a nd building the EDA`s was that the per vote subsidy could be leveraged by collecting as much low hanging fruit as possible across the whole nation. It was easily proven that spending $1000 in a small riding would win more votes than adding an extra $1000 to the campaign budget in a strong riding. Well this argument is over, done, dead. beachhead wins hands down, so the GPC strategy for the 2015 election is as predictable as the rising of the sun.

Starting 4-1/2 years ago, the Green Party adopted the sole and over-riding objective of getting Elizabeth May elected to Parliament. These were not empty words. they did something radical (for the Greens) and actually spent some resources polling, and investigating target ridings. They then started throwing money, big money into opening multiple offices, and hiring staff located in Saanich Gulf Islands in BC. They spent well over $1million in the pre-writ period. They put the finishing touches on a database application that allows volunteers from across the country to telephone canvas into a specific riding. The 2010 election proved that ground game plus money talks, and Elizabeth may quite convincingly won the seat.

The recent by-elections in Calgary, and Victoria demonstrated the Green party has gotten pretty darned good at focusing a widely distributed National volunteer base on a specific riding. I am still on their mailing lists, so I received a lot of emails asking supporters to participate in the National Phone bank, canvassing Calgary, and Victoria in an ID-GOTV campaign. Having run such campaigns in the past, I can tell you that telephone canvass is the perfect way to ID the vote on the cheap. Volunteers are free, and the cost of long distance telephoning is pretty damned cheap too. Focusing hundreds, maybe even thousands of volunteers on a handful of ridings during a general election will instantly make the GPC competitive locally.

Elizabeth May has a very impressive network of environmental activists in her Rolodex. While local candidates are not as important as Party affiliation, and the Leadership factor in electoral outcomes, the difference between a Candidate with a nationally (or internationally) recognised name, and a 19-year-old student in a coffee shop is pretty obvious. Elizabeth May can personally recruit a handful of high quality candidates for carefully selected target ridings in 2015.

The formula for winning in SGI is not a fluke. It is a predictable outcome from having a high credibility candidate, and pouring huge money and boots on the ground into a small riding campaign. The most important criterion is the availability of money. Despite the loss of the per vote subsidy, the Green Party is growing their fundraising capacity in a very impressive manner. I blogged about it a few weeks ago, and what impresses me the most is that the increased cash flows are coming from a very systematic and disciplined fundraising process. Process is important, because it is not subject to vague fluctuations. What they are doing guarantees that they shall continue to raise ever-increasing quantities of the mother’s milk of politics, namely ca$h. They no longer need to pay the Salaries of Elizabeth May, and Adrian Carr, both of whom have salaries courtesy of their elected positions. Even local office expenses, and personal staff for those two people are being borne by taxpayers, so there is a chunky 6 figure annual savings for the GPC. Remember that the GPC does not spend money of field organising outside their target ridings, so a large chunk of the money they raise can be devoted to pre-writ spending in target ridings. Then there is the likelihood af raining a substantial loan for the next general election. Any ridings that they target with significant writ period spending will definitely exceed the 10% threshold for getting 60% of the campaign expenses back. They can borrow quite a chunk of dough, provided they can demonstrate a steady and dependable cash flow from fundraising, and they can pay much of those loans off using the proceeds of the electoral expenses rebates.

So put all these factors together, and the strategy of the GPC in 2015 becomes as clear as this mornings blue skies. They will focus on a small number of winnable ridings. Based on past history, I would bet folding money that the ridings they target will be currently held by Conservatives, and will disproportionately be located in BC, and Alberta, the GPC `strongholds`. I would guess that they will shoot for official party status in the house, but they may just rein in their ambitions a little and go for 4 or 5 certain seats as opposed to 10 maybes. With maybe a quarter $million or more in pre-writ spending per riding, a National campaign that focusses resources regionally, plus fully funded local campaigns, they will win in a number of ridings. If they limit their ambitions, there is no reason why they could not slam 5 ridings. If they want to roll the dice, they could possibly break through and achieve the coveted official party status in the H.O.C.

To wrap up this post, I will draw conclusions for the Liberal Party, and what all this means for them. When the GPC makes their target clear, (and they will long before the election), evaluate their chances carefully. If it is a smaller number of targets, then sit down and talk co-operation with the Greens. We cannot stop them from winning if they are prepared to spend millions on a small number of targets. Deal with the reality of it, and squeeze an advantage. The advantage on offer will be an endorsement of numerous Liberal Candidates by Elizabeth May and the GPC. It is true that the GPC will probably not run very many candidates outside their target ridings, for the reasons outlined above. The problem for the Liberals is that the abandoned GPC voters are more likely to vote NDP than Liberal wherever there is no GPC candidate. Elizabeth May does not like the NDP, so her instinct is going to be to cut a deal that favours the Liberals. Her endorsement could be a significant factor in attracting the lions share of the stranded GPC votes to the local Liberal rather than the local Dipper. Then of course, the post-election Parliament will hold the promise of a biddable coalition partner in the GPC. That could be critical if the Liberals achieve a strong minority, or even if they want a buffer of a few extra members to support a bare majority. If the GPC over-reaches themselves with too many targets, then the Liberal Party should think about it first. The targets will almost certainly be Conservative held ridings, so if the Liberals believe that the targets are winnable for the Liberals, then they should consider contesting them. Altogether though, I suspect that Elizabeth May is going to engineer an electoral coup in 2015, and make some form of electoral cooperation between the GPC and the Liberals a fact. And what makes this doubly impressive is that she will achieve this outcome whether she gets cooperation or not, and it will happen despite the significant reduction in the overall number of votes won by the GPC.

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Trudeau’s ‘Call to Action’ needs to focus on building the Riding Associations.

In the very few weeks since Justin Trudeau was elected leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, there have been some pretty big things going on. I guess the most obvious, and I mean IN YOUR FACE obvious is the launch millions of dollars worth of ‘attack ads’ by the Conservatives, and the launch of a million dollar ‘anti-attack’ ad by the Trudeau Liberals. We have all been treated to a phenomena that we have seen time and again. scads of

It's Off To Work We Go

It’s Off To Work We Go

instant communications ‘experts’ opine on whether one ad or another is ‘working’, and arguing the finer points of negative vs positive. Are the Cons shooting themselves in the foot? Is Trudeau a ‘Mr. Positive’, safely inoculated against negative ads? The yardstick against which the relative merits are judged are voting intentions as revealed by public opinion polls, which in turn unleash lashings of commentary on the accuracy, and relative merits of polling methods and companies. While all of this is, to be sure, very exciting and certainly gives us all fodder for blogs and comments, I cannot recall seeing a single news article on the yardsticks and measures of success that actually matter.

The objective of the Liberal Party of Canada is to win a plurality of voters in a general election expected sometime in the fall of 2015. I think that it is universally acknowledged that the biggest obstacle to overcome is that the Liberal Party does not currently have the ground organisation, or the resources to achieve that objective. Visit the Liberal Party website, and you shall be greeted by a banner stating simply: “HOPE and HARD WORK”. That is a pretty tacit recognition that there is some way to go, else why the word HOPE? I will take a leap of faith, and assume that since Justin Trudeau, and the Liberal Party recognise they need to rebuild the Party, that they have a Plan to achieve that objective. It is not rocket science, and Trudeau’s team have proven that they know how to plan. It is about setting an objective, acquiring the resources to achieve that objective, and then effectively deploying those resources to achieve the objective.

I do not think there is much doubt that the resource which matter most. The resource from which all good things flow is a base of committed supporters. Money, skills, volunteer hours etc. It follows that building up this asset is the interim objective, and this is the yardstick against which success should be measured. I guess that the rising fortunes of the Liberal Party in opinion polls measuring voting intentions is not a bad thing. What I am having trouble with is in answering the question, ‘How does spending a million dollars on an Ad campaign help to build the supporter base of the Liberal Party?’

I have spent enough time marketing goods and services that I understand the importance of a brand. Basically, all those Mr. Positive adverts are a brand building exercise. But Holy Crap! A million dollars on building the brand? The fundamental issue I have with that is that building the brand does not leave any room for a ‘call to action’ in the ad campaign. It is all sizzle and no steak. You can argue that Trudeau has leveraged the brand building campaign, by twinning it with a call to action to support the exercise with donations. That is certainly a valid point. Over a two-week period, I saw many a call to action in facebook ads, and various keyword based ads online to donate funds to the Liberals for the Mr. Positive ads. The effectiveness of that parallel campaign is proven by the obvious metric. The Liberal Party raised about $1million over a two-week period.  It is less obvious how effectively the Liberal Party has built the supporter base on which future success depends. For all those monetary resources expended, there has been very little in the way of calls to action to join, or Support the Liberal Party. I believe that the Liberals are playing their hand in a very disciplined and systematic way. I am thinking that the primary objective is going to come to the forefront over the coming months, and we shall see communications focused on calls to action that capitalise on the brand building campaign currently underway.

Trudeau is a wizard at gaining earned media. Earned media is at the discretion of journalists, editors, and the media in general. As such, it is very difficult to ensure an effective ‘call to action’ is included in published articles. Consequently, the focus of the earned media campaign is likely to be the continuous building the ‘Mr. Positive’ brand. We can hope, especially in online media channels, that the occasional ‘home run’ will be earned with links directly to Liberal, or Trudeau ‘landing pages’ intended to harvest supporter, donor, and volunteer names and email addresses. Those instances will be few and far between though. So earned media will probably focus on creating a positive environment for the ‘Hard work and Hope’ to take place in. Where the true objective will be achieved is on the paid media, and field organising fronts.

On the paid media side of things, the focus needs to be far more directly related to garnering the key resource, to whit recruiting supporters, voters, and building the volunteer base to make our EDA’s competitive. The reason is simple. Paid media is 100% at the discretion of the buyer. Connecting the message to the call to action is normally the entire purpose of a paid ad. This is the reason that I am bothered by the current $1million ad campaign. Delivering calls to action is EXPENSIVE, and every dollar spent on Mr. Positive ads, is one less dollar asking someone to join the Party, attend an EDA building event, sign a petition, or any of a myriad of useful and effective calls to action. Since future revenue streams are dependant upon a growing and ever more dedicated supporter base, the focus of the paid media campaign must shift to effective calls to action. That will directly grow the capacity of both the central Party campaign apparatus, and the local EDA supporter base.

On the field organising front, Justin Trudeau is a one man organising machine! I follow the news regularly, so every time I read a comment about Justin Trudeau missing in action in the House of Commons, a muted ‘Bwah ha ah’ rises from deep within. You see, rather than hanging out in the HOC standing in a futile exercise of voting against Government motions that will pass, Justin is out in the field stuffing the coffers and recruiting scads of supporters one EDA at a time. The Parliamentary reporters can fret away the days until Justin returns, which guarantees that his infrequent appearances on the Hill will be well attended. The result being solid national media coverage on themes more or less of his choosing (see ‘earned media wizard’ comment above).  In the past week, Justin spent time in Labrador addressing and motivating supporters in the by-election contest currently underway. He showed up in Edmonton, meeting with Edmonton area EDA’s, and drawing hundreds of new supporters into the local Edmonton organisations. Then he moved on to Winnipeg, where he glad handed his way through the food court of a local mall, once again addressing crowds and drawing more people into the Liberal Party’s arms. The guy makes the Energiser Bunny look like a freakin dilettante! I am starting to believe that Trudeau can practically rebuild the Party all by his lonesome, but I am thinking that the Liberals have to do better than that. This is where you and I come into the picture. ‘HOPE and HARD WORK’ means exactly that. When Justin moves on to the next EDA, what he is leaving behind has to be organised, and welded into a campaign capable group that can win the next election. Liberalist is being steadily populated with new supporters across the nation. It is pretty important that there is a local connection for all those new supporters. Engaging with them and soliciting their time, money, and effort needs to be happening in every EDA, or the opportunity Trudeau has presented the Liberals will be lost. There is probably a two-year time frame in which we have to act. If we are to overcome the CPC, and growing NDP organisations, then Justin is absolutely bang on the money. From a basis of HOPE, it is up to you and I to put in the HARD WORK, and put the puck in the net in 338 ridings in 2015!

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