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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Sizing up the big red machine: Liberal leadership vote turnout by riding

I have been contemplating compiling the Leadership data riding by riding, but Global has done a great job, mapping Leadership Race votes using Google Maps. Here it is, enjoy!

Update: Here are the Raw Numbers courtesy of the Liberal Party.

Global News

OTTAWA – If many hands make light work, Liberals in Atlantic Canada, southern Ontario and parts of Vancouver may have proportionally fewer doors to knock during the 2015 federal election.
But those in Alberta and Quebec could find themselves without backup during the electoral ground war.
As supporters turned out to vote in the leadership convention that saw Justin Trudeau elected Liberal leader, they revealed where the party may find foot soldiers for the next election – and where it will need to do some serious recruiting.
Perhaps not surprisingly, ridings with the fewest Liberal members were also most likely to be held by other parties.
Riding by riding analysis shows the ratio of voters to Liberal Party supporters to voters is highest in Atlantic Canada, the National Capital Region and a smattering of other ridings in Ontario.
Metro Vancouver was also fairly strong, but Vancouver Quadra, represented by leadership…

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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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Liberals Supporter category vital. What happens after the leadership race?

Liberal Supporter GraphicI first realised that my old friend, the Liberal Party of Canada was on the path to recovery when they introduced the Supporter category early in 2012. Canadians were invited to formally become a supporter of the Liberal Party, and offered a vote in the leadership contest as an inducement.  As I wrote in June, the idea nagged and teased me. I clarified my thoughts with a post on the potential impact of an easy to use self-identifier that wins an email address and commitment from just about any Canadian willing to call themselves Liberal. It took awhile, but by the time the Leadership contest commenced in earnest, every campaign was grappling with the implications, and more or less successfully gathering supporters as quickly as they could. In December, I was treated to a series of fundraising emails from the Liberal Party. I had signed up as a supporter, and was really interested in seeing HOW the Liberal Party used the contact information I had provided them. According to the information I gleaned from those fundraising emails, the new supporter category was starting to generate many hundreds of new fully paid up memberships, and first time donors to the Liberal Party. I expected it, but it was still very pleasant to see my earlier conclusions about the game changing nature of supporters for Liberals being translated into irrefutable dollars and cents.

According to publicly reported figures, the Liberal Party signed up 55,000 supporters PRIOR to the start date for the Leadership contest. That`s a whole lot of people voluntarily giving over their contact information, and making an internal commitment to support the Liberals. Mind you, these are the supporters came forward before the Leadership campaigns were vigorously recruiting and proselytising. Since that time, we have seen campaigns like George Takach identifying a `key constituency` (online gamers), and delivering his message of a digital bill of rights through the medium of email. I don`t know if this will get him a huge following, but it is smart. He correctly surmised that emails, and linked sign-up pages will be the keys to victory, so he went after a constituency that spends all their free time online. Another entirely predictable outcome of the changed ground rules has been the use of third-party mailing lists, and issue advocates to recruit Supporters for candidates, and the Party. There were recent media reports about the Construction Workers Union emailing their membership lists, and directing them to  Justin Trudeau Supporter sign-up page on Trudeau`s website.  Just have a quick look at that Union sign-up page. It speaks to my earlier posts on enriching the Liberalist database with additional actionable information on supporters and members. Every Union Joe who signs up will be identified as a Construction Worker Union member, who has an affinity for Justin Trudeau. Can you say `targetted communications`? The third example I want to mention is really exciting, because it has enormous potential, and demonstrates just exactly HOW the Liberal Party is going to be able to prepare for, and win the next General Election in 2015.

Wow! Win the next general election? Is bluegreenblogger off his rocker? Well last week there were a number of media reports regarding a huge boost to Joyce Murrays campaign that rocked my socks off. Several electoral co-operation advocacy groups have, more or less under their own steam recognised the potential of the supporter category to advance their POLICY interests with the Liberal Party. Leadnow boasting approximately 225,000 members, Fair Vote Canada, and other electoral co-operation advocates have been urging their `membership`to become supporters of the Liberals. Put this into perspective, during the recent NDP leadership race, Leadnow and Avaaz rounded up over 10,000 members`to support Nathan Cullens leadership bid. Wow! Those are full dues paying memberships, a much tougher sell than asking for email addresses and a little personal information.

Don`t get me wrong. I have not changed my mind about merging the `left`, and I still think it is a non-starter. But I think my point is well illustrated by this example.  My point is that while affinity for the Liberals can certainly draw a whole lot of support (and money) out of the woodwork for the Liberals, issues and policy are really really powerful motivators. With very little effort on the behalf of the Liberal Party, I expect tens of thousands of Canadians are going to respond to an emailed invitation to join the Liberal Party as a Supporter in order to promote Leadnows and Fair Votes objectives. Which leads me to the entire point of this post.

The Supporter category has been an unqualified success in rapidly building up the numbers of contacts and supporters in Liberalist database. The Supporter category has also improved the quality of data (the depth so to speak) on many thousands of Liberals inclinations, policy leanings, and some third-party affiliations. The Supporter category has generated thousands of dollars of donations directly for the Liberal Party. The reason it has been so succesful is because it is very easy to join, there is no up front cost, and a small but tangible benefit (the right to vote for the Leader) is the reward. The problem is that this unqualified success is slated to come to an end next month when membership and supporter sign-ups are closed for leadership race purposes. How can the Liberal Party continue to re-build and re-organise at the current breakneck speed without anything tangible to offer Supporters? The answer is sooo simple it is scary. Open up policy formulation to supporters! Every supporter who signs up to vote for and promote their deeply held beliefs is worth a dozen people with a  more ,or less vague affinity for a leadership candidate. They will be stepping forward with their time as volunteers, with their money as financial supporters, and their expertise for policy formulation, if only we give them the chance. Now is not the time to sit back and cheer about a one-off success. The Liberal Party has a historic opportunity to vault into the pole position for the next Federal General Election. Such a teeny. tiny innovation has the potential to revolutionise the Party, so please Liberals, do not let the opportunity pass.

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The Liberal Party Supporter category: Takach gets it. Does anybody else?

Yesterday I read a Toronto Star article entitled: How federal Liberals are using leadership race to get back in the game.

The premise of the article is that the new supporter category is a game changer for the Liberal Party, and that this late entry into the data collection business holds the promise of future relevancy for the Liberal Party.

`The Liberals aren’t just conducting a leadership contest. They are also using this race to engage in a massive, data-collection exercise — a catch-up effort. In the last couple of elections, the Conservatives and New Democrats have surged far ahead of the Liberals in this cutting-edge aspect of modern electioneering.` The article goes on to highlight some interesting facts not generally available to the public, for example, there have been over 40,000 supporters signed up by the Liberal Party, and the fact that Liberalist, the centrally managed and maintained database has only got data on approximately 1.3 million Canadians. Well all I can say to that depressing piece of news is that there are another 20 million Canadians to go, so the Liberal Party better get it`s shit together fast, because there are almost 1 million Canadians to contact every month between now and the next election. The sheer scope of the basic task aside, there was one interesting aspect of the article that gives me hope that the Liberal Party can actually build a winning campaign with the time they have in hand, and of all people, it is George Takach who really does seem to get it.

You see, the modern world of electoral politics is no longer about grand themes, and demographic-wide sweeping policy statements that `wow` huge segments of the electorate into voting for a Party. It is about identifying and understanding subsets of the electorate, communicating directly with smaller groups of often highly motivated voters, and winning their support in terms of volunteering, donating money, and proselytising for the Party. I have seen plenty of discussion about the supporter category within Liberal Party ranks. The discussion basically falls into two categories, on the one hand many Liberals seem to think it is a good idea that will draw in `new blood`, and shake things up a little. On the other hand we have the fossils who I would judge feel that it threatens their hard-won positions of influence within the Party. The surface arguments from this camp generally seem to consist of the idea that people can just go ahead and join, which means that there will be undeserving, or even hostile influences on the Liberal Party inherent in the `Trojan Horse`supporters. What I have seen very little of is a serious discussion about WHY it is that the Liberal Party has such a crappy database, and HOW it is that the Liberal Party can actually joint the real world of electoral politics. Seriously, I was having my doubts that the Liberal Party even has a clue about what has happened to them, until I read that what George Takach had to say about his leadership campaign.

Full disclosure, at this point in time, I anticipate casting my supporter ballot for Justin Trudeau, but that surely does not mean that I will be wanting to throw out the baby with the bath water once this Leadership contest is over. The baby in the bath water is George`s idea that he can target a specific community of interest, online gamers. He proposes: “There are a million and a half gamers in this country, most of them between the ages of 18 and 35. Right now they’re apolitical … I’m going to reach out to them. I’m going to show them social acceptance. My agenda about a superfast Internet, a digital bill of rights, will resonate very deeply with them.” Do not get me wrong. I find the idea of riding to power on a wave of suddenly motivated online gamers to be, well, a little `out there`. But while it may not be a practical program for winning the leadership of the Liberal Party, it does go waaay beyond what the Liberal party seems to understand about the supporter category, and it`s implications for retail politics. Whether George actually corrals 100,000 gamers, or only manages to gather in 500 gamers, he will have exploited the one two punch that the Liberal party MUST master if they are to ever win an election again. He has identified a readily approached community of interests. He has created a series of policy prescriptions to appeal to that community of interests, and he is now campaigning to collect actionable data on the individual members of this community, to whit, to sign them up as supporters, donors, and activists. And get this, he is doing all this years ahead of the next general election, so there is plenty of time between now, and then to build on his successes, mitigate his failures, and generally lock up the support, volunteer hours, and chequebooks of his community of interest(s). The data that he is collecting will be permanently preserved within Liberalist. This means that at any time the Liberal Party will have the option of calling on this community with targeted message that speaks to them directly. George himself will have built himself some kind of constituency within Liberal Party supporter ranks, and for so long as he champions their interests, and has the means to make targeted communications to them, he will retain a loyal base of support, both for himself, and the Liberal Party. For those of my readers stifling a yawn right now, I invite you to consider well what the Conservative Party has achieved with, for example, the community of rural long gun owners in Canada, or the Pro-Life lobby in Canada. This is how they have built a permanent campaign machine, the richest stream of donors, and volunteers in Canadian politics. The achieved this by ignoring large-scale demographics, and homing in on politically significant communities of interests buried within the electorate, just like George is doing.

So there it is. A simple idea no? Extrapolate it a little bit, and you have a political party that comes to represent a community of communities. A political party that can count on cash and volunteers motivated by real ideas, not fuzzy vague policies developed in a commitee room at some boring convention, but ideas that have PROVEN their worth by attracting committed volunteers and supporters to the Party. The Liberal Party obviously needs to build a serious electoral database, and get the basic information on the entire Canadian electorate. There is just no way to be a Party with aspirations to govern the country without a comprehensive database of voting intentions. Now it should be (but is not yet) equally obvious that collecting more intensive, and directly actionable data based on issues, and `communities of interests` is a second pre-requisite for governing the country. It will take many millions of dollars MORE than the Liberal Party has been spending in recent elections to just retain the support level the Liberals currently enjoy. It will take thousands of committed volunteers. It will take a serious improvement in the ground game of the Liberals. It has been the CPC that showed the way to find and win the commitment of $$ and volunteer time, but so far there are only a few lonely voices in the Liberal Party that get it, and are actually doing something about it. I take my hat off to George Takach for having the cojones to go out on a limb with his `out there`idea, that is not so very out there after all. I am very curious to see whether or not the Liberal Party can recognise, and take steps to enable more people like George to set their sights on more and different communities of interests, and start building up the depth of their data, in tandem with the pure donkey work of broadening the database by getting 100% of Canadians voting intentions into Liberalist.

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The Rob Ford Story: It ain’t over by a long shot.

A lot of  Torontonians are delighted, and celebrating the judgement that removed Rob Ford from the office of Mayor of Toronto. I have some bad news for them, Rob Ford will be permitted to run in a by-election, and he will win. Note that I am not qualifying my statement by saying he will probably win, or there is a good chance of it. The odds are more like 5:1 in favour of a Rob Ford victory.

Yes, I know that the past two years have been a continuous parade of buffoonery. That he was removed by a judge would be the kiss of death in most cases. Especially considering the facts surrounding the case.  Yes, I know that to a reasonable person, he is not qualified to run the city, but election results, ( or by-elections in this case) are determined by counting ballots cast on election day. Don’t forget that the buffoonery pre-dates his mayoral election. Drunken cursing of an elderly couple at the Maple Leaf Gardens that he lied about. The Drunk driving and marijuana possession in Florida that he lied about. etc. etc. etc. The voters did not care and they gave him a mandate in 2010, so what is so different today?

Municipal elections normally have pretty dismal turnouts. In 2003, the turnout was 38%. In 2006 the turnout was 39%. However, in 2010, Ford won the Mayoralty from a whopping turnout of 53.2%! This turnout was no accident. Behind Rob Ford is Doug Ford, and the most impressive political and electoral database and organisation in Toronto. That database includes thousands of very committed Ford volunteers. (That is not hyperbole, the Fords had 5,000 volunteers within a week of announcing his intention to run in the spring of 2010). The turnout was comparatively massive because something had changed in Toronto, and that change came to be called ‘Ford Nation’.

So there it is, Rob Ford won in 2010 because he mobilised a huge slice of the electorate to get out and vote for FORD. We have all been reading the news since then, the seemingly endless gong-show of gaffes, fumbles, minor outrages, outright lies, which in our past experience should add up to terminate the Mayors career. But something different has happened. That highly motivated base of supporters has NOT withered away. Back in May, in the midst of one of the bozo eruptions where the Mayor threatened and charged at a Toronto Star reporter, the Mayors approval rating dropped to 41%. If you think that is old news, and that judicial removal from office should do the trick, current, and credible polls would SEEM to bear this out, but in fact they don’t.

If you look at the story on this poll, you will think I am nuts. How could I possibly argue that Rob Ford can overcome such dismal approval ratings? Because 16% of the electorate are still very strong supporters of Rob Ford, and 11% are likely supporters. That is enough for a disciplined campaign to win, because things are NOT as they seem. You see, it does not matter how many people respond to an opinion poll in a given way. What matters are the mechanical details about mobilising voters to cast a ballot. What matters is which people get out on E-day, and whose name the X goes next to.

Turnout is the biggest factor in play. In a normal Municipal election, there are actually 4 races going on at once. Mayor, Council, Public School Board, and Separate School board trustees. That gives the voters four reasons to get their butts down to the polling booth. A whole lot of people go to vote because their buddy is running for council, or trustee. Another slice goes to vote because they are motivated to vote AGAINST a council, trustee etc candidate. ( That bastard stole my lunch money in Grade 5).  While they are there, they mark an X by a Mayoral candidates name.  Then there are civic-minded citizens doing their electoral duty, a decided minority I might add. In a Mayoral by-election, only those motivated by the Mayoral vote, and a small number of civic-minded will go to the polls.  Bang, turnout drops significantly, and casual Mayoral votes will not go into the box. Assuming the by-election will happen fairly quickly, we are likely to see a vote in perhaps February, or maybe March. Guess what, it is COLD and nasty at that time of year. If E-Day is on a cold or wet Monday, Bang, turnout drops dramatically. Ford Nation does not mind cold and rainy days though. Ford nation does not much care about smelly old council and trustee candidates. Ford Nationers belong to something. They care very much, and just as importantly, Ford Nation has an electoral MACHINE that will get them on the march on E-day.

Right, the electoral machine. What’s with that anyway? I mean, everybody seems to be saying such nasty things about Ford. The polls show that masses of people do not want him to be Mayor. What does some electoral gimmickry have to do with that? Simple, any electoral campaign that depends upon turnouts of motivated supporters, needs to be able to contact, identify, and motivate people to Get Out and Vote. If there is indeed a by-election, it shall happen quickly, and that is a huge boon to Ford. A normal municipal race happens on a fixed date every 4 years. The contenders prepare their plans slowly, cautiously weigh their chances, and gradually build a supporter network, funding commitments, and volunteer base. They mull over issues and policies, all in preparation for the main event. This by-election will feature none of the above. It shall be a come-as-you-are party. Olivia Chow is touted (reasonably) as the only viable alternate to Rob Ford, but even if she has been working towards that end for months, she does not have a machine in place, ready to ID and GOTV at the drop of a pin. The Fords on the other hand, have already moved into election mode. Phone banks are in action at this moment, contacting volunteers, polling to determine which supporters from 2010 can be counted on, and which have turned traitor, and should be persuaded to stay at home somehow. The Ford campaign will be fully funded within 24 hours of a by-election call. There will be thousands of dedicated volunteers door knocking, endlessly pounding the phones, attending rallys, and generally whooping it up.

Then there is the problem of a crowded field. I believe that all it takes to actually run for Mayor is a $1000 deposit. There are always a number of ambitious people, (Karen Stintz, Olivia Chow, Adam Vaughan, etc) both on City council, and in the City at large who are planning, or hoping to run in 2014. I can think of a number off the top of my head that are seeing their dreams of occupying the BIG CHAIR after 2014 in jeopardy at this moment. How many of them will say the hell with it, I am going for broke in the by-election? All it will take is two or more viable candidates running against Ford to nullify the ‘anything but Ford’ vote of casual voters.

So there it is, my argument that Rob Ford will likely win the upcoming by-election for Mayor of Toronto. His substantial base of dedicated supporters will be moved to volunteer and vote by a well oiled political machine. The antipathy to Rob Ford expressed by the Toronto electorate will not translate to a strong turnout of his opponents on E-Day. The RELATIVELY low centrist and left-wing turnout will divide their vote between 3 or 4 candidates, allowing Rob Ford to win the election with somewhere around 40% -45% of the ballots cast. You may not like it, but unless at least some of the things discussed above change, the outcome is quite predictable.

Election Objectives for Green Party of Canada

Green Party Election objectives

What's the Objective?

Well, it has certainly been awhile since I blogged about the Green Party. When last I posted, the GPC was in the throes of a particularly convoluted internal conflict, complete with plots, counterplots, and counter -counter, etc. in the runup to the Leadership contest that never happened. So a quick recapitulation is in order, as it pertains to the current election.

The Leadership of  the Green Party of Canada has determined that the election objective is to get Elizabeth May elected in Saanich Gulf Islands, (SGI). According to media reports, there will be no leaders tour, and Elizabeth May will be making very few forays beyond her own riding (SGI). That is problematic for the other 307 local campaigns, especially when you consider that Elizabeth May was elected leader of the Green Party on the promise to bring media attention, and an Air War element to our campaigns. Well last I checked, SGI was not exactly the media capital of Canada, so I don’t think we will be seeing much earned media in the current Campaign. I guess I cannot really blame Elizabeth May, since it is pretty clearly understood that having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, and focussed the entire party apparatus on winning in SGI, if she fails to get elected, she will be looking for employment elsewhwere.

For the real Party, which is to say the hundreds of Electoral District Associations which will have to wage this campaign without an Air War to back them up, we will have to turn back the clock to 2004 or so, when the EDA’s were on their own looking for earned media, and messaging etc. There are other similarities between today and 2004. Most tellingly, in 2004 the bulk of the Party were new to Politics, and inexperienced. The GPC membership has tanked. So many of the Party faithful have withdrawn over the past two years, I get the sense that a lot of campaigns are sitting around tables as I write, wondering what the heck does a Campaign do?

So how do you wage a campaign starting from scratch? My best advice is to start with a few simple and clear election objectives. One of those objectives should be to grow your local membership, and volunteer base. The implication is that every campaign, be it however so humble, needs to have a volunteer co-ordinator in place. You need to take every volunteer that comes forward in hand immediately, and give them something useful to do. Don’t be haphazard about it. Have specific tasks, and all the tools needed to fulfil the task. You need to take some time and teach the volunteer how to do it, and make sure there are get togethers and events where they can socialise and have some fun. This volunteer campaign team will provide activists, and volunteers for EDA building after the election.

A second objective for every campaign should be to identify as many Green Party supporters as possible, and retain that information in the Party’s centralised database, (GRIMES). Grimes is also a pretty nifty phone canvassing application, so your volunteers can telephone canvass from any place with Internet access, and a telephone. All the data collected is hosted by the National Party, in their servers, so the information will be accessible, and preserved for future use.  How much, or even whether or not you foot canvass depends on your volunteer strength. You need a whack of volunteers to canvass an EDA, so if you are canvassing, make sure you have targetted which polls carefully. (You can get 2008 poll by poll electoral results from the Elections Canada HERE ) Remember, to focus your canvassing on the campaign objective(s). If your prime objective is building the EDA, then focus your canvas and your scripts on asking for violunteers, and getting people to your campaign events. If the objective is simply identifying the vote, then a very short script, asking for support and recording the answer is what your volunteers should stick to.

In the 2008 election, there were 41 Ridings where the GPC candidate exceeded the 10% threshold whereby they received a 60% rebate of their election expenses. Probably a paramount and overriding campaign objective  for them, is to repeat this feat in the current election. Ditto for the host of EDA’s that were within a percent or two of the 10% threshold. Chances are, if you were in this category in 2008, you don’t need me to tell you what to do. While that hasn’t stopped me before, for now I will stick to reminding you that the advanced polls are of vital interest to you. The Green Party Vote will once again soften, and move to other Party’s in the final days of the election, so it is vitally important that you get your vote out in a big way for the advance polls. Put them in the bank before they change their minds, so to speak. In the last General Election, Ottawa Centre missed getting their $24,946 rebate back by some 45 odd votes. Ouch! How much you wanna bet that this time they will have a strong GOTV to the advance polls? lol The practical difficulty for these stronger campaigns will be that there will not be much of an Air War to support their campaign, and believe me, that will have a disproportionate impact on the stronger ridings. Ridings which have built their support to the 10% range will have to reach out to a much higher proportion of their electorate to win more votes. Presumably, the bulk of the motivated Green voters in these ridings are in fact already being mobilized, so reaching more and more undecideds with a conversion message is their route to improving their standing at the polls. Without an Air War reaching masses of people with a simple repetetive Campaign message, it will be hard slogging indeed to make fresh inroads. I wish them luck, as the only antidote is to pour it on at the local level, which will take plenty of folding money. If you doubt that money is important, have a look at some of the simple analysis I did after 2008. (Correlations between Campaign Spending  and Vote outcomes).

For a small, (actually VERY small) number of ridings, there will be a more ambitious campaign objective. One of the interesting ridings to watch will be Dufferin-Caledon, where a very capable Ard Van Leeuwen is the candidate for a second time. They will likley have a Campaign objective to move into second place, and grow their vote by XX percent. The Liberal Party edged him out of second place in 2008, and Ard has not been standing still since then. I expect a very strong showing from the local Campaign, and will bet dollars to donuts they meet their objective. Bruce Grey Owen Sound has had a strong EDA since Shane Jolley organised the heck out of the riding prior to the 2005-2006 election. Their objective has to be to win the seat, althoutgh frankly, the odds are stacked heavily against them, but where else do you go from a strong second place finish, with a robust campaign team and organisation behind you? Guelph, the strongest showing in 2008, (with the exception of Central Nova), will likewise be shooting for the winners circle. Guelph has some real organisational depth, and have a lot of skilled and hard working volunteers. Probem is that Elizabeth May’s call for strategic voting in 2008 really knee-capped their campaign, and there is a lot of bitterness towards the Federal Green Party in Guelph. Will the volunteers sit it out, or will they show up ready to campaign again? Time will tell, but in either case, it will take a minor miracle for them to get any growth without a robust, and well targetted National Campaign speaking to the good citizens of Guelph through their TV sets every night. How about Vancouver Centre? Well, in 2008 Adriane Carr, loyal deputy leader to EMay received lashings of cash in Transfers from the Party ($73,500 to be precise), and made a dismal showing with a fourth place finish. My bet is that they will have an objective of getting their deposit back, cause I sure as heck don’t see anybody gifting Adriane with any $70k anytime soon. And what about Central Nova,? LMAO, Say no more. Actually, I will say more, Central Nova (Elizabeth May’s ‘home’ riding) has received hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. (Some was repaid, some disappeared into organisers salaries, and office rents etc.). Their objective has to be to get back their deposit by surpassing the 10% threshold. Will they manage it? Bwaahahaha. (Code for I doubt it very much).

Then there is the obvious, and apparently over-riding objective, electing Elizabeth May in SGI. So what are the chances? Obviously, a win in SGI will require seperating a great many senior citizen votes from Gary Lunn, the CPC Minister for Sport, and runaway victor in the last several elections. Based on some internal, and third Party polling, Elizabeth is a contender when voting intentions are considered. The GPC has paid a lot of salaries, and put hundreds of thousands of dollars into acheiving this objective. Money, when well spent, has a really big impact on getting the message out, and making a lot of voter impressions. The difficulty there will be putting the puck in the net with an efficient, and well managed Ground War. All the positive voting intentions in the world will not help them in a close fought battle if they cannot Get Out The Vote, (GOTV) on E-Day, and at the advance polls. I will lay long odds that they cannot do it, but I wish them the best of luck. Fact is, there is not a big enough split in the vote, and SGI has a monolithic block of Conserative voters ready to back Lunn again. Since the only way to win is to either convert these voters to Green, or to suppress the Conservative turnout through a negative campaign, it aint likely to happen. After all, the only National Campaign message from the Green Party so far is that negative campaigning, and attack ads are BAD, so this route is closed. (And I do not disagree with that. Some tactics are effective, but still reek like the pond scum that invented them. After all, you still gotta look at  yourself in the mirror the day after the vote. Still, were it my job to win in SGI, I would have to be considering robodialling with a negative message about Lunn day and night. As the Conservatives have discovered, it is hard to hold you accountable for a lie or foible when it is narrowcast one on one.)

So there it is, and here we are. There are a number of interesting ridings to watch, and the stakes are pretty high in this election for the Leadership of the Green Party of Canada. The local Ridings, and Electoral Districts are pretty well on their own. They will need to think about their own objectives, and craft the local message to help acheive their objectives. There will be a minimal National Campaign, and Air War, so the biggest hurdle is going to be the inexperience, and lack of direction at the local Campaign level. There will be somewhere between 50-70 Campaigns that are firing on all 4 cylinders, (No V8’s in the GPC please, lol), but they will be badly handicapped by lack of coherent Air War, and invisibility in the press. But never mind all that big picture stuff. This is IT folks, the Campaign is on, and thousands of new friendships will be formed, EDA’s will be stimulated, volunteers will come forward in droves, and the reason we exist as a Party is to do this job, so get out there, and above all, have a blast!

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