Issues based Segmenting and Targeting the new activism

Slice it and Segment it for best results!

Slice it and Segment it for best results!

I just read an excellent article on how activists, and issue advocates in Canada are adopting new techniques and models to drive their message home to Government. It seems I am not alone in my assessment that a direct one-on-one interaction with individuals presents the opportunity to more effectively engage small segments of the electorate to more readily mobilise them for political action.

I have written a number of posts recently about my belief that the Liberal Party absolutely MUST get into the game of big data management if they are to have a hope of gaining ground in the new world of electoral politics, and this article points out the way. The Liberal Party has recently had some first hand experience of how an effectively managed issues based database can be leveraged for political ends. Joyce Murray engaged with ( or was engaged by?) Leadnow and FairVote Canada to mobilise a substantial campaign for electoral co-operation. Both of those organisations were built up as online communities, engaged with a specific, and highly motivating issue, electoral reform in Canada. AVAAZ is another organisation that has proven very effective in mobilising Canadians around specific issues. Please do have a look at their websites as that is the primary tool utilised to build these substantial and effective online communities:

Leadnow Site.

FairVote Canada.

AVAAZ.

As you can see from the main landing pages of these organisations websites, their primary focus is on drawings contact information from people interested in their issues, and securing some kind of ongoing interaction so as to build engagement within their organisation. You see, every time somebody clicks on a link, signs a petition, or donates a few bucks, they are quantifying their level of engagement with both the organisation, and the underlying issue being promoted. Because this is an ongoing, and interactive process, it is possible to create a continuous flow of people becoming more and more deeply engaged in the campaign, and the organisation.

One VERY telling example of a micro-targeted campaign is where Dogwood Initiative was opposed to the China-Canada Foreign Investment treaty, so what did they do? They downloaded the list of Conservative Party donors from Elections Canada’s political finances site, and polled them directly. What they found was that the Conservative Base was very strongly opposed to the provisions of the treaty. In their case, they forwarded the results of their poll to Stephen Harper, but there are even better things that the Liberal Party could, and should be doing with the Conservative Party’s donors list. Sometimes, (but not always) the best defense is a good offense. Rather than hanging around waiting for the Conservatives to unleash attack ads, the Liberal Party should be targeting the Conservatives directly, where they will feel it very quickly, and be forced to react. I would suggest that it is time for the Liberal Party to be directly contacting the Conservative base. There will be numerous chinks in the Conservatives armour, in the form of policies that are unpopular with many of their own most important supporters (donors and volunteers). Determining WHAT those chinks in the armour are, and then exploiting them can force the Conservatives to re-trench. ALL the broadcast advertising in the world cannot stop the Liberals from systematically initiating direct contact with the average CPC donor, so an approach like this will be very hard to counter. And counter it they MUST, as it directly challenges their enormous cash flows that they need to finance broadcast advertising. If it costs $100 k to turn off the taps on $1m per year in donations, that can be chalked up as a win for the Liberals.

Anyway, there is plenty to say about specific uses of segmented data, and specific campaigns, but I hope that Liberal readers of my blog will take home some important information from these examples. Liberalist exists and is being populated with hundreds of thousands of new contacts. The tools to draw in more people, engage them more deeply with the Liberal Party barely exist.  Finally, mobilising them for effective political action seems limited to fundraising asks. These things need to be the focus of Liberal activists everywhere if we are to match the political effectiveness of the non-aligned political activist community. With two years until the next General Election, there is more than enough time to build a truly effective electoral database, perhaps even enough to win the next General Election.

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Unite the progressives? Not much of a solution.

For several years there has been a scattered sense amongst some so-called `progressives` that the progressive left should merge, or co-operate electorally to keep the Conservative Party out of power.  No less a Liberal luminary than Jean Chretien has called for a formal merger between the Liberals, the NDP, and the Greens. During the current Liberal leadership contest, Joyce Murray is arguing strongly that a pact with the Green Party would be the bees knees.

On the NDP side, the idea was championed by Nathan Cullen in the recent leadership contest.

Elizabeth May has sounded of on this theme again in the aftermath of the recent by-elections where the GPC had a pretty good showing in two of the three ridings contested. She said that; `The tight races also reinforce the need for the NDP, Liberals and Greens to “start talking to each other” to avoid vote splitting in future elections…` I laughed when I read that. Of course she did! The Green Party is tottering, and this is about the only way she is going to retain any electoral significance beyond the next General election. Now some people will want to attribute this statement to malice on my part.  After all, did the GPC not just exceed all expectations in both Calgary Centre, and Victoria by-elections? Sure they did. They did it by pulling out all the stops. They have gotten better at coordinating a national virtual phone bank, and they recruited canvassers from coast to coast to coast to support a couple of strong local candidates. There is a real difference between concentrating your resources on a couple of by-elections, and running a National General election campaign.

They spent real money and resources on those by-elections. In fact, I suspect that when the by-election financial returns are made public, we shall find that they spent as much on these two by-election contests as the Central Party spent on the whole of Canada outside the four target ridings in the last general election. And I would posit that this big effort was symptomatic of their very weak position moving forward. Reason number one is that the per vote subsidy for political party’s is being phased out. The GPC shares the funding from this source between the National Party, and the local EDA`s. This fund sharing formula was in existence before Elizabeth May was elected leader, and it has had a perverse impact on the development of the local units of the party, the Electoral District Associations.  Under Jim Harris, there was a strong emphasis on building the local electoral capacity of the EDA`s. There were full-time organisers on staff, whose job was to assist local Greens in forming EDA`s. Their job was to help out with training, and electoral readiness. There was help in recruiting candidates, there were election training tools, seminars, and manuals being produced. There was a strong incentive for the central Party to support the EDA`s, because the per vote subsidy was shared between the local EDA and the Party itself. The central Party was not very good at fundraising, so they were dependant upon good election results to pay the organisers salaries. Winning votes at the local level was important to the EDA also, because their share of the subsidy represented the lions share of the money available to them to contest the next election.

Elizabeth May brought a very different focus to the Green Party. For whatever reason, the Party lost interest in supporting and developing any strength in the local organisations.  There was a Salary for the Leader, and Deputy Leader to be paid. There was the leaders aide to pay, and the basic legal compliance functions to fund, like financial reporting, meeting the expenses of the Federal governing council, etc. It seemed there was little interest, or resources left over for spending money on training, organising, forming or supporting EDA`s. In fact, from what I could observe, there seemed to be a perverse incentive at work. Every EDA that folded up it`s tent and was collapsed, meant that the per vote subsidy previously `diverted`to the local organisation reverted back to the central party, and helped to keep the top-heavy organisation afloat. During the various budgetary crises that the GPC faced, a series of moves were made to secure an increasing share of the subsidy cheque for the central party. For example, at one point the central Party sent out communications telling the EDA`s that they would be `opted out`of the revenue sharing agreement, unless they responded on short notice that they still wanted to receive their share. Then there was the whole Quebec organising fiasco. The central party was pressured by the Quebec EDA`s to hire a very talented young lady as Quebec organiser for the GPC. She was very succesful, as she set up regional meetings, membership started climbing dramatically, and they registered a whole whack of EDA`s in Quebec over the course of a couple of months. The reaction of the Central Party was to sack the organiser, in order to preserve their revenue stream from the per vote subsidy from Quebec voters! You see, the GPC council had decided that the entirety of the Party`s resources had to be dedicated to winning the leaders seat in SGI in the next election. The upshot was the voluntary dissolution of the Quebec EDA`s. The activists and EDA executives all left the Party, and the Quebec wing completely collapsed. As far as I can tell, that is pretty well where things stand in Quebec today.

The picture is a little more complicated across the rest of the country. The same basic fact holds true, that there is no organising support for the EDA`s, but there is still some residual strength left in some of the EDA`s. The majority of the EDA`s still in existence are held together by the ongoing revenue sharing cheques they receive from the central Party. There are still a few local organisations who go beyond filing their annual returns and cashing the revenue sharing cheques, but the bulk of the EDA`s are collapsing one by one, even though they have guaranteed sources of funds if they meet some minimal filing requirements.

Here is a quick table I whipped up based on Elections Canada records:

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 1
Total: 285 118

As you can see from the table, the Revenue sharing agreement, in conjunction with the central party supporting and assisting in EDA formation succeeded in putting at a minimum a rudimentary local organisation across the country between 2004-2007. There was an upwards blip in 2009 when a whole lot of Quebec EDAs were registered. The recurring financial crisis within the GPC head office contributed to, (or in the case of Quebec was the proximate cause of), the collapse of the EDA`s in 2008-2009, which resulted in the de-registration of all those EDA`s without an executive from that time on. There has been little or no effort to revive the Party organisation at the local level since the momentous decision of the federal Council to concentrate 100% of the GPCs resources on supporting Elizabeth May since 2008-9.

So given these facts, and the history of the GPC, what is going to happen now that the per vote subsidy is being phased out, and there are no easy sources of funds for local EDAs? Well it is clear that the GPC has never shown an  interest in organising at a local level. The local membership is losing the biggest incentive they have to retain the vestiges of an organisation. Even with the ongoing flow of funds from the vote subsidy, about 40% of the EDAs have folded. If the current trend continues, then at BEST there will be about 110-120 EDAs left preserving some resources for the candidates in the 2015 general election. So just how relevant will the GPC actually be in the 2015 general election?

Well the lifeblood of the GPC, the per vote subsidy, will have ceased to exist by 2015. The central party had what should have been a strong incentive to win as many votes as possible across the country in 2010, but they chose to focus all their resources on an effort to secure a seat for Elizabeth May. The impact of failing to run a national Campaign was predictably followed by a substantial decline in their vote share.  How much effort will they expend on recruiting and supporting candidates for the next election? It is safe to assume that those EDAs that still exist will manage to find a candidate for themselves. It is clearly not safe to assume that the party will spend a nickel to recruit candidates where there is no local organisation though. Even if they do field a decent number of candidates, there will be no local organisation to support the candidates. there will be no money in the bank, there will be no candidate training, there will be no resources backing them up, because there is no reason for the national Party to do so. Therefore, it is my contention that the GPC will have lost the capability to influence the course of the general election. Based on past electoral results, a GPC candidate without an EDA, and a minimum of $5,000 behind their campaign will not win more than 2-4% of the vote. The implication is that the GPC will halve their vote share on Eday, if they are lucky.

So having provided some background information, why is it that I would laugh aloud at Elizabeth Mays noble gesture of calling for electoral co-operation before we get to the next election? That is simple. the GPC does not have the resources, the motive, and I suspect the intention to field candidates across the country. When faced with the choice of fading into irrelevance, or cloaking their impotence in an electoral pact, Elizabeth has opted to squeeze the last drop of influence from a Party with some regional strength, but at the end of its rope in most of Canada. If they can run candidates un-opposed in a handful of ridings, they can marshal sufficient resources to pick up a few more seats, but that can only happen if they are gifted that option by both the Liberals and the NDP. They have tried to bolster their bargaining position with an all out effort in the recent by-elections, but they will never have the resources to duplicate this beyond a handful of ridings at a time. My advice to the Liberal Party, and to the NDP, is to smile politely, agree she is a wonderful MP, and ignore her overtures. She has nothing of substance to offer, beyond her own not insignificant abilities as an MP, and policy guru.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green Party Starts to capitalise on Debate on Debates?

Debate about Democracy?

Debate about Democracy?

So it appears that either somebody at the national campaign is listening to me, or they came to the same conclusion that I posted on yesterday. The kerfuffle about excluding the Green Party of Canada from the debates has led to a ton of positive publicity for the GPC. Something more is needed though, to create a call to action that directly serves the electoral interests of the Green Party of Canada. This is a very rare circumstance in politics, inasmuch as the timing, and longevity of the issue are extremely predictable, and there is some time to really work the message over, and gain some real electoral support.

Off I went to the Green Party website today. Lo and behold, Elizabeth May is hosting a press conference to unveil a policy to provide stable financing for the CBC. OK, ok. So it’s not a Watergate moment, but how many Federal areas of responsibility are there that can be readily related to the televised Leaders debates? If I could perhaps make a wee suggestion, it is not too much of a stretch to relate the debate to the entire legislative environment regulating elections in Canada. And THAT means electoral finances.

We all know the history of the per vote electoral subsidy for Political Party’s, and we also know that the CPC will likely be revisiting this sometime in the next two weeks or so. They have prepared the ground well, and to a great many people, vote subsidies are a wasteful gift to no-good politicians. The Conservatives have been hammering this into their supporters for two years now, and what do you know? It worked. The CPC considers this to be a safe bet, because for the other Party’s no less than them, they cannot survive without taxpayer support. The obvious rejoinder is that all those other subsidies are far more generous, and much more wasteful, but neither the Liberals, nor the Dippers can afford to go there.

Canadian Political Party's

The per vote subsidy is the lifeblood of the GPC, so there is no question that this is almost an existential question for us, and we better be ready, but why should we give a hoot about the tax credit, and especially the 60% electoral expense rebate? Sure, some of our best ridings receive the rebate, but I promise you, we aren’t going to get elected to enact this policy, so they will still have their turn at the trough.  Since the way has been prepared so neatly for us, how about we simply steal this issue away when it hits the headlines next? So how about we build up a forceful counter-proposal, that is actually grounded in facts? The burden on the public purse represented by the vote subsidy is a mere pittance compared to how much money Canadians shovel at their political Party’s. As the in-and-out scandal has highlighted, 60% of all electoral expenses get rebated to the local campaigns, (provided they exceed 10% of the vote). Then there is the political donation tax credit, which reimburses the donor up to 75% of their political contributions. Combined, these two gifts to the political Party’s amount to literally hundreds of millions of dollars over a complete election cycle. I do not have the time to go dig up all the actual numbers, but they are in the public realm, so it will be as easy as falling out of a tree to create a factual compelling narrative about Democracy for sale, the taxpayer funding of sleazy mud-slinging political ads, closed shop debates, and the slow death of fair play in the Canadian electoral system. One of the planks would be the elimination of both the expense rebate, and the tax credit, and the beauty of it is that it will disproportionately appeal to the typical Conservative supporter.

I know that this is a lot of work, and I am sure that there are other issues and ideas that could be utilised to capitalise on the Debate about Debates. This is nice though, because it will serve Elizabeth May in splitting away Conservative voters from Lunn in SGI, and it helps the other 307 Green Party Campaigns to chip away directly at the conservative vote, while giving longer legs to the whole debate thing. 100% guaranteed that the GPC will be alone in championing elimination of ALL political subsidies, and we will have something really interesting to intrigue visitors to our petition about the debates page.

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Green Party Riding Executives: What do you think of revising the Revenue Sharing Agreement?

Follow the Money...

I just read a blog post over at Dave Baglers’ blog. Given that of late, Dave has been unashamedly defending the Central Party status quo against all comers, I have drawn the conclusion that this is a trial balloon being floated by centralising forces, (read: The current Leadership), at the hollowed out Ottawa head office. Dave, if it ain’t so, then by all means respond in the comments.

Here’s a copy of the RSA as enacted. (Thanks Dave): Revenue_Sharing_Implementation_Plan_as_adopted_Nov-20-2005_formatted

I’ll get to my meat and potatoes argument about the viability of the RSA in a minute, but first a little background. The Green Party of Canada is in a financial pickle. In my humble opinion, this is a self-inflicted wound. The GPC has extremely predictable revenues. There is the federal per-vote subsidy, which is shared with Electoral Districts, and Provincial Divisions according to a predictable formulae. There are pretty stable revenues from the central Party’s fundraising. (yes, I’m referring to those emails you get once or twice per month). There are election expense refunds, which are one time shots to re-imburse funds after a general election. That’s it on the Revenue side. On the expenses side of the equation, there are payrolls, rent heat and lights, Insurance, some travel for council purposes, and a plethora of other, predictable period expenses. Then there’s discretionary spending.

A well managed organisation would look at an extremely predictable revenue flow, and then allocate their resources according to a priotised list of things-to-do-that-cost-money. Mandatory processes, like reporting and compliance would be top priority. Why? Because they are legal obligations. Other totally predictable obligations would be funded in descending order of priority. Council would be there to argue with staff over priorities, and to make sure that priorities like team building trips to the Bahama’s don’t get off the ground. Once you get to the point in your list where the money has all been allocated, you have a budget. When you want to argue about additional priorities, you either craft a plan to enhance your’ resources, or you bump something off the list to make way for the new priority.

This process isn’t rocket science. It’s something that the Prussian Civil Service excelled in back in the 1600’s, and it’s called budgeting. The Prussians did it well, which is why they rose from obscurity, and became a Great Power. Now if you fail to follow a process something like this, it doesn’t change the resources you have to dispose of. It doesn’t change the obligitory expenses either. By itself, what it does do is ensure that you don’t have many unexpected surprises.

Last month, the Green Party membership was surprised to discover that there was a fiscal emergency. Organisers had to be sacked, Catherine Johansen ‘resigned’ from the Election Readiness Committee, and a whole bunch of panic started in the Ottawa office. All of a sudden, the election debt had to be retired, and as if by magic, there just isn’t enough money in the darned bank. Now the terms and conditions of the election loans were clear and explicit. The payroll costs were 100% predictable. The discretionary spending? A total grab bag of unprioritised spending. Jobs for friends in Nova Scotia. Toss a whack of money to Adrian Carr’s Provincial Division in BC. Let’s toss $50 grand to the SGI Campaign for Elizabeth. Yes, I know that the last item was supposedly the top priority for the Party, but where were the cuts to the budget to accomodate it? Did council even consider that this brand new top priority meant that organisers had to be fired? Were YOU aware that you were going to lose your’ Provincial organiser because of it?

Remember folks, within ten minutes of the electoral returns being publicised, our Leader and her council knew within 5% what their resources would be. If they knew what one was, they could have created a Schedule of Receipts and Disbursements that nailed cash flows by date, within a very narrow band. Did they do so? NO. Did they prioritise and exercise their fiduciary duty to the membership? NO. This so-called crisis was created by our Federal Council, and it was created by Elizabeth May, plain and simple. Now some will accuse me of a biased, and unbalanced attack, because I have posted this blog. That is untrue. I would lambaste anybody who mismanaged my Party’s operations so badly. Some people would encourage me to refrain from public criticism, because it may spoil the electoral chances of Elizabeth May in SGI. My response is, don’t shoot the messenger. Our finances are pretty public, and there are opposition researchers eagerly awaiting our next public accounting. Better a trickle of negative reporting now to turn it into yesterdays news that much quicker. If we wait until the ‘AHA!’ moment when the finances are public, then timing is outside our control.

So what’s this got to do with the title of this post? By now that’s becoming obvious, no? If council is truly planning to revoke the ‘Sharing’ part of the Revenue Sharing Agreement, then I would like to be on the record before the bunfight begins. Revoking the RSA will be promoted as an ‘Emergency Measure’. The emergency was a product of fiscal incompetence. I would personally prefer to revoke council, and the Leadership, and I suspect that, were the truth known, a substantial portion of the Green Party membership would be upset enough to share this opinion. The root cause of the problem is that our Leadership is not competent to manage our money. The RSA was created out of a huge bruhaha back in the day. It was argued over, negotiated, brokered, debated by the membership, work-shopped, voted on by the membership at large, and finally, grudgingly enacted by Council. Dumping it to grab some more resources will not fix the incompetence in Ottawa. It will simply paper over the cracks. It’s absolutely guaranteed that the Leadership will continue to fritter, and fail to set priorities, so we’ll be back in the hole again immediately. In the meantime, the EDA’s will be boiling mad, and out for the Leaderships blood. Can you spell: Recall Motion? Not very good politics, eh?

The RSA was predicated on several motions passed by the membership in years gone by. It was intended to promote the formation of EDA’s, while still allowing for the Party Hub in Ottawa to have predictable cash flows. There are arguments that could be made that not all EDA’s use the money wisely. There are arguments that could be made that the RSA was created by council, therefore it can be revoked by council. There are also arguments that could be made that Provincial Divisions are really problematic under the Elections Act. While these arguments may have lot of merit, it’s moot. Why? Because the membership has spoken, council was fulfilling their mandated role when they enacted the RSA. The EDA share has definitely promoted EDA formation, and endurance. Even in the lamest EDA, there is a degree of continuity because they don’t want to abandon their bank account, and revenue sharing cheque. Who cares if some of them aren’t picture perfect organisations? The membership mandated that they get a share, this mandate has proven very effective at achieving it’s stated purpose. Just take a look at the last elections results. A growing number of local campaigns are breaking the 10% threshold, and surprise, surprise, they all have EDA’s in place to back them up.

Provincial Divisions are another kettle of fish. The membership, and RSA mandated that Provincial Division formation be promoted as well. That was before it became abundantly clear that the revisions to the Election Finances Act had rendered PD’s obsolete in Canada. Because Provincial Divisions are not legally seperated from the National Party accounts, it is problematic to ask the Party’s financial agent to be responsable for the books and spending decisions, unless thay are as directly under the Agents control as the National Party is. Why go through the cumbersome exercise of transferring money, and then scrutinising it seperately?

So now we have come full circle. As usual, I have digressed, and tread a tortuous path to my conclusion. We have a Leadership race coming up. Our current Leadership has demonstrated that they are not competent to fulfil their fiduciary, and governance duties. Draw your’ own conclusions, but perhaps you should consider a new Leader? One who can actually demonstrate some competence in the real world? Stay tuned, and soon I’ll be able to table another option for you, and I think you’re gonna like her and her team!

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