Trudeau’s Liberals going for the Conservatives throat.

I am not a big fan of the accepted wisdom that politics happens on a left/right continuum. That creaking old paradigm does not mean much to most of the electorate. Perhaps I should be a bit more nuanced with that observation? While there are many Canadians who view themselves as ‘left’ or ‘right’ wing, there are far more Canadians who will give their electoral support based on the issue or issues that affect them personally, irrespective of ‘left’ or ‘right’ bias. According to the accepted wisdom, the Conservative Party is the party of the Right. Their base is therefore an ideologically motivated monolith, that can be counted on to vote CPC. On the ‘left’ flank of the Liberals sit the NDP. Again, the accepted wisdom is that the NDP’s  ideologically motivated ‘base’ can be relied on to vote NDP. In the ‘centre’ sit the Liberals, who alternate between left and right in a morally bankrupt dance to win power at any cost. Well I am sorry, but when your definition of what motivates people captures no more than a third of the electorate, it is time to dump it.

And dumping the paradigm seems to be what is on Trudeau’s mind nowadays. In the early days of the Liberal leadership race last year, Justin Trudeau came out publicly in support of the NEXEN takeover in the Oil patch. Shortly thereafter, Trudeau announced, (on a visit to Alberta no less) that he supported the Keystone Pipeline, but not the Northern Gateway pipeline through the Rockies. The shock value of a Liberal leadership contender reaching out to Albertans and a key CPC constituency was good for a lot of headlines, but it was also revealing inasmuch as it is the first attempt to directly target a true blue Tory constituency since the Reformers co-opted the PC’s. Since then we have seen Trudeau reaching out to libertarians by supporting Marijuana legalisation. While many would assume that legalising marijuana is anathema to all Conservatives, the fact is that there are plenty of Conservatives who will support the policy, irrespective of party lines. If you still doubt that Trudeau is aiming squarely at the Conservatives, he publicly threw down the gauntlet in his speech to the Liberal policy convention yesterday. “Conservative voters are your neighbours, not your enemies, ‘these are good people,’ Trudeau tells convention

In my opinion, this is strategically sound. Past elections have featured the Conservative Party shaping the issues, and defining the Liberals and Dippers in the public eye. The Conservatives have spent untold dollars and volunteer hours building their constituencies one issue at a time. By the time the election rolls around, the Conservatives have had another large slice of the electorate in their back pocket, leaving the Liberals desperately trying to win their supporters back. And whilst the Liberals are scrambling to stand still, the CPC unleash the hounds and pick and choose who, how, and when to attack. Whatever happens over the coming year, the Conservatives are going to have to watch their back. They will surely try to expand their appeal, and further build their constituencies, but they are going to have to balance TWO priorities. Every time they go to a podium, they are going to have to think hard about whether they are trying to win over new supporters, or circle the wagons around one of their existing ‘base’ constituencies.

If Trudeau has made the best strategic decision by targeting the CPC support issue by issue, the tactics leave something to be desired. When the CPC goes after a constituency, they go after it retail. They reach out to community groups, they leverage their paid AND earned media, and they never stop identifying individuals who are committed to supporting them on a specific issue. This is so important because it enables them to target their supporters and communicate with them directly, one on one to lock down their support as soon as the writ is dropped. Voters are invited to sign petitions, to donate, to join CPC friendly community groups, and make themselves known to the CPC by name, address, phone number, and most importantly, by email address. The benefits of this are obvious. They can counter any message that is delivered by broadcast media by narrowcasting their response directly to the constituency ‘in play’. They can do this immediately without spending any money just by clicking ‘send’ on an email blast. What is so disappointing about the Liberals failure to harvest direct contacts amongst the electorate is that it is ridiculously easy to do so. All that is needed is to ASK Canadians to sign a petition, or register as a supporter every time you present an idea publicly. When General Leslie calls for fixing military procurement, all he needs to do is invite Canadians to sign on to support his proposal, and another pile of issue specific supporters are loaded into Liberalist. Whether it is Scott Brison talking about the Conservative Deficit, or  Marc Garneau, communications are ALWAYS an opportunity to solicit actionable contact data from the electorate. Even if it is only a few hundred prospective supporters at a time, there is no reason whatsoever not to be adding hundreds of thousands of new supporters to the database every year.

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The relentless collapse of the Green Party of Canada’s grassroots.

Back in May I laid out the evidence to support my contention that the Green Party of Canada is suffering a sustained collapse at the grass-roots level. To summarise my arguments, the local Electoral District associations were largely formed to capitalise on the Revenue Sharing agreements between the Green Party`s head office, and the local electoral units. Any local riding that met the basic criteria of maintaining a local organisation would receive a significant share of the per vote subsidy then on offer under the elections finance act. The central party had a perverse incentive inasmuch as their own revenues would decline every time a new local organisation was formed to take advantage of this revenue sharing deal, so perhaps it ought not surprise us that zero resources were allocated to local organising of grass-roots Green Party riding associations. On the part of the Electoral District Associations, virtually all local ridings that had more than 3 or 4 active members had already formed their EDA before Elizabeth May was elected leader of the GPC. Most of them coasted along under the Revenue sharing agreement, accumulating a small stream of cash for the next general election.

Now that the per vote subsidy is being phased out, the logic that drove the process of EDA formation has disappeared. There will no longer be any free lunches in terms of a guaranteed revenue stream, so the rewards for putting in the minimal effort to maintain an existing association in good standing are non-existent. As a consequence, my expectation that the majority of the Electoral District Associations would collapse is being borne out by the fact that an even 100 Electoral District associations have been de-registered by Elections Canada since 2010. This was not an inevitable outcome. While the EDA`s no longer have an overwhelming incentive to organise locally, the central party will no longer be losing revenues to local organisations horning in on the subsidy cash after the next election. It is very much in Elizabeth May`s interest to start organising locally, and re-building the electoral capacity of the GPC. I will go out on a (short) limb here and guess that the current leadership does not know how to organise nationally, and will not re-evaluate their resource allocation at this late date.

Here is a wee table charting the decline of the GPC grassroots:

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 2 19
Total: 287 136

I am not writing these posts documenting the decline and fall of the Green Party out of malice, or partisan glee. My intent is to demonstrate an electoral opportunity to the Liberal Party, and anticipate the strategy and tactics that the Liberal Party ought to adopt to capitalise on what is happening across Canada. In past elections, the Green Party sought to maximise revenues by ensuring a candidate was registered in all 308 ridings in Canada. With the loss of so many local EDA`s, and with the loss of the per vote subsidy, that will never happen again. In past elections, approximately 10% of the electorate were prepared to pledge their vote to the GPC. The GPC did not do any meaningful getting out the vote activities, so unsurprisingly, only about 60% of their voters actually showed up at the polls, and the GPC garnered about 6% of the national vote. In the 2015 general election, there will be a lot of ridings across Canada where the Green Party will either have no candidate, or will have zero resources to campaign. Provided the Liberal Party is prepared with a few well conceived policy prescriptions to appeal to Green Party supporters, then they could easily garner half or more of the Green Party vote in most of the ridings across Canada. Since that will represent the margin of victory in many local contests, it should be one of the keys to a majority Liberal government in 2015.

I do not get into policy questions very often, or very deeply. However, it may be useful to suggest a couple of areas in which the Green Party could be vulnerable. The most significant policy area for many GPC supporters is in the area of democratic reform. I think that most Liberals would recognise that Joyce Murray illustrated the potential of voting reform during the Liberal Leadership contest. A credible policy to introduce PR, or Preferential ballots will definitely set the stage to win the votes of a large proportion of Green Party voters. A second policy area that is less significant, but still meaningful is the legalisation (or decriminalization) of Marijuana. A policy offering covering both these bases will make a dramatic difference to Liberal fortunes in British Columbia, and will have a significant effect across the country. These are by no means the only issues which can turn Greens towards the Liberals, but combining both areas, and working them hard will go a long way towards replacing the GPC as the Party of choice for GPC voters left without a candidate in their riding.

Anyway, for reasons outlined above, the ongoing collapse of the GPC grassroots is probably going to accelerate dramatically next year, and 2015 will be the Götterdämmerung, with the residual organisations slipping away. I expect that there will be about 50 EDA`s that survive on the strength of local organising efforts, and the GPC will remain a national party in name only. The ways and means of capturing their electorate will undoubtedly need more refining, but I hope that the Liberal Party, and the Liberal EDA`s are not asleep at the switch, and will be giving due consideration to this one piece of the majority winning electoral puzzle.

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Trudeau just SKEWERED all his critics in one fell swoop!

In a desperate attempt to take Justin Trudeau down a peg or two, the NDP and Conservatives have been crafting a narrative around Trudeau’s public speaking business, and his accepting fees to speak for charities. On my part, I do not think that Trudeau did anything wrong. He put his name on a roster for a speaking agency, and that agency came to him periodically with a deal to speak for fees from various clients. It is a far cry from seeking out charities to prey upon. Various groups intent on raising funds, or enhancing attendance at their conferences or fundraising dinners went to an agency, and fixed upon a high-profile and popular speaker to help them raise a whack of dough. Unfortunately, while some of those organisation that hired Trudeau raked in a windfall, some of them were incompetent, and in the case of the Grace foundation, were incapable of selling tickets for the event. Nine months later, the charity penned a letter to Trudeau claiming that the event bombed, and they would like him to refund the fees and expenses paid to him. Hmmm, well you cannot blame them for trying I guess, but to then publicise that letter as a political attack on Trudeau? Despicable behaviour. Yet this is what the charity proceeded to do, and the Prime Ministers Office, and various gutter dwellers like Brad Wall piled on gleefully thinking’ Aha! NOW we have him!”

In a sense, Trudeau is the author of his own (mis)fortune. Shortly after announcing his intention to seek the leadership of the Liberal Party, Trudeau did something totally unprecedented for a Federal politician in Canada. He voluntarily made a complete and public disclosure of every detail of his personal finances. He revealed the sources of his income, including a tidy sum earned from his public speaking career. He revealed that his ‘princely inheritance’ actually amounted to a quite modest fortune of $1.2 million, invested with a fund manager based in Montreal generating a little over $20,000 in cash per annum. He had sold his $million plus home, and moved into  <$700,000 home (with a mortgage) when he was elected as an MP. All in all, it seems that Trudeau has a comparable ‘fortune’ and lifestyle to say a General Practitioner (medical doctor) or perhaps a middle-aged Electrician.  Trudeau had sought, and received confirmation that there was no conflict of interest between his role as MP, and the continuance of his public speaking business. This truly was a voluntary disclosure of every little nitty-gritty detail of his finances, that is unique amongst Federal Politicians today. Was this some kind of Crazy idealism at work? Crazy like a fox says I.

Now the attempt to cast Trudeau as a double dipping scheming money grubber preying on the taxpayers and poor charities was a very dangerous tactic for his political foes to employ. The reason is simple, there are a great many Conservative, and NDP members of Parliament, and Senators who are drawing in HUGE stipends as public speakers, corporate directors, Lawyers, Doctors, Authors, oh the lists are as endless as the fields of human endeavours. Many, if not most MP`s had careers before politics, and a great many of them have substantial income from outside the house. And guess what? Most of these people have not publicly disclosed the full gory details of how much they get from where. I can guarantee that there are going to be some real stinkers hidden out of public sight. Not necessarily illegal or unethical things. Just things that look much worse than speaking for fees at a charitable event. So the danger for Trudeau’s detractors was that their accusations of Trudeau exposed them to similar accusations, and since NOBODY likes a hypocrite, any truly damning charity looting double dipping Conservatives or Dippers would be in a pretty tight corner. I guess they figured it was worth the risk though. The narrative of Trudeau as a charity gouging so-and-so seemed to resonate, and there is nothing more important than besmirching Trudeau’s name NOW, and stopping the resurgence of the Liberal Party in its tracks.

This morning, something utterly unthinkable happened. I mean, OH MY GOD that is brilliant! unthinkable.

To quote this article : `Liberal leader Justin Trudeau says he is willing to make amends with any charitable organizations that have paid him to speak, but didn’t feel they got their money’s worth.

“I am going to sit down with every single one of them and make this right,” Trudeau told CTV’s Question Period Sunday, addressing an issue first raised in reports about his work with The Grace Foundation.`

Holy Crap! I mean, how could any of those Conservative types have ever anticipated this response. The thought would not ever cross their minds for a second that Trudeau would be willing to hand back money that he did not owe. After all, is that not the entire purpose of being in politics, to line your pockets? Trudeau will now be able to publicly meet with charities galore. One by one, worthy charities will repeat:`Wow, we made so MUCH money from your event, all we can say is that charity X would not THINK of asking for the money back, you helped so many needy folks, etc.` Even better than that, some few charities that have no shame will say `Well now that you mention it…`, and Trudeau, to much fanfare will offer his services for free, and speak at one of the best publicised charity speaking engagements of all time.  I guess that the Grace Foundation is probably going to be raising about a billion dollars at a Trudeau managed event sometime quite soon. And every single time that Trudeau stands at a podium he can enquire: `So When exactly are the Conservatives and Dippers going to be making all their wealth and incomes public like I did?`

Well played Mr. Trudeau, very well-played indeed!

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Green Party grass-roots haemorrhage: Liberals and Dippers be advised.

Well here we are, the Elections Canada filing deadline for Electoral District associations has come and gone, (June 1) so I thought I would update which GPC Electoral Districts are still alive and kicking. A little more than a month ago, I blogged on the slow motion collapse of the Green Party`s Electoral District Associations. In the past 5 weeks, there have been 2 more EDA`s de-certified by Elections Canada, and no new EDA`s formed. That leaves a grand total of 160 EDA`s technically still in existence. I have updated this table accordingly:

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 8
Total: 285 125

I have attached an Excel spreadsheet with detailed financial statements for the EDA`s that have filed returns for this year here. There are two things to note immediately, firstly, only 142 EDA`s submitted a return at all. That implies that 18 more EDA`s are at risk of de-certification by Elections Canada. Please note that there may be valid reasons for a few of them to be filing late, as the deadline was only two weeks ago, but the majority of those non-filing EDA`s are probably going to be de-certified over the course of 2013. The second interesting thing to note is that 13 EDA`s are reporting either null, or zero assets. Some of them look like they are transferring, or spending the last pennies in their accounts, which looks and smells like preparing to shutter the windows. So between EDA`s failing to file, and EDA`s closing their bank accounts, it is looking like 2013 shall see the demise of something like 31 Electoral District Associations. I will take that with a wee grain of salt though, as I noted Guelph EDA was conspicuously absent from EC filings. I just cannot credit that Rob Routeledge and the Guelph Greens are folding up their tent, so this total will need revision later on in the year. Wow, I feel like I am writing an obituary for the grassroots of the GPC. From 285 local organisations down to 129.

From the financial returns, we can see that there are 99 EDAs that have over $2000 in cash. I mention this fact because assuming those EDA`s survive until 2015, those are the ridings where we can expect a local Candidate to step forward with sufficient resources to capture roughly 4% or more of the popular vote. Out of those 99 ridings, there are about 20 that currently have $10,000 or more. I mention that because these are the ridings where the Candidate will have a fair chance of exceeding 10% of the vote, and earning their deposit back. ( Campaigns that exceed 10% of the vote receive a rebate of 60% of their election expenses from Elections Canada). Only 44 ridings managed to raise a single penny from donors! Out of those 44 who actually raised some money, only 20 raised $1000 or more. Hmm, I think the point I made previously that the existence of the local EDA`s is dependent on the per vote subsidy is amply demonstrated by that simple fact.

So are there any meaningful conclusions for Liberals, Dippers, and Conservatives to draw from the slow motion collapse of the Green Party local units? If I am correct, and the Green Party does not actively recruit candidates across Canada, then it is safe to assume that less than half of the ridings in Canada will even have a GPC candidate to split the vote. That may not seem like a big deal, but about 3% – 5% of the electorate in those ridings will be voting for somebody other than the Green Party. Those votes are up for grabs. For those 20 or so ridings where the EDA is relatively well-financed, there will continue to be a GPC vote that will be large enough to influence the outcome. For the Conservative Party, there is no real upside from the collapse of the GPC.  It will be unequivocably bad for them, and will cost them a dozen of more seats in 2015. For the Liberals and NDP, there is obviously an advantage. Depending upon how well they each appeal to the Green Party voters, they will tip the balance in a handful of ridings each. Even in those ridings where the local EDA is strong, and the bank account is robust, there is a good opportunity to simply hammer the Greens, and bury them as an electoral factor. That is not very nice language I know, but seriously, the Leader of the Green Party has been harping on the same message since her first General Election. That message is that voting for the Greens is splitting the progressive vote, and allowing the Conservatives to get elected. It is no wonder whatsoever that her acolytes, and the EDA`s are voluntarily closing the curtains and putting out the lights. Anything else would be the heights (or depths) of cynicism, and the electorate deserves to be reminded of this fact come 2015.

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BC Liberals Advertising for the Greens in Victoria!

Vote Green! Brought to you by the BC Liberals

Vote Green! Brought to you by the BC Liberals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Attack ads are not the issue for the Liberals. It is the lack of money.

All this focus on attack ads!

I do not normally have much to say about Air War aspects of political campaigning. Broadcast and media aspects of campaigns are important, but they are really outside my area of expertise. What I do know is that when the public gets engaged, money and volunteers flow into Party coffers, so naturally I always want to see the Air War driving traffic to websites and events where money and people can be solicited. What I can say positively is that earned media (meaning press coverage) that drives traffic to websites is unequivocably GOOD, while paid media (meaning paid advertising) seldom, if ever brings in enough resources to cover the costs. That paid media had better be performing some really vital function, because advertising has an impact only for so long as the money is flowing, and the money is NOT small. Lesson number one, media buys COST money, they do not generate it.

Earned media galore

Earned media galore

So my question now is how Trudeau should respond to the CPC advertising campaign just starting this week? Trudeau knew it was coming. He spent the entire leadership race, with absolute SHIPLOADS of earned media inoculating against it as best he may, by defining himself as an ‘anti-politician’ all positive and sweetness, with just a hint of  ‘tough as nails’. There are a number of polls say that it has worked pretty well as he might have hoped for, because for his supporters (and they are legion), they are so far calling foul instead of doubting. Trudeau shall continue to get earned media and will do his best I am sure to counteract the attack, but undoubtedly he will still suffer from those ads, and those yet to come. In fact, we can count on it, because it is easier and cheaper for the CPC to suppress support than it is for Trudeau to build it up.

There are people whose professional opinions I respect who call those polls rubbish. Warren Kinsella, arguably one of the Liberal Partys most succesful war room operatives and communications experts has said repeatedly that those attack ads are going to be devastating, and that the only solution is to fight fire with fire, and quickly. I guess he earns the big bucks by being right about his trade. I do have to ask a simple question though. For everybody calling on the Liberals to ‘counter-attack’, I am scratching my head and wondering what do you call 6 months of inoculations that have gone before? Are you suggesting adding paid attack ads into the mix, going against the grain of everything Trudeau has uttered to date by suppressing Conservative support? TWO years before the next election? With money that the Liberal Party does not really have? I am dead sure that Stephen Harper can be attacked effectively, and his support suppressed. But if and when that happens, Trudeau’s’ promises to stay positive, and all that earned media that went with it are gone, gone, gone, along with a large chunk of $$. inoculation effect vanishes, and Trudeau sinks like a stone. And the payoff? The CPC drops a couple of points in the polls, TWO YEARS before the next general election… Mulcair chortles and says ‘Thank you very much!’ Lesson number two, genuine attack ads will hurt the ‘anti-politician’ image so carefully built.

Maybe fighting back means that Trudeau should drop a few million of paid advertising into supporting his ‘anti-politician’ meme built with earned media? With TWO years to go until the next election? It is true that the only way to reach many of those seeing CPC attack ads today is to respond in the same media, in the same time slots. Normal people do not read blogs like this, or avidly consume media reports about Trudeau, or any other politician. They are emphatically NOT inoculated against anything. Those millions of people are getting their first strong impressions about Trudeau from the CPC spots they are seeing now. That is quite a dilemma for the Liberals isn’t it? They need to reach those folks who are less engaged, but they are lacking the basic requirement for a sustained effort. To whit, a steady supply of money.

If you ask me, the fundamental problem is that the Liberal Partys options are limited by their relative weakness in fundraising. Trudeau has popped maybe a $million into the bank to ‘fight back’ against those inevitable attack ads. The Conservatives are holding their breath and hoping he will respond to them in kind. Why? Because $1 million is chump change for them. They will see his million, and raise him two, and bleed the Liberals dry. The CPC do this because their donors deliver like clockwork. The Liberals are on an upwards trajectory in their fundraising, but they are not ready to compete with the Conservatives in a sustained Air War. If there were $2mm rolling in per month, then there would be any number of responses possible. The Liberals could while away the months beating the crap out of the CPC and the Dippers, or build gold statues of Trudeau in every city, lol, so job number one is creating the systems to systematically fill the coffers. I see some very positive signs in that direction, so positive that I think it may be possible to go toe to toe in an Air War next year. Time will tell.

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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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