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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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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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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An Ill conceived Treaty with ZERO public debate…

Ever since my University days, I have been interested in Trade Theory, and the potential benefits of reduced trade barriers. Despite the strong currents opposing `globalisation`around the world, the last three decades have lifted literally billions of people out of abject poverty. Free capital flows have had enormously beneficial effects, ranging from enabling the `agricultural revolution`in India through forward and future contracts for agricultural produce, to the re-allocation of capital from capital-intensive economies like Canada`s, to poverty-stricken regions with little in the way of local capital formation. Even in the capital rich countries, more efficient capital markets have added real and significant wealth, through mechanisms such as arbitrage, and placing simple yet effective hedging and risk control tools like swaps, forward and future contracts in the hands of small entrepreneurs to everybody`s benefit. So yes, I do get it. Liberalised Trade and Investment can be an enormous gift providing `found` resources for all to share.

This week we Canadians have been treated to a surprise by our Conservative Government.  Apparently, the Government does not have to get anybodies permission, let alone Parliaments to negotiate and implement Trade agreements with far-reaching consequences. The Globe tells us that this treaty was signed on September 9, and the first notice was when Parliament was informed of it`s existence earlier this week. Today, I followed a link from a news aggregator I have used for years, and read this article in the Toronto Star.

The terms of the treaty include provisions for any Chinese corporation to bring action against any level of Canadian Government if any investment they made in Canada is affected by Canadian  Government actions. These actions will not be brought in a Canadian Court. They will be brought in secret, before a secret Trade tribunal. According to the Star, the treaty cannot be amended or changed for 31 years. Theoretically, trade actions may be brought against any Chinese government by Canadian investors, so it is hoped that Canadians who invest in China can have recourse under the same terms. This is about the biggest bullshit treaty I have ever heard of. I have two major beefs with it.

First beef is about process. This is clearly a major step, and it is irrevocable. Nobody ever campaigned on the merits of this treaty. In fact, beyond the fact that it was being negotiated, the terms, conditions, and implications have been hidden from public view until a fait d` àccompli was presented this week. It is totally unacceptable that such a key element of our trade policy should be sprung on us without even a semblance of public debate, and Parliamentary approval. I remember very well the NAFTA debate. Whether or not you agreed with it, nobody in Canada had any doubt as to the legitimacy of that particular treaty. It was thoroughly explored in full public view. It`s imapct on Canadian sovereignty, and the economic arguments underlying it were given a very thorough public airing, and a General election was fought with NAFTA being the main issue. I happen to think that the public debate was of nearly as much value as the treaty itself. Canadians learned a lot about Trade mechanisms, from dispute resolution, to the trade-offs between Canadian and US negotiators. So there it is. Treaties that purport to be in Canada’s interest, and that will bind a generation (at least) of Canadians to it`s terms should be well understood, and agreed to by at least a plurality of Citizens.

Second beef is with the terms. What kind of freakin idiot expects a regime that does not abide by the rule of law to adhere to this treaty? I can see China`s interest very clearly. They can rest assured that Canadian Law is impartial, and the letter of the law and any treaties with the force of law shall in fact be upheld. If a ruling goes against a municipal government obliging them to favour a Chines investor in any way, well that municipality will hew to the law, and obey the court. In exchange for protecting Chinese investments in Canada, we will have reciprocal treatment in China. Yeah, right. And I have a bridge for sale, real cheap. Let us say that a Chinese municipality decides to arbitrarily seize a Canadian companies real property in China. Is there any realistic prospect that a local government will obey any ruling that the property must be returned to the owner? That assumes that any such ruling could be obtained, which as the Star article points out, has NEVER ONCE HAPPENED in a trade dispute between Canada and say the US in NAFTA. The long and short is that the reciprocity offered is meaningless and un-enforceable. And guess what, if we should discover that China is after all a scofflaw nation, and we want OUT of the deal, we are screwed. The treaty cannot be touched for 31 years.

I do not hate China. In fact, I wish the Chinese people the very best. They have been screwed over pretty badly by their Emperors, by Colonial powers, by the Nationalists, the Japanese, and last but very goddamned far from the least their Communist oppressors. China has every prospect of becoming a great country, and one day may even become a pillar of enlightenment to the world. Why not? People are people everywhere, and the attractions of liberal democratic values are pretty near universal, so once Chinese actually have a say in their own governance, I will bet you dollars to donuts their polity will quickly adapt to the needs of their citizens. My disagreement is based upon the fact that this treaty was hastily conceived, and has every appearance of being a giveaway created for the sole purpose of inducing the Chinese government to purchase our resources, and the Canadian companies that are expert at extracting said resources. Until both the process followed in adopting this treaty, and the incredibly lop-sided dispute resolution mechanisms are fixed, this must NOT be allowed to pass into law. It is irrevocable! We cannot take it back, even once the bastards who foisted it on us are a footnote in the history books.

Voter Outreach and `Killer Political Machines`: The Liberal Party`s answer to CIMS.

Right off the nut I will state that the Robo-Call scandal is indicative of the power and reach that the Conservative Party has acquired from a full decade of populating and expanding their voter profiling and targeting database, CIMS. The fact that Conservatives have used this information to criminally suppress and misdirect voters does not change the fact that the data itself can be legitimately used to win election, and build a Party more or less from scratch. The legitimate, and quasi-legitimate uses to which such databases can be put are legion, it boils down to knowing who to reach out to one-on-one to people grouped by likely response to any given message. ( narrowcasting, or retail outreach). Basically, if you can parse the complete list of electors, and segregate everybody on a fixed income, over the age of 65, living in a geographic area where rents are skyrocketing, then you can tailor a political message to these people, and deliver it by phone, mail, email, robocall, or pony express should that be your desire. This is legitimate use of data, and the CPC has become extremelt adept at identifying donors, supporters, and volunteers by using these tools.

The Conservatives have CIMS, the Green Party has GRIMES, (and civiCRM), which is but a pale imitation, but directionally sound. The NDP has NDP Votes, with which I am totally unfamiliar, but I have an inkling that it is in decent shape and is growing apace. The Liberal Party however, has been sorely lacking until more recent developments with Liberalist. One very nifty thing, which I applaude is the openness of the Liberal Party in leaving it all in the open on their website like this.

The Liberals have always understood the importance of having direct contact information. I think their biggest problem has been that they see everything through the lens of how it will serve their parochial interests in the next leadership contest, rather than how they can win elections  with it. A case in point is when Kate Holloway bailed from the Green Party and ran provincially for the Liberals in Trinity Spadina, It appears that the Liberal Executive in Trinity Spadina were not pleased, so they refused to turn over their closely guarded voter contact records to the Holloway campaign. Classic dog-in-the-manger politics. The reams of data collected and maintained by all those Liberal riding associations, and provincial and territorial associations were jealously guarded for use in the next leadership battle. Old habits die hard, and I am sure that a huge slice of contact information will never make it into Liberalist, BUT this database looks pretty good from the outside, and I think that it`s universal adoption by the Liberal Party is the first step in a long journey back from the Political wilderness.

So what am I talking about when I say this is the key to our Nations political quandry? Well lets take a look at how to build a kick ass political dataset. First of all, the ground rules. For a Political databse, THERE ARE NO RULES! Canadians enjoy a degree of privacy and security of data about themselves, except for one glaring exclusion. When data is collected and used FOR POLITICAL PURPOSES, it is exempted from privacy laws. Huh? So what did that mean for the CPC buildings CIMS, and how does it impact how data about YOU is collected and disseminated? Let us look at a hypothetical example, let us say that an issue based, or charitable organisations interests are aligned with the Liberal, (or NDP, or GPC) party. If both entities are dipping from the same well, then the interest group can collect all kinds of donor information, and data about their members or contributors, and there will be no legal sanctions should they siphon all that information into the political database. The Political database can be sliced, diced, and shared with anybody so long as the purpose to which the data is being put is a `Political Purpose`. The Party that owns the database does not have to pay for all those telephone operators, robodiallers, public events, fundraisers etc that went into developing the data. That is done by the third party actually fundraising and recruiting on their own behalf. When the next opportunity presents itself, the political party can dip into those very well qualified lists, and start pitching their own policies, and asks based upon the known affiliations and proclivities of the target audience.

The ability to share data indiscriminately provided it is politically motivated allows for a very labour and $$ intensive process to work. Folks, anybody who has ever had a summer job telemarketing knows that it takes a lot of time, ( and hence money) to reach out to and contact thousands, and millions of individuals. It requires dozens of robots, and hundreds of people dialling phones all day every day to build a multi-million record database. No political Party has those kinds of resources, so pinching the data, ( Sorry, I meant legally sharing political data), is the way to get the job done. Now I do not know just how palatable to the public it would be to really explain to them how their political masters have granted themselves carte blanch about basically stealing information about them for political purposes. I do not think that any sensible party would highlight the way they do this, unless they were hoping to cripple the Conservative Party by applying privacy laws to political data the same as everybody elses. There would obvioulsy need to be a heirarchy of database users, with a much more discreet effort ran by the central Party. For want of a better term, I will call the top tiers of the hierarchy tiger teams, who pursue individual segments of the populace on a retail basis. That process is not very hard to envision.

A Tiger team could be. for example, headed up by a shadow cabinet member, with responsibility for a particular demographic, issue, or cause. Hypothetically, let us say for example that the Shadow Cabinet Veterans Affairs critic was tasked with winning over veterans to the Liberal cause. She, or He would focus on outreach to veterans associations, working out the policy message that will appeal to, and help Veterans to acheive their objectives. They would start helping Liberal members of those associations to gain access to their membership lists. They would run the Liberals outreach identifying prospective supporters, proposing Liberal Policy prescriptions one on one to that list, and building both the Liberal and the veterans associations memberships, and cementing the affiliation in place.  It takes time, but it can be done from anywhere. If the message is well crafted, and it serves the interests of both the association, and the Liberal Party, then come the next election, a whole bunch of committed volunteers will hit the streets and phones carrying the message to the faithful. Just look at the way the pro-life lobby rolls into action on behalf of the CPC. Damned right it works.

Just how many shadow cabinet members are there right now? Just how many years are there to build the ground organisation to win the next election? It is a question of leveraging the resources of organisations with common interests, and building a thorough picture of larger and larger groups of prospective supporters, and WHAT MOTIVATES THEM. Does all this sound vagualy familiar? Does the name Jason Kenney ring a bell? How do YOU think the Conservative Party won over so many socially conservative ethnic associations? The good news is that the Lioberals are in Opposition right now. that means that they can hold the Conservative Party responsible for every little thing the Harper Government does. The Conservatives branded the National Government the Harper Government when they were busily dishing out pork by the bushel basketful. Time to turn the tables and hold the Harper Government resoponsible for all the pain and peril that the CPC wants to dish out now. The opportunities to build bridges to community, ethnic, and civil organisations are boundless, and Canadians are doomed to have neo=conservative values imposed on them until SOMEBODY somewhere figures out that it takes hard work and solid systems to build the killer political machine that will unseat them. Just one word of un-solicited advice. Do not use the data collected this way to crimninally suppress the vote.

Mechanics of Robo-Calling: Not a fluke or rogue campaigner. Someone who had ACCESS did these things.

It’s been awhile since I posted here. Quite awhile in fact. I make no bones about my dis-enchantment with the Green Party of Canada, and life is just too short to spend hours flogging a dead horse here. BUT with the breaking of the Robo-Call scandal, I am just so outraged I cast around for a venue to express myself, and here is my trusty blog to fall back on. I very strongly suspect an organised conspiracy exists with the purpose of suppressing the vote of non-Conservative voters by fair means or foul. The evidence appears to be mounting that the foul has expanded from somewhat reprehensible tactics to the criminal misrepresentation as Elections Canada officials diverting voters to phony non-existent polling stations. I personally have no direct evidence (yet) that an actual conspiracy existed, but please allow me to explain how robo-calling works, and the tools required to target a high volume vote suppression campaign.

First of all, I do not believe there is anything wrong with robo-calling. If a commercial enterprise were to conduct robo-call campaigns, they would be severely restricted and curtailed by privacy laws that support the do not call lists available to all Canadians. The privacy laws specifically exempt calling ‘for political purposes'(which in and of itself is peculiar wording don’t you think?). So under the letter of the law, anybody professing to call you for political purposes is exempted from the legal obligation to respect your wishes not to be telephoned. It isn’t only the letter of the law, the fact is that politics is all about communications, so there is even a good rationale for allowing politicians to call you, despite your desires not to be telephoned by strangers just as you sit down to a nice dinner. In my view, this scandal has absolutely nothing to do with the medium, it is the specific message.

So on to robo-calling process. I have used demon diallers for political campaigns before, and the actual process is simple. What you do is contact a robo-dialling company, and set up an account, normally using your credit card. You then upload a list of telephone numbers to the dialling companies servers. Next step is to either upload a voice file, with a pre-recorded message, or you can dial into your account, and record your message over the phone. Normally you have to sign (or click a button to confirm) that you are not doing anything illegal. The robo-dialling firms are all aware that do-not-call lists are not applicable to political communications, so you do not have to promise that your phone list has been scrubbed of all those folks who do not want their dinner interrupted. Well, obviously anybody with a spreadsheet of phone numbers, and a credit card could have impersonated an EC official, but wait…What kind of people can get their hands on accurate lists of Liberal, NDP, and Green Party supporters in ridings all across the country? And how many of these people will have access to considerable funds dedicated to an illegal vote suppression scheme?

Well, these kinds of lists SHOULD exist in every political party that wants to be a contender. The Party which has the absolutely best, most comprehensive identified voters lists is of course the Conservative Party. They call it CIMS, and there is an enormous amount of data on every Canadian voter stored there. The Conservatives have been updating this database continuously. Whether there is an election happening or not, the CPC has friends and allies making calls all day every day, and every time they identify what Party a voter supports, that info goes into CIMS. This database has been built over quite a few elections, and when you add in all the voter contact and issues identification that goes on between elections, you would probably be amazed at how much the Conservative Party knows about what issues are of importance to you, what charities you contribute to, and what has happened to your voting intentions over time. Commercially available data includes what you spend on your credit cards, which is a goldmine of data about YOU and your habits. And remember, because the data is used for POLITICAL purposes, way more data than is commercially legal can be traded and swapped into and out of CIMS. I have a typical anecdote for you to illustrate how this kind of database gets built over time. I own a small business, and many commercially available databases will list me as a business owner in central Ontario. I receive phone calls regularly from a certain Edmonton Based telemarketing firm recently in the news. Two or three weeks ago I received a call, purportedly raising money to ‘help keep our kids off drugs’. That was the intro in the political/fundraising operatives script, but as soon as I responded that I was too busy to chat about keeping kids off drugs, the reply was the ‘Dalton McGuinty is making life way too busy for honest businessmen down there in Ontario.’ Bingo, the call was sooo obviously an attempt to identify people who are burning to keep our kids off dope, and who do not like Dalton McGuinty. I ditched the call, and I am willing to bet folding money that there is an entry next to my name in CIMS to the effect that I do not care about kids doing drugs. Mind you the call was probably not illegal at all. The marketing firm will have quite a number of Conservative friendly charities happy to pay the tab to raise funds. They will not be displeased if their donors make it into a Conservative database, and the data is being used ‘for political purposes’, so it is not a breach of my privacy under the act. The issues will change over time. They will cover everything under the sun, but they will all have in common that they are issues that the CPC feels they either own, or can make inroads on.

So this database is owned by the Conservative Party of Canada. They have spent many many millions of dollars on building their database over time. They have traded, bartered, and otherwise acquired data from third parties, and issues based advocacy groups. It is THE MOST IMPORTANT TOOL THE CONSERVATIVES OWN! It has propelled them from a rump party to majority government in one short decade. I have heard arguments put forward that the CPC has nothing to do with any illegal calls, that there was a rogue staffer, or some shadowy figures that did the dastardly deeds. I do not believe it, and here’s why. At this moment, Elections Canada claims that over 31,000 people have come forward with complaints that they were mis-directed by phony Elections Canada workers to vote at non-existent polling stations. These complaints probably only represent a small portion of people who actually received those calls. Our household received such a call on election day, but I did not preserve a record, and did not complain to Elections Canada. I am sure I am not alone in this. So the mis-direction was NOT isolated to one riding, it happened in many ridings across the country. The implication is that the person who uploaded that phone list to the robo-calling company was not relying on a local riding level database, they had access to the whole national Database.
Then there is the sheer volume of calls. Robo-calling is fairly cheap, but it isn’t free when you start calling tens of thousands of people. Many of these calls were reported as coming from live telemarketers. Folks, live calling is many things, but cheap it is not. Even if only 10% of the 31,000 complainants to date were substantiated, that still adds up to a lot of money. And it is probable that if there were 31,000 reported incidents, there were many times that number that went unreported. That is a surmise, but I do not for a second think that the number of suppression calls was limited to the 31,000 complainants.

So here we are. If indeed the Liberal and NDP vote were suppressed by a rogue Conservative operative, then the perp was someone placed highly enough in the Conservative Party that they enjoyed an enormous amount of trust. They were trusted with unfettered access to the most valuable political database in Canada. They had the tools and skills to search that database, and abstract lists of Liberal, NDP, and Green Party supporters from different postal codes across the whole country. They had access to considerable funds, and multiple contacts with robo-calling companies, and telemarketing firms with live operators. That is quite incredible isn’t it? And I mean incredible in the exact sense that it is beyond credulity; unbelievable even.

So let us assume, without prejudice, that it was in fact some rogue in the CPC who implemented this campaign. How could they be ferretted out? One potential key would be to gain access to the phone lists uploaded to the robo-dialling companies server. If these lists could be correlated to any direct search of the CIMS database, then it would be extremely convincing evidence that the data originated with CIMS. In other words, if the RCMP were to gain access to CIMS, and if any of the uploaded phone lists correlated precisely to say, identified Liberal, NDP, and Green supporters as at the date of the data upload, then the odds that the data was in fact abstracted from CIMS would be astronomically in favour. CIMS is well enough protected that there will be records of who had access, and what exact searches and downloads were performed by password protected account holders. I think that if the lists of illegal calls matched a list downloaded by a specific operative, that would be a pretty good clue to work on. If there were in fact multiple different lists, uploaded, or supplied to different telemarketing firms, then the possibility that it was in fact a rogue operative decreases. If there were in fact multiple different lists, and they correlated to downloads performed by more than one operative, then it immediately turns into a criminal conspiracy.

The evidence is accruing that a criminal, or criminals conducted a relatively sophisticated and highly effective voter suppression campaign. This is not a small thing. It is worthy of a Russian election, or some of those quaint ‘democracies’ in poverty stricken resource rich countries. It offends Canadians of all political stripes that such things took place on such a scale. Because it affects the very basis of our Civil life; That the voters decide, and that an impartial civil service shall ensure a fair and free vote. I believe that a full scale judicial inquiry is called for. It will take the coercive powers of a Judge to compel testimony and secure evidence from the various actors involved. Can you imagine how long it will take for the Police to follow through with all those different robo-calling and telemarketing firms? How about compelling Government Ministers and elected MP’s to co-operate? Can you see the Mounties resisting the urge to whitewash their political soul-mates? To do a proper job, they would have to drill down to the actual operators making the calls, finding out who developed the script they used, who paid for it all. That is the second unexplored element to the scandal, who the heck paid for it all? Was it disguised as legitimate elections expenses? If that were the case, then once again the Canadian electorate will have been defrauded when the political entity that falsely reported these as elections expenses got a 60% rebate of election expenses from the Taxpayer. If it was NOT reported as an elections expense, then it was a criminal breach in a second respect, that being unreported spending. Either way, a crime was committed in addition to the vote suppression. Do you begin to see why a Judicial inquiry is called for? The implications are HUGE! There is no way that one single law was broken, and I for one would prefer to have a Judge do the digging, with the authority to investigate beyond the original reported infractions. We simply must get to the bottom of this. It started in previous elections with sleazy voter suppression techniques that bordered on the illegal. Now we have systematic electoral fraud going on. If we do not care about living in a banana republic, then I guess we can ignore these kinds of criminal acts by our political elites. If however we are disgusted, and find this behaviour un-acceptable, then it is time for a public shaming, and jail sentences for the scum-balls who perpetrated these crimes.

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