Green Party Canada: Week 1 of the 2011 Election Campaign

Demand democratic debates!

Today marks the end of the first week of the 2011 Election Campaign, and I must say it has gone pretty well as expected for the Green Party. The national campaign has been lowering expectations for the GPC nationally by publicising the focus on getting Elizabeth May elected in SGI. If  the level of GPC popular support drops across the country, then we will be thankful that we have this fig leaf to hide behind. A future leader will be able to argue that the Green Party’s drop in the polls was attributable to this policy. It will be a pretty thin fig leaf, but hey, better than saying, ‘The people have spoken, we will do a better job…’As far as the actual campaign in SGI goes, who knows how it is doing?

I blogged some time ago on the choice of SGI as Elizabeth May’s target riding. The post is not rigourously supported with data, but it is directionally sound, and outlines the type of campaign needed and the consequences for the other 307 campaigns. What it boils down to is that there is a significant block of senior citizens, who have reliably voted for Gary Lunn in the past. They are dominant in SGI, and have to be seperated from the CPC by fair means or foul. The only possibility for Elizabeth to eke out a win in SGI is to convert a significant chunk of these votes to GPC votes, or to get twice as many of them to stay at home on Eday. This week, the first nationally visible attemp to suppress Lunns support was executed, with the joint press conference featuring Elizabeth May, and Linda Keen, the former Nuclear watchdog clumsily fired by Lunn. Given the topicality of nuclear safety, highlighting Lunns bungling of the Chalk River shutdown is a job well done. It will have some legs locally, as it resulted in the demotion of Lunn from the Natural Resources portfolio to Minister for Sport. Granted, it doesn’t give anybody a reason to vote Green, but it does speak to an issue on which the GPC has some credibility. There was a fair bit of local, and national press coverage, so I can guarantee you that it was discussed this weekend at many a dining table in SGI. Doubt has been planted, and a smidgin of Lunn support has been killed off. We can expect that there will be something similar every week until Eday. True to form, the press conference had nothing of value for the other 307 campaigns, but hey, our sole objective is to win in SGI, so who can complain?

As expected, the Green Party was excluded from the Nationally Televised leaders debate. If this were an election issue, I would be 95% satisfied with the Green Party’s performance. Problem is it is not an election issue. Let me clarify, it is an issue, and we are in an election, but it has not been framed in any way shape or form to win actual votes for the GPC. On the plus side, the GPC was at least somewhat prepared for it. It was easy enough to dust off the petitions, webpages, and do what worked two short years ago. The GPC got more publicity from it than could possibly be earned from our election platform, or any number of policy announcements. There have been literally thousands of articles, panels, blogs, and elder statesmen weighing in on it. The Green Party base has been mobilised, and a lot of Greens sent emails, publicised the issue on Facebook, etc. The petition site has harvested well over 100,000 contact names, and that number can be relied on to grow until the minute the televised debate starts. I have read a few journalists arguing that taking the issue to court on Monday is a waste of money, cause we won’t win. Well duh! The purpose of the legal challenge is to keep the issue alive and well in the press. The GPC has made a series of emailed fundraising asks, to pay for a newspaper advertising campaign supporting the Green Party’s inclusion in the debate. They weren’t badly couched either, and as a result, we are going to be treated to  some full page newspaper ads shortly. The asks were obviously influenced a teensy bit by Trippi, although there was zero interactive element at the other end of the links. I think that the GPC is on track to see some solid publicity from this issue until the day after the dabates, when all the pundits are saying too bad Elizabeth May wasn’t there.

So this brings me to the negatives. This issue does nothing but generate publicity, and name recognition. The GPC is frothing with outrage, and they are frothing very nicely indeed, but the calls to action do not do anything much to support the broader campaign objective of winning votes for the GPC, and building the Party. Make no mistake, it will be a major victory if the campaign succeeds in it’s stated objective of getting the GPC into the debate again, but the potential payoff from hundreds of thousands of people volunteering their contact information on the petition forms, and actually clicking a link to come and see us is more valuable in the long run than debate participation. Firstly, the landing page should be far more vibrant, and should be followed by a LOT more content than just the form and this issue in isolation. Once the data is harvested, the thanks and share page should have forums visible, and a democratic values election plank visible. Actually, I don’t much care WHAT election plank is promoted there, so long as it is topical, and relevant to all those relative strangers visting a GPC site for the first time, and gives them reasons to VOTE Green, Join the Party etc. The GPC has had two years to analyse the signatories of the last campaigns petitions, and should have shelled out some money to profile, and find out more about what will motivate petition signatories to do more, like volunteer, donate, and vote Green. Inviting people to share their opinions and participate in an open forum discussion would engage far more people than a static form. Don’t take my word for it, go back to e-electioneering kindergarten, and re-read Trippi’s The Revolution will not be Televised’ if you are not sure how it is supposed to work.

So tomorrow morning, the issue will recieve another breath of life when the application is made to the courts to hear a challenge. Tomorrow, a number, ( about $40,000 worth) of full page newspaper ads will start appearing promoting the issue, and inviting petition signatories to come forward. Certainly, by the end of the week, there will be a much bigger media splash when the court accepts/rejects the application. Sometime before the actual debate, there will be a court ruling, and that is the moment to be prepared for. If by some strange twist the GPC gains admittance, well David slaying Goliath is absolutely great coverage, and the free publicity from the debate will be  huge bonus. If, as seems more likely Goliath slays David, then David needs to be ready to win big time anyway. Have the outrage canned and ready to hit the airwaves. Relate it to Green Party policy, and start campainging for VOTES, instead of soft support. Guaranteed, there will be a much larger number of petition respondents coming forward this week, so there is not a whole lot of time to get something more effective and compelling together to start winning these visitors over in a substantive way. Play it right, and the GPC can fund those full page newspaper ad buys for the rest of the campaign, build an email list of 1,000,000 Candians interested in democratic values, and ‘fair play’, and have an extremely potent tool for future Party building. Not to mention the fact that sending out 1,000,000 GOTV email messages for the ADVANCE POLLS could have a strong impact on our electoral showing in this, the 41’st general election. I know that there is nothing much in the way of resources for a National Campaign. It is very likely that the GPC staffers are going nuts trying to keep up with the demands of the Campaign, but it is time to take a few smart people out of the fray, and task them with raising a million dollars, 100,000 votes, and 10,000 new members from the petition drive campaign.

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Building the Green Party of Canada: Issues based communities.

Within the pages of this Blog, I have deliberately kept away from discussing policy, or specific issues. There are some sound reasons for this which I’ll enumerate here:

There are numerous venues extant for discussing, and disseminating green, and Green Party policies and issues. While I may flatter myself that I can add something to that particular discussion, the fact is that there is not much more to be said. I don’t really long to be one of the walls in an echo chamber.
There are almost NO sites dedicated to the dark science of electoral politics. (No, it’s not an art).

Political Science, or Art?

Political Science, or Art?

Especially rare is any serious discussion amongst and between GPC organizers, and campaigners. In my opinion, the lack of such skills has been the single biggest reason that no Greens have been elected to Parliament to date.
If I were to advocate various policy proscriptions, then it will lead many people to pigeonhole me, and not take my advice as seriously as it may merit. ‘Oh yeah, of course bluegreenblogger would say that, after all, he’s a …….(Insert Policy Here), advocate.’
For these reasons, and more, I have focused on the mechanics of electoral politics.

In one or two important respects, this issue free approach is misdirecting my intended audience. The underlying motivation that drives people to vote for, join, donate, or go the whole way and become an activist is probably a sincere, and probably deeply held belief, or ideal.

‘What the blazes’, you are probably thinking. ‘Has bluegreenblogger come over all metaphysical on me?’ I’ll get to the point then. I recently posted a comment on the new Green Spaces forum about a very effective means of building contact lists for the Green Party. That is to collect a petition on a green friendly issue. It is a good idea, and I have seen thousands of names collected by a relatively small group of GPO volunteers in a single weekend. Over the past week or so, I have seen repeated examples of the rather attractive BC STV button, where this single issue is bringing together thousands of activists, volunteers, and donors. Today, I gave some (unsolicited) advice about winning support in a key group of polls within a riding. My advice was all about finding the local issue that really matters and motivates people living in that spot. Then it all kind of came together. Nothing revolutionary, just a very simple means of dramatically growing the ranks of our party membership, activists, donors, and voters.

What motivates YOU?

What motivates YOU?

That is to run a different kind of campaign when the election isn’t there to galvanize the public. That is to focus on issues that can really motivate some people. Electoral reform is one of those issues, as has been demonstrated by the outpouring of support for STV activists in BC. Why is it that we cannot galvanise these people within our Party, instead of in an independant organization? What if we were to empower people to work on the issues that really really matter to them, WITHIN the ranks of the Green Party? I’m talking about the basic tools of modern communications. Forums, email, blogs, and the traditional media. Trippi showed how these tools can be mutually re-inforcing. Trippi also showed how to harness an online community, and mobilise it in the field.  What Trippi didn’t have was a long term commitment from the Dean for America community. When the campaign was over, the whole thing crumbled away.

As a political Party, the Green Party can offer continuity. We can grow, and build on that growth over as long a time as it takes to win power. I will use the STV campaign as an example. It could be almost anything, from stamp collecting, to bird watching, but STV is a great topical, and current example. The Green Party could have created a website focused on Proportional Representation reform in Canada, and presented a compelling policy stance on the issue. There would need to be a Forum associated with the topic, so that those people with a passionate interest in electoral reform could communicate with each other. In addition to that, there should be a blog roll, with the tools in place to allow people to create their own affiliated blogs. Additional social networking capabilities would need to be created, in part to foster the sense of community, and also to enable the community to mobilise for action. Naturally, signup forms, petitions, mailing lists, and calls to action would be needed to ensure that the communities future growth is fostered. Nice pretty links could be created to help fellow travellers to drive interested people to the petitions, and issue websites.

Had we spent some effort in creating such an organization to campaign for the STV in BC, then we might have found a great many supporters joining us of their own accord. By arming them with lots of Green Party STV literature, and mobilising them to ID the vote for STV as well as for the Greens, a significant ground campaign could have been organised. When the campaign was over, win or lose, we would have been left with a motivated group of people prepared to campaign for PR on a national level as well. Not to mention the large lists of petition signers, and people who joined maillists, and the discussion forums during the campaign. This kind of community would simply not stop growing. With a network of blogs, and motivated donors and activists, it would eventually grow into an important issues based site on the web, and should have new adherents on a daily basis.

If you doubt the efficacy of what I am writing about, you need look for proof no further than the Conservative Party of Canada. When Stockwell Day ran for leader, he systematically recruited supporters, and raised money by recruiting Pro-Lifers, creationists, and other communities of highly motivated people. Believe me that the money, and volunteer hours flowed freely from people who believed that their political activism was furthering ‘gods work’. To this day, the most effective tool that the Conservatives employ is issues based fundraising. They know what motivates each and every one of their followers, because they carefully track who responds to which issues when they pitch their donors lists based upon specific issues. When they ask for money, it’s not to pay the salaries of Party functionaries. It’s to stop the dastardly Liberals from doing whatever it is that will motivate that particular mailing list the most.

I had ambitions to make a much more detailed post here. I was going to move on to suggest specific actions, and see if we couldn’t just make it happen without reference to the often sclerotic Green Party of Canada officialdom. The post is already long enough though, so I’ll have to leave my readers in suspense as to how we might be able to do this quickly and cheaply. If you really want to know, then you can go and pick up a copy of ‘The Revolution will not be televised’, by Joe Trippi, and then read it with a view to how this could work to build permanent online communities that were empowered to take their issues offline, and change the world.

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Elizabeth May Appointed to Senate?!

This Globe and Mail article is a good synopsis of Canadian political situation at this moment.

A second Reuters piece discusses much the same.

Spot Elizabeth May's Seat

Spot Elizabeth May

There is a real eye opener, that has some very interesting, and potentially controversial implications.

“And Green Party Leader Elizabeth May is endorsing the proposed coalition government and says she has spoken with Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion about the possibility of her being appointed to the Senate.”

Holy cow! Appointment to Senate? First off, is this Elizabeth May’s entree to cabinet? Jack Layton will have

Jack Layton

Jack Layton

something to say about it if that’s the case. The Dippers AND Dions fellow Liberals will not want the GPC sitting on the front bench in Parliament. It would be good for Canada, and Elizabeth would make a brilliant Minister of Environment, but that’s another question. They will not want the GPC to have such a prominent role PERIOD.

Secondly, The GPC has a long standing commitment to democratic reform. How well does it sit in YOUR craw that she may have an appointed seat in the Senate? The counter argument is solid, and obvious. In what respect is it undemocratic that someone who received just short of 1 million votes should sit in the Senate?

Dig a bit deeper. The CPC will probably fashion a wedge to split soft Liberal supporters, on the issue that the coalition is a constitutional coup. If they succeed in managing the debate, then the electorate will be debating the democratic legitimacy of this coalition Government. Square the issue for the GPC, because the democratic legitimacy of Senate appointments does raise an ethical quiver with most people (I believe).

The GPC stood to gain simply by standing above the fray, and pointing to the children battling in the Parliamentary sandbox. Isn’t it a terrible shame, support the clean Party that wants to do politics a different way. Ask yourself this question. Is the Green Party of Canada going to do better with Elizabeth in the Senate, and perhaps in Cabinet, OR will the GPC do better by picking more support amongst an increasingly disillusioned, and disaffected electorate?

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