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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The Green Party demostrating strategic and tactical smarts on Vancouver Island

The Greens are running a tight ship on Vancouver Island these days. In the wake of Andrew Weavers win in Oak Bay Gordon Head on behalf of the BC Green Party, I decided to have a closer look at the BC Provincial election results in the Victoria area.

Knowing so little about BC Politics, I trotted off to find the Provincial riding maps, and past Provincial election results in the area. From that point it was a quick and simple matter to visually contrast the Provincial riding maps and compare them to the Federal ridings. You see, the typical Green supporter does not really differentiate between the Provincial and Federal Green Party’s in their area. A Federal Green voter is extremely likely to vote Green Provincially, so it would be reasonable to expect that the $million plus that the Green Party of Canada has sunk into Saanich Gulf Islands would be reflected in the Provincial results. The bulk of that money has been spent over the past 4 years in staffing offices in SGI, and systematically building supporter lists in the district.

In November 2012, Donald Galloway representing the Green Party of Canada ran a hotly contested campaign to win the Federal riding of Victoria, which is immediately adjacent to SGI. As I have posted before, the Greens have become extremely good at mobilizing volunteers from across the country to work virtual phone banks for a targeted canvas. In essence, they bombard their supporter lists with emailed invitations to volunteer to telephone canvas from their homes. It is very easy for volunteers, basically they get an emailed link to log in to the canvassing database. They log in, a name and phone number pops onto their screen, alongside a simple script, and they start dialling and recording voting intentions. Whether they work for 10 minutes, or 10 hours, all the data they collect is automatically preserved, and has gotten the campaign that much closer to identifying all their prospective supporters in the area. It takes literally tens of thousands of volunteer hours to fully canvas a riding. The biggest stumbling block for building up identified voters lists is the sheer volume of work involved in actually knocking on all those doors, or dialling all those phone numbers. By calling on hundreds of volunteers from all across the country, the local GP campaign can focus on key objectives, while the donkey work of identifying, and subsequently getting out the vote can be handled by volunteers from far and wide. Well the Green ID and GOTV virtual phone bank was firing on all cylinders on behalf of both Galloway in Victoria, and Turner in Calgary Centre by-elections. Galloway ran a strong campaign, in the riding adjacent to Elizabeth May’s stronghold of SGI. He was able to call on hundreds of local volunteers, and the Federal Party infrastructure of paid staffers and offices just across the riding boundary. The upshot of all those resources being mobilized to support a strong candidate, and a strong EDA was a pretty close second place finish with over 34% of the popular vote in Victoria.

So fast forward to the BC Provincial election 6 months later, and you can see the strategy of building an Island stronghold being implemented. At this point I wish I knew how to create poll level maps, and a geo coded database of vote results. But I don’t, so I will have to support my argument with fuzzier information and generalized conclusions. Have no fear, a poll by poll analysis will bear me out, but I am both too lazy, and insufficiently skilled to actually do all that work.

First of all, in BC, the Provincial riding boundaries are not really related to the Federal boundaries. The Federal Electoral Districts have 2-3 times the population as a Provincial riding.  As a result, the Federal Saanich Gulf Islands for example incorporates the entirety of one Provincial riding, and pokes into significant corners of  two more. The same holds true for the federal Victoria riding. So between SGI, and Victoria, there are larger, or smaller overlaps with 5 Provincial ridings. The Green Party of BC put their strongest candidates into ridings where the Greens had thoroughly canvassed, and identified large numbers of supporters federally through GPC campaigns.

Adam Olsen, who is a well recognised 2 term city councillor in Central Saanich ran for the BC Greens in Saanich North and the Islands. This riding is completely within the boundaries of SGI federally. Jane Sterk, Leader of the BC Greens ran in Victoria Beacon Hill, which is completely within the boundaries of Victoria federally. Andrew Weaver, a very well known Professor at U Vic ran in Oak Bay Gordon Head, which is split between Victoria and SGI Federally, while the relatively weak candidate in Victoria Swan Lake was Spencer Malthouse (my apologies Spencer), in a riding that overlaps with Victoria Federally.

The results are laid out in the table below. Please note the growth in Green Party of BC votes were exceptionally strong where the riding boundaries overlapped with SGI, and a lesser extent where the overlaps were with Victoria.

 

BC Green Party LIBERAL NDP
2009 2013 2009 2013 2009 2013
Federal Overlaps with: Provincial Riding Votes % Votes % GROWTH Votes Votes Votes Votes
SGI & Victoria Oak Bay Gordon Head 2152 8.91% 9602 40.09% 346.19% 11266 7124 10736 6772
SGI Saanich North & Islands 3016 10.91% 9294 31.86% 208.16% 12513 9629 12118 9681
Esquimault-Juan de Fuca & SGI Saanich South 1551 6.56% 3612 15.16% 132.88% 10728 8473 11141 10824
Victoria Victoria Beacon Hill 3768 16.64% 7852 33.72% 108.39% 5998 3981 12591 11335
Esquimault-Juan de Fuca Juan de Fuca 1645 8.53% 3253 15.46% 97.75% 6624 6513 11008 11272
Victoria Victoria Swan Lake 2459 12.01% 4502 22.62% 83.08% 5456 4509 12389 10891
Nanaimo-Cowichan Cowichan Valley 2807 11.64% 4662 18.79% 66.08% 8734 8786 11575 9923
Nanaimo-Alberni & Nanaimo Cowichan Nanaimo North Cowichan 2004 8.96% 3043 13.41% 51.85% 7956 6984 12159 10538
Vancouver Island North Comox Valley 2338 8.56% 3292 11.48% 40.80% 13016 12817 11593 11024
Esquimault-Juan de Fuca Esquimalt Royal Roads 3370 16.71% 4486 21.61% 33.12% 6098 5959 10705 9997
Nanaimo-Alberni & Nanaimo Cowichan Nanaimo 1852 8.96% 2198 10.53% 18.68% 7497 7812 11057 9548
Vancouver island North North Island 1561 7.25% 0 0.00% -100.00% 8411 8862 11232 10595
Nanaimo-Alberni & Nanaimo Cowichan Alberni Pacific Rim 1250 7.41% 0 0.00% -100.00% 5373 5981 10007 9829
Nanaimo-Alberni Parksville Qualicum 2465 9.57% 0 0.00% -100.00% 13265 13405 9803 9899

 

As you can see, over a 4 year period, the Green vote grew appreciably in every riding on the Island. If you look at the raw vote counts though, you will see that the truly impressive growth was happening in ridings where the Greens were strongest to begin with. In short, the possession of a strong ground game, access to extensive supporter and voter lists, and the mobilization of a nationwide virtual phone bank in support of a campaign is sufficient to propel the Greens within striking distance of winning in select ridings.

The implications for the next General election in 2015 are twofold. Locally, on the island itself, we can expect to see a concerted effort to continue to build on past successes. Provincial, Federal, and Municipal Greens will be co-ordinating and sharing resources in an un-precedented way. SGI will be an easy win for Elizabeth May, and Victoria and Esquimault-Juan de Fuca will be squarely in the GPC`s sights. I fully expect that there will be stronger campaigns in ALL the Vancouver Island ridings, and the process of building a regional stronghold will continue.

The wider implications are that the Greens will be paying a LOT more attention to Federal By-Elections. I would expect that Calgary Centre will have a well funded and organized campaign in 2015, based upon their excellent showing in the November By-Election. I doubt very much that the GPC will spend a nickel on the upcoming Bourassa by-election in Quebec, but they will be weighing their future chances in any riding where a by-election is going to be called. With a few months heads up, they are now fully capable of pledging the monetary support to entice a strong local Candidate. With the proven ability to mobilize a seriously massive volunteer phone canvas, they can strategically use a by-election build the local electoral database in preparation for the general election in 2015. In this respect, the Green Party is incrementally creating the conditions to win in a handful of ridings come 2015. I for one will be following their efforts with interest.

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Whither the Green Party? Probable Strategy for 2015

I just took a gander at the Elections Canada databases to see the current state of the Green Party EDA`s. Like them or not, the Green Party remains a factor, and their 2015 campaign will play a role in determining the outcome of the 2015 election. I have a couple of general observations to make, and I have to say that the Green Party has some very impressive strengths, and some very telling weaknesses. It will sound like I am talking out of both sides of my mouth, but I will demonstrate why I expect that the GPC will have a very successful 2015 election, while at the same time they will have a greatly reduced impact on the outcome of the next general election. Be patient with me, and I will amply prove both points.

Back in January, I posted on the cynicism of Elizabeth Mays offers and entreaties for electoral co-operation with the Dippers and Liberals. The crux of my argument was that the Green Party will have a much smaller impact in 2015 because they will probably not be running a full slate of candidates. Every electoral district that they fail to field a candidate in will not have a single ballot cast for the Greens, so their impact in those ridings will be limited to a small number of disappointed Greens who fail to vote at all, while the balance of their voters cast a ballot for their second choice party. For those ridings where they do field a candidate, they will not have anywhere near the kinds of resources that they have had in the two or three past elections. That is primarily due to the loss of the per vote subsidy, which represented the lions share of the money accumulated in local Electoral District Associations coffers. (The Green Party used a fund sharing formula which forwarded a generous chunk of the subsidy funds to the EDA in which the underlying votes were earned). In fact, I can tell you with certainty that the majority of Canada’s GPC EDA`s were only incorporated for the purpose of receiving those per vote subsidies in the first place. The loss of the subsidy will result in folding up the EDA in a great many instances.

A second significant loss of resources was that a great many EDA`s spent relatively big money on the last general election, but then failed to achieve the 10% threshold to receive a 60% rebate of their electoral expenses. This had a dis-proportionate effect on the financial resources of some of the strongest EDA`s in the country. That impact will show up in the next general election in the form of weak campaigns in many places where  the GPC was once strong. These dozen or two ridings will deserve special attention by the Liberal Party and the NDP because there will be approximately 5%-6% of the electorate up for grabs there. In my books, that big of a shift in that many ridings has national significance.

The third factor to take into account is the lack of field organising infrastructure within the GPC, and the related lack of incentive to expend resources on recruiting and assisting a full slate of Candidates in 2015. Elizabeth May has done many good and effective things at the GPC. The greatest failing of her version of the GPC is the total lack of interest in building local infrastructure. I will not go into the facts that underly this conclusion, you can search the archives of this blog if you want names, dates, and details on the lack of field organising. Suffice it to say that I was intimately aware of the circumstances, and this conclusion is not idle. The main reason why the GPC has run a full slate of candidates in the past was to earn the per vote subsidy that came along with every vote. That is why there were so many `ghost`candidates, whose names appeared on the ballot, but who spent $200, and canvassed a few people at their favourite coffee shop, while calling it a campaign. The loss of the per vote subsidy eliminates the incentive for the Green Party to field a full slate of candidates, and the loss of the subsidy removes the incentive to even have a local EDA. I seriously doubt that the Party will create a field organising team, and dedicate real resources to run a full slate minus the incentive of the subsidy.

There is one piece of  objective evidence that my contentions are true. The number of registered Electoral District Associations has been in a steady decline since the last actual real field organiser was fired back in 2009. (She did her job TOO WELL! She actually formed a lot of EDA`s and the head office wanted to keep the per vote subsidy in their coffers, not flowing to Quebec EDA`s). I have updated the table below to reflect the 5 Electoral District Associations that have been de-certified by Elections Canada so far in 2013. Believe me, the trickle is going to turn into a flood by the end of this year. Please note that there have been a grand total of 10 EDA`s formed since 2009. That is pretty serious evidence that there is zero field organising capacity at the GPC, given the hundreds of ridings with no organisation at all.

  GPC EDA formation
Year Registrations Deregistrations
2004 96 1
2005 35 5
2006 24 13
2007 56 3
2008 16 5
2009 48 9
2010 4 44
2011 2 19
2012 4 18
2013 0 6
Total: 285 123

So that summarises my case that the GPC will have a greatly reduced impact on the outcome of the 2015 general election. Now I shall move on te the case that the GPC will have a very succesful 2015 election result.

The Green Party has had an internal conflict between the centre, (The HUB), and the peripheries, (The EDA`s) just about forever. The conflict was over general election strategies. One side arguing that the Beachhead strategy which should be to focus resources on a small number of key ridings, and actually getting a member of Parliament elected there. The other side argued for a `rising tide`strategy, which supported building electoral capacity in EDA`s across the country. This strategy anticipated ever stronger EDA`s with ever-increasing financial, and volunteer capacity to fight future elections. A key argument in favour of field organising,a nd building the EDA`s was that the per vote subsidy could be leveraged by collecting as much low hanging fruit as possible across the whole nation. It was easily proven that spending $1000 in a small riding would win more votes than adding an extra $1000 to the campaign budget in a strong riding. Well this argument is over, done, dead. beachhead wins hands down, so the GPC strategy for the 2015 election is as predictable as the rising of the sun.

Starting 4-1/2 years ago, the Green Party adopted the sole and over-riding objective of getting Elizabeth May elected to Parliament. These were not empty words. they did something radical (for the Greens) and actually spent some resources polling, and investigating target ridings. They then started throwing money, big money into opening multiple offices, and hiring staff located in Saanich Gulf Islands in BC. They spent well over $1million in the pre-writ period. They put the finishing touches on a database application that allows volunteers from across the country to telephone canvas into a specific riding. The 2010 election proved that ground game plus money talks, and Elizabeth may quite convincingly won the seat.

The recent by-elections in Calgary, and Victoria demonstrated the Green party has gotten pretty darned good at focusing a widely distributed National volunteer base on a specific riding. I am still on their mailing lists, so I received a lot of emails asking supporters to participate in the National Phone bank, canvassing Calgary, and Victoria in an ID-GOTV campaign. Having run such campaigns in the past, I can tell you that telephone canvass is the perfect way to ID the vote on the cheap. Volunteers are free, and the cost of long distance telephoning is pretty damned cheap too. Focusing hundreds, maybe even thousands of volunteers on a handful of ridings during a general election will instantly make the GPC competitive locally.

Elizabeth May has a very impressive network of environmental activists in her Rolodex. While local candidates are not as important as Party affiliation, and the Leadership factor in electoral outcomes, the difference between a Candidate with a nationally (or internationally) recognised name, and a 19-year-old student in a coffee shop is pretty obvious. Elizabeth May can personally recruit a handful of high quality candidates for carefully selected target ridings in 2015.

The formula for winning in SGI is not a fluke. It is a predictable outcome from having a high credibility candidate, and pouring huge money and boots on the ground into a small riding campaign. The most important criterion is the availability of money. Despite the loss of the per vote subsidy, the Green Party is growing their fundraising capacity in a very impressive manner. I blogged about it a few weeks ago, and what impresses me the most is that the increased cash flows are coming from a very systematic and disciplined fundraising process. Process is important, because it is not subject to vague fluctuations. What they are doing guarantees that they shall continue to raise ever-increasing quantities of the mother’s milk of politics, namely ca$h. They no longer need to pay the Salaries of Elizabeth May, and Adrian Carr, both of whom have salaries courtesy of their elected positions. Even local office expenses, and personal staff for those two people are being borne by taxpayers, so there is a chunky 6 figure annual savings for the GPC. Remember that the GPC does not spend money of field organising outside their target ridings, so a large chunk of the money they raise can be devoted to pre-writ spending in target ridings. Then there is the likelihood af raining a substantial loan for the next general election. Any ridings that they target with significant writ period spending will definitely exceed the 10% threshold for getting 60% of the campaign expenses back. They can borrow quite a chunk of dough, provided they can demonstrate a steady and dependable cash flow from fundraising, and they can pay much of those loans off using the proceeds of the electoral expenses rebates.

So put all these factors together, and the strategy of the GPC in 2015 becomes as clear as this mornings blue skies. They will focus on a small number of winnable ridings. Based on past history, I would bet folding money that the ridings they target will be currently held by Conservatives, and will disproportionately be located in BC, and Alberta, the GPC `strongholds`. I would guess that they will shoot for official party status in the house, but they may just rein in their ambitions a little and go for 4 or 5 certain seats as opposed to 10 maybes. With maybe a quarter $million or more in pre-writ spending per riding, a National campaign that focusses resources regionally, plus fully funded local campaigns, they will win in a number of ridings. If they limit their ambitions, there is no reason why they could not slam 5 ridings. If they want to roll the dice, they could possibly break through and achieve the coveted official party status in the H.O.C.

To wrap up this post, I will draw conclusions for the Liberal Party, and what all this means for them. When the GPC makes their target clear, (and they will long before the election), evaluate their chances carefully. If it is a smaller number of targets, then sit down and talk co-operation with the Greens. We cannot stop them from winning if they are prepared to spend millions on a small number of targets. Deal with the reality of it, and squeeze an advantage. The advantage on offer will be an endorsement of numerous Liberal Candidates by Elizabeth May and the GPC. It is true that the GPC will probably not run very many candidates outside their target ridings, for the reasons outlined above. The problem for the Liberals is that the abandoned GPC voters are more likely to vote NDP than Liberal wherever there is no GPC candidate. Elizabeth May does not like the NDP, so her instinct is going to be to cut a deal that favours the Liberals. Her endorsement could be a significant factor in attracting the lions share of the stranded GPC votes to the local Liberal rather than the local Dipper. Then of course, the post-election Parliament will hold the promise of a biddable coalition partner in the GPC. That could be critical if the Liberals achieve a strong minority, or even if they want a buffer of a few extra members to support a bare majority. If the GPC over-reaches themselves with too many targets, then the Liberal Party should think about it first. The targets will almost certainly be Conservative held ridings, so if the Liberals believe that the targets are winnable for the Liberals, then they should consider contesting them. Altogether though, I suspect that Elizabeth May is going to engineer an electoral coup in 2015, and make some form of electoral cooperation between the GPC and the Liberals a fact. And what makes this doubly impressive is that she will achieve this outcome whether she gets cooperation or not, and it will happen despite the significant reduction in the overall number of votes won by the GPC.

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Trudeau’s ‘Call to Action’ needs to focus on building the Riding Associations.

In the very few weeks since Justin Trudeau was elected leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, there have been some pretty big things going on. I guess the most obvious, and I mean IN YOUR FACE obvious is the launch millions of dollars worth of ‘attack ads’ by the Conservatives, and the launch of a million dollar ‘anti-attack’ ad by the Trudeau Liberals. We have all been treated to a phenomena that we have seen time and again. scads of

It's Off To Work We Go

It’s Off To Work We Go

instant communications ‘experts’ opine on whether one ad or another is ‘working’, and arguing the finer points of negative vs positive. Are the Cons shooting themselves in the foot? Is Trudeau a ‘Mr. Positive’, safely inoculated against negative ads? The yardstick against which the relative merits are judged are voting intentions as revealed by public opinion polls, which in turn unleash lashings of commentary on the accuracy, and relative merits of polling methods and companies. While all of this is, to be sure, very exciting and certainly gives us all fodder for blogs and comments, I cannot recall seeing a single news article on the yardsticks and measures of success that actually matter.

The objective of the Liberal Party of Canada is to win a plurality of voters in a general election expected sometime in the fall of 2015. I think that it is universally acknowledged that the biggest obstacle to overcome is that the Liberal Party does not currently have the ground organisation, or the resources to achieve that objective. Visit the Liberal Party website, and you shall be greeted by a banner stating simply: “HOPE and HARD WORK”. That is a pretty tacit recognition that there is some way to go, else why the word HOPE? I will take a leap of faith, and assume that since Justin Trudeau, and the Liberal Party recognise they need to rebuild the Party, that they have a Plan to achieve that objective. It is not rocket science, and Trudeau’s team have proven that they know how to plan. It is about setting an objective, acquiring the resources to achieve that objective, and then effectively deploying those resources to achieve the objective.

I do not think there is much doubt that the resource which matter most. The resource from which all good things flow is a base of committed supporters. Money, skills, volunteer hours etc. It follows that building up this asset is the interim objective, and this is the yardstick against which success should be measured. I guess that the rising fortunes of the Liberal Party in opinion polls measuring voting intentions is not a bad thing. What I am having trouble with is in answering the question, ‘How does spending a million dollars on an Ad campaign help to build the supporter base of the Liberal Party?’

I have spent enough time marketing goods and services that I understand the importance of a brand. Basically, all those Mr. Positive adverts are a brand building exercise. But Holy Crap! A million dollars on building the brand? The fundamental issue I have with that is that building the brand does not leave any room for a ‘call to action’ in the ad campaign. It is all sizzle and no steak. You can argue that Trudeau has leveraged the brand building campaign, by twinning it with a call to action to support the exercise with donations. That is certainly a valid point. Over a two-week period, I saw many a call to action in facebook ads, and various keyword based ads online to donate funds to the Liberals for the Mr. Positive ads. The effectiveness of that parallel campaign is proven by the obvious metric. The Liberal Party raised about $1million over a two-week period.  It is less obvious how effectively the Liberal Party has built the supporter base on which future success depends. For all those monetary resources expended, there has been very little in the way of calls to action to join, or Support the Liberal Party. I believe that the Liberals are playing their hand in a very disciplined and systematic way. I am thinking that the primary objective is going to come to the forefront over the coming months, and we shall see communications focused on calls to action that capitalise on the brand building campaign currently underway.

Trudeau is a wizard at gaining earned media. Earned media is at the discretion of journalists, editors, and the media in general. As such, it is very difficult to ensure an effective ‘call to action’ is included in published articles. Consequently, the focus of the earned media campaign is likely to be the continuous building the ‘Mr. Positive’ brand. We can hope, especially in online media channels, that the occasional ‘home run’ will be earned with links directly to Liberal, or Trudeau ‘landing pages’ intended to harvest supporter, donor, and volunteer names and email addresses. Those instances will be few and far between though. So earned media will probably focus on creating a positive environment for the ‘Hard work and Hope’ to take place in. Where the true objective will be achieved is on the paid media, and field organising fronts.

On the paid media side of things, the focus needs to be far more directly related to garnering the key resource, to whit recruiting supporters, voters, and building the volunteer base to make our EDA’s competitive. The reason is simple. Paid media is 100% at the discretion of the buyer. Connecting the message to the call to action is normally the entire purpose of a paid ad. This is the reason that I am bothered by the current $1million ad campaign. Delivering calls to action is EXPENSIVE, and every dollar spent on Mr. Positive ads, is one less dollar asking someone to join the Party, attend an EDA building event, sign a petition, or any of a myriad of useful and effective calls to action. Since future revenue streams are dependant upon a growing and ever more dedicated supporter base, the focus of the paid media campaign must shift to effective calls to action. That will directly grow the capacity of both the central Party campaign apparatus, and the local EDA supporter base.

On the field organising front, Justin Trudeau is a one man organising machine! I follow the news regularly, so every time I read a comment about Justin Trudeau missing in action in the House of Commons, a muted ‘Bwah ha ah’ rises from deep within. You see, rather than hanging out in the HOC standing in a futile exercise of voting against Government motions that will pass, Justin is out in the field stuffing the coffers and recruiting scads of supporters one EDA at a time. The Parliamentary reporters can fret away the days until Justin returns, which guarantees that his infrequent appearances on the Hill will be well attended. The result being solid national media coverage on themes more or less of his choosing (see ‘earned media wizard’ comment above).  In the past week, Justin spent time in Labrador addressing and motivating supporters in the by-election contest currently underway. He showed up in Edmonton, meeting with Edmonton area EDA’s, and drawing hundreds of new supporters into the local Edmonton organisations. Then he moved on to Winnipeg, where he glad handed his way through the food court of a local mall, once again addressing crowds and drawing more people into the Liberal Party’s arms. The guy makes the Energiser Bunny look like a freakin dilettante! I am starting to believe that Trudeau can practically rebuild the Party all by his lonesome, but I am thinking that the Liberals have to do better than that. This is where you and I come into the picture. ‘HOPE and HARD WORK’ means exactly that. When Justin moves on to the next EDA, what he is leaving behind has to be organised, and welded into a campaign capable group that can win the next election. Liberalist is being steadily populated with new supporters across the nation. It is pretty important that there is a local connection for all those new supporters. Engaging with them and soliciting their time, money, and effort needs to be happening in every EDA, or the opportunity Trudeau has presented the Liberals will be lost. There is probably a two-year time frame in which we have to act. If we are to overcome the CPC, and growing NDP organisations, then Justin is absolutely bang on the money. From a basis of HOPE, it is up to you and I to put in the HARD WORK, and put the puck in the net in 338 ridings in 2015!

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Justin over Joyce, by a nose: But how they are BOTH winners.

The conventional wisdom has it that Justin Trudeau has the leadership of the Liberals all but in the bag. Well, all I can say is that the conventional wisdom is ill-informed, and I believe that the contest is a whole lot closer than it appears.

First off, Joyce Murray has a lot more supporters than was publicly suspected. According to her campaign, they actually managed to register 45,000 supporters through their third-party recruiting drive. Yes, I said register to vote, not sign up as supporters. As I posted some weeks ago, Joyce Murray was pretty smart when she targeted a massive, well organised, and highly motivated online community in her supporter drive. It did not require a massive labour intensive process to succeed, because the communications tool utilised, (electronic) is basically free, and the motivation of her erstwhile target group is STRONG. That ease of communications, and strong motivation has manifested itself again by the very high rate of conversion of Murray Supporters to registered voters. That does not surprise me in the least, as I blogged here. As a former Green, I know that the Democratic reform advocates are more deeply motivated than most Canadians, and since the means of recruiting them, via email made it very easy to register, it was inevitable that their numbers would be strong. So based upon the raw numbers, Joyce probably has more registered supporters than Trudeau, while Trudeau probably has a big edge in paid up members.

The Trudeau Campaign is in a very different place. Despite all the hoopla about 170,000 Supporters, the Trudeau campaign recruited a large number of them through their phone banks, NOT through email or online campaigns. The down-side of this is that there was a built-in bias AGAINST Trudeau rooted in the means of acquiring those supporters. They reached them, one at a time by telephone, so a great many of them had no email address on file. This meant that given the very short time frame to register to vote, only a fraction of the Trudeau supporters will have ended up being eligible to vote. Trudeau has got to be chewing his fingernails by now, if the conversion rate for supporters to registered voters was so very lame, are his registered supporters sufficiently motivated to actually cast their ballot after all? I have zero information to share on that score, except the general observation that Joyce’s supporters are going to turn out in very large numbers, and Trudeau’s supporter turnout will definitely be lower. On raw vote counts, it will be extremely close, but that does not mean that Trudeau will lose.

You see, there is something to be said for clunky, old-fashioned, slow and expensive phone banks. Every contact can be targeted. While Joyce was racking up big numbers of supporters, she could not control WHERE THEY CAME FROM. Boy, is she gonna ROCK BC! Actually, she is going to just sweep aside everybody else in BC, and there will be a titanic battle in Urban centres across Canada. But superior organisation, and the highly targeted phone campaign by the Trudeau team will still likely tip the balance. The reason is that despite the very low registration rates ‘enjoyed’ by team Trudeau, their conversions are going to yield a very efficient vote. By efficient, I mean that they are going to win maybe 100, maybe more ridings by just a handful of votes. So there it is, I predict that Joyce will be in a dead heat with Trudeau in terms of ballots cast, but unless Trudeau’s turnout is really really pitiful, he shall win it in rural Nova Scotia, and across the Province of Quebec. It is going to be close though, so nobody should loaf around figuring it is in the bag.

So what to do with Joyce once the dust settles? Well, she has proven something very specific and relevant to the Liberals fortunes. Look at this very interesting article on election results based upon polled intentions of the electorate under a preferential ballot system, ( Actually, that is official Liberal Policy for democratic reform). The outcomes are extremely favourable for every party except the Conservative Party. That makes intuitive sense because the Conservatives have pursued a deliberate policy of solidifying support from their issue sensitive base by contrasting it against, and vilifying those who disagree with them. Hmm, not very conducive for being liked by at least some of your opponents. So preferential ballots are good for the Liberal Party. Joyce has proven something else. Democratic reform is a very strong motivator. It is capable of drawing tens of thousands of supporters in from different party’s, and those supporters mean business. While Joyce pulled in maybe 50,000 names, the sheer size of the Leadnow, Fair Vote, etc memberships suggests that there are as many as a million motivated Canadians standing behind electoral reform. So here is some food for thought, Joyce should be offered the job of building up a strongly motivated community of Liberals, dedicated to bringing Preferential ballots, or a Royal Commission on electoral reform to Canadians, just as soon as the Liberals form the next Government. There is plenty of time to turn this issue into a Liberal issue before the next election. Put half a million democratic reform supporters into Liberalist, and there will be an amazing number of pony tailed-activists canvassing in YOUR riding for YOUR candidate in 2015. And the money, Oh La La! Joyce will have plenty of funds to carry the electoral reform message to the electorate. People who really care will respond well to asks for time and money to support their cause. And guess what? If it succeeds, the Liberal Party will have a permanent advantage with the introduction of preferential ballots, because there they are, with a brand that has very broad appeal indeed! And if it doesn’t succeed? Well, the democratic reform advocates have been patient and are used to not succeeding. They will dig in their heels, and organise an even stronger community for the next election.

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Building the Database: Conservative Union busting campaign.

So I have blogged on what the bare existence of the Supporter category of membership means to the Liberal Party. In a nutshell, it means that the Liberals have woken up to the fact that a robust and healthy contact database provides the means to establish a dialogue with Canadians with an affinity for the Liberal Party. It is an encouraging start, but Liberals everywhere need to wake up to the fact that the Conservatives are so far ahead in this game that it is going to very hard to catch up to them before the 2015 election. One of the most useful tools to build up a political database is to create a petition, and I have TWO specific cases I picked up from a few minutes worth of Facebook feeds to illustrate my point.

Today on Facebook, I came across a ‘shared’ story which was in essence, a data harvesting exercise by the Conservative Party of Canada, er, I mean, Stephen Taylor and the National Citizens Coalition. The article is a very simple blurb:

“Union bosses are spending millions of dollars on extremist political campaigns, like supporting separatist parties during the last Quebec election, attacking political candidates they don’t like, and by supporting causes the union rank-and-file would find shocking.

Isn’t it time to stop forcing workers to pay for the extreme views of the union bosses?

— National Citizens Coalition”

The blurb is attached to a link to the actual petition form, located here.  I will liberally paraphrase the ‘privacy policy’ of this petition  it as follows: “Sign up here and we shall be contacting you for future campaigns. We shall use your information for whatever purpose we want, but we will not sell it.” Read it if you want, at this link.

The purpose of this petition is pretty obvious. They are harvesting names and contact information to match with a set of policy ideas. This will tell them something specific about all signatories about their political ideals, and what motivates them. I can guarantee you that anybody who signs this petition will be invited to recruit their friends, contribute funds, time, and votes to the cause in the future. Please note that the petition does not state anywhere WHO it is going to be sent to. It is just a giveaway of contact data to the people who started up the petition site. Those who sign up for it, are almost certainly going to be voting Conservative come the 2015 election, and the Conservatives will raise thousands of dollars from them that they otherwise would not have.

The second petition I saw is a bird of a different feather. It is one where the ideological enemies of the Conservatives are voluntarily harvesting data to help the Conservatives to build up the size, and quality of the information in their database. The petition is circulated by Leadnow, and is entitled: Tell Prime Minister Stephen Harper: Don’t silence Canada’s federal budget watchdog! Take a closer look at the petition iteslf. The act of signing the petition automatically creates a form that contains the personal email address,  name, and postal code to the following recipients:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper;
Kevin Page, Parliamentary Budget Officer;
Sonia L’Heureux, Assistant Parliamentary Librarian;
The opposition party leaders;
Your local Member of Parliament

At the time of writing, 14,889 Canadians had provided Stephen Harper with their email addresses, along with the fact that they are very supportive of Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer. That is a handy little piece of data for the Conservative Party to play with! Of course, the same information has been provided to Bob Rae, Tom Mulcair, and Elizabeth May. I am pretty sure that the NDP will be harvesting all those email addresses and names from the petition, and tagging them for future communications. I am equally sure that Elizabeth may and the Green Party will be doing no such thing. Will Bob Rae be picking up that data for Liberalist? I sure hope so. This is a no brainer for the Liberal party to follow-up on with those petitioners.

And just to put this into perspective, the Liberal Party has collected about 100,000 email addresses over the course of the current Leadership campaign. These two petitions alone will garner perhaps 25,000 or more email addresses in an afternoon or two. These petitions provide a wealth of information about the signatories. When their contents are merged with a full-scale political database, they will contribute to a much better understanding of the motivations driving the signatories. And as I said earlier, they are simple little things that a couple of different groups whipped up to harvest some actionable data one afternoon. The Conservatives have been raising petitions, and gathering this kind of data for YEARS. If you wonder how they can mobilise so many resources, from such a small proportion of the Canadian population, wonder no longer. They have ridden this kind of effort right into a majority government.

Time for the Liberal Party to step up its game a few notches!

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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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