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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ROFL: The Green Party ‘concedes’ Labrador to the Liberals.

I did not get a chance to watch tonight’s debate yet, but I did get a good laugh at the headlines about Elizabeth May`s very canny playing of the Liberal Party on Saturday. Elizabeth May announced that the Green Party would not be running a candidate in the anticipated Labrador by-election. And some people actually bought it!

As I blogged 2 months ago, the Green Party is in a sticky situation. Firstly, the number of Electoral District Associations has declined as their funding from the per vote subsidy dries up. If you carefully examine the databases over at Elections Canada, you will see that the overwhelming majority of surviving EDA`s have received substantially ALL of their cash receipts in transferred per vote subsidy (Revenue Sharing) allocations from the central Party. That source of funds is drying up, and the steady flow of EDA`s being de-certified by Elections Canada for failing to file, is about to turn into a flood. In the 8 weeks since I last checked, 4 more Green Party EDA`s have been de-certified, and the impact of losing the subsidy is still to come. It is NOT going to be a good year for the Green Party, as they have long ago forgotten how to support and strengthen EDA`s. What this means is that the Green Party is going to have little or no ground game in place in 90% the ridings in Canada for the next general election. By no ground game, I mean they will not be able to beg the EDA executive to be candidate and financial agent for a make-believe campaign, lol. Everywhere they fail to field a candidate means zero votes counted, so without question, the Green Party vote, such as it is, will collapse in 2015, (with the exception of a number of strong BC Ridings).

Now this is the bit where Elizabeth May has scored a coup, turning a disaster into a triumph. She is undoubtedly aware that the Green Party is going to suffer a drastic reduction in votes in 2015. Obviously the Green Party will be in trouble if they fall to 3% of the vote. How can they preserve their significance? What Elizabeth May has achieved has been 2 parts luck, and 1 part sheer opportunistic cunning. First of all, two out of three November 2012 by-elections were in two relatively strong regions for the Green Party, Calgary, and British Columbia. While the Green Party is spread a mile wide, and an inch deep, they have enough resources in terms of volunteers, and cash to mount a respectable by-election effort pretty well anywhere in Alberta or BC. As a past member, I was bombarded along with the entire mailing list looking for phone bank volunteers for Calgary, and a lesser extent Victoria. The results were good enough to create an impression of strength. I guess I cannot fault most Canadians for not knowing just how fortuitous the chance for two competitive by-elections should occur at the same time. I have spent many hours poring over Green Party membership lists, and canvassing key ridings for various internal GPC Leadership and council elections. Calgary Centre, and Victoria are two of about 25 Electoral Districts where the GPC would be capable of concentrating enough volunteers, money, and identified supporter base to have a credible showing in a by-election.

When the Liberal Party Leadership campaign got under way, Elizabeth May seized her opportunity, and threw whatever support she could to the Candidate who openly supported her plan for electoral co-operation. Joyce was eager to accept, after all, political endorsements from David Suzuki are nothing to sneeze at in BC, or the rest of Canada for that matter, and Elizabeth May and David Suzuki go waay back. It is also fair to say that Joyce, being a regional BC politician should over-estimate the strength of the Green Party. BC has long been a regional `stronghold` for the GPC, with respectable double-digit results in numerous Ridings on EDay. If she had experience outside BC, she would know that the GPC she knows is anomalous in the wider Canadian context.

So with a decent pair of by-elections in her back pocket, and the windfall publicity that the Murray campaign was generating for her co-operation proposal, Elizabeth May immediately ran into a problem. Peter Innashue Penashue (updated Mar24) resigned, and an immediate by-election is looming in Labrador. Now if Victoria, and Calgary are the perfect by-election seats for the Green Party, Labrador is the single worst riding in the entire country! I am not exaggerating here folks, and the reason why can be captured by two words: Seal Hunt. A decade ago, the Green Party of Canada adopted a policy condemning the Seal Hunt in Labrador. It was rescinded shortly thereafter, but the damage had been done. To this day the Green party is synonymous with PETA in Newfoundland and Labrador. The last time I saw GPC data, there were a grand total of 26 past and present members in the entire province of Newfoundland & Labrador. 2 of them are in Labrador. If the Green Party were to run in the Labrador by-election, the result would make the November by-election in Durham Ontario  (4%) look good! Given the context in which Elizabeth May is making decisions, she played her hand marvelously by announcing on the eave of the Liberal Party leadership debate, that the Green party would  co-operate with the Liberals by not running a candidate in Labrador. I read this Gem of a quote in the Winnipeg Free Press article on Elizabeth May`s appeal. `In a news release, Liberal leadership candidate Joyce Murray claims she orchestrated the bid to elect a Grit, saying she called May and asked her not to run a candidate in the Labrador by-election.` ROFL, methinks somebody got played, and it sure as heck wasn`t Elizabeth May!

So there is Elizabeth May and the Green Party, hanging on by the skin of her teeth, but she is playing her hand out to the last card. I admire her for that, she has proven again that she is a very capable tactician. The real question is, will the Liberal Party take the bait, and breathe some life back into the Green Party in the form of an electoral co-operation deal? If my advice were solicited, I would suggest that the Liberal Party would be better off to let them wither on the vine, because they will not be able to influence the outcome in more than half a dozen ridings in 2015. Give them a free lunch in a couple of BC ridings, and they may survive long enough to start building their party locally again.

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Unite the progressives? Not much of a solution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GPC EDA formation
Year Registrations Deregistrations
2004 96 1
2005 35 5
2006 24 13
2007 56 3
2008 16 5
2009 48 9
2010 4 44
2011 2 19
2012 4 18
2013 0 1
Total: 285 118

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

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

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

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

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Green Party Canada: Advance Polls and the Youth Vote.

Green Advanced Polls

Green Advanced Polls

This post addresses two seperate themes. The local SGI campaign to elect Elizabeth May to Parliament, and the National Campaign’s progress. Over the last week or so, I have been pleasantly surprised by some potentially effective campaign initiatives being implemented by the National Campaign. Somebody in Ottawa actually knows what they are about, and are getting stuff done that is going to get out the vote for the Green Party of Canada.

The Green Party of Canada is actually campaigning on two fronts. The first, and publicly stated ‘overarching’ objective is to get Elizabeth May elected to Parliament in SGI. I blogged on the decision to run in SGI waaay back in July 2009. It is clear that in order to win in SGI a significant chunk of voters, (3,000 votes minimum) will need to be poached directly from Gary Lunn’s Conservative support. In order for this to happen, the SGI campaign will need to broadcast a Conservative friendly message, and the National air war (media coverage) will need to reinforce these specific themes. The other side of the coin is that the Conservative vote in SGI will need to be suppressed a bit, and die-hard Conservative voters will need to be persuaded to stay at home on E-Day. Since a large proportion of people vote by Party affiliation, and their loyalties, (especially Conservative voters) are fixed, the easiest way to keep them at home is to convince them that the Candidate is not worthy of their vote. That means directly attacking the record, and character of Gary Lunn.

So why am I pleasantly surprised? First off, the GPC platform is once again promoting fiscally conservative policies. That is a given, and for people who actually read Party platforms, it will continue to shake peoples pre-conceived notion that the Greens are a left wing Party. The National camaign has been issueing media releases that speak to conservative voters. What do I mean?, well here’s some examples like a sort-of endorsement by Joe Clarke, Paul Martin, and Brian Mulroney.

Then there is the ‘Dark Side’, with media events like the joint Linda Keen/Elizabeth May press conference setting the stage to slag the incumbent, Gary Lunn’s handling of Nuclear Safety, and his subsequent demotion. It is ‘revalations’ like this that establish, and build on public perception of the Incumbent that will get some of those die-hard Tory voters to stay at home.

There are numerous sprinklings of very SGI specific media releases coming out of the National Office, which is a real bonus for any local Campaign. After all, people expect to read about the local Candidates and issues in the local village rag, but when the Globe and Mail, or CTV are talking about their issues, with Elizabeth May’s name attached, it packs about a million times the punch.

Then there is something unprecedented that popped into my inbox last week. I received an email from the National Campaign, which I can only assume was recieved by the entire contact lists. The email encouraged me to join a national effort to ID the vote in SGI through the virtual phone bank. It is unprecedented during a national election, because normally one would expect Green Party members and supporters to be working diligently on their local campaign. Since there is a decided lack of effective local Campaigns, why not serve the primary objective and put hundreds of people to work building the E-Day database for SGI?

Now I do not know how effectively the SGI campaign is using these tools. I do not believe they will win, because it was such an uphill battle, but IF they are re-canvassing the undecideds right now, making conversion pitches with targetted electors, and highlighting negative aspects of Gary Lunn’s record, they will be on track to pull off an upset. I am pretty solidly on the record in opposing this single minded focus on Elizabeth May, but there is still the possibility that she may retrieve her career as leader of the Green Party, and put the puck in the net on eday.

Now the second reason I am encouraged has implications for the other  303 campaigns. (The Party came up short on the full slate). Back in July 2009, I blogged on the youth vote, and the importance of maximising turnouts amongst the demographic most inclined to vote Green. I wasn’t joking when I said it would be very difficult, but I still believe that my analysis was spot on. Collecting contact information, and then associating the act of voting with FUN is a good starting point. Since younger voters primarily get their information online, end-running the traditional broadcast and print media is critical to presenting any effective message whatsoever to the under 25 set. I have also posted repeatedly on the under used opportunity of the Advance Polls, and just how important it is to get the GPC vote in the bag before the big drop off in support in the final week of the campaign.

There has been a consistent attempt to enhance the online presence of the GPC, and some pretty nifty looking tools are being rolled out. For a couple of weeks at the beginning of the campaign, every time I googled a topic related to the election, there was a GPC adwords advertisement presented. Very good targetting in my opinion. I do not know how much the GPC is paying for the clickthrough, but it is obvious that drawing people to the website, and collecting information about them is critical to the short term electoral goal of getting out more voters. The GPC should NOT be wasting money broadcasting impressions to the general population. You have to pay for every broadcast impression, and too few of the general population are prospective supporters. IF you are paying to reach out, then only paying when you actually connect, (adword clickthroughs), or targetting the message at a more recpetive audience, (Radio and direct marketing) are a much better use of scarce resources.

Last week, the GPC unveiled a new iphones app to help Greens connect. Now I do not think it took fire virally or anything, but this is an interesting tool for getting out the vote, and it will have a dis-proportionate impact on youthful voters. I imagine this was expected to support the big GOTV push for getting out the under 25’s. We have all seen and heard about Vote Mobs on Campus, well it is no surprise that the organisation and execution of these fun and engaging events was helped by the Green Party campus organisations. The National Campaign has also made a genuine effort to get out the vote to the advance polls. When I saw this video prominently featured on the home page of the GPC site, what I saw was a message that purports to make voting fun. It will be very difficult to push it out into the public space, because there are so few activists campaigning locally, but the direction, and intent are very sound indeed. Call this the test, and the next election will hold the opportunity to learn from WHY it did not work as hoped, and make the improvements that will make it work in the future.

And then, to cap it off, I was actually robo-dialled with an advance poll GOTV message from Elizabeth May this morning. It may not seem like rocket science that in the total absence of a volunteer base in most of the country, the National Campaign should be taking such measures to get out the vote. You must believe me though, this is unprecedented for the National Party. I remember well the scorn I recieved when I used robo-diallers to GOTV for Elizabeth May’s by-election campaign in London North Centre. Well it appears that the disdain from on high has been overcome, and a useful little direct communications tool has been incorporated into the National Campaign arsenal. Not only that, but the fact that any resources whatsoever were dedicated to GOTV for the advance polls indicates that a realisation of the significance of the classic GPC death spiral in the last week of a campaign, and the need to counteract it has taken root somewhere at a decision making level.

So there it is, and here we are. I still think that the Leadership of the Green Party has failed the Party by ignoring the need to organise, recruit, and build more and more effective local campaigns. I do not think that the type of issues research that allows really effective campaign messages to be crafted has been undertaken, so the messaging is pretty unsophisticated, and hit and miss. But given the strategic direction that the Leadership has decided to take, of electing Elizabeth May at any cost, the National Campaign team has done pretty well given the limitations that poor organisation have imposed. Will it succeed? We will find out in a little more than a week.

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Green Party Canada: Week 2 of the 2011 Election

So Sunday marked the end of week 2 of the 41’st General election, and I have to say this was not a remarkable week for the Green Party.
First off, there is the Debate on the Debate. As I mentioned last week, the issue generates some great positive publicity for the Green Party of Canada, but it does not go very far in giving Canadians a reason to vote for, donate to, or join the Green Party. That was the communications task for the National Campaign, and they didn’t put the puck in the net… The demand democracy site put up by the GPC to harvest petition signatories has added another 12,000 signatories since the initial 108,000 but that is pretty well it.  The landing page does a great job of arguing for inclusion in the debate, but I do not see how it advances the cause of the Green Party. While there is a ‘donate’ button, it is not central, it is kind of an afterthought. There are no links to the green party website, no policy statements, no call to action above and beyond the debate question.

This Mondays court challenge came and went so quick, I blinked and missed the media coverage. So the court challenge came and went, the issue stirred up a deal of noise, but I do not really see it having much of a direct impact on the election. In a sense, it may even be counterproductive. If you Google News ‘Green Party Canada’ you will see literally hundreds of articles about the debate, but it is pretty hard to find much else about platform, or issues. I wish Jim Harris were still there, he understands that when you get the spotlight, you squeeze it for measurable and quantifiable benefits. He would have been entreating Canadians to join the Green Party, donate, and make your voice heard, but that’s a whole another story… The debate is coming up fast, and Elizabeth May is still working it as hard as she can, but to what end I wonder? I guess she’ll get some great interview opportunities on debate night, I only pray that she uses them to highlight something OTHER than the debate about debates. After all, this is the only major national media coverage the GPC is likley to get once Elizabeth returns to SGI for the final stretch….

On a more positive front, the Green Party released their platform early in week 2, and it did actually garner some good media coverage. Elizabeth May took a sabbatical from the SGI Campaign, and campaigned Nationally for the week, so at least a smattering of local Campaigns did get some support from ‘head office’. There were a number of local appearances stacked back to back, and she did get local media coverage to add to the National coverage. It is not going to help much though, because people will only start tuning in at the end of this week, and if the GPC is not in the news next week, then all that has happened to date will be lost in the noise…

I guess there isn’t much more to say about the National Campaign, so let’s move over to what will have to replace it, the local Campaigns. In the past, I have been critical of the importance of electing a single MP, and much more interested in broadening the capacity, and organisational strength of the Green Party. I have been on the short end of that argument, (obviously, given that the only campaign objective is to elect Elizabeth May), and of course the jury is still out. I believed that with a growing number of Electoral District Associations with robust memberships, more Campaign experience, and above all, money in the bank, the opportunity existed to build on that strength. This process should have started with Geographical targetting and allocation of resources to build up the basic units of the Party, the local Riding associations. The key to local success is of course, a growing membership, and active local Electoral District Associations to build bridges to community groups, and pave the way for the next election. The Federal Party apparatus is the only conceivable organisation to start the ball rollimg, and provide the logistical and moral support for a grass -roots organisational effort. Nothing like this happened, at least not at the instigation of the National Party. In fact, membership has tanked over the past two years plus. Instead the focus has been on communications, and supporting a top down Party structure, replete with salaried communications staff, and 100% focus on the Leader’s public image. So how will this impact the Green Party’s chances in this election?

The Jury is still out, which is to say the electorate has yet to vote, but I am not very sanguine about local Green campaigns’ chances. From what I can see, about half of the electoral districts that achieved above average results in the past two elections are moribund, and have little or no presence. I live in Toronto, which was completely demoralised by the Green Party’s Leadership fiasco last summer, so perhaps it isn’t a fair sample, but I will have to say that the GPC is likely to drop a few percentage points in all of Toronto. Why? because without volunteers knocking on doors, securing local media coverage, putting up signs, delivering flyers etc, there IS no local campaign. Guelph, which once shared pride of place with Bruce Grey Owen Sound as the top Ontario Electoral Districts has lost some of their best people, including Mike Nagy. This can only be construed as a vote of non-confidence in the strategic direction, and Leadership of the GPC. You can count on Guelph dropping some support on EDay. In fact, with the wholesale defection of the Green Party of Canada’s organisers to the Green Party of Ontario, I think that Elizabeth May has made an unintended electoral gift of significant proportions to the Liberal Party. Off hand, I can think of a couple of hundred activists who moved over from the national, to the Provincial party. The result will be a further contraction, and softening of the GPC vote. (But just watch out for the next Provincial election in Ontario!)

Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu

Erich Jacoby Hawkins

This gloomy prognostication is not universally applicable. There will be some few Electoral districts where the local Campaign is well organised, and has leadership that is effective. Erich Jacoby-Hawkins, and the Barrie Greens are going to improve their vote, possibly quite dramatically. Ard Van Leeuwen, and the Dufferin Caledon Greens are going to increase their share of the vote, and I am betting they will surprise us all by just how much. In Toronto not all is lost. Adrianna Mugnatto-Hamu will be leading Toronto Danforth to a strong showing. Sylvie Lemieux, and her Campaign Manager, Jamie O’Grady will have a real impact in Glengarry Prescott Russell.  There will be other strong local Campaigns too, with capable and active Leadership effectively reaching out to their ridings.   I have no polling data, or

Lt. Col (RET) Sylvie Lemieux

any crystal ball to support these contentions, I am basing this conclusion on the fact that these are people that I know; People who are active year in and year out, building their EDA, and getting their message into their communities. They will not have the kind of impact that you get when your National Campaign is synchronised with the local campaign message, but they are Greens, and have never fought a campaign with the support of an effective Air War. This will be nothing new to them, and they will continue to grow and build for the next Campaign, under a new (or not?) Leadership.

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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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Green Party Moment: Is it Time for Real debate on Nuclear Power?

Linda Keen

Linda Keen former Nuclear Watchdog

So I was at the Green Party website, (actually, it’s more of an Elizabeth May site now.), and there was a media release with Elizabeth May’s schedule for the day. Lo and behold, amongst the local campaign type stops, is a notice of a joint press conference with EMay, and Linda Keen, the former Nuclear Watchdog sacked by the Harper Conservatives for, well, being a public watchdog and sounding the alarm.

This is clearly relevant to the local SGI campaign, as then Minister for Natural Resources was, you guessed it, Gary Lunn. I know that there was a lot of bad feeling betweeen Lunn and Keen way back then, so I can pretty well guarantee that Keen will have some damaging things to say about Lunn. I am also crossing my fingers that Elizabeth May will relax her determination to focus 100% on getting elected in SGI, and work this issue Nationally.

While Lunn should be held accountable for his heavy handed actions at that time, the topicality of Nuclear Safety issues is potentially an enormous gift to the Green Party in this current election. I don’t need to remind everybody that a terrible disaster is unfolding in Japan.  The nuclear debate has been continually clouded by mis-direction, and outright misinformation by parties on all sides of the argument. A geat many people ignore the fact that nuclear is horrendously expensive, and brush over the risks to the public by pointing to the very stringent safety standards the Nuclear industry operates to. What Japan has taught us is that you do not have to be incompetents, (Chernobyl), to poison your neighbourhood. Fact is that every nuclear reactor has the potential to become a major disaster. Folks, that includes huge swathes of Ontario, and with a number of Provinces mulling over their nuclear options, in the future could include more and more Provinces of Canada.

I am personally not a wild eyed hater of nuclear power. Some Greens are, and some Greens actually support nuclear power due to the lack of airborne emmissions. Nuclear power is relatively clean, and is unquestionably a stable source of electricity. For me, the problems are that it is overly expensive especially once power transmission costs are taken into account. The expense of de-commissioning reactors, and storing the wastes in perpetuity is completely ignored, but we all know that the public purse WILL end up footing the bill… and for generations to come. Then there is the potential for mis-use of spent nuclear fuel. Then there is the added potential, which is impossible to cost, of a nuclear accident that can kill millions of people. Just how the heck do you account for that risk when cost-justifying nuclear reactors? On balance, a great many Canadians would agree that the risks far and away outweigh the benefits, and the proof is fresh in the minds of all Canadians. The opportunity exists for the Green Party to justify it’s existence, and give this issue the airing that it needs.  The opportunity exists for all 308 Green Party campaigns to talk about the risks in an intelligent way, and actually perform a public service, while putting a whack of votes in the bank. So how about it Elizabeth? Will you attack Lunn with his shortcomings, or jump start an intelligent debate on the costs and benefits of nuclear power?

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