Smoking Gun on yet another potential CPC breach of the Elections Finance Act.

Nearly broke a major story

I really really enjoy reading the Hill Times. It is informative, and I have learned much about how Parliament, and indeed politics works in Canada through their site. I just read an article there about some very aggressive Conservative Party activities, which I believe may constitute a breach of the Elections Act, and should be investigated.

The crux of the story is about how a number of very rich Conservative Party EDA’s (Electoral District Associations), channelled significant resources towards swing ridings in Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes. So far so good. There’s nothing wrong with transferring a pot of money to a ‘poor relation’. It makes a lot of sense for the CPC to ensure that every EDA where they have a chance gets every penny they can legally spend, and then go about spening it to win their local contest. The money gets properly recorded by the recipient, whose financial agent carefully records and reports the spending, and the spending limit is approached, but not quite exceeded. The really meaty bit of the story wasn`t picked up on by Tim Naumetz, the author. I feel kind of sorry for him, because he could have had a really great story here. It`s not too late for him though.

So here`s the smoking gun:

“Prime Minister Harper’s (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) riding association, along with those of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney (Calgary Southeast, Alta.) and Conservative MP Rob Anders (Calgary West, Alta.) in Calgary, also set up massive phone banks with hundreds of volunteers in an attempt to sway voters in swing ridings in central Canada, Mr. Anders and his former riding association president say.”

Do you respond, ‘Big Deal’? Well, it almost certainly IS a big deal if the facts line up the way I suspect. First off, these massive phone banks, with hundreds of volunteers cost money to set up. Actually, quite a lot of money. Even if every volunteer is on a crappy old computer, with VOIP service, the computer has to be recorded on the campaign books at the cost to purchase it. Then there’s the costs per call. Then there’s the proportion of campaign office expenses dedicated to NON-LOCAL election expenses. I had the opportunity to study Accounting as part of my MBA program. I’ve also been a businessman for several decades, so basic accounting principles are not strange turf to me. Based on the principle of materiality, if some casual calls were made, that amounted to a few dollars being spent in the wrong place, because the amount is insignificant, no true breach of anything has occurred. That’s why, if you expense a cup of coffee that wasn’t actually business related, you aren’t guilty of anything inappropriate. You are only guilty of something if you systematically went about expensing thousands of cups of coffee, because at some point the error becomes a material breach. Do you see where I am going here yet?

I see at least 3 potential breaches of the act that will require investigation by EC auditors.

First problem: Did Rob Anders, Steven Harper, and Jason Kenney file for, and recieve a 60% rebate on these local election expenses? If so, they should give the damned money back, at a minimum, because these were clearly NOT local election expenses, and thus do not qualify. This is the flip side of the in-and-out scheme wherby the CPC appeared to bilk taxpayers out of large sums of money. The CPC allegedly took advantage of poor language in the act to create local expenses in ridings where the spending limit would not be reached by the local campaign. That way, the Party could spend money above and beyond the legally mandated national elections expense limit, and the local EDA’s that participated would receive a 60% bonus on the backs of the taxpayers. Based on Rob Anders quote, the very purpose of these phone banks was to direct resources at other electoral districts, and I am betting that the $ amounts were non-trivial.

Second Problem: In which of the ridings targetted in this way did the local campaign spend right up to the legally mandated maximum? Let us make a guess, and say that $40,000 worth of phone bank was equally divided up between 10 out-of-riding campaigns. That works out to $4,000 per recipient riding. I will guess that this would put at least half of the recipients over their legal spending limit. What, I wonder, are the penalties for buying an election?

Third Problem: The spending was either authorised by the Financial Agent for the recipient campaign, or it was illegal. That’s it, plain and simple. If the recipient were unwitting, which is theoretically possible, then the offense was committed by the donor campaign. Hey, wait a minute! That was our beloved Prime Minister’s campaign wasn’t it? Third Party advertising rules could apply if the donor wasn’t a political campaign, but the donors were, so that’s not much of an escape hatch. The Financial Agents for the donor campaign may already be on the hook for claiming the rebate, but there are a bunch of counterparties to be called to account too.

I know that many would say it`s too hard to quantify, and that allocating the funds will be impossible. Well, I`m happy to say that any CA, or CMA can easily conduct the audits that will NAIL the contributors to the wall. Whether the phone banks were voip, or landlines, or whatever, there will be electronic records of exactly which phone calls were made to where. Once it`s established how much of the office spaces, and expense were dedicated to these non-local campaigns, it will be a simple matter to allocate the spending proportionally to the recipients. They will argue like hell in the courts, over a few hundreds of dollars, but the basic facts will be inescapable.

There are many twists and turns that add interest to this story. There is the fact that EC ‘lost’ their chief the last time EC tried to challenge this kind of sleazy shafting of the taxpayer, and manipulation of the Elctions Act. (In-and-Out scandal, appropriately so named because the appearance that the taxpayers were screwed). There is the fact that the CPC so very loudly screamed and hollered about the clear and transparent per vote subsidy, whilst at the same time they manipulated and schemed to screw the taxpayers wholesale with these kind of sleight of hand tricks. And then there’s the interesting fact that even when caught overspending, nobody ever seems to lose their seat over it. I mean, w.t.f. is the point of spending limits, and a finance act if Rob Anders can publicly crow about it? Has the culture of corruption spread so far, and so quickly that the CPC believes they are immune to the law?

Anyhow, I suggest that, like myself, you get on the phone to elections Canada, and ask them if they are going to dare to beard their Tory masters? I feel sorry for EC if they actually attempt to enforce the law. They are legally bound to try, but oh the consequences! More careers will be abruptly terminated, and obviously the CPC will immediately sue them. Still, we must use the tools at our disposal, or else the contempt of our political masters for the law will remain unchecked, and these kinds of sleazy practices will continue to be rewarded by electoral success.

Authors note: I just made a few judicious edits. A little heavy on the hyperbole, as I was all steamed up. Sorry if it morphed into something a little softer.

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How can the Green Party of Canada co-ordinate Air War and Ground War?

Dan Grice Effectively Targeted Conservative support

Dan Grice Effectively Targeted Conservative support

In some prior posts, I blogged about just how weak and ineffective the GPC’s attack on the Conservative Party was in the 2008 general election. The basic fact is that in electoral politics, if you want to attack a Party, you do so by appealing to their supporters with a message that strongly resonates, and will draw them away from their allegiance. The heightened rhetoric coming from the GPC in 2008 was counterproductive if the objective was to actually hurt the CPC. By castigating Stephen Harper in such strong language, we gave no reason for softer supporters of the Conservatives to reconsider their position, and entrust their votes to the Green Party.

I am going to make a bold assumption about the GPC’s national campaign theme, and message for the upcoming general election. Federal Council has apparently decided that there is only one overriding objective in the upcoming election, that being to elect Elizabeth May. It is becoming equally obvious that the intention is to achieve this feat by unseating Gary Lunn in SGI. Hopefully, it’s become clear to the FCC that the only way to achieve this result is to directly target, and win over Conservative voters in  SGI. If the national campaign is actually going to be delivering a (partly) Conservative friendly message, then there are quite a number of campaigns in Canada who will have a great opportunity which they should be ready to capitalise on.

Yes, there are Liberal and NDP voters who could, and should be targetted everywhere. After all, these voters are much more inclined to vote Green, and in many ridings will represent the low hanging fruit. I will guess that Ignatieff’s rejection of Dion’s Green Tax Shift, and unequivocal promotion of the Tar Sands, will give a small, but significant opportunity for us to target Liberal voters. There are places though where the local Campaign will need to focus on small c Conservative voters. I’m thinking about the obvious candidates like Bruce Grey Owen Sound, or SGI, or pretty well any riding in Alberta. I would go so far as to argue that Alberta, (and Quebec), should be planning a regional campaign, with a dramatically different theme than the rest of Canada. Any riding in Canada that has concentrated pockets of Conservative voters should have an opportunity to crack the CPC vote open a little bit, without having to expend huge resources on it.

If the ‘Air War’ is in fact going to be broadcasting a message targeting conservatives, then this will present an opportunity for most EDA’s to expand their vote in previously barren grounds. I recently commented on the GPC blogs regarding targeting the CPC vote. Dan Grice, the GPC Candidate for Vancouver Quadra responded with a link to a campaign flyer they developed to target Conservative held polls in his riding. Anecdotally, he claimed a great response, including a big bounce in the vote in those polls, and plenty of sign requests. I ask you to consider, if your campaign were to do a flyer drop into strongly Conservative polls, while at the same time the national Campaign was emphasising the same, or very similar messages over the airwaves, would this not be a very effective tool for winning support?

Co-ordinating the ground war, and the air war are pretty important in my opinion. The National Campaign will undoubtedly have a 36 day plan, with key messages, and announcements planned for maximum impact. The timing of the Air War, and some of the content will undoubtedly be a closely guarded secret. That’s all very well and good, but the secrecy must be tempered by the need for local Campaigns to plan their efforts to coincide with the national Campaign. If, for example, a major media event is planned for the leader, and if, for example, the message for this event is conservative friendly, then the local Campaigns should have the opportunity to capitalise on the exposure. They might want to print flyers, issue press releases, revise and re-target their telephone and foot canvas, in order to take advantage of the exposure the Air War has generated, and reinforce it where it will do the most good.

A very well planned National Campaign would be ready to help make this one-two punch possible. By developing a sound, and targeted message. By targeting effectively, and then developing the collateral (flyers, press release templates, subsidy for EDA’s to do targeted mailshots, etc), they will empower the local Campaigns to take advantage. Above all, by having a well planned, and resourced internal communications strategy, they will be able to co-ordinate the timing, and ensure that the right information and material gets into the right hands with enough time to act on it. All the planning in the world is wasted if  there are no people in place to make the phone calls, order and deliver flyer print runs, and make sure that the plan gets implemented. Conversely, if the National Campaign feels they don’t have the resources (people), to co-ordinate release dates like a well oiled machine, then the decision should be to lift the veil of secrecy somewhat. It would be essential to allow the local campaigns to plan for themselves how to wring the maximum benefit from the planned ‘Air War’. It’s far more important that our own campaigns are able  to capitalise, than it is to prevent our Opposition from finding out what we’re up to.

Many local campaigns won`t really have the people to divert from their ID – GOTV canvas to start doing big flyer drops in short 1 or 2 day windows of opportunity. Here is a simple model for the National Campaign, and the local campaigns to consider. Research the theme and message centrally, and test with public polls to ensure that the theme resonates with, and will convert the target demographic. Purchase the broad form census results from Statistics Canada, and use geospatial mapping tools to map the target demographic onto poll maps. When the time is right, release the poll maps to the local campaigns, with suggested targets clearly outlined. Integrate this data into Grimes database, so that the local campaign can target the appropriate voters. The local campaign can then go to Canada Posts` unaddressed, or addressed admail site, and have Canada Post deliver the appropriate flyer to the target postal walks. Canada Post makes it pretty easy to target unaddressed admail by postal walks, (the last three digits in the postal code). The costs of delivery can be reduced to below $0.12 per piece, if the National Campaign were to negotiate contract rates on our behalf. If you assume printing costs of around $0.07 per piece, then you could deliver 10,000 pieces, to a well targeted audience, at a cost of about $2,000. I know that `junk mail` is a little, (lot), controversial, but the fact remains that it is a cheap and effective way to get a whole lot of literature on target in a hurry.

It should be obvious to all that this methodology should be the same no matter who our target audience is. While I am argueing here that the message will most likely be directed at conservative voters, this is how the National Campaign should be operating whosoever the campaign theme targets.

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“Harper’s Team” reviewed: Lessons for the Green Party

Magikal Tome?

Magikal Tome?

Two weeks ago I picked up a copy of “Harper’s Team” by Tom Flanagan. I had seen a recommendation in Report on Greens, and being naturally interested in a first hand view of how the conditions were created for the rise of the Conservative Party from has been to the currently dominant political force in Canada.

I have spent, (according to my wife, wasted), thousands of hours canvassing, fund raising, devising and designing GOTV programs, implementing databases, and data management programs on behalf of various GPC campaigns.  The sundry challenging tasks of Green Party cat herding, that some call campaign management have taken their toll. I yearned to find the secrets to how to really make it work. ‘Surely’, I asked myself, ‘there is some magic potion that these Conservative rascals imbibed to bring them invincible strength? Perhaps the formula lies between the dusty covers of this rare tome?’

Now I can reveal the truth to my readers. Nope, no magic potions here. Once again, the truth’s within those dusty (actually shiny new) covers is prosaic. The most important thing about it is that it doesn’t come from an obscure Green activist, and businessman crying ‘but it’s OBVIOUS what we have to do.’ It is coming from the Campaign Manager that deployed prosaic tools and organizational principles to seize power within our Parliamentary Democracy.

My first comment is a negative. This book isn’t a work by a master of communication and disinformation like Warren Kinsella. Kinsella’s book, “The War Room” rambles a bit, and is kind of heavy in the name dropping, and self congratulation departments, but you have no doubt that you are imbibing the real brew.

What this book is, is a well written eye witness narrative of Harpers career from 2002 on. It shines a light on the early history of the Alliance, and the subsequent PC merger that gave birth to the CPC. I won’t go through the nitty gritty of who did what, with whom, and for whoever. I will once again filter the book for lessons for the Green Party to apply.

Start every campaign with analysis, and a plan. SWOT analysis, familiar to business managers stands for Strength Weakness Opportunity Threat. Look objectively at all sides of the equation. Develop a strategy to maximise, minimise, exploit, and counteract respectively. Sounds easy? It isn’t. It needs to be concise, and readily grasped and expanded on by a whole team of individuals.

From that starting point, develop the campaign theme, and message. This shouldn’t be an ad hoc exercise. You might start with a gut feel, but you pursue professionally conducted political issues research. That means opinion polling, with a focus on what messages, and presentation will achieve your strategic ends. For example, if you are the strong front-runner, and your primary objective is to protect your lead, and resist encroachment, then you will research amongst supporters to determine why they support you, and what message is most likely to re-enforce this support.

The structure of the campaign is important. To a certain extent, the strategy will be formulated based upon the skills available. The managers task is to ensure that the right skills, and people are in place to implement the plan. A strong chair is essential, because there will always be stress and tension within the team. The Chair must ensure that the team ends up pulling together. That means managing, and yes, even manipulating these tensions to spur on better results.

Flanagan stresses the importance of advance planning of the campaign based upon a campaign calendar. My personal opinion is that the emphasis on planning every single day of the Campaign which he believed was essential proved to be the CPC’s undoing in the 2008 campaign. Their plan was so rigid, that they continued to try to control and direct the message, even while stock markets were collapsing around them. They failed to adapt, and it made them look totally out of touch for the tail end of the Campaign. Kinsella understood the need for adaptability, and stresses that again and again in his book. Had Kinsella run the Conservative War Room, we would probably have a CPC majority government today.

For the actual mechanics of campaigning, this is where Flanagans book gets really interesting. Arguably the single most important tool that the CPC and Stephen Harper have employed is direct mail fund raising. In different circumstances, his various campaigns were able to direct hard hitting, very specific appeals for cash to their various mailing lists. There would always be some specific objective and appeal. Not just a generic, ‘give us some cash’ but more like, ‘together, we need to stop X,Y, and Z happening. We need this much to do it. Give generously using this postage paid reply envelope.’ Every campaign started with such direct appeals, and they really worked. The CPC continues to go back to the well again, and again, and this tool forms the basis of their financial muscle.

Another interesting outreach tool discussed in depth by Flanagan is various types of phone bank. One of the earliest tools employed was predictive dialler’s. Flanagan assumes his reader knows what this is, but for the uninitiated, I’ll offer a brief description. A computer can be adapted with a special phone board to manage multiple phone connections at once. A single board can handle up to 32 separate lines at once. Predictive dialling software/hardware setups will automatically dial 32 people at once, and there will be a number of separate phone operators networked with this dialler. When someone receives such a call, they can either be patched through immediately to a live operator, or they could have pre-recorded option presented to them like ‘dial two to speak to an operator’. Using fairly small teams of volunteers, the campaign can plow through large numbers of phone calls fairly quickly. More sophisticated types of dialling technology can be employed, depending upon the task being performed, and the numbers involved.

The lessons ultimately learned by Flanagan were as follows: For ID’ing the vote, on a really large scale, the best way to make a large number of these relatively simple phone calls is to hire a professional telemarketing firm. There is little, or no persuasion going on, other than a few simple stock pitches, so paid telemarketers can do this very efficiently indeed. The calls can be targetted by sorting a large database to separate the polls which had good Conservative (or Green), turnouts in past elections. That way, the best response rates can be guaranteed. The CPC does this ongoing, even outside of election periods. It enables them to build up supporter databases so they can go to these people to Get Out The Vote in future campaigns, and it gives them hot pre-qualified prospect lists for their direct mail fund raising letters.

For persuasion type phone banking, volunteers are better. They will generally have more policy knowledge, and more interest in spending some time persuading people to change their vote. The Conservatives actually own their own predictive dialler’s, and set up phone banks in their War Room, or wherever the volunteers can most easily be gathered. They use these teams to target undecided voters, to convert them to Conservatives. They will also target soft supporters of the other Party’s. As I have mentioned elsewhere, they could have the twin objectives of either converting these votes, or suppressing turnout for the opposition Party’s. Volunteers are much better at raising money as well. Because they cost nothing in wages, and can be more adaptable, a volunteer phone bank can generally be relied on to break even, or even turn a small ‘profit’ by asking for donations as part of their standard pitch. Any type of phone banking can be targeted anywhere in the country. If the campaign calls for an extra effort in one particular riding, then all the phone banks can concentrate on it, until it has been thoroughly canvassed, and persuaded. Obviously, this calls for good data management, and co-ordination.

The Data management discussed was, in my opinion, the single most important innovation of the Harper team. They invested some pretty serious money in creating a single database hosted by the National Party headquarters. The reason this was so important is because, just like the Green Party, the majority of the contacts made at the local level during a campaign would not be recorded, or preserved between elections. These supporters would therefore not be accesable to co-ordinated fund-raising efforts. They would also be lost before the next campaign, and the voter ID effort would have to begin from scratch. The Green Party of Canada has made some feeble efforts along these lines with their CIVICRM, but frankly the software is crap, and no-one in their right mind would base their campaign data management on such a time consuming clunky piece of junk. What is needed is a fluent, easy to use database. It needs to have easy user interfaces, and should be blindingly fast, no matter how many users there are.

Flanagan wrote a lot about message, and the air war. The air war consists of advertising, plus earned media. Frankly, while it makes for OK reading for a campaign buff like myself, if you want to learn about communications, read Warren Kinsella’s “The War Room”.

In conclusion, the Conservative Party has many lessons to teach the Green Party of Canada. It’s not that the Green Party doesn’t know these lessons. It’s more that they need to have their noses rubbed in the fact that Yes, these things work, and are capable of propelling an extremist party into government when used correctly. (hint hint)

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Parliamentary Democracy in Action.

It's not really like this

I just read a partisan Tory blog, with a difference. It didn’t rant at the undemocratic nature of the proposed coalition government, it addressed the potential weaknesses of the coalition. This is the kind of Tory that doesn’t eat babies, and should be wooed by the Green Party, as we did so well in 2004. I would enjoy debating these points with the author in a Pub, over a pint or two.

Here’s my non-partisan take on the current controversy:

We are governed by a Westminster Parliamentary Democracy. That means a Representative democracy, as any

He would agree

He would agree

true political conservative, like myself, or the members of the now defunct Progressive Conservatives, we seek to preserve our political traditions, because they are well establish by custom, law, and convention, and they work very well indeed.

I realise that in many respects this is contrary to official Green Party policy, especially with respect to proportional representation, but despite it’s imperfections, and blemishes, I am content to live under this ploitical system. In fact, this weeks events demonstrate that it IS robust, and it works well.
In order to form a government, a prospective Prime Minister must seek, and acquire the confidence of the house. Our current Prime Minister has a minority in the house, and an even weaker mandate from the country, with less than a third of the popular vote. There is no doubt that Stephen Harper sought to sow discord, and exercise power beyond the limits imposed by his parties minority position.

Hundreds of years of Parliamentary tradition support the Liberals and NDP in their intention to seek the confidence of the house, and form a coalition government. If the Bloc supports them, then it will be right and proper that they govern. If you seek to rule this country, and you pretend to be Conservative, then you are doubly bound by Parliamentary convention. There’s a pretty good discussion of this in todays Globe and Mail.
The Green Party has absolutely nothing to do with it, as they have no sitting members. The GPC will continue to build organisational strength, and continue to attract progressive conservatives, making it increasingly unlikely that the neo-conservatives will ever earn the confidence of the house. I am happy to say that Parliament is working, and that a Government that best represents the views of the majority of Canadian electors is about to take power. This is the my position, as a Green, and a Canadian.

Now don’t forget, the Green Party has room for many competing views of Canada. If you want to be part of a real political movement, that is sweeping away the cobwebs, JOIN THE GREENPARTY NOW!

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