Category Archives: Liberal Party of Canada

Sasha Issenberg (author of “The Victory Lab: The secret science of winning campaigns”) speaks to the Samara Institute.

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I have been a fan of Sasha Issenberg for a while now, reading his articles on Slate.com, enjoying him on the Slate Political Gabfest podcast and then devouring his fantastic book “The Victory Lab: The secret science of winning campaigns.” So when I heard that he was going to speak in Toronto at an event hosted by the Samara Institute I was thrilled. I strongly recommend reading his book.

Mr. Issenberg’s speech was excellent so I thought I would share some of the insight I gained from hearing the author speak after reading his book.

Before you continue read Adam Radwanski”s excellent interview with Sasha Issenberg: here.

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The J-Source liveblog for The Victory Lab: an evening with Sasha Issenberg: here.

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This great article by Susan Delacourt “Polling and journalism: the future is in the details”: here.

What I learned from Sasha Issenberg:

  •   It is important to remember that micro-targeting is really high concept stuff and only impacts around the margins. It is good for increasing voter turnout by a few percentage points in key areas (which can make all the difference in a close campaign.) 95% of people care about the same 4 things more or less (like the economy, health care, education, etc.)  There is diminishing returns from going too granular/micro in your targeting and messaging. Issenberg used the example that you could send every American a piece of direct mail about the local park in their community with Barack Obama’s campaign budget, but people vote on the economy not their local park. 
  • We know less about persuasion than we do about motivation. This was an important lesson for me from Sasha Issenberg’s talk. A lot of the sociological techniques/tricks/strategies that have been tested in randomized clinical trials were done for non-partisan, voter turnout increasing purposes. Academic research grants can’t go to Democratic/Republican efforts because of campaign finance laws. I asked Issenberg about using the methods described in his book to target low information voters and he was also asked about persuading voters to switch from one candidate to another. He told me that these methods are for increasing voter turn out and aren’t necessarily focused on educating voters. However, these techniques were effectively implemented by the Obama campaign to  activate certain issues (women’s health and access to abortion) among demographics that would have supported Romney (middle aged suburban women) but then switched to Obama when these issues were activated. As a Liberal, getting Liberal voters to turn out is a challenge in-and-of itself. Liberals should all read this book, but we need to put as much effort into persuading New Democrats, Conservatives and Greens as we put into Liberal GOTV.
  • Robocalls do not increase voter turnout.  According to Sasha Issenberg “They persist because campaigns don’t read political science literature.”  Campaigns spend money on robocalls because they have money at the end of the campaign and they don’t have enough time to hire new staff or produce effective t.v./radio advertisements. Campaigns don’t want leftover money at the end of a campaign because it would look like they didn’t spend the extra money because they weren’t trying. When Issenberg got the robocall question I don’t think he was aware of the special Canadian context. His straightforward, empirical answer on robocalls was refreshing. According to the evidence, they don’t increase voter turnout. Nothing beats a visit from a volunteer at the door. If you are going to use a phonebank, have volunteers use a “chatty” script.
  • Shame  is an extremely effective tool for increasing voter turnout. One of my favourite examples that Issenberg described was when a group decided to send people their voter history (which elections they had and hadn’t voted in) and the voting history of their neighbours. Recipients were also informed that also this information was publicly available and that they would receive an updated voter history after the election. This increased voter turnout by 20%.
  • Another surprisingly effective psychological technique was getting people to talk through their plan of how they’ll vote. By asking people at what time they will vote, what they will be doing before they vote,  and how they will travel to the polling station (and other questions like these) the recipients of the call were more likely to vote. This was even more effective among voters who live alone (the caller served as a surrogate for a spouse or partner.)
  • Good horse race coverage needs a lot more self-doubt. Reporters should admit what they do not know. Here is a great piece by Sasha Issenberg on why political reporters should work on political campaigns (Why Campaign Reporters Are Behind the Curve). If any reporter wants to come door knocking, envelope stuffing or debate live-tweeting with me, they have an open invitation.
  • We need constant innovation in campaigns. Political professionals need to think empirically and look outside of politics for effective techniques. There are many useful lessons in Mr. Issenberg’s book but there are many large and important differences between the American and Canadian political systems.

Conservatives call Justin Trudeau to testify at the House Un-Canadian Activities Committee

Blaine Calkins (CPC – Wetaskiwin) and the 5 other government MPs have called for David McGuinty and Justin Trudeau to answer questions at the the House Natural Resources Committee. They want David McGuinty to speak because of a poorly phrased statement he made about politicians prioritizing the national interest about all else. The Conservatives want Trudeau to answer questions on a statement he made during an interview 2 years ago.

Part of me wants Trudeau to go to the committee. Yes, the Conservatives are wasting the Committee’s time and taxpayers’ dollars. Yes, they are doing so for crass political reasons. However, if he did show up and answer their questions with knowledge and resolve it would give him an opportunity to expose the Conservatives for their hyper-partisan nonsense. If he doesn’t go, that is also fair. The CPC’s shenanigans don’t deserve encouragement.

In the meantime, I have some questions for Blaine Calkins and his fellow caucus members: Justin Trudeau made his statement 2 years ago and has since apologized. Is this really worth wasting your time, Mr. Trudeau’s time and the time of your committee? You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

Lessons for the Liberals from the Calgary-Centre by-election

Harvey Locke ran a great campaign in Calgary-Centre taking a strong second place. and keeping the Conservatives under 40% in the so-called “Conservative heartland” is nothing to sneeze at. I am proud of the campaign the Liberals ran in all 3 by-elections yesterday.

However, I do fear that Liberals across Canada are taking the wrong lessons from the Calgary-Centre by-election. There are those who will argue (out of their own self-interest) that the Liberals lost in Calgary-Centre because of vote-splitting and the only answer is progressive cooperation.

Vote-splitting was not the problem and cooperation is not the answer.

First, allow me a brief digression on how we got here. The in-fighting and tales of structural deficiencies of the Liberal party are well documented. However, I tend to view the last 2 elections from a game theory perspective. We Liberals campaigned fiercely against the Conservatives. The Conservatives campaigned fiercely, and more effectively against us. The NDP campaigned against both and that helped them leapfrog the Liberal Party to become the officially opposition (there is obviously more to it, this is only an examination of the 2011 Federal Election through a game theory lens.)

The Liberal Party has been trying to fight a 1 front war when we are clearly dealing with 4 separate adversaries (the Conservatives, NDP, Greens and Bloc.) We cannot treat the Greens/NDP as if they are a pool of voters for us to take from and we can’t treat Conservative voters as if they are an unpersuaded monolith.

The Liberal Party has been far too lenient towards the Green Party. Not running a candidate against Elizabeth May in 2008 was a big mistake. In some ways, like being respectful of Ms. May in the House of Commons, we have done the right thing. However, the Green Party does not owe the Liberal Party a single thing. Just like the NDP, the Green Party will always put itself first, neither party actually wants to prioritize progressive issues.

The Calgary-Centre by-election was not a Liberal versus CPC competition, it was a Liberal vs CPC + Green one. The Green Party ran a negative campaign against both the Conservatives and the Liberals. If we ignore the negative campaign the Green Party ran in Calgary-Centre as we move forward, the Liberal Party is setting itself up for further loss.

On Chris Turner’s website there are 2 household lit pieces in PDF form. The first one is 3 pages, the majority of which is an anti-Liberal “Just visiting” style attack piece.

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The Liberal campaign focused on critiquing the Conservative candidate. I vehemently disagree with those who think that the Liberals lost because they “split the vote” with the Green candidate. The Liberals lost because they a) failed to persuade enough voters to switch from the CPC and b) didn’t take on the Green candidate with as much force as they went after Joan Crockatt.

The Liberal Party’s pragmatic and prudent policy positions can appeal to Conservative voters but if we write off that segment of the electorate before the campaign even begins, the Conservatives will only have to pick of a small segment of Liberal/NDP/Green/Undecided voters to win, as they did in Calgary-Centre.

The Conservative Party is not our friend. The NDP is not our friend. The Green Party is not our friend. The Liberal campaign in Calgary-Centre worked extremely hard and did a fantastic job.

Further reading:

A conversation between Micah Goldberg & Joseph Uranowski on: Progressive Cooperation

Why the Conservatives Love the “Strategic” Voting Sites

Canadian Values in 2012

From the Globe and Mail:

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I find it interesting that the Charter is so high but at the same time the Patriation of the Constitution is so low.

Vote Harvey Locke: The Progressive Choice for Calgary-Centre

Today (November 26th) is by-election day in the great riding of Calgary-Centre!

The Liberal campaign has been as exciting as it has been improbable and for the first time since 1968, Calgary-Centre might such send a Liberal to Ottawa. Though the moment began shifting from the CPC to the Liberals started in mid-November, the race first came to national attention when a Forum poll (November 20th)  had the CPC candidate Joan Crockatt at 35%, the Liberal candidate Harvey Locke at 30% and the Green Party at 25%. Many called that poll a fluke and noted that Forum had called the Alberta Provincial election for the Wild Rose (it should be noted that Forum was one of the only polling firms to correctly call the recent Kitchener-Waterloo provincial by-election.) The last poll of the campaign has Crockatt at 37%, Locke at 32% and the Greens at 17% (This poll shows the Liberals surging and was done by the firm that predicted Mayor Nenshi’s win.)

There are 3 keys factors that have led to a possible Liberal victory in the riding:

  • Harvey Locke is a great candidate: All of the Liberal candidates in 3 by-elections today (Victoria, Durham and Calgary-Centre) are strong candidates. Harvey Locke is a superb candidate and will do an excellent job representing Calgary-Centre in Ottawa. He has a long history with the riding and an impressive resume working as a photographer and conservationist . He was President of the Alberta Liberal Party, speaks English, French and Spanish. Harvey Locke is my kind of centrist Liberal and he is the only candidate transpartisan enough to effectively represent the people of Calgary-Centre.
  • Infighting between the Alberta PCs and Wild Rose: The Alberta provincial election earlier this year was divisive and hard fought by all sides. Calgary-Centre is where Premier Alison Redford lives, however Joan Crockatt endorsed the Wild Rose during the provincial election. The media was quick to focus on this by-election as a civil war on the right in Calgary-Centre.
    Harvey Locke received a warm welcome at the PC AGM, which just happened to be in Calgary Centre.  Crockatt didn’t dare make an appearance.  A photo of Harvey posing with Alison Redford at the event, with nary an inch of space between them, quickly spread throughout the Twittersphere, dispelling any misconception of a “united right” in the province.
  • Joan Crockatt is a divisive candidate who has performed poorly: Ms. Crockatt was editor of the Calgary HeraldShe presided over a prolonged and bitter strike at the Calgary Herald when she was editor there.  She avoided the first 3 debates and embarrassed herself at the 4th debate when she attacked the U.S. economy and accused the CBC (where she has appeared numerous times as a panalist) of showing pornography. Her Tea Party attitude towards the Obama administration is not reflected by the Canadian poulation (it seems like the only Canadians who wanted Romney to win are in Prime Minister Harper’s cabinet.) One of Joan Crockatt’s biggest slip-ups was skipping Mayor Nenshi forum’s forum on cities. Nenshi criticized the decision in the press and even tweeted a few of Locke’s criticisms of Crockatt during the forum. With Rob Anders next door, the people of Calgary-Centre have seen what happens when they rubber stamp a regressive conservative candidate who brings the wrong kind of attention to their city.

Though the Green Party campaign has been surprisingly negative in Calgary-Centre, I believe that it time for progressives to unite behind the fiscally prudent, socially progressive and environmentally responsible candidate. If you  or anyone you know live in Calgary-Centre please vote for Harvey Locke.

Here is a poll that shows that Mr. Locke is the only candidate who can galvanize the progressive vote and send a message to Stephen Harper.

Joyce Murray Will Be A Formidable Liberal Leadership Candidate

The cutoff date for candidates to enter the Federal Liberal Leadership race is fast approaching. So far, only 2 candidates are officially in the race (Justin Trudeau and Deborah Coyne.) The media coverage has been almost completely about Trudeau since he announced on October 2nd. The Liberal Party needs a vibrant, competitive leadership race for the health of the party. With Mr. Trudeau based in Quebec and Ms. Coyne being from Ontario, there is still room for at least one B.C. candidate (with both Marc Garneau* and Trudeau being from Quebec there will be a real opportunity to build a strong Liberal presence in la belle province once again.) Although Alex Burton and David Merner are both really intriguing candidates, I think that Joyce Murray will be a first-tier candidate able to compete with Garneau and Trudeau at the convention in April.

Here’s why:

  • Business Experience: Unlike Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair, Murray isn’t a career politician. In 1979, she co-founded “Brinkman and Associates Reforestation.” This company works  on reforestation and sustainability initiatives in British Columbia. It has expanded to Alberta, Ontario and Central America. The Liberal Party needs to have credibility on the economy and Ms. Murray’s business experience would go a long way on that front.
  • Government Experience: In the B.C. government Murray served as Minister of Water, Land, and Air Protection from 2001-2004**, and then as Minister of Management Services until June 2005. Her governing experience would be invaluable for the Liberal Party.
  • Environmental Credentials: As a former Minister and co-founder of a pro-environmental buisness Murray has solid environmental credentials. She has introduced 2 private members’ bills both of which were environmental policies. In June 2008, she put forward Bill C-572, which proposed exempting bicycles, bike accessories, repairs, and safety training from GST because she believes in sustainable transportation. This would be appealing in a lot of Canada’s urban centres. In December 2010, she introduced Bill C-606, an act to amend the Canada Shipping Act, banning oil tanker traffic on Canada’s Pacific North Coast.
  • The Liberal Party needs to build out West: Ms. Murray was able to win her seat and keep it during 2 elections that were particularly terrible for the Liberal Party.
  • Bilingual: Ms. Murray is fluently bilingual and has been doing interviews with Quebec’s French-language media as of late.
  • Clean break from the past: First elected in 2008, Ms. Murray (along with Garneau and Trudeau) would give the Liberal Party a break from the scandals that lead to the recent electoral defeats of the LPC.

I hope candidates seeking the Liberal Leadership declare sooner rather than later. Though Justin Trudeau is the prohibitive front-runner, I expect Ms. Murray will bring a lot to the race and give him a run for his money.

*In a speech to the Northumberland–Quinte West Federal Liberal Association Garneau outlined his 3 priorities “if” he decided to seek the liberal leadership. So it is safe to assume he’s in.

** Her nickname was “Minister of Earth, Wind and Fire.”

David Merner and the Conversation the Liberal Party Needs to Have

David Merner (left) and Alberta Liberal Party president Todd Van Vliet (right.)

It’s funny, I thought I would be running as a pro-business, pro-environment West-coast Liberal but it looks like I’ve become the ‘cooperation candidate.‘” That was former LPC(BC) President David Merner’s reaction when I told him that I had read Gloria Galloway’s article in the Globe and Mail and I had some questions for him about Liberal/NDP cooperation.

Mr. Merner held a meet-and-greet in Toronto at the Duke of York on Friday (it was the second of these type of events that I had attended in as many weeks.) With Jean Chrétien openly musing about the prospect of a LPC-NDP merger, David and I agreed that the party needs to talk openly about cooperation (though Merner, like myself is vehemently opposed to a merger) and we can’t be afraid of talking openly about so-called “Liberal sacred cows.*” If the Liberal Party doesn’t have a serious conversation on what I have termed “progressive cooperation,” there will be fissures within the party that may weaken us going in to the 2015 election. However, Nathan Cullen only received 24.6% of the vote on the 3 (and 2nd last) ballot at the NDP leadership convention back in March. The pair of candidates on the final ballot (Brian Topp and Thomas Mulcair) were two of the fiercest opponents of cooperation with the Liberal Party in the running to succeed Jack Layton.

When Merner talks about cooperation he focuses on reaching out to the Greens, red-tories and (a term he introduced me to that I now love) “conservation-conservatives.” As a Liberal campaigning in Victoria B.C., he realizes that in ridings in that area, and in places like Vancouver and Toronto, cooperation with the NDP (our main opponents) wouldn’t make sense. Merner’s approach to cooperation fits in well with the pragmatism that is a pillar of the modern Liberal party. “We should be about creating choices for Canadians not reducing choices.” Merner believes that any practical form of electoral cooperation must, like the debate on cooperation, come from the bottom up. He pointed to the deal between Stephane Dion and Elizabeth May not to run candidates in each-others’ respective ridings as a top down decision that had negative results. This pragmatic attitude was on display when I asked Merner about two of my top issues, cannabis legalization and high-speed rail. Merner supports legalization, calling prohibition a “waste of police resources” while pointing out how cannabis would be a cash crop in British Columbia. On high-speed rail he wasn’t afraid to disagree with me bluntly. We talked about the proposed Edmonton-Calgary and Quebec-Windsor lines. He compared commitments to building massive high-speed rail lines to previous Liberal governments failure to reach ambitious environmental goals. “We need to be the party of practical solutions to real problems.”

David Merner bristled at the fact that certain party officials have said that progressive cooperation is “not up for discussion.” I agree. As the third party we need to show that the Liberal Party’s approach is different than the NDP or CPC‘s. To do this the Liberal Party needs to produce and promote bold policies and we need a competitive leadership race where the candidates aren’t afraid to constructively criticize the party.

David Merner is an intelligent and engaging candidate. Let’s not close our minds to any of the candidates because the media interprets one of his or her positions narrowly or incorrectly.

* Real, substantive health care reform and realistic targets to reduce carbon emissions were two such “sacred cows” that we discussed at the Friday evening event.