Category Archives: Canadian Politics

Stephen Harper’s 1st By-Election Loss

labrador By-elections to the 41st Canadian Parliament - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia There have been 21 federal by-elections since Stephen Harper became Prime Minister of Canada.* Of those 21, the Conservatives held 4 (Labrador, Durham, Calgary Centre and Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette.) Of those 4 by-elections 3 took place since the 2011 federal election.

Even without a permanent leader the Liberals made big gains in the Calgary-Centre by-election. However, until May 13th, Stephen Harper’s party had won all of the by-elections they contested in ridings the Conservatives previously held (they also made gains in several other by-elections.) The Labrador by-election seems like it will be quickly forgotten with the various Senate-related scandals that have engulfed the PMO but it may be an important historical marker down the road.

Congratulations and “You go girl!” to Yvonne Jones for showing that Justin Trudeau-style hope and hard work can win against Stephen Harper/Peter Penashue-style cynicism.

*Repentigny, London North Centre, Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, Outremont, Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, Vancouver Quadra, Willowdale, Toronto Centre, New Westminster—Coquitlam, Montmagny—L’Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, Hochelaga,Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, Winnipeg North, Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, Vaughan, Toronto—Danforth, Calgary Centre, Durham, Victoria and Labrador.

Thank you Minister Bentley

Just under a year ago I was co-presenting with Theresa Lubowitz at the LPC(O) AGM. Our presentation was on social media and politics but we put a large emphasis on how both of us actually got involved in politics.

After one of our panels finished I was approached by a tall, mild-mannered man who introduced himself, Chris Bentley was his name. His questions were thoughtful. My answers are a blur in my head, I was already a fan of the Minister and I didn’t think he needed to learn anything on the social media front.

A few weeks later, Minister Bentley gave an engaging speech at the Ontario Young Liberals’ AGM. Almost everyone in attendance was focused on the 2 slates battling in the OYL Executive Election, but I knew this would be worth my full attention. The Minister talked about the fantastic record of the Ontario Liberal government and the need to get more engineers, mathematicians and scientists involved in politics. Though Chris Bentley is an accomplished lawyer himself, he stressed that evidence-based policy needs experts not just acting as policy advisers but helping to write policy (which the OLP has with a diverse caucus from many different fields.)

I have learned a lot from Minister Bentley over the last few months. He has given a lot to the people of Ontario. His hard work and attention to his constituents is a model for public servants at all levels of government.

Thank you Minister Bentley.

(Here I am giving Minister Bentley a cupcake that I baked, at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.)

Kathleen Wynne’s Speech & Some Thoughts on the 2013 OLP Leadership Convention

I want to put something on the table: Is Ontario ready for a gay premier? You’ve heard that question. You’ve all heard that question but let’s say what that actually means: Can a gay woman win? That’s what it means. So, not surprisingly, I have an answer to that question. When I ran in 2003, I was told that the people of North Toronto and the people of Thorncliffe Park weren’t ready to elect a gay woman. Well, apparently they were.

You know, there was a time, not that long ago when most of us in this leadership race would have been deemed unsuitable. We would have been deemed unsuitable. A Portugese-Canadian, an Indo-Canadian, an Italian-Canadian, female, gay, Catholic. Most of us could not have hoped to stand on this stage, but the province has changed. Our party has changed.

I don’t believe the people of Ontario judge their leaders on the basis of race, sexual orientation, colour or religion. I don’t believe they hold that prejudice in their hearts. They judge us, on our merits. On our abilities, on our expertise, on our ideas. Because that is the way everyone deserves to be judged. That is how we want our children, our grandchildren, our nieces and nephews to be judged. All of us want to be judged on those things. So, when it is time for me to take us into the next general election, I will do it on the basis of our merits. I will do it on the basis of our success.”

– Kathleen Wynne

Some thoughts on the Ontario Liberal leadership convention:

I attended the OLP convention as a neutral observer (though my father was a delegate for Kathleen Wynne.)

joseph and andrew olpldr

The energy from each of the delegations was really refreshing. I was on the floor for a good portion of the convention. During Dr. Hoskins’ speech the whole room seemed to explode when he said the following:

“As Liberals we’ve got a lot to be proud of but now it’s time to write the next chapter for our future under our new leader, whoever she may be!”

The Ontario Women Liberals’ Commission was giving out buttons at the beginning of the convention with the same sentiment:

congratulations madame premier

This was my first leadership convention ever. I engaged in and overheard many conversations about how this was probably the last delegated convention in Canadian political history. Yes, it was an exciting convention. Yes, the convention’s structure helped an underdog with a well-run campaign, Wynne, to become Premier. We all learned that a great speech can help win an election. It was also confirmed, once again the fact that good political organization matched with what Wilfrid Laurier called “the sunny way” is a powerful political combination.

joseph convention floor

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

issenberg samara

I have been a fan of Sasha Issenberg for a while now, reading his articles on, 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.


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


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?

The Scorpion and the Tortoise.

Based on the story from Aesop’s fables. Told by David Rakoff on “This American Life.”

The scorpion was hamstrung, his tail all aquiver, just how would he manage to get cross the river? The water’s so deep, he observed with a sigh, which pricked at the ears of the tortoise nearby.

Well, why don’t you swim, asked the slow-moving fellow. Unless you’re afraid, I mean, what are you, yellow?

It isn’t a matter of fear or of whim, said the scorpion, but that I don’t know how to swim.

Ah, forgive me, I didn’t mean to be glib when I said that. I figured you were an amphibian.

No offense taken, the scorpion replied. But how bout you help me to reach the far side? You swim like a dream and you have what I lack. Let’s say you take me across on your back.

I’m really not sure that’s the best thing to do, said the tortoise, now that I see that it’s you. You’ve a less than ideal reputation preceding. There’s talk of your victims all poisoned and bleeding. You’re the scorpion, and how can I say this, but well, I just don’t feel safe with you riding my shell.

The scorpion replied, what would killing you prove? We’d both drown. So tell me, how would that behoove me to basically die at my very own hand, when all I desire is to be on dry land?

The tortoise considered the scorpion’s defense. When he gave it some thought, it made perfect sense. The niggling voice in his mind he ignored, and he swam to the bank and called out, climb aboard.

But just a few moments from when they set sail, the scorpion lashed out with his venomous tail. The tortoise, too late, understood that he’d blundered when he felt his flesh stabbed and his carapace sundered. As he fought for his life he said, tell me why you have done this for now we will surely both die?

I don’t know, cried the scorpion. You never should trust a creature like me because poison I must. I’d claim some remorse or at least some compunction, but I just can’t help it, my form is my function. You thought I’d behave like my cousin the crab, but unlike him it is but my nature to stab.

The tortoise expired with one final quiver, and then both of them sank, swallowed up by the river.

The tortoise was wrong to ignore all his doubts, because in the end, friends, our natures will out.

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.


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