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In defence of co-operation, a reply to the author of www.punditsguide.ca

After reading the “Pros and Cons of the Cullen Plan” blog post that can be found here, I wanted to write something of a rebuttal.

The author of the blog post took several issues with Nathan Cullen’s plan, the first being:

Suppose a local riding association decides not to field a candidate, or to endorse a candidate from another party. That decision could be overruled by headquarters, by having the leader appoint another candidate there instead. The party could even deregister the riding association (under s.403.2(2), though not during an election writ period), and then set up a new one to replace it.

Should the local NDP, Green, and Liberal riding associations decide to hold joint nominations with the Greens and Liberals, and the Liberal central campaign overrules their own riding association’s democratic will by appointing a candidate, how is that not a win for us? If the Liberals’ leadership decides to overrule the democratic will of their own members, then doing so may cause strife and hurt feelings amongst their membership and voter base. As unfortunate as that is for the Liberals, we can make hay with that all election long.

The next issue with the Nathan Cullen plan was as follows:

Here’s another problem: we often use the term “riding association” to mean two different things. Sometimes we mean all the party members who live in that riding and/or are members of that riding association (only members actually living in the riding may vote on who that riding’s candidate should be). Other times we mean the members of the riding association executive or board of directors.

But which body should have the right to enter into such an agreement with other parties and/or their riding associations? The riding board, or the riding membership? That would be governed by the riding association’s constitution and by-laws, and presumably those of the party as well.

This is a classic straw man argument that is easily solved by suggesting the following principle: When implementing the co-operation principle, local riding associations strive to uphold the strongest democratic principles. In any other action that a riding association undertakes, we expect them to uphold the strongest democratic principles, so why should we expect the riding association to behave differently when discussing this proposal?

Perhaps the author of the blog post has difficulties understanding how this policy could play out in practice, in which case, I can indulge them. At a meeting of the riding association, in a conservative held riding, an interested member brings this proposal forward. The executive does a straw poll, and finds that about 35% of the executive is in favor, 45% feels opposed, and about 20% haven’t yet formed an opinion on the matter. At this point a member suggests contacting the Liberal and Green party riding associations to see if they are willing to participate in this process. The riding association finds that the Liberals and/or Greens are in favor of joint nominations. 

Once the riding association decides that the idea has enough merit, and that they would have at least one of either the Liberal or Green party – or both – as a willing partner, the riding association would schedule a general membership meeting where it can be put forth to the members in the area. At that point they pick a date, publicise the meeting, and members can split into groups who are pro- or anti- the motion and go sell memberships or try to recruit active members to support their position. Assuming the idea was approved of by the party membership of all of the parties, the executive could negotiate with the other parties how to move forward from there.

The next problem that the author of the blog post had with Nathan Cullen’s co-operation policy was:

What if all the parties and all their governing bodies agreed on the general principle, but disagreed as to whether the tactic would work in a given riding?

I am not sure of the meaning of this question, so I will answer it thus.
If the question is: “What happens when everyone agrees that they will implement the policy, and the membership of all the parties support the policy, but what if they disagree if it would work.”

Then, to be frank, in every election I’ve ever been a part of the NDP, Liberals, and Greens have run candidates in an attempt to unseat a Conservative, and not every activist in every party agreed that it was the best tactic to implement. In fact, many mainstream political pundits have bemoaned the fact that we are running candidates against each other, and our own activists often acknowledge that in many ridings the Green vote total is larger than the difference between the Conservative’s margin of victory. Is absolute certainty of success the test we are holding ourselves to, despite the fact that none of us are certain that the status quo will achieve a better outcome?

If the question is: “What happens when all the various riding associations agree that the parties should co-operate as a general principle, but the NDP riding association members do not endorse the tactic for in their particular riding?”

Then, if the membership is favorable to co-operating, but votes against the idea for tactical reasons, then the membership has voted the idea… Obviously, if the membership votes against the idea, the executive would not implement it.

The next problem that the author of the blog post has with the idea is:

Now, how do you ensure it’s a fair contest? Let’s say we accept that each party’s run-off candidate will have already passed that party’s vetting and eligibility requirements, a membership eligibility cut-off date for that party’s nomination process would have been set, the membership list was agreed upon, the various candidates for the nomination within each party gained access to that list, they conducted a campaign, identified their supporters, and got them out to the first meeting to vote.

Now you have three duly-selected candidates, one from each of the 3 so-called progressive federalist parties, entering into a new race. Who sets the rules for that race? Who governs it? Do each of the riding associations give their membership lists to the other parties’ candidates so that they can conduct a proper campaign? (ding, ding, ding: big privacy bells should be going off here) Were their membership eligibility cut-off dates co-ordinated with one another? Or would new membership sales be allowed? If a person was a member of two different parties, could he or she vote twice? Would it be fair if the membership fee in each party was different? Is there a spending limit? What about a requirement to file a meeting report, or candidate financial returns with Elections Canada?

First and most obviously, no one is suggesting that some members could vote twice at joint nomination meetings. To put such an obviously absurd statement forward as a serious point of contention with the policy makes me doubt the author’s intentions when writing the piece.

My honest reply to the above concerns is this: Do you have faith in yourself and the other members of your riding association to think critically, speak intelligently on matters that affect you, and come to reasonable decisions? If the answer to that question is yes, then you have nothing to worry about. If, however, the answer is no, then you should be concerned regardless of whether you favor the co-operation policy or not.

All of the above points of contention can easily, fairly, and effectively be dealt with between the riding association executives. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that either your riding association are unintelligent people who will get swindled by the other parties (in which case you are in serious trouble if you wish to run a candidate against the other parties in a general election anyway), or that the riding association members from the other parties are so corrupt and evil that they will attempt to sabotage the system. The question becomes, do you have faith in your neighbors? Can you look at them as intelligent, honest people who want to unseat the Conservative incumbent as much as you do? Are you willing to put aside your differences long enough to put Steven Harper out of power?

The author of the blog post goes on to raise this objection:

Here’s still another problem: given that we will have a redistribution between now and the next election, and that the boundaries won’t be known until 12-18 months before the next election, many riding associations will have to be re-organized along the new boundaries, and thus will be undergoing a lot of governance changes themselves during the same period nominations are to take place.

Yes, seat redistribution will happen between now and the next election. Yes, riding association boundaries will change. Riding associations will have to take into consideration what polls are still in that riding, which polls have moved out of the riding, and which polls have been added to the riding when making their decisions. However this is nothing new, certainly redistributions have happened before, and even when they don’t, neighborhoods go thru processes of rejuvenation and decay. People move into neighborhoods, new condos are built, and people move out all the time. In every election, every EPC needs to take into account what changes have happened in the area, and how those changes will impact the demographics and values of the people who are currently living in the riding.

Put another way, do you have faith in the people you are working with to trust them with these decisions?

The author of the blog post goes on to say:

[you have to trust] that none of the candidates who had already waged nomination contests to win their own party’s entry into the joint nomination race decide after losing the joint nomination to either (i) appeal to the party to appoint them as a candidate regardless, (ii) run for another party that was not part of the joint nomination process (hello Canadian Action Party, Unity Party, Progressive Canadian Party, etc., etc.), or (iii) run as a serious independent

Obviously, this is another situation where we have a serious PR win on our hands. If a Liberal Candidate is willing to be nominated by their peers with the understanding that they will be subject to the joint nomination process, then loses and decides to run as an independent or as a candidate for a smaller party? We can only hope that this happens across the country! We would be competing against them had we not had joint nominations process, but in this situation they would have publicly blown their credibility out of the water prior to the election. I do not see how this is a serious objection.

The author suggests that the following is also a pitfall:

[You have to trust] that none of the party leaderships decide they can’t live with the outcome, and appoint another candidate instead

This objection is, in fact, the first objection that the author put forward, at the beginning of the article. Given that I’ve already dealt with it, I will move on to the next objection:

[You have to trust] that the party whose candidate won the joint nomination can properly fund that campaign, because under s.404.2(2.2) of the Elections Act only that party’s riding association or headquarters could transfer funds into that candidate’s campaign, not other parties or riding associations. And no riding association may incur advertising expenses during the writ period, only candidates or national parties. Presumably in the pre-writ period, other participating parties’ riding associations could spend some money advertising their support of the outcome.

If a party is organized enough to win a joint nomination, which is effectively a run-off election, then it should be understood that that party is likely stronger and more organized than the other parties competing with it in the joint nomination. If your team cannot win a nomination, you’re probably not the strongest team.

The author then states that:

Now, certain local kamikaze candidates could go rogue, I suppose, by accepting their party’s endorsement and getting duly nominated with the Returning Office, but then withdrawing from the ballot after the deadline for the party to replace them, if they really wanted to support a common candidate but couldn’t get their own party headquarter’s buy-in.

This kind of thing currently happens under the current system. In fact, in the last election an NDP candidate named Ryan Dolby in the southwestern Ontario riding of Elgin-Middlesex-London pulled out of the election and thru his support behind the Liberal candidate in an attempt to defeat a Conservative. This decision is was sad on a number of levels, as it denied the NDP members in the riding a chance to vote for the candidate of their choice, but it also denied them any input on how the decision was made.

Nathan Cullen’s plan is completely different in that it puts the decision making power directly into the members hands. When a candidate is in an election, they would know that the members chose to compete against a Liberal, even if that competition is a “fly the flag” campaign. Under the current system, there is no direction from the membership in the area as to what their will is.

Ultimately this is not a criticism of one policy or another, as it can happen in either circumstance. However, under Nathan Cullen’s policy the membership can make their interests known, which is certainly better.

The author of the blog post has a few more objections, the next one being:

would it actually even work, or would enough orphaned voters switch to the Conservatives or stay home if their preferred choice was not on the ballot?

Considering it’s never been attempted in Canada, perhaps it’s time to find out. His next objection is:

is it democratic or politically wise to be advocating the elimination of political choice for the public by a small group of political activists.

This is an interesting question. The current system denies political choice to our riding associations as a matter of course, that is, the option to co-operate with one or more of the other political parties. By doing so it allows the non-aligned public a chance to vote for the candidate of their choice who happens to have a major party backing them. I’m sure we all understand that the financial and other practical realities of FPTP preclude non-aligned members of the public from voting for the party we actually want to support (the Pirate Party, the Canadian Action Party, The CPC-ML, etc). FPTP is a broken system that limits choice, this is a proposal meant to break the logjam that FPTP created.

What we do know is this:  voters like co-operation.  The NDP has built it’s brand on this principle, and has had great success when expressing a willingness to renounce politics as usual and work co-operatively for the good of Canadians.  In 2005, we had the opportunity to defeat the government, but we did a budget with the Liberals instead.   We did better in the next election.  In 2008, we tried to form a coalition government.   In the next election we had a historic breakthrough.  

It’s interesting to watch our messaging in that time.   Here’s a sampling of the ads and other public messenging that we were running in an attempt to brand ourselves as we attempted to define ourselves as a party of negotiators, willing to with the other parties for the good of all Canadians.

  • Dogs.  This ad was a critique of politics as usual.
  • Hamsters.  Another ad aimed at positioning our willingness to do politics differently against the other parties who were either opposed to co-operation or distancing  themselves from it.
  • What is Canadian Leadership? This ad features Jack Layton saying “we’ve got to put the partisan games aside and work together to get things done”
  • Jack Layton speaking at the Coalition for Change rally. At this rally Jack Layton said “people want a new kind of politics here, they want parties working together” 
  • Where do We Start? This ad features Jack Layton saying “Canadians want someone they trust, someone who will work with others on things that matter”

These ads, together with the “Fix Ottawa” and “Travaillons Ensemble” ads and lawn signs built the NDP brand.  It created an image of the NDP as a party that is willing to work with our opposition and negotiate deals for the good of Canada. 

When the author of the blog asks if it is politically wise to co-operate with other parties, we have to answer that question in the context of the breakthrough we had  in the last election.  When doing so, we are wise to remember how we built the NDP brand.  We need to remember what we were proposing to the citizens of this country, and what they were saying yes to when they voted for our party. 

The next objection that the author put forth is:

could the NDP then run as effectively as one of the two main choices in the “consideration set” of the general election (a term coined by Innovative Research’s Greg Lyle to describe the process by which consumer choice is whittled down to two viable choices, and drawing parallels to voting behaviour), if it was at the same time enabling the election of one of its non-“consideration set” competitors.

This objection betrays a very strange assumption: that across a country as vast as Canada, there are two parties that are uniformly seen as the two main choices. In different parts of the country, different parties have different support bases. It’s true that in Saskatoon, the NDP and the Conservatives run neck and neck, and are seen as the two main choices in the consideration set. This hasn’t changed in the past 20 years.

However, I would suggest that just a few hours away, in a Regina riding called Wascana, the political reality is quite different. This is to say that the assumption that the objection is based on, that two parties run campaigns and the other parties are also-rans, is flawed. The reality of politics in Canada is more complex than that.

The next objection that the author of the blog post raised is:

tactically, what criteria would be applied for deciding whether a joint nomination would achieve the intended result or not in a riding with newly formed boundaries.

Seat redistribution was already brought up as a potential problem in the blog, but the author either forgot that they already raised this issue, or felt that they should bring it up again. As I have already dealt with this issue, and it’s getting late, I’ll move on. The next objection they raised is:

what is the cost-benefit analysis of foregoing the opportunity to build in that riding next time, foregoing the room under the national spending ceiling (which is affected by how many candidates a party runs in an election), and foregoing the rebate, organizational opportunities and other team-building in a riding association that result from waging a local campaign, even if it doesn’t win, as against the probability of being able to defeat the incumbent in a riding.

This is perhaps the most legitimate point that the author of the article has made, and it is surely something that the members of each riding association who is debating this policy would have to consider. I repeat, we should have faith in our people to make strong decisions.

In conclusion:

Should we grant ourselves the freedom to have difficult conversations, or should we continue the status quo, regardless of the member’s feelings or the circumstances on the ground in those ridings? Do we trust each other enough to make important decisions together? Do we trust ourselves enough to put down our feuds with our neighbors and work together? Can we bring ourselves to look at Liberal and Green party activists as valid, respectful, intelligent people with valid input, beliefs, and ideas?

This proposal challenges us to move beyond demonizing our opponents, and it asks them to do the same. We can have a more respectful politics. When politics is dominated by the ever present need to score points instead of making points, the process suffers and we all lose.

The co-operation policy encourages more participation by people on the ground, which will engage more people to become involved members of political parties. More involvement from ordinary citizens in the working of their political processes is a good thing. More citizen engagement is a good thing.

This proposal encourages and empowers members at the riding level. Democracy is strengthened when we empower grassroots citizens to get involved and make the decisions that impact them. We should not be afraid to have difficult conversations with each other, nor should we be afraid to work together.

I have more faith in our collective intelligence and political acumen than the author of the article, it seems. But what’s important here is the conversation we are having together. What do you think?

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Reading the Leaves: we will recover from this

I spent the past 5 weeks working as a door-to-door canvasser with the David Forbes campaign, 11 hours a day, 6 days a week. I was also able to donate a few days towards helping Peter Prebble. As such, I had discussions with thousands of ordinary people throughout this time. In the past I have worked on many different campaigns, both provincial and federal, and I have 13 years of experience working among volunteer and activist organizations.

As the provincial election drew to a close I wanted to get my thoughts on paper in an attempt to process the experience and perhaps help others to analyze what happened, what worked well, what can be improved upon, and where we can go from here as a party and as a progressive movement.

The reflections that follow are my thoughts only. I do not want this to be perceived as an attack, but rather I offer them in the spirit of constructive criticism, with the hope that they prompt dialogue and discussion within the party.

Most of what will follow will be written in a series of notes. Part one will discuss organizational deficiencies of the SNDP and what we can do to address them. Part two will look at the strategy employed by the party in this past election and where that strategy went wrong. In both parts I will highlight success stories that should not be forgotten or overlooked as we move forward.

As I live in Saskatoon, and have very little contact with people from other communities, my thoughts will probably reflect a Saskatoon bias or myopia.

Thank you for reading. Your comments and criticism will be very much appreciated.

I. logistical and structural strengths and weaknesses

During the last few leadership campaigns youth rallied behind candidates such as Nettie Wiebe and Ryan Meili. This energy has largely been squandered after those candidates were defeated and their people were largely isolated from the party. Further, many of my associates and friends have long had a love-hate relationship with the party. We enthusiastically jump on board during an election or leadership campaign, only to get burned out and alienated from the party. Then we take months or years off from working with the party, only to be asked (begged) back in the lead up to another election. This could largely be a coincidence of demographics, personality, and ambition, as the party has been, and continues to be, dominated by the baby boomer generation.

The party could benefit from some serious changes in our organizing structure, practices, and culture. The party needs a mechanism for developing and embracing young talent. The SYNDP is great, but it suffers from the obvious flaw inherent in an organization that limits it’s membership to people 25 years of age and younger. The party has no mechanism for developing and mentoring people once they are 25 years old. We need a better, more stable, and more methodical way to bring youth into the party. We need to approach youth to not just fill roles on our campaigns, but to serve on executives, run for local office (school board, co-op boards, credit union boards, and the like), and take jobs that would further their development (at our various universities, with CBOs, in MLA’s offices, at the SFL, etc) and we need to communicate clearly with the youth that these are natural career moves that will develop their skill set while also positioning them for more central roles in the movement. This must be a formalized process, leaving it to chance hasn’t worked well in the past several years.

Many people aged 25-35 feel that we’re not quite ready to take a more central role in the party (or perhaps more accurately, don’t feel like the party is quite ready for us to take a more central role in it!). As such, we need to create a safe space for us to communicate, network, organize, and claim that role. I would like to see a gathering of “young adults”, ages 25-35, in each major centre, perhaps monthly, for the purpose of networking, organizing, analysis, and mentorship. This group could maintain campaigns on important issues between elections, fundraise, and host rallies, town hall meetings, and the like.

Obviously, with the major losses from this election, the SNDP will be losing a lot of it’s budget. As a result, many of these changes will necessarily have to be done on a volunteer basis. If there was a mechanism that the party could use to facilitate and encourage such an organization – a formalized relationship perhaps, like the YNDP enjoys – I would encourage the party to embrace a change along these lines.

The party needs to come to grips with the fact that it is no longer 1997. It amazes me that the party is so far behind the times in terms of adopting technology. For instance, the SNDP has a website that talks about why people should become members, what rights they have in the party once they become members, but there is no way to buy a membership online! Does the party honestly think that someone will read the website, call an office, then attempt to meet a member in person and buy a membership with a greenie? Why can’t you just buy them online? Several national leadership candidates have websites that allow you to buy memberships online, as does the federal party, and both the Manitoba and Alberta NDP parties. Why don’t we?

The party’s website is far from the only place where current technology is being underutilized. The party also needs to have a media person in each city to be at all NDP press engagements to record them, to be at all SK PARTY press engagements to record them, and to be at all community events, town hall meetings, speeches, and forums where our NDP MLAs are attending, and record them. After getting these videos, we can post them on YouTube, enabling us to spread the videos that are particularly strong via Facebook.

As a party, we need to organize conversations with E-Day co-ordinators about how we can use technology to facilitate and simplify E-Day. Perhaps we can use Ipads to remove the need to get the vote lists from the inside scrutineers? Perhaps we can have our database stored in the cloud so the inside scrutineer can update the list on an Ipad and the person pulling the vote door-to-door can receive that update instantly via a VPN connection? Why do we still send people to pull vote with two hour old lists in this day and age?

Furthermore, we must also implement simple ways to save time on the campaign, such as sending text messages and emails to people on E-Day and on the day the advance polls open. Why doesn’t the voter contact database have a spot to enter and collect cell phone numbers and email addresses so we can access them easily? Why couldn’t we input these so we can simply email and text people about advance polls and E-Day? Wouldn’t it be useful to be able to pull up a list of our supporters by email address or cell phone number for this purpose?

As a party, we need to co-ordinate post-election analysis meetings where we can have the kind of discussion I am hoping to foster by writing this article. There are so many conversations that the party needs to have, and they do not seem to be happening. A forum such as this, supported by the party, could be a tremendous asset.

I do not want to end this section without discussing a part of the campaign that was a tremendous success: SEIU’s “I am a health care voter” campaign. My deepest respect goes out to the SEIU leadership and membership. I didn’t honestly think that a union could still organize an election campaign for it’s members as well as you organized this year. You have set the standard that all unions should strive for moving forward. As a canvasser for the entire election, I talked to thousands of people. As soon as I talked to an SEIU member, it was clear they were voting NDP… they were often volunteering and donating as well. Contrasting this response to what I heard from members of other unions, including my own, it’s clear that the SEIU did an amazing job communicating and engaging their membership.

Can you bottle that? The rest of the labour movement needs you to analyze what you did, why it was so effective, and put it together into a program that you can share with other unions. If your organizers can develop trainings, tools, workshops, and seminars that can be spread to other unions, that would help us all be more effective at engaging, energizing and utilizing their membership. The tremendous job you have done in the last year should be a springboard to better campaigns in the future.

My brothers and sisters in the labour movement, please look at their campaign. What can you learn from the SEIU’s success, and how effectively can you put it into practice? With the Saskatchewan party directing their opening shots at you mere hours after forming government, how you answer this question may be central to your future, and the future of our province.

II. strategizing for success, or failure

Negative advertising is a term that needs to be unpacked. While few would argue that the Saskatchewan Party (hereon called SKP) revelled in negative advertising aimed at Dwain Lingenfelter, most Dippers say that the federal party under Jack Layton didn’t use negative advertising in the last federal election. And fewer still would admit to liking negative advertising.

Our party’s history of negative advertising, against Brad Wall and Elwin Hermanson, is interesting. Few will argue that the “painted car” ad and the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” ad were largely unsuccessful. In fact, they backfired. Like the infamous “Jean Chretien’s face ad” that Kim Campbell’s PC party once ran, they were horrendous busts. This, however, doesn’t invalidate the effectiveness of negative ads, but rather they serve as evidence that poorly conceived and poorly executed ads are ineffective.

Pundits everywhere will tell you, without hesitation, that negative advertising works. Given the past Conservative campaigns against Stephane Dion, Michael Ignatieff, and the recent SKP campaign against our own Dwain Lingenfelter, it is difficult to argue that negative advertizing is ineffective.

Let’s back up a bit and discuss the tactics at play behind this advertising, then revisit these ads. Saul Alinsky describes tactics in his book Rules for Radicals, in which he describes rules for picking effective tactics. The three rules that are pertinent to this discussion are:
– make your enemy live up to their own book of rules
– a good tactic is one your people enjoy
– ridicule is your best and most potent weapon

Clearly, when the SKP ran ads saying we “say one thing but do another”, they are attempting to make us live up to our own standards. This is a highly effective route to take, especially with Link as our leader, and his history. We could have done the same thing, holding the SKP to account for their stances on the Crowns, their Sask-First policies, and their history of privatization and contracting services out. But we did not.

It seems that there is no mood for SKP style negative attack ads – such as the car ad or the sheep ad – in today’s NDP. I would argue that the SKP, and their supporters, enjoy and embrace these negative ads. I think that this speaks to the conflict of values between supporters of the two parties. This explains why the provincial party went to great lengths to avoid campaigning negative this election, even to the point where they wouldn’t advertise the holes in the SKP record in power, or scandals they were involved in during their time in office (hello there, Rob Norris!). The SNDP was worried that they would offend their support base by going negative, which they had heard powerfully and directly from their membership following the disastrous negative ads in previous campaigns.

In ridicule we see a way forward. Who among us doesn’t enjoy The Daily Show, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, and the Rick Mercer Report? Lefties love satire and ridicule, when properly done. We enjoy it when the absurdities of the right wing positions and ideology are exposed to humorous effect.

And we enjoy humorous ads that employ this tactic. Witness the “chiens” ad or the “hamster” ad that the federal party ran in Quebec during the last federal election. These were negative ads, designed to ridicule the two front-running parties. They were a smashing success. Another great example would be the Federal Liberal ad called “hey Stephen Harper, stop creeping me on Facebook”. I doubt that anyone in the SNDP would argue that these ads are too negative.

The “not so great moment” ads that the federal NDP ran in the last federal election are another example of ads designed to hold the other parties to their own rule book, and thus are negative ads in a sense. However, the party struck the right balance between playful optimism and careful scrutiny. These ads are light, amusing, and effective. And we, the Dipper community, enjoyed them.

That the SNDP ignored this, on the basis that it’s membership (us) had told it for years to avoid negative advertising, is unfortunate. We need to accept that not all negative ads have to be filled with greyed out images, sinister music, and character assassination. We need to learn to use humour, ridicule, and positivity in our ads. We must be critical of our opponents, their platform, and their record. We cannot let them campaign without being held to account for their record or comments (hello Greg Ottenbreit!) because we are afraid of offending our base. We cannot run a campaign in fear, for fear of running a campaign of fear.

The SKP’s ads effectively turned the election into a referendum on Dwain Lingenfelter’s leadership. We should have seen this coming, as the federal conservatives have been doing this for ten years now, and Link was a giant neon target for this kind of campaign. The SKP effectively asked the electorate a question that had only one answer: do you dislike Link? As a result each of our candidates was running, in effect, against Brad Wall. We needed a clear and articulate response to this, and if we had one, I didn’t see evidence of it.

We should have had a plan (and perhaps a few back up plans) to direct focus back onto the issues, and this should have been communicated directly to the local campaign teams clearly and repeatedly throughout the lead up to the election, and directly (perhaps weekly) during the campaign. I do not know if this happened, but if it did happen, I didn’t hear anything about it.

The often used redirect when running a campaign with a weak leader is to focus on a team’s bench strength, and point out the weaknesses in the other team’s bench strength. This would have been the most obvious campaign to run, given that the Sask Party’s team were either Name-On-Paper neophytes (david cooper), under-performing ministers (rob norris), gaff prone incompetents (bill hutchinson) or big-name but experience deprived people (a certain football player comes to mind).

We entered this campaign in a situation that was remarkably similar to the situation faced by the Paul Martin Liberals. After being dubbed Mr. Dithers by the press, and facing a strong opposition in a united Conservative party, the Liberals decided that their major advantage stemmed from having much deeper reservoir of talent than their opponents. To highlight that team strength, the Liberals had high profile cabinet ministers announce major platform pieces. They had the deputy leader and the finance minister go on leadership style tours independent of the party leader. They had rallies where the past party leaders would give speeches to the crowd and answer questions from the media.

In this last election we had a situation where the SKP has only formed government for 4 of the past 16 years. We could have contrasted our bench strength against their campaign – which seemed to consist of taking people’s attention AWAY from the local candidate, while insulating the local candidates from the electorate – as a way to direct people’s attention back onto the local races. This would have taken the focus off of Link, shifted it to the people who have been cabinet ministers, and have had many, many years in government. We should have brought out Roy Romanow or Lorne Calvert to speak at rallies. This approach blunts the single leadership issue that we were beaten by.

To it’s credit, the party did use a David McGuinty-esque “I’m unpopular, but vote for us anyway” ad late in the campaign. However, this was simply too little, too late. We knew this pummelling was coming, the Sask party started in on Link from the moment he declared his candidacy. We should have had a plan laid out months, hell even years before the election was called.

An interesting thing happened in this campaign, that I want to draw attention to. The Green party beat the Liberals in all the Saskatoon ridings, except Saskatoon Greystone (follow the link, click on the map of Saskatoon, then scroll over the constituencies).  This interests me, given that Saskatoon Greystone had a specific approach to turning Green voters away from the Green party and towards their candidate, Peter Prebble.

Canvassers were given letter entitled “dear Green Party supporter” that Peter had written. Whenever they encountered a Green Party supporter, a canvasser would say something to the effect of “Peter shares your concern about the environment and deeply respects your decision to vote for the Green Party, however, he wants you to know that he has worked on this issue in depth for years.” Then you give the letter to the Green Party supporter and say “This riding is a very tight riding, in fact during the last election, 250 votes decided the winner. Given that it is such a tight race here, your vote could be instrumental in helping elect Peter Prebble, a tireless supporter of the environment. Here is a letter that he asked me to give you, please do consider voting for Peter.”

Peter Prebble is a candidate that is uniquely positioned to use this technique, given his deep interest and history in environmental activism. However, this pitch could be generalized and used in many more ridings. This needs more study, obviously, but it does show that we as a party can possibly suppress the Green vote by taking their concerns seriously and having a targeted message ready.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Please do continue the conversation in your city and amongst your constituency associations and EPCs. It is through careful analysis of our work that we become stronger. I hope that this spurs conversations that can help us move forward. Please write me with your comments.

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