I recently read a Gauntlet post... which made some good points about organization in Alberta. I think the "microcosm" of Alberta highlights a need for organization that speaks to the party across Canada. Alberta may be a bit of an extreme (nay - more like smashing our collective skulls up against a brick wall), but the challenge there is actually a really good "proving ground" for organizational and fund-raising ideas.
After living in AB for years (before moving out here to BC) I completely hear what the "Gauntlet" post was saying. I do, however, think there is benefit to campaigning ahead of leadership continuance - even if it is just for the $1.90/vote (or whatever it amounts to). I think we need to keep batting our heads up against a brick wall in Alberta so we can have a shot at at least a couple of ridings.
Let's talk about the "ducks" first (your volunteers)...
To be honest, knowing AB, I know that EVERYONE thinks their riding is "winnable". Heck, people even think they can unseat Rob Anders in CALGARY (go figure)! I think the Alberta strategy should be a Candidate in every riding, BUT volunteer-focused, with a particular focus on 2-4 city ridings (Calgary Northeast, Edmonton Strathcona, Millwoods, etc.) and focus not just the local resources, but the resources of the entire AB team. I mean that we need to stop wasting time "searching" for candidates in un-winnable ridings, and start diverting workers to these "focus" ridings. We can simply plug in riding exec volunteers in name only as the candidates in other ridings. If someone else feels like running in the "tougher" seats, by all means have them a nomination meeting (and bring in their own new volunteers), but for NOW, all campaign workers focus on these couple of tougher ridings. Also, highly visible offices in the ridings, overblown sign campaign (sign early, sign often), targeted ads in community papers, skating rinks, public buildings, etc.
In focusing ALL our urban resources, we could quite effectively have a team of 200-300 volunteers on a daily basis in each riding. Imagine what that could do for us. At the VERY LEAST it would keep a couple of Cons home to fight the Alberta battle, rather than running off to other "close" ridings in Ontario or BC.
I spent a lot of time working on Ralph Goodale campaigns in Regina Wascana. I worked every campaign except the recent 3 because I was in AB and BC. We had a constant crew of Zone Captains active in the community MONTHS to a YEAR BEFORE the election, active in community events, etc. The Zone Captains each had a team of poll captains responsible for EACH POLL in the riding. They know every lawn sign location in their neighborhood, and even who is staunchly for one party or the other. On e-day I can recall up to 100+ drivers pulling vote. I often see LOTS of eday volunteers at other campaigns, but hardly any of these people are there when it really counts - IDing the vote.
Early prep and volunteer-gathering is essential. That means months - even years - before one runs. Don't expect to win any riding starting one month before the election - unless you're the incumbent in an area that is strong for your party. Even then, you'd be a chump if you think you can continue to win with so little work (unless you're a Con/Reformer in rural Alberta). Getting a start a year or so before you run may be a lot of work, but if you're serious about running this is a GREAT way to build a team. Start campaigning in your neighborhood. Tell them you will be running. You don't need to be a nominated candidate - just say you are going to run for the Liberal Party nomination and ask for their support. Build up your support as a candidate - without the party. This will also help you get an idea as to whether another calling may be a better way to spend your time. If people reject you outright at the door (a lot), then perhaps you should do something else, or work behind the scenes for the party. When you find people who like you, ask if they, or anyone in their family (teenage/college kid are perfect for this) would like to volunteer to help the democratic process - or you personally. You can find literally dozens of volunteers this way.
Once you have some volunteers in hand - maybe a year before a possible writ - keep them involved. A weekly CASUAL coffee get together at your house to talk politics, is a great way to keep the team excited, talking "shop", and bringing their family and friends into it. It is CRITICAL to keep it casual. Formal "boardroom" meetings scare people away. A casual meeting at someone's home can be coupled with a BBQ, or a football or hockey game (Superbowl is coming, and NHL is always a good bet). Your house should be your campaign HQ months before any real campaign. This is a great time to ask the realtors in the group to keep an eye out for offices, and good sign locations - as well as venues for events, such as BBQs and dinners. Get people "positions" - assign "Zone Captains" (a group of 6 to 8 polls in the riding), and task them with finding a poll captain in each poll, setting up "block houses", etc. Watch the riding events. When the riding AGM comes about, encourage your volunteers to seek out active positions in the association, and to work with existing association members to actively encourage your candidacy. If you will be contested, this is a good time to find out who it may be - and to "feel out" the other candidates.
Once you have a team with some momentum, nomination meeting or not, you will have some serious inroads to being THE choice in the riding. Work hard, and it will pay off. Keep the group (your Nomination Committee) in place as your core campaign team.
Working in Calgary, I consistently saw inadequate ID - door knocking a handful of houses a day and calling it a success (Ralph Goodale used to tirelessly knock doors MONTHS before the campaign, then from 7am to 9pm during the writ). If you don't ID the vote, your e-day is useless. I recall driving aimlessly around Calgary ridings trying to pull some of the 1000 or 1200 confirmed supporters. It was worse because, with such a small vote ID team, it was often the candidate who was IDing all the votes. This is a problem - never trust a Candidate's ID. Most people on the doorstep will at least try to be nice to the candidate. Many will lie about their support. Candidates also get overly-enthusiastic in reading intentions. That translates to poor ID - they'll do a street and claim 90% support.
I've taught Campaign Colleges in Regina, Edmonton, Calgary, and Surrey... It is CRITICAL that proper IDing technique be taught. I've compared it to customer service. As a matter of fact, if you can find people with call center or sales experience, they can be your best door-knockers. Avoid using lawyers - they may be able to read people, but they talk too much (like my brother, who can spend a half hour on a doorstep)... they have a tendency to want to debate a voter. Unfortunately, in Calgary, the common door-knocking team was often the candidate, riding president, and one or two eager lawyers... Bad combination for IDing. If they do come out to volunteer, don't send them away - they can still be very helpful - in particular if taught berevity.
I did travel up to Edmonton on the "Anne-Van" (chartered bus sent to try to help Anne McClellan win her last bid). When I got there, I was pleased that the effort was much bigger and more organized than anything in Calgary. I then had a chance to look at Anne's IDed neighborhood map and thought "that's trouble". Anne worked very well with the fact that she was popular herself, and there was an assumption that the riding was left leaning and center leaning, so a Conservative couldn't win (even with her squeakers). The small split to the NDP lost her the seat. Thing was, no-one had an idea where they stood only days before the election. I went out with "seasoned volunteers" who had never knocked doors. The team from Edmonton was pleased with the Greyhound charter full of Calgary Liberals, but looking around the room in Edmonton, I was wondering where the "army" of locals was? It turns out - in my opinion - that Anne's team was never as large as Ralph's "machine" in Regina.
We have to start with the basics, and we're not seeing this. Even here in BC, I ran a campaign school in one Surrey riding two elections ago, but I come back to find this past election that there was scarcely any ID. How can you be a candidate for several elections and not have good IDed voter lists? Your personal popularity and identity alone will not win you elections, or even keep your supporters coming back. A good ID - based on a good organization - is KEY.
When Paul Martin was leading, I saw significantly more Albertans - conservatives included - coming out to work in every riding. I saw it in the urban AND rural areas. Paul Martin converted a lot of people across Canada. Leadership and leadership style have a lot to do with attracting both $s and volunteers to the party. Leadership is very important - but not something we have a lot of say in at the riding level - except during the nomination races. Best to focus on what you CAN CHANGE in order to win.
This brings us to "ducats" - the money we need to win. As you all know, I am a HUGE proponent of the Victory Fund. It is great that we can direct portions to our local riding. As part of our organizing to run - or help someone get the nomination - we must encourage victory fund membership. When people come to you with issues that are dear to them - immigration, education, jobs, science and technology, Canada on the world stage - ask them to give to the fund, or even a "one time" donation, so we can effectively get their voice heard in Ottawa. It all starts with that.
Reformers always campaigned this way (pass the collection hat). At church meetings, they would find crowds of people who were angry and vocal about things like "same-sex marriage", "abortion", etc., and encourage them to volunteer for and donate to the Conservative Party. They created a Liberal "scapegoat" that the potential supporters could direct their anger at (incidentally, Harper is a great "scapegoat" for us to direct anger at).
As Liberals, we need to follow that lead. People say there aren't any "fire and brimstone" Liberal issues that will galvanize supporters. That's BS. Like us, there are people who are "firmly centrist". There are also many issues which only Liberals have stood strong for for decades, or which only Liberals have been able to stand up for. Find issues which are definitively Liberal (immigration, same-sex marriage, crime and youth crime rehabilitation, effective gun control, Wheat Board, world leadership, etc.). Seek out groups of people who are concerned about these issues. "OWN" these issues. Tell them how concerned you are, and what you've done to voice these issues in Ottawa (donated to and joined the Liberal Party). Show them how the Liberal Party is the ONLY party which can effectively promote their ideals, and is the "government in waiting". Let them know that the democratic process NEEDS their support, and anything they can donate will help. I signed up two same sex couples over the past two years, simply by talking about the party's stance on same sex and "rights" issues.
Who do we approach (which groups?)?
- Immigrant groups
- Gay and Lesbian advocacy groups
- Victims of violence (women, gun-crime victims)
- Farmers concerned about the Wheat Board
- Scientists and Researchers
- Legal groups
- Arts community - movie industry, music, artists, dance groups, etc.
- Multicultural Groups... Just how do you suppose most of them were created? Where did the funds come from (successive Liberal or Progressive Conservative governments). Who wants to take away their funds? The Conservatives of Harper.
- First Nations Groups - Key growing force that WE MUST tap into
- Community Groups - Moderate citizens wanting to see a "balance" in Ottawa.
*** These groups would be our "base", similar to how gun-nuts, right-wing religious zealots, anti-choicers, and other "angry's" are the ReformCons' "base". We would still work on the rest of the population at large, but we MUST ID and "gather round" our BASE.
To grow our fund-raising AND volunteer base, we need to leave the "champagne Liberal" "coffee club", and step out into the real world again. Many of us are already engaged in this way, but many (too many) were still tied up in the "vestments of power" - the exclusive coffee clubs or social "clubs" where knowing the MP or spouse brought you perceived importance and "exclusivity" in the local scene. These vestments rear their ugly heads when a party is in power. The Cons are seeing it now, as some of their base gets "alienated" by the exclusivity of the "Conservative Club" in Ottawa. We need to branch out into the community, and work within the groups I pointed out above.
As someone well-versed in sales and "customer service" at several levels, I have often consulted campaigns and business groups on how to "make the sale", and we often forget that when we ask for a donation, or for someone to buy a membership, we are doing just that. I have taught volunteers how to ask the "leading, open-ended questions" to get prospects to open up and talk about their issues. I taught them not just how to "sell the product", but "sell the benefits" (what occurs when you donate to the LPC - how does it benefit democracy, and YOUR views?). Most importantly, I teach how volunteers can advance to the most important stage: "closing the sale". If you don't ask for the sale, you won't be walking home with that $5 donation for the party.
To revamp our fund-raising, we'll need 3 strong elements:
1) Solid leader (done). A good leader attracts money and supporters. This leader needs to ensure he/she surrounds themselves with the best/brightest advisers... not just people who helped you win leadership.
2) Ideas which are public, and distinct (let's ensure our "policy" convention is a good one, and let's not shy away from the regular - even web-based - meeting of the "minds" - meaning all of us). These ideas should appeal to the general public, but galvanize our "base"
3) Grassroots "selling the party" efforts as I've outlined above. Get people involved in the riding. An association shouldn't just be the core "executive". Add Zone Captains and Poll Captains as part of the exec (directors). People like "positions". There is no limit to the number of members a riding exec can have. Encourage them to attend meetings, and to know what is going on in the community (bringing this info to monthly riding meetings)
If we follow through with the principles outlined above, in every neighborhood in every riding in the country, we will have overwhelming success in the next election... Let's charge forward, and change the way we do things, for the better.