Friday, May 22, 2009

"Never look for birds of this year in the nests of the last."

So the hot topic these days is the Harper "attack ads"; most observers and pundits commenting on the veracity of the ads themselves, i.e. is their content truthful and honest?, as opposed to the veracity of the strategy behind them, i.e. as one element in a political strategy are they a truthful and honest tactic?

What they are, most definitely are an attempt by Harper to re-employ a strategy that he perceives to have worked in the past. Unfortunately for the voting (or non-voting) public that "successful" strategy was one launched against democracy in Canada, not against a political opponent, be that an individual or an organization. It was a crass strategy targeting the voter as a consumer. His means to his end (obviously winning the last election) was not the presentation of a positive platform or vision of the country, not even wanting to govern for some reason, or with some purpose than simply being the smartest strategist in the free world; it was winning through control, containment and manipulation.

Straight from the (Karl) Rovian playbook, itself originally based on the successful William McKinley campaign of 1896, which applied business principles to politics for the first time, Harper embarked on a strategy of winning through voter suppression. Rove's own underlying strategy in the (Bush) Texas gubernatorial contest of 1994 of segmentation and balancing persuasion with motivation, had morphed by 2000 and the Presidential contest of Bush/Gore to segmentation and balancing motivation with anti-motivation. "Business principles" became honed to "marketing principles".

In the 2006-2008 period, Harper employed his Rovian techniques mercilessly: segment the "market"; treat voters as consumers of a product; define the other product as unpalatable to certain consumers; flood the market with specialized appeals to your own loyal consumers; and, don't worry about, and in fact encourage, consumers who don't like your product either, to simply go without. There is no other explanation for the conduct of Harper's cabinet and caucus in the last Parliament; they simply didn't care how many voters were turned off period, as long as their "core" remained motivated; having the rest anti-motivated was simply according to plan.

The "success" of the strategy is borne out by the disastrous turnout figures of the 2008 election. Out of the slightly more than 1,000,000 voters in 2006 who did not vote in 2008, more than 75% of those - close to 850,000 - were formerly Liberal voters. Canadian politics had reached the acme of anti-motivation. Voting motivation and democratic principles suppressed.

Michael Ignatieff wants to "do politics differently" (and I think he's made a decent start at it) and believes that voters want politics done differently too. I agree that many might, but that many more have already slipped into ambivalence, and in order to stop the slide, politics will have to be done very differently indeed. If we can present our party as about caring more about Canada and our flailing democracy, than about the Party itself, the contrast will be compelling. But it's a very tall order: complex and time-consuming (and admittedly rather academic), and (sigh) one that will pragmatically have to be thinned somewhat by the true realities of politics.

But as the old adage attests: "charity begins at home".
In marketing circles there is a difference between marketing products and marketing organizations and ideas. A product doesn't really have a "relationship" with it's audience, but an organization does. Brand management is about customers; relationship management is about reputation. The electorate is not inured to the Liberal Party's own deportment in the past, otherwise Harperovian strategies and tactics wouldn't work as well as they have. They come by much of their cynicism honestly. But we can begin by letting voters know that we don't simple view them as consumers of a political "product". That we are not simply marketers, but developers, innovators and public-service-providers. Proceedings in Parliament and conduct in between and during election campaigns will be indicative.

Let's turn the Harperovian strategy on it's head. Not voter suppression; but voter expression.

Friday, May 15, 2009

"Fair and softly goes far. "

This is the best letter to the editor I've read in a long time.

"Michel Facon

One key to understanding the attack ads against Michael Ignatieff is the accusation that he is ''sure of himself.'' This shows that the Conservatives are lacking in self-confidence and identify themselves as uneducated, uncultured, inferior provincials.

The mere description of the anti-Ignatieff ads produced by the Tories has led me to an action that I have considered but never done. I am joining the Liberal Party of Canada."

Thanks, Stephen Harper, for helping to grow the Liberal movement. Keep it up.

Friday, May 8, 2009

"Those who'll play with cats must expect to be scratched."

Ooh la la! This is good.

All Parties in Canada should take note of the sentiments expressed and adjust conduct accordingly if you want to see voter apathy diminish, citizen (and member) engagement rise, and respect for our democratic institutions return.

h/t Liberals for Electoral Reform

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

"A word to the wise is enough. "

In a strange twist, change recommendations proposed by the Change Commission may have received more support from our Leader Michael Ignatieff (ILMI no more!) and our new National Executive than from the representatives of the "grassroots" assembled as delegates to the weekend convention and contributors to the report. It's not that they don't or wouldn't necessarily support the report and recommendations, it's just that the report didn't get much exposure at Convention, other than amongst the Party leadership, who apparently nonetheless see the writing on the wall that the membership will be ignored at peril.

The blunt, well written and representative report was released with little fanfare just days - hours, really - before delegates began arriving in Vancouver for the Convention about ... hmmm, well, 'nuf said.

Council of Presidents, which was held Thursday before the official convention began was not formally briefed on the report and its recommendations, although outgoing Party President Doug Ferguson, also a Commissioner did use his remarks to speak about the report and his comments were very well received. Unfortunately the room was not full of many riding presidents - some not having yet arrived, and others representing their presidents who were not attending. Workshops held later that day on the report, were sparsely attended by riding presidents/designates (mostly because there were several competing workshops and one could not be everywhere at once), but again the report and its recommendations were enthusiastically received by those who were able.

Our printed Convention agendas told us that the Change Commission Report would be first up at the morning session of the Constitutional Plenary, but alas that presentation and discussion never occurred. The presentation was apparently switched to the afternoon to allow for the important debate on WOMOV and other amendments to occur first, and then only "time permitting". Needless to say, it never happened, and there was concern in certain circles that some "deep sixing" might be underway.

But apparently not. The Leader is reported to be very supportive of the report and its recommendations, and incoming President Alf Apps enthusiastically so. Apparently Apps held an extensive NE meeting following the close of the convention (as opposed to the traditional meet and greet) where the report was discussed, approved in principle and set on a course for implementation and monitoring. That is very good news.

So good on the former Leader and Executive for commissioning the work. Good on the Commissioners for the valuable work they performed on our behalf. Good on the members who participated and who clearly saw themselves and their opinions reflected in the report, and good on the Leader and the new Executive for moving forward with the recommendations.

As Quixotique stated in this space just before the Convention, the most important recommendations about change in the report - perhaps really the entire report - are about membership engagement at various levels and activities through out the party: policy development; party processes such as nominations; adherence to the LPC Constitution and provisions as a recognition that they represent the will of the membership; and, accountability mechanisms.

Too bad really that we moved ahead before the Convention and the report however, with mechanisms such as incumbency protection and unvetted appointments; but with any luck, such things are about to change.