03 July 2013

The Campaign Starts… #nlpoli

Okay anyone who believed Cathy Bennett was “thinking about it” over the weekend know that she was already getting her Liberal leadership campaign in gear.  She’ll be launching later on Wednesday morning.

You see, as much as some people might fancy that her media line was true, you just can’t get a campaign website organized and a leadership launch event with all the bells and whistles done in two days.  Well, you can.  The problem is that it would look like Jim Bennett’s announcement in Corner Brook on the Friday before the Canada Day long weekend: not a serious or well financed contender.

Cathy Bennett is the opposite.  She’s serious and she’ll have money. Most likely, Cathy will wind up sparring directly with Dwight Ball for the job. Danny Dumaresque  - who launched on Tuesday - will give a brave show but both he and Jim will drop off after the first ballot come November.

For all that, at the start of the campaign, each one of the contenders will face some common issues, problems, or challenges. Here are a few.

Why do you want the job?

They’ll all have to explain why they want to lead the provincial Liberal Party.  Jim and Danny did that already.  Cathy will have to lay that out starting Wednesday and Dwight will have to explain his view whenever he formally launches his campaign. 

Cathy has the extra bit of explaining to cover off why she has suddenly switched to the Liberals, but as noted last week, her crew should already have addressed that and a bunch of other questions.  Check that post, incidentally, and you will find some other suggestions on things to look for in all the campaigns.


Campaigns need to do three things in order to win:

  • identify their voters,
  • keep track of them, and,
  • get them to the polls.

They’ve got to find, fix, and fire ‘em.

The first challenge campaigns will find is getting enough volunteers to do the grunt work of finding, fixing, and eventually firing.  Volunteers in the Liberal Party aren’t plentiful these days.  Experienced ones will be even harder to find.

There are volunteers in the districts with sitting members in the House of Assembly but they are pretty well  spoken for already. In other areas of the province, the party is a veritable wasteland.   All campaigns will have to start from scratch in those districts.

One of the big sources of potential volunteers  - and all their other resources - are in the campaign teams belonging to the members of parliament.  They might be available to candidates.  We’ll get back to that in a second.

Can I count on your support?

The next challenge will be finding voters. Really optimistic – or really naive – people will imagine that the potential voter population with the new Liberal campaign rules is the entire voting population of the province.  That’s about 350,000 people.

Guess again.  Only about 42,000 actually voted for the Liberals in the last provincial election.  In 2007,  that number was about 45,000.  These are hard core Liberals.  But how many of even those hard core do you suppose would be willing to become members or identified supporters of the Liberal Party?  Even if you assumed all of them would, you’d have a big number to sift through with your handful of volunteers.

Theoretically, you could start from scratch and just reach out to everyone. Obama did it, didn’t he?  Not exactly, but you could include a note on your website that tells people where to go in order to volunteer.  You can run events, send e-mails and do other things to identify supporters and build up a database. 

Difficulty is that starting from scratch is time consuming and costly, for one thing.  For another, you have to find people who will willingly identify themselves as Liberals in order to vote in the contest.  This could be a gigantic issue and some people will grossly underestimate how big a problem this will be.  Instead, they will promise great things in reward for nothing beyond optimism.  Think of it as the Wedding Tackle Fallacy: what you get on the night is never as big as the advertising claims. The number of people you would actually get those ways would never be as big as your imagination would have it.

The Infrastructure Deficit

In a well managed political party, there’d be a centrally-managed database of donors, voters, campaign workers,and the like all up-to-date and ready. The campaigns could get those lists and be well on their way to finding voters.  For this leadership, you’ll need to look somewhere else.  The Liberal Party organizational problem is  more about the lack of this kind of information and management systems rather than having district associations with a live person in every organizational slot.

Members of the House of Assembly have their own campaign infrastructure. Leadership candidates might get those, but there aren’t lots of Liberal MHAs.  Candidates will need other sources of information.

Members of parliament already have lists of supporters. They also have well-oiled systems to keep track of voter contacts.  In fact, federal MPs have the best find-fix-fire systems in the province. Some candidates might get access to that sort of information and the modern political infrastructure that sustains federal MPs in office. . 

Some of them might.  But any of them who – for argument sake – had publicly endorsed the federal Conservative changes to Employment Insurance would be pretty far up shit creek when it comes to support from MPs.  Liberal supporters of such a candidate would have to coax, cajole, threaten, and do a lot more to get access to these sorts of resources.

No logos for you!

The Liberal leadership contest has a raft of rules that have never been tried out before.  Some of them – like the rules about district affiliations for voters – could cause administrative headaches the party simply doesn;t have the volunteers to handle.

Some are like the rule that says legitimate, registered, bonafide leadership candidates cannot use the party logos, trademarks, or any other “official mark” on their campaign materials. 

That’s right.

All that advertising for the Liberal Party and the rules committee has decided to make it illegal for any candidate to use the party’s readily identifiable symbols.

They might not even be able to identify themselves as candidates for the Liberal Party given that the Liberal Party is arguably an official mark of the party.  Imagine that:  “Hi, I am Cathy Bennett and I am running to be leader of a political party that I am not allowed to name.”

Then again, they might be able to use it.  We don’t know because somebody drafted this rule without testing it or checking it for sense, let alone legal viability. 

Sensibly, there’s no reason to bar party leadership candidates from using the party symbols. 

Sensibly, there’s no reason to bar logo use absolutely for registered candidates.

Sensibly, there’s no reason to bar it without the possibility of some approval by the party executive committee, for argument sake.

But bar it the rules committee did.

Go figure. 

All that sort of thing has done thus far is generate some completely unnecessary commentary and jokes about candidates going “rogue” for violating the rules.  Imagine the sort of fun you will see when the campaign gets going and things like the rules over voter qualifications get to be really important.

Hilarity will not ensue.

All the same, this campaign will be nothing else if it isn’t interesting.