Tag Archives: messaging

British Columbia’s election

Before I begin my workday I thought I’d pound out some reactions to last night’s election and referendum in British Columbia. A quick disclaimer: I’m in Ontario and didn’t follow the campaigns as closely as I could have. If you’re in B.C. and I’m missing an important detail or nuance, please let me know.

The main show

Overall I’m disappointed by the results, so I’ll begin by finding something positive to cling to. The reelection of Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government can at least be seen in part as a vindication of their carbon tax policy. The B.C. carbon tax is far from perfect in implementation, but it is North America’s first and it has now been ratified (somewhat) by the electorate. That’s encouraging for other politicians who seek to do the right thing even when it may not seem popular at first.

The result is also, in part, a repudiation of the NDP’s attempt to turn the carbon tax into a negative wedge. Going against the advice of every major environmentalist and economist in favour of attempting to grab a few extra votes was a mistake. The federal NDP, who have also too often flirted with populism at the expense of principal, would be wise to take note.

The side show

The Green Party of B.C. did poorly last night. 8.1% and no close ridings to speak of is the worst result since 1996 and continues a trend of negative momentum that began after 2001. This result isn’t surprising, IMO, given the party’s messaging. In a final pitch to voters printed on the front page of yesterday’s Metro newspaper (my employer) in Vancouver, Green leader Jane Sterk asked for support “so our grandchildren’s grandchildren also have the opportunity to live a good life.” This argument is both politically foolish (voters do not and will not make decisions based on vague predictions of what will happen long after they’re dead) and unrealistically optimistic (we are already experiencing the results of poor economic and environmental policy, and will continue to witness the worst fallout in this generation and the next).

The no show

The biggest disappointment of the night was the defeat of the Single Transferable Vote proposal. It’s hard to know what to say about that. After MMP was defeated in Ontario I wrote that I wouldn’t comment until I stopped swearing and throwing things. I never did. I didn’t want to sound like a sore loser. Ultimately, I’ve come to realize there’s no escaping the truth: I did lose, and I am sore.

The citizens and experts who studied STV most closely supported it. The campaign that opposed STV had no grassroots support by its own admission1, and instead depended on government funding to spread misinformation and spin. In a recent election to the south, an inspiring political figure successfully argued that voters should choose hope over fear, change over more of the same. B.C. didn’t get the memo. They chose the opposite.

The result is extremely disappointing for anyone concerned about the health of democracy in Canada. This morning I have little interest in being gracious. It was the wrong decision, and we will pay for it.

Thanks, though

The one thing that makes me wish I could be more positive this morning are the many good people who volunteered for causes they believed in. To the volunteers of the STV campaign and the Green campaign, thank you. Despite the disappointment, things are still better due to your efforts.

1: No-STV President Bill Tieleman wrote: “The Yes STV side has a great many volunteers organized for the past several years through Fair Voting BC. No STV has approached the referendum completely differently and is putting almost all resources into television, radio and print advertising… We do not have lawn signs and you will not see any this campaign…”

Where does the Green party go from here?

About 250 federal Green party members gathered in Pictou, Nova Scotia over the weekend for a policy convention. I was not there, and have instead been trying to follow along via media reports, including these ones:

Green Party at a political crossroads [The Star]
Practising what they preach [The Chronicle Herald]
Liberals will run in all ridings, including the one where May lost; Ignatieff [CP, via Metro]
Ignatieff will run Liberal candidate against May [CTV]
Go west, young woman [Rick Anderson, The Globe and Mail]
May says Obama’s success among Canadians can help Greens in next election [CP, via Metro]
May: Greens not wilting [The Chronicle Herald]
Elizabeth May’s 2009 Convention Speech [Green Party, YouTube]
They’re working on a Green dream [The Chronicle Herald]
Greens mull Quebec ‘mystery’ [The Star]
Greens more united than ever, standing behind leadership: May [CP, via Metro]
Elizabeth May to tilt at Central Nova windmill again. [Not an Official Green Party Canada Site]

I’m glad to read that the people who attended the convention are, for the most part, feeling energized and motivated. That being said—and I mean this constructively—I do think there are a few key things that the federal Green party must do if is is to have a future beyond the next election.

Of the above links, Rick Anderson’s analysis is probably the most worth reading for anyone trying to understand where the party’s at, and where it needs to be. He points out that on the one hand, the Green party has a great set of policies that should appeal to a wide group of Canadians:

I had long thought, and still mostly do, that the Greens have a winning formula in their unique combination of practical environmentalism, fiscal responsibility and democratic reform. Those are three potent appeals, each worthy in itself, and rarely found in combination.

Arguably, all the other parties are less credible on all three of those topics than ever before.

On the other hand, he notes that what the party stands for is pretty much a mystery to most Canadians:

[The Greens have] welcome changes you could come to believe in… if you knew they were available. I don’t know about you, but I had to visit the Green website to read about [their economic stimulus plan].

Anderson is generous to blame this mostly on “the media’s preoccupation with political games and manoeuvring and tactics and day-to-day process stories” at the expense of “substantive issues of relevance to voters.” However, while that criticism of the news media is well placed, it would be foolish for Greens to get distracted by it. The Green party must earn attention and support in spite of the obstacles facing it, not use those obstacles as excuses.

The three biggest challenges as I see them are as follows (and are discussed prominently in the above articles).

First is the need for elected Green MPs. The Toronto Star reports that Elizabeth May “[admitted] that she did not view winning her riding as a priority in the last election.” She wasn’t the only one. Those of us who were advocating for a focus on electing MPs in the last general election sometimes felt like we were banging our heads against the wall. The party must realize and act on the importance of electing members under the current voting system (even while we work for change to that system). Otherwise the party’s credibility will be increasingly questioned.

Second is the widely held belief that Elizabeth advocated that Canadians vote for other parties in the last election. (I say “belief,” because Elizabeth denies that she did this. Either way, the perception is what’s important.) This needs to be repudiated in the strongest terms. There is a time and a role for partisanship, and it is the primary role of all party leaders and candidates to advocate for their party’s platform and for their own election, especially during election campaign periods. To send mixed signals to the contrary distorts election results even more than they already are distorted by our antiquated voting system.

Finally, the party must get serious about messaging and marketing. Too many Canadians still don’t know or believe that the Green party has policies on all major issues, and that those policies are often consistent not only with what various experts think (on environment, economy, crime, etc), but are also consistent with what most Canadians think and value. Ultimately only the party itself is accountable for how they’re perceived, which means that a lot of work needs to be done to communicate Green policies in compelling, inspiring, and easy to grasp ways.

In all three of these areas the party is now playing catchup. I’m not yet prepared to say it’s a lost cause as some others have, but no one should underestimate the enormity of the challenge. Before the last general election I had said privately to a few people how critical I thought an electoral breakthrough was in order for the party to maintain credibility and momentum. Since that breakthrough didn’t happen federal Greens now have to hope for a rare second chance, but it will require addressing the above three issues (among others) quickly and aggressively.