As part of the Liberal Party of Canada biennial session this
afternoon on provincial and municipal best practices, we got an inside look at
how the Nova Scotia Liberals won a historic majority government from campaign
director (and federal Liberal VP English) Chris MacInnes. And Premier Stephen
McNeil was in the room, just to keep him honest.
The work leading to last year’s victory was years in the
making, said MacInnes. There’ a lot of windshield time when you’re Nova Scotia
premier, from Darthmouth to Meat Cove. McNeill was on the road constantly for
The party made the decision after a tough loss in 2009 to
build to a victory in 2013, and took definitive steps to see through the
challenges and meet that goal.
One key step was the caucus office establishing an outreach
team to reach out to communities they hadn’t traditionally reached out to.
Partly because of that, they won with a strong slate of female candidates who
now hold key positions in the government, electing a House of Assembly much
more a reflection of a modern Nova Scotia.
They made a conscious decision to have research-based
communications, instead of just shoot from the hip priorities. They did deep
research to identify priorities, and focus caucus like a laser on those. They’d
still hold the government to account, but the research helped to focus their
priorities and they saw a direct correlation between their poll numbers going
up and their focus on research-identified issues.
They did heavy pre-writ advertising for the first time,
beginning one year from the election. The fundraising system was modernized –
you couldn’t even donate on their web site until four years ago. They invested
in the federal party’s Liberalist voter identification and management system,
which MacInnes said fundamentally changed the way they fight elections in Nova
Scotia, and will for years to come.
By bringing the call centre in-house for voter ID, training
volunteers, Liberalist, polling and volunteers at the doors, MacInnes said they
had four to five data points on where their support was during the campaign.
The senior campaign team had confidence in the outcome – although they didn’t
tell the leader – because of those data-points. Liberalist also helped the
central campaign hold campaigns accountable – they knew if candidates were
knocking on doors, and teams entering activist codes correctly.
Finally, MacInnes said the level of cooperation from the
national party and different provincial wings was like he had never seen
before. Volunteers came from as far away as BC to help. New Brunswick Liberal
leader Brian Gallant campaigned in five ridings, and federal MP Dominic LeBlanc
campaigned as well. Everyone was eager to join the campaign, and he said the
cooperation between the federal and provincial campaigns was seamless, and they
were always there with help on training, information and advice.
I attended a panel on political best practices this
afternoon at the Liberal Party of Canada 2014 biennial in Montreal, and one of
the speakers was Chima Nkemdirim, chief of staff to Calgary Mayor Naheed
Describing himself to cheers as a Calgary Liberal, which isn’t
always an easy thing to be (I speak from experience as a Liberal BCer), Nkemdirim
shared best practices, tips and lessons from Nenshi’s two successful campaigns
for mayor – the first of which began with the candidate literally polling at 0 –
including these five keys to political success.
All Politics is Local
Most people don’t know what level of government does what.
They care about issues. If you want to run, you must spend timing learning what
people care about locally, and tailor what you want to talk about in your
campaign to the issues people actually care about in your community.
Networking is more powerful
then door knocking
While Nkemdirim isn’t saying don’t door knock, he says it’s
an incredibly inefficient way to reach people. While everyone thinks Nenshi
tweeted his way to victory, at its centre he says Nenshi’s first campaign was
built on word of mouth. It was designed around getting people to talk to their
friends and neighbours and explain why they’re supporting Nenshi. They trained
our volunteers to talk about Nenshi. They found out that people are really nervous
to talk about politics, and they need help. Their advice was to identify why
you’re passionate about a candidate, and if you’re passionate for that reason
your friends might be as well – you don’t need to know the whole platform.
Coffee parties were a key part of the Nenshi campaigns. If your friend invites
you to a coffee party to meet the candidate, you’re more likely to actually
The more data the
You really need to have all the information about your
constituency, said Nkemdirim. Understand what happened in past federal,
provincial and municipal elections. What are the key issues in the area? What
keeps people up at night? Understanding those issues will help you build your
platform. Do a lot of research on the incumbent. Read everything they’ve ever
written and said, understand why their values aren’t in line with the community’s,
and why your candidate is better.
The candidate does matter
Even in a party system where conventional wisdom says 80 per
cent of people vote for the leader, Nkemdirim said he really believes the
candidate does matter. There are three Alberta Liberal MLAs, and he said he believes
each got elected because they were the best candidate. The campaign should be approached
like a job interview.
You’ve got to stand
Nenshi and Edmonton Mayor Don Inveson talk about politics in
full sentence – a phrase Nkemdirim said they borrowed from The West Wing.
People aren’t stupid. They want you to get into detail about why you’re
running, what you’re about, and why you’re the best candidate. They want to
trust you’re the best candidate for the community; trust them with detailed
Our contingent of bloggers had a wide-ranging briefing this
morning in with Liberal Party of Canada national director Jeremy Broadhurst –
you may know him from the popular new Twitter meme, #SelfiesWithBroadhurst.
Lets start with a few stats. About eight or nine bloggers
have been accredited to the 2014 biennial – its unknown how many are
Conservative spies. Some six Senators registered, so watch out for them, NDP
spies. There were 2500 delegates pre-registered when online registration was
closed, and more will register on site. As off last night, over 2000 were on
site. For last night only, local Liberals were invited to join for the Lawrence
Summers/Chrystia Freeland interview, and Justin Trudeau’s opening speech.
Broadhurst expects many of them will purchase a delegate or observer pass and
“All of them were signing contact cards to get in,” said
Broradhurst “We’ve got to get into the mindset in this party that it’s great to
have an event and get the message out to a good crowd, but you’re only doing ¼ of
your job unless you get their information and engage with them in a two-way
relationship after the event.”
Speaking of spies, the NDP has sent staffers Karl Belanger
and Anne McGrath and MP Alexandre Boulerice. From the Conservatives, Pierre
Poilievre, Lisa Raitt and a staffer from their party office. The Greens have
one person, and the BQ didn’t take an observer pass.
One question going in was how the party would handle
Senators in the party constitution, following Trudeau’s decision to remove
Senators from the parliamentary caucus and exclude them from party
organizational roles. Logistically a constitutional amendment can’t be
considered at this biennial, but Broadhurst said the national board has decided
to put a “sense of the convention” resolution to the delegates.
It will have
three elements – that the convention supports the call of the leader, that it
calls on the board to prepare necessary amendments for the next biennial, and
that in the interim the constitution be interpreted as best as possible to
reflect the new parliamentary reality.
“The constitution says the highest authority of the party is
Liberals gathered at convention, and that this is the group with the greatest
weight in the interpretation of the constitution. So it was decided this would
have weight; it’s not a meaningless thing,” said Broadhurst.
Nominations for the next election are getting underway. A
meeting has been called for Outremont, for example, as well as several others in
Quebec and British Columbia. It’s the decision of the provincial co-chairs to
call a nomination, and Broadhurst said a number of factors are considered: are there
approved contestants, has there been a candidate search at the riding level, is
redistribution complete, and is the riding healthy and strong
Nominations will happen effectively in three tranches, with
about 1/3 going this spring, 1/3 in the fall and 1/3 next spring. While held
ridings are more likely to go in the first tranche, it will not be limited to
“Obviously held ridings are more likely to have a candidate
ready to go, and I know a lot of MPs are working to get their forms in and go
through the green light process to go in the spring,” said Broadhurst.
While media access was greatly restricted at the recent
Conservative convention, Broadhurst said all but a small handful of sessions
will be open to the press at the Liberal biennial this weekend
“We do this stuff out in the open,” said Broadhurst. “We’re
going to have debates on policy at this convention, whether it’s the right
thing to do or not on any resolution, and that’s good. If we came in with 160
resolutions and 160 resolutions passed, what the hell’s the point of that?”
And what they’ll hear across many of the sessions are
discussions focused around a core theme of the economy.
“We’ll talk about a lot of important resolutions this
weekend, and not to diminish any of them at all, but the next election will be
fought on economic grounds. So let’s have a robust discussion about it,” said
Broadhurst. “So that’s why we wanted to start with a discussion on the economy
with Summers and Freeland, and we’ll come back to that theme throughout the
As for the popular #selfieswithbroadhurst meme that has
popped up on Twitter that got a bump Thursday when Trudeau joined in for a pic,
Broadhurst was bashful
“I’m trying to limit the selfies,” said Broadhurst. “It’s fun
though. I love my job, I love what I do, and it’s fun to be able to engage with
members at an event like this.”