Friday, February 21, 2014

Lessons from Stephen McNeil’s landslide Liberal victory in Nova Scotia

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 years.

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.

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