Rebuilding the Big Red Machine
-The Conservatives raised 12 million dollars more than the Liberals last year. Sure, it may not always be well spent, but it pretty much guarantees that, come May, whoever emerges from the Liberal leadership bloodbath is going to face a relentless barrage of negative ads.
-The Conservatives have well over four times as many donors as the Liberal Party. Think about that for a second. More than anything, this shows how the Liberal Party has been unable to connect with Canadians.
-And the lowly NDP? Oh yeah, they have more donors than the Liberals too.
-If you give the Liberals every riding they finished second, within 10% of winning, that gives them a whooping 109 seats. Even if you give them every riding they finished second, within 20% of winning, that still only leaves you with 137 ridings where they are mildly competitive.
-Want a different definition of competitive? Let's say 25% of the vote. Well, then the Tories lead the Liberals 218 to 144. If you consider anything less than 15% a “dead riding”, then there are 80 dead Liberal ridings and 27 dead Tory ridings.
-Over a third of all Liberal-held seats are in Toronto. They hold 7 seats in Western Canada and did not crack 20% of the vote in any of the four Western Provinces. Of those 137 mildly competitive ridings I mentioned, 17 are in Western Canada, leaving them as a non-factor in 77 seats west of Ontario. That's a lot of seats to write off, especially when you consider it isn't going much better in rural Quebec, or rural Ontario.
-The Liberals are losing ground with one of their traditional voter blocks – new Canadians.
So what’s the solution? Well, these guys have some good ideas – I’ve stolen the best ones they put forward for this post and I encourage everyone to steal any of my own I toss up. I also need to offer a giant hat tip to tGPOitHotW, as he was smart enough to suggest a lot of these things long before the results of the last election woke other people up.
So, in my humble opinion, here’s what the party needs to fix, and a few ways we can go about fixing it:
Growing the Membership
Admittedly, holding leadership races every two years is one way to grow the membership but I strongly doubt that’s the best way to do it. An obvious strategy is to just phone blitz old membership lists and identified Liberals, and ask them to sign up. Another is to hold more public events. Use the few MPs we do have – force them to hold at least 6 town halls a year if you must. And remember that people who generally feel strongly about issues are more likely to donate their time and money, so build connections with activists and recruit them in to the party. Find a local issue and latch onto it - if it gets you 20 new committed Liberals in an unheld riding, then it's worth the effort.
Rebuilding the Ridings
Another way to build the party is by doing it riding by riding, door by door. Ideally, you’d put a 308 riding strategy in place, but maybe we leave the Crowfoots of the world for a few years down the line and focus first on making the party competitive in 200 ridings, which is what you need to be if you want to ever form a majority government again.
So you hire 20 field workers and assign them each to 8 ridings. These field workers should be young and energetic and they should be people who would work for cheap, knowing that this is a golden chance to make connections and move up in the party. Have them make fundraising phone calls Monday to Thursday night – that’d more than pay for their salary.
Then every Saturday and Sunday, they’d be tasked to organize a door knocking blitz in one of their 8 ridings. Even if there are only four Liberals in the whole riding who give a damn, then the five of them can spend the afternoon going door to door. Even if they each only find one person willing to buy a membership, then that’s 5 new Liberals a month, 60 new Liberals a year, and couple thousand people who know the party exists and what it’s 15 second doorstep message is (oh, and as another piece of advice, find a 15 second doorstep message for what this party stands for). And you know what? I’m willing to bet at least 5 of those 60 sign-ups will join the monthly door knock next year and suddenly the riding is twice as strong as it used to be.
Engaging the Membership
So what do we do with do with all these new members? How do we make them give a damn about the Liberal Party? The next step is to engage them.
Some people like policy. For them, set up policy weekends and float discussion papers. Implement a rule where the party MUST adopt two of the top five policies passed at policy conventions – I used to be a huge policy nut but I barely have the energy to go to the policy workshops at the conventions anymore because I know the party will just ignore whatever is passed.
But policy isn’t for everyone. So hold barbeques, social events, and pancake breakfasts. Set up a book club. Hold podcasts and online chats. Create an online community – the sexy centristes did a great job of that in France. Again, scan the world and find the best ideas others have used.
You just need to do something to make people feel like they’re really a part of something. We’ve got 75 MPs. Why not force each of them, including the leader, to randomly call 10 average run of the mill party members every month to thank them for being a member and asking them what they think the party should be doing? We’d reach 9,000 Liberals a year – 9,000 people who would be genuinely excited to know an MP cares what they think. You know what? I bet this would motivate a lot of casual Liberals to get more involved or donate to the party.
Finding the Coalition
Anyone who has read any of the “behind the scenes” books on the Harper Conservatives knows about the brilliant use of micro-targeting they’ve employed. They found their target demographics and they’ve relentlessly gone after them, through direct mail, advertisements, and policies. The Liberals need to find their “winning coalition” and then shamelessly pander to them (luckily we are experience at this). Maybe it’s immigrants, working women, and seniors. Maybe it’s young voters, single parents, and commuters. I’ll leave finding that coalition to people who are a lot smarter than me.
Once we have them, we need to connect with them by showing them that the Liberal Party will tangibly make their lives better and that the Liberal Party leader cares about them and their family.
Raising the Dough
I’ve left fundraising for the end because, in the end, it’s all about the money. The first fundraising tip I’ll offer is to call up a few people on the Barack Obama team come November 5th, and get their help. The Tories weren’t afraid to go to the other side of the globe for advice – we shouldn’t be afraid to look a lot closer than that.
Beyond that, fundraising dollars will flow from some of the other things I’ve talked about. Given the public financing rules, a 308 riding strategy can be legitimately classified as a fundraising tactic. Just look at Alberta. In 2008, the Liberal party got 144,000 votes there. In 2004 – at the height of Adscam – they got 279,000. At $1.95 a vote, that works out to an extra $263,000 a year, or a million bucks over a normal four year election cycle. Growing the party in places where we aren’t yet in a position to win seats means more money and, down the road, it will actually translate into substantial electoral gains.
If you have an engaged membership, they’re also more likely to donate – and to encourage others to donate. Obama has done a great job encouraging people to set up “personal fundraising pages” where supporters can set targets and encourage their friends and family to donate. He’s also managed to use the internet and web 2.0 technology as a fundraising tool – something all parties in Canada have yet to master.
But, regardless of the method, the main goal needs to be to just increase the number of donors. Once you get a $20 donation, it’s easy to talk that individual up to a $50, then a $100 donation. So hold smaller fundraisers with broader appeal. Even if you don’t make a ton off them, the important thing is to get your donors’ information into your database.
Which brings me to my next point – get an f’ing database. The Tories have pages upon pages (bytes upon bytes?) of information on donors, supporters, and voters – the Liberals have trouble sending out automatic renewals for party memberships. The Dave Taylor renewal document I linked to earlier this week made sense – every time a member signs up for the party you should find out what issues they care about and any other information about them you can. The more you know about voters, the easier it is to tailor your message to them. In the same vein, the more you know about your members, the easier it is to target fundraising messages to them.
Which brings me to my next point – get an f’ing message. When it comes to fundraising, pick an issue and fundraise on this issue. The Tories do this magnificently – hate the concept of man on man monogamy? Do those pinkos at the CBC make you want to puke? Worried about $8 a head lettuce? Well, send us $20. The Liberals need to do the same thing (with different issues, obviously).
Looking beyond fundraising, the party really does need to find out what it stands for in broader terms if it hopes to win over Canadians. Maybe another Kingston Conference is the solution. Maybe some deep soul searching will be enough. But, regardless of the path there, Liberals need to find out what they believe in and, more importantly, need to be able to communicate this to Canadians. That means understandable policies people can relate to and a clear message about our values.
I’m sure there are better ideas than these out there – the important thing is to get people talking about party renewal. And by talking, I don’t just mean party officials saying “renewal” in every speech to pay lip service to the idea. I don’t just mean leadership candidates going to Alberta and giving the usual “Alberta Liberals are the best Liberals. I’m going to make winning seats here a priority!” spiel. I don’t mean confusing the hard work that needs to be done with short term fixes to win a handful of extra Ontario seats next election.
We need an honest discussion about what specific steps the party should take and then we need to actually take those steps. Hopefully the leadership candidates will initiate this conversation. Hopefully grassroots Liberal members will force them to if they don’t.