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Howard, chief of staff, Leader’s Office Dear Moe, Jan and Stephen, In coming weeks the party will be conducting a review of the 2013 campaign. I’m hoping to contribute to that effort with these notes. Adrian Dix is an impressive public figure, and it was an honour to work with him over the past two and a half years. He has one notable fault – he is too hard on himself. As Dick Proctor famously said about our party’s painful 1982 defeat in Saskatchewan, a result like this is a team effort. In particular, as campaign director I take my own full measure of responsibility for the results of this campaign. As outlined in the pages that follow, our campaign needed to do a much better job than we did in our basic strategy; in the politics of our platform announcements; in the core message of paid and earned media; in the energy and content of our campaign events; in the strength of our slate; and on many other fronts and on many other issues. I apologize for the shortcomings of our campaign, for my own shortcomings in trying to tackle these challenges, and for the results -‐-‐ and I grieve them. As you know well, we joined the rest of our campaign team in Burnaby on June 7th to conduct a post-‐ mortem of this campaign. I benefited enormously (as will the review, and as I hope you did) from the comments of all of our team on this campaign. The appended text was prepared collectively with Anne McGrath, Jim Rutkowski, Brad Lavigne, and Shannon Phillips, who very kindly agreed to work with me to fill out the appended notes. All the best, Brian Topp
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British Columbia New Democratic Party Campaign post-‐mortem June 14, 2013 Part 1: Introduction In a public statement a week after the May 2013 election, BC NDP leader Adrian Dix directed that a detailed review be conducted of the party’s campaign. He directed that this review take “an unflinching look at our strengths and weaknesses, and what we need to do to improve.” He also said the review “must address the strategy and tactics we employed in the election. And it must examine the fundamental questions of who we are as a party, and our relationship with the people of BC.” To assist the Leader and party with this, we offer the notes that follow. We played senior roles in the campaign. A political disappointment like this is a team effort. Adrian Dix is being over-‐generous in insisting that he is solely and personally responsible for this outcome. We all deeply regret that the extraordinary effort put into this campaign by so many was not met with better success. The bright energetic young campaign team we worked with (who will serve the party brilliantly as core activists for many years to come); the hundreds of candidates and local campaign workers; the thousands of volunteers; the many more thousands of donors, many of whom made sacrifices in their family budgets to fund this effort; and the hundreds of thousands of voters who supported our party – they deserved a better result, and a better government. We believe the following: (a) The Liberals prosecuted us better than we prosecuted them: In this campaign, our campaign undertook a principled, admirable and well-‐intentioned attempt to “change politics” in the face of an opponent playing by the right-‐wing populist playbook – an effort which did not succeed; (b) “It’s too risky to change the government” did work: In company with opposition parties all across Canada, our campaign failed to beat the core argument currently being offered by incumbent governments of all stripes (Liberal, NDP and Conservative) seeking re-‐election – that in these uncertain economic times, it is too risky to change the government; and (c) Our campaign failed to inspire our current supporters and did not reach outside of our base: British Columbians open to supporting the NDP did not find us passionate, inspiring, populist, or compelling in our efforts to contrast ourselves to our opponent. Numerous operational and strategic lessons flow from these facts. We’ll set out our views on them in the course of our argument below.
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Part 2: A survey of the election The 2010 leadership crisis The story of this campaign properly begins in late 2010, when a group of caucus members made a series of public statements arguing that BC NDP Leader Carole James could not win the coming election and should step down. This initiative produced a deep and bitter split in the caucus and the party, and a significant drop in public confidence and public support for the BC NDP. The BC labour movement witnessed these events with considerable dismay. Several senior figures in the labour movement stepped forward and attempted to mediate a settlement. As part of that effort, the United Steelworkers and other players proposed that one of us (Brian Topp) be engaged as a neutral mediator between the caucus majority supporting Carole James and the caucus group calling for leadership change. The Leader, however, concluded that she could not continue, and stepped down. She called on her colleagues to now reunite. It is not too much to say that Ms. James in large part healed the deep split in caucus herself through the selfless way she chose to address it, and in her remarkable conduct afterward. Carole James was an admirable leader and is an admirable person. Discussions refocused onto how to get the party and caucus to function again under interim leader Dawn Black. The obvious tensions within our legislative caucus slowly faded in the following months. Our party owes Dawn Black a great deal of gratitude for this achievement. We aren’t entering into the debate about the merits of these events in 2010. We simply want to point out a consequence for 2013. We went into the 2013 election campaign with a new leader on his first campaign, and a political staff and provincial office team who had never worked together before. It is often true that leaders and their teams become more effective over multiple campaigns (Jack Layton and his team steadily improved over four election campaigns, for example. Dalton McGuinty, Gary Doer, Stephen Harper, Jean Charest and many other Premiers and Prime Ministers won office after learning from defeats, sincerely and effectively embracing change, and growing as leaders and teams). The BC NDP would not have that benefit in 2013 – a recurring problem. In April 2011, NDP members elected Adrian Dix as leader. Once in place, Adrian Dix had to quickly turn his mind to the kind of campaign he wanted to run – a campaign brief that we believe was shaped by some very careful thinking about his career and the government he served during the 1990s. The campaign brief As every British Columbian who listens to radio advertising can now recite in their sleep, Adrian Dix served in the 1990s as chief of staff to Premier Glen Clark. In 1998, Premier Clark became embroiled in allegations arising from a casino license – allegations from which he was later completely exonerated in court. Mr. Dix attempted to protect the Premier from these allegations by creating an exculpatory memorandum, which he backdated. When this became known, Mr. Dix resigned. Adrian Dix had a long time to reflect on these searing and life-‐altering events following his resignation. Page | 5
In 2005, he re-‐entered public life as an NDP candidate in the riding of Vancouver Kingsway. His Liberal opponent thoroughly ventilated the circumstances surrounding his resignation as chief of staff during that campaign, but the voters in that riding rejected the Liberals and their angry negative campaign and elected Mr. Dix. Carole James appointed him as health critic, and he quickly emerged as one of the NDP’s highest profile, most articulate, most aggressive and most effective front bench critics. In 2009, Mr. Dix ran again in Vancouver Kingsway. Once again his Liberal opponent attempted to defeat him on the basis of his resignation as chief of staff. And once again his constituents rejected the negative Liberal campaign and comfortably re-‐elected him to the legislature, where he continued to serve as one of the caucus’ leading and most effective members. Adrian Dix spelled out his firmly-‐held and determined view of how the 2013 campaign should be conducted during the leadership race; in the spring of 2011 when an early election seemed imminent; and during the two year wait which then occurred. He repeated his views in numerous leadership debates; in innumerable reports to caucus and party meetings; in many media interviews; and at public and private events all across BC. No party member, no member of the campaign team, no caucus member, and no member of the public who followed public affairs could be left in any doubt about the kind of campaign Mr. Dix intended to lead. It was a campaign brief that was principled, thoughtful, radical in some ways – and rooted in an obviously careful reflection on Mr. Dix’s political and policy experiences in the 1990s NDP government. A positive and authentic campaign We understood him to have taken the following views (the following are our words): • The populist right in its various forms all around the democratic world (right-‐wing “Liberal”, Conservative, Republican, right-‐wing nationalist and regionalist, etc.) has developed a playbook centred on the politics of personal destruction – on relentless, well-‐funded personal attacks on progressive opponents, designed to suppress the votes of the progressive majority, and to engineer an artificial plurality for regressive right-‐wing policies and politicians that would never command public support on their merits. The answer to this playbook is not to repeat it, since doing so reinforces it. Instead, Mr. Dix argued (as some of us have as well), the answer is to seek to make the right’s focus on negative politics a campaign issue in its own right – to argue that the right’s campaign playbook speaks to its character, and is part of why they merit defeat. And to directly appeal to the growing legions of progressive non-‐voters (a constituency that tends to be lower income, non-‐white, young and female) by offering them a positive alternative that is not about personal attacks. Although none of us heard him say so explicitly, we speculate that Mr. Dix believed this approach could work both as a general proposition, and as a strategy to deal with the obvious coming Liberal personal attack on his record as chief of staff. He had weathered the same attacks in two campaigns as MLA, taking responsibility for his actions, counter-‐attacking by pointing out the hollow negativity of his Liberal opponents, and then speaking to core public policy issues like poverty and health care. He believed, we believe, that this could work again in a provincial campaign – that Liberal attacks on his record could be turned against them. Page | 6
Mr. Dix was also firmly of the view that the time had come to turn the page on the artificiality and inauthenticity of politics and political campaigning, so heavily influenced by the political right’s playbook, and to appeal to voters with a great deal more authenticity. To that end: -‐ He refused to be scripted. A gifted writer, Mr. Dix instead developed a thoughtful, detailed, extemporaneous speaking style based on research notes and his own outlines and reflections. He did not speak from texts or a teleprompter. His ability to speak seriously and substantively in detail without notes deeply impressed party, public and business audiences throughout his run up to the 2013 campaign, and became a central part of his brand as leader. -‐ He rejected a glib and talking points-‐based approach to the media. He reduced his exposure to journalists, and engaged with them seriously when he did speak to them. He answered the questions put to him, seriously and in detail. His press conferences and scrums therefore tended to be long, detailed and wide-‐ranging. -‐ He declined to engage in autobiographical politics. He believed he should not exploit his family for political purposes, and believed his views on public policy were more important than his hobbies or his lifestyle. -‐ And he rejected staged (sometimes contrived and manufactured) political events and set-‐ pieces. Instead he looked for a direct connection with citizens, preferably in meetings or community hall settings similar to the ones he was used to campaigning in during his races in Vancouver Kingsway. Although he understood their political utility, he therefore viewed bunting, lights, cameras, music and other political event tools as distractions and impediments to an authentic connection with voters present in the room.
In all of this Adrian Dix was in the mainstream of a growing concern about the hollowing-‐out, rigidities, artificialities and lack of relevance or substance of political life, in Canada and all around the democratic world. We will argue in this note that many of the burdens that people like us place on elected officials during and between campaigns are facts of life in politics in the television age. It is not possible for elected officials to do good if they don’t win – individually, or collectively as a governing party. But we well understand that the price seems very high indeed, and that a way must be found to make successful campaigning (and governing) less disempowering for elected people. A growing number of elected MPs and members of provincial legislatures have made these same points about public life. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s federal caucus, for example, at this writing was being rocked by a backbench revolt around similar concerns. On policy, “the hard road to power” With regard to the substance of the campaign, Adrian Dix could not have been clearer about his plan. Under his leadership our party chose to take the “hard road to power”. Which meant the following, on the key issues that seemed to be facing the province:
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A no-‐surprises approach: Unlike the Liberal regime with its HST (and, implicitly, unlike our 1990s government with its unheralded post-‐election deficit), we would not make promises we could not keep, and would not surprise the public after an election. We would seek an explicit mandate for our policies even if some of them were unpopular or difficult to communicate. A serious approach: We accused the Liberal government of campaigning rather than governing, and vowed to do better. We would take a “serious approach” to public affairs, and make serious proposals that addressed the real issues, with proposals within the province’s jurisdiction and financial resources and which could really be implemented. On fiscal policy we argued that an NDP government should reduce spending on tax cuts for wealthy individuals and large profitable corporations, in order to create fiscal room for new initiatives without increasing the deficit. On the economy we suggested the Liberal government was failing to act effectively within its jurisdiction on numerous fronts (forestry, mining, tourism, creative industries, agriculture etc.) and that much needed to be done – most importantly, the government needed to get back into business of skills training, the key deficit reported by the business community in all sectors. On social policy we proposed that BC needed to directly address growing inequality, beginning with the province’s lamentable record on child poverty. Health care and education had eroded significantly under the Liberals to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. Mindful of the enormous costs of addressing these issues, we acknowledged than in a first term an NDP government would have to be selective and disciplined in how it turned around those areas. And on the environment we opposed the Liberal government’s abdication of responsibility over environmental issues to the Harper government in Ottawa. We suggested that BC should repatriate its role in this area. We opposed the Northern Gateway pipeline on its merits. So: a “positive” campaign, which made an explicit virtue (and indeed, a central theme) of not attacking the characters of opponents, while remaining critical of their record; an “authentic” campaign that would try to step around some of the barriers between politics and voters; and a serious, policy-‐driven campaign. That was the campaign brief we pursued until the end of the second week of the May 2013 election campaign. As far as most people could see, it appeared to be working, right up until election night. Our party, slate and campaign team worked loyally to implement it. It was, alas, a campaign brief that did not survive contact with our opponent, who was playing from a very different playbook on every point. The 2011 false start and its consequences In December 2010, a few weeks before her election as Liberal leader, Christy Clark told the CBC: “I think two and a half years in government as an unelected premier is an awful long time. I think British Columbians might be right to say…’we want to get a chance to vote for you under the basic principles of democracy.’" Taking Premier Clark and her basic principles of democracy at her word, Adrian Dix moved quickly to assemble a campaign team after his own election as NDP leader in April 2011. The Leader spelled out Page | 8
the campaign brief described above – consistent with the program he had run on during the leadership race. The campaign team was recruited. Our campaign message, platform, tour, advertising strategy and organizing plan were developed, consistent with the leader’s campaign brief. Elements of the campaign with long lead times (like the advance work on the tour; research; and paid media strategy) were staffed up. And the leader and party turned their attention to constructing a slate of candidates. In late August 2011, having fought and lost a referendum to defend the HST, Premier Clark discovered a new set of basic principles of democracy. Some people had told her that they were concerned than an election might harm the economy, she reported. So the Premier announced that since she was bound by these some people’s views, she would now rule as an unelected Premier for two and a half years and the public would have to wait for a chance to vote for her. In hindsight, this transparent, electorally-‐motivated, lamely-‐defended flip-‐flop was an early and important missed opportunity to indelibly brand Ms. Clark’s character, judgment, obsession with political game-‐playing, and inconsistency with the public. It merited a major communications campaign. However, we contented ourselves with observing that the Premier’s decision might have had more to do with her concern that she would lose an election and dropped the matter, as far as the public could see. The NDP tucked away the work done to prepare a campaign, much of which it would return to in 2013. And a substantially full slate of candidates now faced a two-‐year wait before they could proceed with their candidacies. The NDP had a strong slate of candidates in 2011 and a stronger one in 2013. But it is fair to say that the 2011 “Christy Clark’s basic principles of democracy” false start left the party with less flexibility when it came to assembling its slate – while the Liberals gave themselves an additional two years to recruit their own. 2012 Over the course of the fall of 2011 and 2012, it became clear that Premier Clark did not have a public policy agenda, and did indeed prefer to campaign rather than govern. She focused on photo opportunities and a permanent campaign tour at public expense. She staged a series of set-‐piece tantrums at meetings with other premiers, which led to a great deal of negative comment from other Canadian governments on-‐ and off-‐stage. The government proposed little of consequence on any file. British Columbians – and Liberal voters – weren’t impressed. The Liberal party’s political support disintegrated after the HST referendum, splitting into shards – some switching to the NDP; some moving into “undecided”; some moving to the Green party; and a very substantial number switching to the British Columbia Conservative Party, reorganizing under the leadership of former Conservative MP John Cummins. It later became clear through a series of leaks that the Liberal campaign team, working at public expense in Christy Clark’s Premier’s office, spent much of the year debating what to do about this. From what we can see, they settled on four core initiatives:
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(a) They focused much of their public political fire and venom on the BC Conservative party, which they accused of splitting the right-‐wing vote. It seems clear they calculated that the BC Conservative party posed a mortal threat to their re-‐election, and had to be cracked as a first order of business; (b) They conceived and implemented an outreach strategy aimed at the Chinese and South Asian communities; (c) A team was hived off from the Premier’s office and set to work organizing an (arguably illegal) front group to anonymously fundraise and then broadcast a series of (arguably defamatory) attack ads aimed at Adrian Dix; and (d) The Liberal campaign team designed and aired a constant stream of Stephen Harper-‐style government television ads designed to seed the idea that the next election was about – and was only about -‐-‐ economic stability. We can say across the political barricades that, whatever one thinks of the ethics and legality of all of this, as a raw political proposition each of these efforts proved to be successful, although it was not always easy to see this at the time. • Individuals previously affiliated with the BC Liberal party took up positions in the BC Conservative party. Over the course of 2012, some of these individuals provoked divisive fights within that party over the leadership of Mr. Cummins, and on several occasions staged high-‐ profile press conferences to denounce the Conservative leader and to theatrically resign. Premier Clark, meanwhile, set aside her previous identification with the federal Liberal party and hugged her new basic principles as a small-‐ and capital-‐“c” Conservative. She participated in several high-‐profile events with Prime Minister Harper. Preston Manning praised her. She proclaimed her ardour for Margaret Thatcher. Members of the Harper team fanned out in core Liberal ridings urging former supporters to reconsider their support for the BC Conservatives. These efforts were entirely successful. The BC Conservative party, which in early 2012 seemed set to surpass the BC Liberals, was unable to coherently reply to this offensive from the government and began a long, steady and relentless fall in public support to the benefit of the Liberals. As we will note below, the Liberal ethnic outreach strategy provided the NDP with a missed opportunity to break Christy Clark. But in its final effect, this strategy likely contributed significantly to the ultimate Liberal victory. Chinese-‐language media in particular were notably ardent in their over-‐the-‐top partisan political support for the 2013 Liberal campaign. Operating under a flimsy and arguably illegal false front, Premier Clark’s BC Liberal team succeeded in raising a substantial sum from secret donors, and then researched a series of television, radio and print ads aimed at Adrian Dix. They held most of their fire in 2012, but got their homework done as we will note below.
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And the tidal wave of taxpayer-‐funded Liberal party television ads began. In this, the BC Liberals were working directly off the Harper government playbook. They were not seeking to promote any particular program or to persuade voters of any particular fact with these advertisements. The purpose of this advertising program was to seed the idea that the key issue before the province was the stability of its economy – and to suggest that the BC Liberals were 100% focused on this issue. There was no truth to this. Liberal cuts to skills training; foot-‐dragging on mining permits; raw log exports; cutbacks to tourism and agriculture programs; and much more had done a great deal of harm to the economy, which was seriously under-‐performing other provinces on many metrics. But as the coming campaign would show, facts weren’t going to matter.
Speaking from our perspective as campaign workers, the BC NDP for its part focused on three initiatives relevant to setting up the coming campaign: (a) The caucus, now functioning as a united, well-‐organized and well-‐motivated team, maintained steady pressure on the government throughout 2012; (b) Adrian Dix well understood the Liberal party’s ability to crank up a “red scare” in the business community and to build on it to re-‐assemble their voting base. He therefore participated in over a hundred meetings with business groups over the course of 2012, detailing his fiscal, economic, social and environmental agenda, and seeking to reassure the business community that the province would not be destroyed if it chose to vote in a modern progressive government; and (c) The BC NDP systematically set about putting its finances in order. Results were encouraging: • To the extent that the public paid any attention to the abbreviated 2012 legislative session or other political news out of Victoria, they would have seen a clear, focused and articulate NDP opposition making it perfectly clear that Premier Clark had no coherent agenda; was failing to make progress on any economic, social or environmental file; and was consumed by her political priorities. The caucus staked out a few carefully considered and clear positive alternatives – a skills training strategy; a carefully-‐targeted tax package; and opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline; Adrian Dix thoroughly impressed the business community. His detailed, thoughtful speeches – delivered without notes – and equally detailed and thoughtful answers to questions demonstrated that he had carefully considered the fiscal and economic issues that pre-‐occupied business leaders; had a well-‐considered plan (drawn from his campaign brief); and could speak to it confidently and competently. The contrast between the thoughtful and confident NDP Leader and the feckless and content-‐free Premier Clark at this point in the political cycle could not have been starker, and was widely remarked on during these meetings. Our leader could be forgiven for concluding that the same approach would continue to work with the public during the coming election campaign;
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And, over the course of 2012, the BC NDP under the leadership of provincial secretary Jan O’Brien paid off all of its previous debt and advanced twenty years in its fundraising competence – smashing all of its previous fundraising records. This was a signal achievement by Ms. O’Brien and her team at provincial office, a foundational contribution to the party and its work that will stand the party in good stead for many elections to come.
In the spirit of candour that is appropriate to this post-‐mortem, it seems appropriate to say that there were things in 2012 that worried us. (1) Tensions between offices First, while Adrian Dix achieved a remarkable reunification of our caucus which went from strength to strength as a team, in all candour we cannot say that the same was always true of the political and party team. In particular, our team struggled to agree on how to execute the campaign brief. Senior staff at provincial office wanted a political website and pre-‐campaign materials that would introduce Adrian Dix and his autobiography in detail; would criticize Christy Clark by name; would attack the BC Liberal government’s record in tough language; would fundraise on the basis of sharp attacks on the government, the Premier and her party; and would propose detailed policy alternatives. Acting within the campaign brief, colleagues in Victoria vetoed all proposals along these lines. The leader’s name was removed from the NDP’s campaign website and almost all autobiographical content was spiked. Christy Clark was not to be named in any party material. Criticism of the government was to be written in understated language and on a tightly controlled set of issues. And the party was not to commit the leader and caucus to specific policy proposals, since the party’s platform had not been agreed, and the province’s fiscal room seemed to leave little room to make promises we would be in a position to actually keep. Tension between the party office and the legislative staff is an old story in the NDP and has bedevilled many of our campaigns, federal and provincial – especially ones conducted by a new leader and a team that has not worked together before. The antidote is an understanding between all players, acted on, that they are on the same team. In due course Adrian Dix resolved these issues by approving a campaign organization that wove the strands of our team together – exactly as he had done with our caucus. And as soon as we were all together in the same campaign office during the campaign itself, we shook down into a cheerful, harmonious, hard-‐ working and technically effective central campaign team. But that was not always the case before the writ dropped, making it more difficult to carefully discuss and think through the strategic and tactical issues before us. This had numerous consequences. For example, we struggled to agree on a campaign message box. What, fundamentally, was our ballot question – what were we asking voters to decide on election day? The Liberals spent months and millions of dollars – tens of millions if you count public money – defining their question. Ours was hard for voters to see until the third week of the campaign. The Liberals wrestled with their campaign message amidst paralyzing internal dissent, a withering media narrative, and brutally discouraging polling numbers. We labored under a more self-‐inflicted set of problems. Page | 12
(2) Front-‐runner disease Second, we clearly developed a bad case of front-‐runner disease. Judging from much commentary since the election, many of our colleagues in our party and movement knew all along that we were heading towards disaster, and that the correct campaign was blindingly obvious, understood by all, and could have been easily implemented. This, alas for the people of British Columbia (who must now endure another four years of misgovernment), was not obvious to our team in 2012. The approach we were following appeared to be working extremely well. And this continued to be true (as far as the public could see) right up until about 8:30 pm on election night. Parties that are ten or twenty points behind in public domain polls know they are on the wrong track and need to change. Parties that appear to be going from strength to strength believe they are on the right track, and should build on what they are already doing. The BC NDP consistently led the BC Liberals in all polls, public and internal, throughout 2012. It therefore appeared to be correct that the public was tired of mean-‐spirited negative right-‐wing populism; was tired of transparent lies and obvious misgovernment from Ms. Clark and her government; had concluded that the Premier was not competent to govern the province, and had tuned her out; was determined to change the government; and just wanted to be reassured that the BC NDP could be trusted with the province’s fiscal, economic, social and environmental files. Our campaign approach was implicitly built on these assumptions – which were, events proved, dangerously complacent about our opponent. (3) The strategic consequences of committing to “positive politics” Third, the further we got into 2012 the deeper we committed to the campaign brief and the more difficult it became to overturn it even had we wanted to -‐-‐ which we did not, since it seemed to be working. In substantially every public appearance over the course of the year, our leader attacked the Liberals for their negativity; predicted they would become much worse during the campaign; suggested that this was a key reason why they deserved to be defeated; and specifically, clearly and unconditionally promised not to do the same. This was warmly received in the party; as far as we could see by the public; and was widely praised in the media. It also closed the door to the overwhelmingly negative, personally-‐abusive, populist, crusading campaign that (for example) Premier Glen Clark improvised on the road in 1996 – and that the Liberals were preparing to aim at us in 2013. The price of switching to a populist, negative campaign went up every time we committed publicly to never doing so. The odds of such a campaign working went down every time we criticised the Liberals for campaigning in that manner. Page | 13
We took a clear and constantly-‐repeated position, in principle, against personally-‐abusive negative politics (quick reinterpreted by the media and our opponents to mean any negative campaigning at all). In many ways this became a central theme of our campaign. And that meant we were locking ourselves into it, win or lose. In hindsight this was a fundamental, double error. The public does not find political process – “changing politics” – as compelling as pocketbook issues. And staking out such a clear position against a set of political tools was a hostage to fortune – a bet that our then-‐apparently highly favourable political circumstances would never change. Setting up the campaign, fall 2012 In the fall of 2012 we began staffing up for the coming campaign. As part of our campaign’s communications policy, our colleagues in the Leader’s office instructed us to avoid profiling unelected campaign staff; to not do on-‐the-‐record media interviews or to participate in television or media panels; and to decline to answer media questions about our campaign structure or strategy. The focus, it was reasoned very credibly, should be on candidates for office and what they said in public, not on staff in the campaign on what strategies might be under discussion. Now that the campaign is over, for reference, here is a survey of our central campaign team and a little about the individuals involved: Weekly strategy call: Beginning in the spring of 2011 and continuing for two years, we held a weekly strategy and tactics call to discuss daily events, this campaign, and to concert our work. These calls were chaired by Brian Topp and included: From the leader’s office and caucus: • • • Stephen Howard (leader’s chief of staff) Roseanne Moran (caucus executive director) Carole James (representing caucus)
From provincial office: • • • • • And: • • Jim Rutkowski (Carol James’ chief of staff) and Brad Lavigne (2011 federal NDP campaign director) Page | 14 Jan O’Brien (provincial secretary) Moe Sihota (party president) Leslie Kerr (director of organization) Gerry Scott (2009 BC NDP campaign director) Glen Sandford (former caucus communications director)
Central campaign structure: In its final form our central campaign was structured as follows (this team took over the work of the weekly strategy and tactics group during the campaign, meeting every morning): • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Campaign director: Brian Topp Deputy campaign director: Jan O’Brien Lead political of the tour: Stephen Howard Campaign outreach and feedback: Moe Sihota Research unit director: Vanessa Geary (director of research in the leader’s office) War room unit director: Brad Lavigne Communications unit director: Tim Pearson (director of communications in the leader’s office) Organizing unit director: Leslie Kerr Target team unit director: Gerry Scott Tour unit director: Heather Gropp (administrative officer in the caucus office) Media relations unit director: Jim Rutkowski IT unit director: Dan Pollock (senior It specialist working at provincial office) Senior advisor on tour: Anne McGrath (lead political on 2011 federal tour) Transition coordinator: Roseanne Moran Deputy communications unit director: Michael Roy (comms director at provincial office) Deputy war room unit director: Shannon Phillips (director of research at Alta fed) Deputy target team unit director: Glen Sanford
A total of seventeen people in these roles. A few other facts about them: thirteen people on this team were British Columbians with (mostly) long histories working for the BC NDP; four were “imports” from out-‐of-‐province (three of these from the 2011 federal NDP campaign). Ten were men, seven were women. Five were senior officials from the leader’s office; five were either senior staff or an elected officer from provincial office. Organizing and target teams Our organizing unit, working with very limited resources, worked continuously after the 2009 election to keep constituencies active and to manage political opportunities – including two successful by-‐election campaigns in ridings without a recent history of electing NDP MLAs. Both elected NDP MLAs with convincing wins. Both of these successful by-‐election campaigns were much more focused on a hard-‐ edged criticism of the Liberal government than our general election campaign would be. The organizing unit was steadily expanded as the campaign approached. A “target team” was activated. This involved hiring a growing team of senior organizers whose sole function was to lead the strongest possible local campaigns in Liberal-‐held ridings we believed we could win. In September 2012, when this unit was activated, there seemed to be quite a few such seats. A series of organizing polls commissioned over the course of 2012 and early 2013 suggested the NDP was poised to defeat the Liberals in over 20 Liberal-‐held ridings. Given the actual results, it is clear our organizing effort was dissipated over too many target ridings and therefore could not offset the other challenges we faced during the campaign. At the time the unit was activated, all the pressure from all quarters was in the other direction, to grow the list. Page | 15
Tour unit We activated the tour unit. The leader’s tour was not one of the strengths of our 2001, 2005 and 2009 campaigns, and so a great deal of effort was put into creating a strong team that would take a new approach in this area. The leaders of this unit were carefully trained by the architects of Jack Layton’s 2008 and 2011 federal election tours. A professional tour and staging company was hired to work with us – the same team who worked on Layton’s federal efforts. Day planners and advance staff were hired as early as possible and spent many weeks scouting the province to map routes and potential locations for events. And then a near-‐flawless (from a technical perspective) leader’s tour was executed during the campaign – a model for future efforts we would urge, mindful of the message delivery notes we will set out below. Polling and research We polled extensively throughout the fall of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013. The horserace data we accumulated province-‐wide and in riding polls seemed to confirm the public domain story – the NDP was comfortably ahead in most parts of the province. Polling and focus group argument testing all seemed to confirm our campaign brief. No arguments seemed to work for the Liberals. Our fundamentally positive messages seemed to test well, as did the key elements of the platform then being developed. In hindsight much of this research was misconceived -‐-‐ through no fault of our research companies, who competently and professionally executed what we asked for. Critics of our campaign have had a lot to say about what they think they know about our tracking polling during the campaign (we’ll discuss this a little more below). In hindsight, there were more fundamental issues with the way we researched this campaign that should not be repeated. The horserace numbers and straight-‐forward argument testing we commissioned in 2011, 2012 and the early months of 2013 – very typical of NDP campaigns in many jurisdictions -‐-‐ did not give our campaign an accurate read on the electorate, nor did this work predict the outcome of the election. We would have been wiser to spend a great deal more time listening -‐-‐ in much deeper, open-‐ended, open-‐minded research -‐-‐ to what our voters and potential voters aspired to in their personal lives; what they really hoped for from the next BC government; what they really thought of the leaders of the parties; where the real underlying strengths and weaknesses of Christy Clark and her government were; what the real underlying strengths and weaknesses of our party and leader were; and what British Columbians needed to hear from us to persuade them to stay with us -‐-‐ without abdicating the ultimate campaign design to polling or advertising suppliers. These are the basic research foundations of a campaign brief that is fact-‐based and likely to succeed. We did not do this because we already had our campaign brief; it seemed to be working; and we were simply working to polish and execute it. Data and micro-‐targeting Over the course of 2012 we implemented a number of other interesting new campaign tools – including a micro-‐targeting system that helped us predict, quite accurately, which voters might tell us they supported us and would contribute financially to our campaign. This micro-‐targeting system was part of a larger data management system that allowed us to track, record and preserve substantially all of our Page | 16
local and central voter identification work, for the first time. It is more than a little depressing to compare the “marks” we recorded in target ridings through these well-‐designed and impressive systems to the actual turnout. Communications unit Our party communications unit was steadily built up as the election neared. A team of highly competent writers and designers tackled the overwhelming task of generating unified, coherent campaign materials (signs, pamphlets, ads, printed and web material) for 85 campaigns. They did a remarkably good job of this – the 2013 campaign was one of the best looking, most unified our party has ever run. Its ultimate failure was no fault of the design team – their challenge was the material they were given to work with. Core campaign message Finally, we developed “the nub of the campaign”, the basic message we intended to try to deliver through all available channels. Our slogan was “Change for the Better.” The idea was to ask for what we wanted -‐-‐ a direct appeal to voters to change the government. And then to try to inoculate against the obvious Liberal response. The Liberals were certain to reply (as they did) by claiming that change was too risky. So we added a reassuring promise: “for the better.” This was intended to provide a scaffold for a detailed policy offer. • We would change tax policy for the better – reducing spending on tax cuts to the wealthiest, people who needed help the least -‐-‐ proposals that tested so well the Liberals adopted them in their last budget, before they moved on to campaign hysterically against exactly the same proposals weeks later. We would change the province’s economic priorities for the better – getting back into the business of skills training, also a big polling winner. We would change social policy for the better – reducing child poverty, reducing class sizes and improving home care. And we would change environmental policy for the better – taking back the power to make decisions about environmental questions from the Harper government to whom the Liberals had abdicated responsibility.
• • •
This was a front-‐runner’s message and program, aimed at addressing what appeared to be the BC NDP’s remaining problem, which was the need to reassure new voters voting for us for the first time that we could be trusted to run the province. Going into the campaign, we were therefore leaning heavily into the “for the better” part of the message – trying to make a positive offer to voters. The need to close the sale on “Change” was subordinated, since the public already seemed to be there. We struggled to get these ideas to fit a simple, easy to understand written campaign message box. Drafts were hotly debated within the elements of our campaign team; long delays held up work on it as other priorities in the legislature ate up the available bandwidth; and the ultimate results were not very persuasive or compelling – a clear and dangerous sign in hindsight that there was something fundamentally wrong with our messaging and the way we were implementing it, comfortingly masked by all the favourable horseracing polling at the time. Page | 17
In the event, we were not able to communicate an exciting vision of how things were going to get better for British Columbians during the campaign. And it emerged that a winning plurality of the public were not unalterably persuaded that the time had come to replace Christy Clark as Premier or the BC Liberals as the government. We did not, as Adrian Dix put it after the election, prosecute the case for change nearly well enough. The Liberals play their dirt card – The Memo – January 2013 In January 2013 Christy Clark and the BC Liberals began an internet, radio and television advertising program aimed at Adrian Dix, financed through perhaps $1 million in secret donations accumulated in an arguably illegal false-‐front organization. This material rehearsed Adrian Dix’s attempt to save Glen Clark’s premiership by creating a backdated memo. The Premier and her team made a number of new claims about this memo, including allegations about its timing and relationship to a police investigation. Talking through her false-‐front sock puppet, Christy Clark also focused in on the details of Mr. Dix’s resignation after these events came to light, noting that he had been paid a severance payment. There is no question that these events in 1998 represented a serious and enduringly damaging error in judgment by Adrian Dix, one for which he has taken responsibility on innumerable occasions. His constituents judged these events in both the 2005 and 2009 provincial elections and elected and re-‐ elected him to public office. It was old news to most of the press gallery, who paid little attention to the “revelations” broadcast in this material by the BC Liberals through their secretive front group. What to do? What to do about this first phase of Ms. Clark’s campaign had been a topic of debate within the BC NDP campaign working group for many months before the Liberals made their move. Many options had been considered. Ultimately, what we decided to do was to put up a television spot contrasting Ms. Clark’s mean-‐spirited personal attacks against a positive message from Adrian Dix. And we bided our time, knowing that events were going to change significantly in a just a few weeks, when the legislature re-‐ convened. In hindsight, this proved to be dangerously complacent. Our January television spot, in particular, wasn’t an effective response. This ad, with its heartfelt straight-‐positive message, was an early warning about the weak political resonance of purely positive campaign messages in BC’s political culture. Ms. Clark’s attack ads didn’t seem to be having much immediate impact either. But the Premier, her secret donors and her lightly-‐camouflaged campaign team were playing a long game, with their eyes firmly fixed not on how things looked in January and February, but on what people would have on their minds in the ballot box in May. The Memo was old news to journalists and to the minority of British Columbians who follow politics between elections. But most voters were hearing about these issues for the first time through Ms. Clark’s attack ads, in the most negative possible light. Ms. Clark’s personal attack ads against Adrian Dix would therefore slowly build up an electrical charge that, it would turn out, peaked when people were assessing who would make the best premier while voting on May 14th. Page | 18
The NDP plays its response card – The Quick Wins Scandal – February 2013 In February 2013 the Liberals finally reconvened the legislature after hiding from it for many months, and Adrian Dix and his political team played their own card. The BC Liberal government had been bleeding personnel for months. Ministers, MLAs and political staff had been steadily leaving. Some of the political staff in particular left on bad terms with the BC Liberal team. A number had resigned on principle – real principle -‐-‐ because they were worried about the ethics and legality of what they had been instructed to do in their work. A large package of emails and other material were provided to the BC NDP, detailing some of this. Adrian Dix now demonstrated his remarkable strengths as a legislative and political leader. Through a compelling, civilly-‐phrased but extremely damaging, well-‐executed plan that played out over the course of the brief legislative session, Adrian Dix and his team laid this material out before the people of British Columbia. In what became known as the “quick wins” scandal, Christy Clark’s political team were shown to be conspiring together, on government time and at taxpayer expense and using techniques designed to conceal their actions, to shamelessly manipulate health care policy and government work with the Chinese and Punjabi communities to serve the political and electoral interests of the BC Liberal party. Christy Clark’s team were also shown to be discussing highly sensitive issues, like BC’s history with its Chinese community, in crassly and offensively manipulative terms. These revelations perfectly validated the public’s worst concerns about Premier Clark’s character, her judgment, her priorities, and her approach to government. These revelations also led to a public meltdown of Ms. Clark’s cabinet and caucus. Liberal ministers and MLAs publicly denounced the Premier’s political team and demanded accountability. All of which drove Liberal support in public domain polls to a nadir, and drove up support for the NDP to unusual heights – producing an ephemeral “20-‐point lead” that has since been much discussed. In due course, the Premier’s longest-‐serving and closest political advisor resigned, and the Premier was persuaded by her colleagues to issue a late, grudging and obviously forced series of public apologies. And then… we left it there. The Premier’s senior political aide resigned. Ms. Clark grumpily and unpersuasively apologized. And, in effect, we accepted this and dropped the matter. A more aggressive, bloody-‐minded campaign than the one we conducted would have acted on the traditional political principle that the best time to kick your opponent is when they are down. We could have strung together Ms. Clark’s apologies in a saturation-‐buy campaign ad and asked if this is the kind of person who should be Premier – the kind of question the Liberals were asking about Adrian Dix in the most grossly offensive terms. These revelations about Christy Clark and her government could have been politically underlined in many other ways. But we concluded that the work of breaking Christy Clark and the political credibility of her government had been done, that the personal attacks on Adrian Dix had been effected countered, and that the BC NDP could safely return to a positive campaign in March and April in the lead-‐up to the campaign.
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This proved to be a terrible misjudgement. Indeed, by the end of the campaign these events may have, to some extent, helped Ms. Clark. Her government had been confronted by a first-‐class political crisis. As far as the public could see, she appeared to have reacted to it decisively – firing key aides and apologizing. Basically, as far as the public could see, we accepted this. She had weathered the storm. As awareness of the details faded, what was left was a sense that she was capable of weathering storms – a basic skill required of Premiers. The March-‐April 2013 phony war The Liberals hunkered down in March, getting their campaign organized and blanketing the province with Liberal party government-‐funded economy ads and sock puppet attack ads aimed at Adrian Dix. The Premier ran away from the legislature as quickly as she could, and began a low-‐profile province-‐ wide leader’s tour at public expense, re-‐announcing government infrastructure spending and shaking hands, mostly to very modest crowds. Our plan was to focus on our role as official opposition, arguing that no election had been called, and that the Premier should be focused on governing, not campaigning. So the caucus kept up a daily policy criticism of the Liberal government – pursued with considerable energy but little media coverage. Adrian Dix kept up a gruelling schedule of mostly private, out-‐of-‐the-‐public-‐eye fundraising events with the business community, and with local party events in aid of finalizing our slate and organization. Although he was working a murderously challenging schedule, media began to complain that we were taking the election for granted, and doing little to either criticize the government or to make a positive case for ourselves. The public domain polls, however, continued to report that things were going just fine. We developed a plan to stage one or two campaign-‐style events a week over the course of March and early April, in order to keep our political profile up; to give our leader some experience with campaign-‐ style events and become more comfortable with them; and to work out the kinks with our newly-‐built tour team. Unfortunately this pre-‐election plan was almost entirely cancelled (without a word of discussion, demonstrating some of the ongoing dysfunction within our team). The one campaign-‐style rally we were able to stage proved to be extremely and somewhat discouragingly difficult to produce. It also turned out to be an excellent event, producing some of the best visuals of the campaign. And, over many long hours, days and weeks over the course of March and April, we worked on our platform. Our team had set itself an ambitious agenda for that platform. It would tell the truth about the finances of the province. It would raise a new dollar in revenue for every dollar proposed in new initiatives. It would tackle the province’s real economic needs. It would set out an agenda to reduce poverty and improve public services. It would take control over environmental policy back from Ottawa. And it would do this through practical, affordable measures that we would really implement if elected. With a clear and clean lead in the polls, the platform process was taken with deadly seriousness. To the point, it could be argued, that we began to exhibit another political affliction (related to “front runner disease”) – “governmentisis”. We were, in our minds, already in office, carefully weighing our fiscal Page | 20
options and what could really be done within the tiny room to manoeuver that is really available to a Canadian provincial government in 2013. The platform resulting from these discussions is a gem -‐-‐ as a policy document – a principled, realistic and practical roadmap for a first term NDP government in the face of the realities of government. However, the high standards we set for ourselves in the drafting of that document meant that some of its key elements were still being debated literally minutes before they were publicly announced during the heat of the campaign. Election platforms are sometimes a problem for NDP campaigns because they can be poorly considered, too ambitious, or contain unrealistic proposals. This platform was the opposite. It was extremely well thought out; studiously incremental and fiscally responsible; and realistic. But our platform’s just-‐in-‐time preparation, stretching through March and April and right into the first two weeks of the campaign, meant that it never really went through a campaign political lens. Whose votes were we trying to attract with the key elements of the platform? There were, in fact, a set of excellent, politically-‐attractive proposals in that document that would have made a real difference to the lives of working families, young people, women, new Canadians and job creators. It would emerge that few of those people were going to hear about them. The campaign opens – the first ten days The Tour model The campaign began on Tuesday, April 16th. Our tour plan contemplated eight days of platform announcements in the ridings of the most senior Ministers of the government, beginning on writ day with the Premier’s riding. We did this for a number of reasons: (a) We wanted to draw Liberal organizing efforts into their core ridings and away from battleground seats – and so we wanted them to worry about their safest seats; (b) We contemplated a series of days that would do two things – offer a clear, detailed criticism of the Liberal government in a core policy area; and then offer a key counter-‐proposal, supplemented by three or four subordinate proposals – as an alternative. In other words, each day we would spell out in detail how the government had failed on a key element of public policy – in the relevant minister’s riding – and then offer a positive alternative on that topic; (c) By feathering out policy proposals, we would have some sort of control over the coverage of our campaign. Concrete proposals are hard not to cover; and (d) We hoped to provoke the Premier and her senior ministers into intemperate reactions to our criticisms and proposals. We reasoned that in doing so they would surrender the dignity of their offices; they would be knocked off their own game; they would assume the aspect of an opposition party; and they would hopefully therefore earn themselves that job. Page | 21
It is not a bad idea to campaign in your opponent’s backyard for the reasons set out above. And we met some of our goals. But overall this period of the campaign was not successful, for several key reasons: (a) The just-‐in-‐time nature of our platform writing meant that we were not able to stop; sleep on each day’s content; and then carefully write a simple, compelling criticism of the government on that topic followed by a simple, campaign-‐style policy proposal that people could hear and understand. Further and worse, our determination to be fiscally responsible in order to reassure voters that we could be trusted in office kept us focused on the very modest spending we proposed. So this meant: -‐ That we did not prepare a particularly compelling, well-‐thought-‐out, memorable and hopefully vote-‐influencing criticism of the government each day; -‐ That in lieu of a single clear main proposal and some subordinate points to fill out coverage, we ended up laying out banquets of proposals (some with twenty points or more). As is their nature, when faced with an embarrassment of dense policy like this, political journalists on our tour picked out what they thought the most newsworthy items would be, and summarized the rest in a few never-‐to-‐be-‐noticed words; and -‐ Our proposals were framed as spending commitments rather than as outcomes that meant something to the lives of families. So much money for education; not smaller class sizes. So much money for child care; not a lower child care cost for your family. So much money for training; not a chance for you and your children to get the skills needed to get a good job. And so on. (b) It emerged over the course of these days that our leader’s speaking style – so compelling and impressive in front of business and stakeholder audiences over the past two years – was not serving him as well during the campaign. He did not want to engage in negative campaigning, and so his criticisms of the government were understated and did not make for memorable television. He did want to explain our policy proposals, and so addressed them at considerable length and in detail, speaking extemporaneously in terms that were hard to summarize in six-‐ second clips. And he then answered as many questions as journalists cared to fire at him during scrums throughout the campaign day. This often meant he was making his news in scrums staged in front of non-‐descript backgrounds in reply to journalists’ questions, instead of during the carefully-‐stage-‐managed, made-‐for-‐television visual the tour team had organized for the morning. What were voters left with after the first week? We asked respondents in a series of focus groups what they had heard us say that first week. They told us that they understood we wanted to freeze BC ferry fees – a proposal that was well received. And that we wanted to increase welfare rates by $20 a month – viewed as both a ridiculously small sum, and as an unpopular pre-‐occupation with welfare rates. A thin harvest indeed from a week in which we had tried to communicate a major plan to improve skills training (the key challenge facing the economy); a major plan to reduce child poverty (the greatest social Page | 22
scandal facing the province); and carefully-‐constructed proposals to reduce classroom sizes, to reduce the cost of child care, and to improve home care for seniors. We asked respondents what the Liberals had said in the first week. The Liberals, they had heard, felt that Adrian Dix was a bad person, and that the BC government should be focused on creating jobs. War between war rooms Journalists are fascinated by campaign “war rooms”, because war rooms are all about talking to them. Both the NDP and the Liberals fielded research and communications teams against each other, and joined battle through the media from the first day of the campaign. Here is our take on the results: The NDP war room comprehensively discredited the facts used by the Liberals in their campaign, as was constantly confirmed in media “reality checks” that were prominently broadcast and published throughout the campaign. We showed, and then repeatedly proved, that the Liberal campaign was built on a tissue of lies from start to finish -‐-‐ in substantially everything the Premier said on the road, that the Liberals broadcast in their ads, and that they whispered at the door. Their fiscal record, their jobs record, their debt record, their environmental record, their claims about the NDP platform, their claims about NDP capital spending plans – all, again and again, were proved to be brazen and shameless lies, well-‐documented by the NDP war room and extensively and sometimes brutally covered in the media. The Liberal war room for its part excelled in uncovering and bringing to light the mistakes, some serious, that some of our candidates had made in their private lives. We did not reply in kind -‐-‐ not that there wasn’t a plentiful supply of material to work with -‐-‐ in keeping with our explicit and oft-‐repeated commitment to avoid personal attacks during the campaign. So the gay-‐bashers, bankrupts, tax avoiders, drug trade associates and people who indulged in sundry ethical lapses in government who ran for office on the Liberal slate got a largely free ride from us. While the public was treated to a number of days of distracting controversy over NDP candidates who had made imprudent and indefensible statements on the internet – yet another reminder that the fact-‐free, civility-‐free (and often mindless) flame culture that is so boringly central to online discourse can have painful career consequences ten to twenty years later. Who won these exchanges? Arguably, we won the war room war on points, while losing the war. This election teaches the lesson, well understood by observers and opponents of the populist political right, that constantly repeated lies can be effective – even if compellingly discredited. Our party’s ongoing difficulties with candidate vetting were distracting to be sure. And we missed an important opportunity to underline the nature of some of Ms. Clark’s team – giving her and them a much easier ride to another mandate than their backgrounds and behaviour in their personal, professional and political lives deserve. That is not a mistake we would be wise to repeat.
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Our ad program Consistent with our campaign brief, our first two flights of ads were designed to make a positive case for electing an NDP government. Our first spot, broadcast for the first six days of the campaign, was filmed during the single campaign-‐ style rally we were able to stage prior to the start of the campaign. It was designed to show a smiling, relaxed, approachable and likeable NDP leader in a smiling, energetic, enthusiastic crowd of people who looked like the voters who we were hoping to attract. That visual was the purpose of the spot. Our second flight of ads, broadcast for about ten days after we released out platform, was intended to do on television what we were trying to do on the tour – to criticize the Liberal government on a key point of public policy through the words of voters who looked like the people we were seeking votes from (a young woman, a new Canadian family, seniors) -‐-‐ and then to put up a smiling, relaxed, competent and serious NDP leader to offer a practical-‐sounding solution. There were no negative spots, because we had committed to a running a positive campaign. Did any of this help our campaign? These advertisements were technically much better than our January spot, and seemed to showcase our leader and our proposals reasonably well. But research (if not distorted by the personal opinions of either the client or the researcher) doesn’t lie, and the ultimate verdict has to be found in what people were able to remember. We regularly asked respondents what they could remember of NDP and Liberal spots. Over the course of the first two-‐thirds of the campaign, respondents came to be able to repeat our campaign slogan back to us – “Change for the better”, which they liked. And they were able to repeat back fairly lengthy passages of the scripts from the Liberal attack ads about Adrian Dix. That was, for the first 20 days of the campaign or so, pretty much all that cut through. Which was not nearly enough. We decided to wait before producing ads for the last third of the campaign. If our lead held up after those debates, we would close with a final flight of straight positive anthem ads. If things went less well, we would test how far the campaign brief would permit us to attack Ms. Clark and her government.
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Early warnings in internal polling and research Here is one of the charts we followed over the course of the campaign:
We invested heavily in public opinion research; regular focus group testing; and in a regular debrief of our local campaign teams, candidates, and front-‐line voter contact workers. Correctly read, our research documented how voters were responding to the campaign accurately – with a debate (not unique to our results) about what happened in the final 48 hours of the campaign. Overall, what our research told us was that the NDP suffered a slow leak in its support from the first day of the campaign, losing roughly a half-‐point a week – until the last week of the campaign, when NDP support appeared to recover as a major reinvestment in new messaging (which we will discuss below) was circulated and broadcast. We took a big hit during the debate over Kinder-‐Morgan; popped back up after the leaders’ debates; then faded – and then recovered again, we hoped, in the final days of the campaign. Our research also told us that the Liberals steadily re-‐assembled their electoral coalition, gaining 1 to 3% each week – first repatriating the votes they had lost to the Conservative party; then repatriating a bit of support lost to the Green party; then some support they had lost to us; and – steadily throughout the
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campaign – re-‐earning votes they had lost to the “undecided” column. As is plain on the chart, that last movement was the critical one. We can say in hindsight that the Liberals understood their own voters and former voters, and spoke to them effectively – through their slashing personal attack on Adrian Dix; through their Socred-‐style apocalyptic warnings about the economy; through their fact-‐free claims and promises about the province’s finances, economy, and social programs; and through the right-‐wing populist style and content of their tour and paid media. For our part, we worried about the early trend reported in our public opinion research, and about the many obvious problems with the first week of the campaign. Everyone involved could see that we were not connecting effectively with voters and needed to change how we were campaigning. A significant readjustment was required. The second week – Kinder-‐Morgan, selling BC Place, the platform launch It was clear that we were not being effective in laying out our proposals, and that we needed a radical simplification of what we were doing. We needed to stop setting out vast smorgasbords of policy for the media to poke around in, looking for the most unhelpful morsels. We needed a clearer, sharper criticism of the government. We needed to make some proposals people would hear and remember and want to vote for. We needed to speak more clearly and compellingly about topics people cared about. So we re-‐tooled how we were going to play out the second week. The task was straightforward: -‐ We needed to get off two more days of talking about themes, the key one being on Tuesday, Earth Day, when we intended to lay out our environmental proposals. Then we needed to present our entire platform and fiscal plan, on the Wednesday, and try to win the point that the NDP had a smart, practical, affordable agenda for government, and could be trusted with a mandate. And then we would scale back our activity on the road, in order to focus on preparing for an all-‐party radio leaders’ debate on Friday, and a second all-‐party television leaders’ debate on the following Monday – debates we needed to do well in.
The second week began. Our Monday events and announcements went smoothly, without moving the ball in any direction. That afternoon our team settled into an extensive, detailed, exhausting and difficult debate about environmental policy that would continue through much of the night and then resume for all of the morning, engaging most of our policy and communications team in drafts and redrafts right up until our leader stood in front of the microphone to set out our environmental policy Tuesday morning. A few general reflections on this issue:
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The NDP is committed to the proposition that economic and environmental policy are two sides of the same coin – that it is possible for government to pursue policies that can lead, in practical steps, to what the NDP’s new federal constitutional preamble talks of as “sustainable prosperity” that is widely shared. This is a big idea about economic and environmental policy, a critically important one, and a fundamental difference between our party and the political right in Canada, who by their actions stand revealed as climate change deniers dedicated to focusing the Canadian economy on an infinite expansion of our role as a global source of raw, unprocessed bitumen. The BC NDP competes for the support of British Columbians who share this perspective with a provincial Green party. Despite their best efforts, much research shows that the provincial and federal Green parties are only credible to voters on environmental issues. This makes it tricky for the NDP to campaign on environmental issues – because the more important the environment is to voters, the better the Green party does, sometimes at the NDP’s expense. Indeed, the existence of the Green party provides a compelling electoral incentive for all other parties at all levels of government -‐-‐ New Democrat, Liberal and Conservative -‐-‐ to marginalize environmental issues, an important reason why these critical issues have faded from Canadian politics. The Green party is a perfectly legitimate player in Canadian politics with every right to contest elections – just as the NDP does. So far, their work is having the opposite effect of their aims. So then to this election: All of this being said, as the 2009 BC election demonstrated, environmentalists are capable of doing some serious damage to the NDP when we take positions viewed by them as harmful to the environmental cause. In this election, we therefore aimed to avoid a confrontation with the environmental movement, and perhaps to attract the support of our earlier critics. Much of the NDP base would be a lot happier with us in the result. And doing so might position us to make a direct, late-‐campaign appeal for support from cross-‐pressured Green-‐NDP voters (perhaps 3 to 4% of the total electorate) should it prove to be the case, as we had long predicted, that the election would tighten up to the point where that number of voters would decide the outcome. The election was tightening up. So we risked a much more pro-‐environmental platform than had been the case in 2009. Adrian Dix reversed our party’s opposition to Gordon Campbell’s carbon tax, and that Tuesday promised to both support the carbon tax, and to use some of its revenues for public transport. This would be widely welcomed among our previous critics and was likely sufficient to earn their support. That left the issues of pipelines and tanker traffic off the BC coast – hotly debated and discussed within our team, right up until Adrian Dix stood at that microphone on Tuesday morning and made a further decision.
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Our leader announced that the NDP would be consistent in its positions on pipelines. Both in the north, where we had long opposed the construction of the Northern Gateway pipeline, and in the south – where we would now oppose the construction of a major new oil export port at the end of the Kinder-‐ Morgan pipeline, designed to engineer a vast increase in oil tanker traffic off the BC coast. In the very early going, this announcement was well received. Prominent environmentalists strongly endorsed it. Party members called in to welcome it. And the party had its best fundraising night of the campaign. What followed, however, was an extremely distracting and unhelpful debate in which the province’s leading journalists and the Liberal party challenged us to reconcile this announcement with our previous position, to the effect that decisions about the Kinder-‐Morgan pipeline would be made once they had actually applied for approval, and gone through an environmental assessment. We struggled to do so – and, objectively, lost the exchange. Within three days, under withering fire in the media, our tracking registered the largest drop in our support we would see in the campaign. Many analysts have since argued, fairly persuasively in our view, that this was the decisive moment of the campaign, because it gave the Liberals a very helpful two-‐pocket pool shot that they played right through to the end of the campaign. It gave them an opening to turn our apparent inconsistency into a character issue about our leader – surfacing their heretofore flimsily disguised personal attack strategy and bringing it into the core of the debate. And it simultaneously allowed them to build on their argument that changing the government was too economically risky – their core case for re-‐election. The following day we went on the attack on a different subject: highlighting the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by the Liberals on BC Place, and committing to review the government’s options, including the option of privatizing the stadium. Later that day, we presented our complete election platform during a beautifully-‐staged, well-‐executed campaign event in front of the Legislature in Victoria – an election platform that was fiscally responsible, economically literate, socially progressive, environmentally activist – and almost completely invisible in the campaign. As was that event. The debates We regrouped to prepare for the radio and television debates. A team of war room and communications staff had been thinking about these debates for a week. We had mapped their formats, correctly predicted the issues that would be raised during both confrontations, and went into debate preparation with recommendations on how to address the issues. Over the course of the next four days our debate preparation team alternated between talking through debate strategy and live rehearsing – an approach to debate preparation that had worked well for Jack Layton during the May 2011 federal election. The team worked amicably and well; Adrian Dix became visibly comfortable with the formats of these debates and with the approach he would take to them; and we went into them fairly confidently, aiming to make and prove our core points – that the Liberals did not deserve another term, and that we had a credible and better plan for the province.
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The radio debate provided a dress rehearsal. Adrian Dix addressed the issues seriously, gravely and credibly. Christy Clark offered her “g”-‐droppin’, just-‐folks, let-‐me-‐tell-‐ya, open line radio show performance. Green Party leader Jane Sterk arguably won the debate on points with some articulate points about social policy. And, dangerously for the NDP, BC Conservative leader John Cummins struggled to participate. Overall, in terms of its effect on the campaign, journalists called it a draw. Our team reassembled to do a post-‐mortem on the radio debate, and then worked for two more days rehearsing the TV debate. Again there proved to be no surprises. Adrian Dix didn’t face a single question or offer a single intervention that he had not anticipated and practiced. How did the TV debate go? • Journalists watching the debate generally scored it as a victory for Adrian Dix, who came out on top of most of his exchanges with the Premier and asked her much more substantive, serious questions about public policy than she was able to marshal in reply. In the following four days, NDP support in our tracking polls recovered substantially – the largest rise in support we would see in the campaign. New Democratic voters hadn’t liked the tick-‐tock debate over our Kinder-‐Morgan decision, but found a lot more to like in what they heard from and about the television debate. Christy Clark disposed of a tough question about her judgment (related to a story about driving through a red light with her son in tow) with a clean and apparently sincere apology. Adrian Dix struggled a bit with his own apology over the memo affair.
We gave it a day to let the dust settle, and then convened focus groups to see what panels of voters made of what they saw. Respondents, male and female, spent a surprisingly long time discussing their response to the first minutes of the debate, and Adrian Dix’s opening statement. His voice has quavered a bit during that minute and he stumbled over a few of his phrases – perhaps betrayed by his diabetes (which sometimes has that effect on voice); or perhaps, at an extreme moment of pressure, betrayed by his many hours of experience with long-‐form, no-‐notes extemporaneous public speaking, now clashing with a written text to deliver in an unforgiving single minute. He had quickly and compellingly recovered. Journalists, used to his style, had shrugged it off and waited for the fireworks between the Premier and Official Opposition leader. But our focus group respondents did not follow politics at the legislature, were not previously familiar with our leader, and had now observed him closely for the first time on TV in their living rooms. Our post-‐debate focus groups ultimately talked themselves into voting NDP. But their first impressions of the leaders weren’t helpful. The post-‐debate re-‐write and the second campaign On the Wednesday morning after the debates, all of the unit leaders on the campaign team met for an extended morning meeting to discuss the shape of our campaign – the first of a number of such Page | 29
meetings over the following four days. We reported out on the focus group results, and looked at tracking data that was beginning to show a rise in respondents who picked Christy Clark as best premier. Changes in views about leadership are often precursors to changes in voting intensions. We concluded that our campaign needed to fundamentally change. We considered pivoting the campaign and turning directly to an attack on Christy Clark – in other words, to closing the campaign by reversing field completely, going straight negative, and turning it into a referendum about the Premier. Do you really want Christy Clark to be Premier for another four years? In case we needed to consider this option, we had experimented a few days before with a new telephone script our phone banks had used with undecided and cross-‐pressured voters, asking this question and offering some proof points directly critical of Ms. Clark. Our target team reported on how this worked – and urged us not to use these lines in the campaign. When we went after Ms. Clark directly on our phonebanks, respondents immediately challenged us for “flip flopping” on our positive campaign. And then they repeated the Liberals’ attack ad scripts about Adrian Dix back to us. In other words, when we directly attacked the Liberal leader, respondents defended her by raised the Liberal lines about our own leader. We concluded that we couldn’t abruptly turn to a personal attack on Premier Clark without risking a Kim Campbell-‐style meltdown, operationally and in the results (in 1993 in the face of similar facts, the Progressive Conservative campaign led by campaign director John Tory and pollster/researcher Allan Gregg had reversed field and broadcast some tough attack ads on Jean Chretien. Their own Ministers, MPs and activists rebelled against this sudden shift, publicly denouncing it and demanding that these ads come down immediately. Prime Minister Campbell then repudiated her own campaign from her airplane -‐-‐ leading to the final collapse of the PC vote. Ironically, and perhaps this is something we should have thought more carefully about when weighing these risks, the nights those ads ran in 1993 were the only nights the PCs went up in the polls). If we couldn’t ask whether people really wanted four more years of Christy Clark, then the next best thing was to ask them if they wanted four more years of the BC Liberals. Four more years of the BC Liberals? The BC Liberals had brought you the HST; BC Rail; the Quick Wins scandal; they were lying about the deficit and jobs numbers, as was being widely reported. Four more years of that? Or was it time for a change? If we asked that question clearly and compellingly, perhaps our positive offer would then resonate better. We tested these ideas in focus groups. They worked quite well with female respondents. Somewhat less well with male respondents who disputed our proof points and (as is typical in male focus groups) wanted to be persuaded we had a detailed, costed, credible platform – a document few voters ever read and that we had, unbeknown to them, released a week before. We discussed these issues with the leader and his team on tour and agreed on what to do next. So, beginning that Wednesday and then over the following five days, we wrote, tested, and then implemented a new campaign based on this direct challenge to the Liberal government.
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We did the following: • We drafted and updated daily a new stump speech for the leader to use on tour, shifting focus to a sharp challenge to the Liberal government (“Do you really want four more years of the BC Liberals?”). He picked up these lines and turned to a much sharper critique of the government in all of his statements to the end of the campaign; We substantially upped the tempo of the leader’s tour, moving from three to five events a day in order to underline that we were coming out of the debates determined to earn a mandate, and to work hard for it; We drafted and printed over a million copies of a leaflet that bluntly asked that question – four more years of the BC Liberals? – and listed the real record of the government under Ms. Clark. The other side of the pamphlet featured a smiling, sunlit picture of Adrian Dix and the key elements of our offer on the economy (more skills training), social policy (less poverty) and the environment (made-‐in-‐BC decisions about key environmental issues like pipelines); We drafted, recorded, and broadcast a saturation radio campaign that omitted the positive offer in the pamphlet and went straight at the Liberals over their record – a 100% negative radio ad campaign. Four more years of the BC Liberals?; We almost doubled our central and local phone banks, hiring up and paying for overtime to increase our voter contact phone reach into targets; We quintupled our Chinese, Punjabi and English-‐language print advertising buy, all focused on our attack on the Liberal record; We contacted the twenty safest NDP incumbent MLAs and informed them we wanted them to collapse their campaigns and move themselves and their campaign teams to target ridings we designated for them (less arose from this than we might have thought – for a good reason -‐-‐ because in large measure they had already done this. Our safe incumbents had already largely transferred their teams to their target buddy ridings and were already mostly focused there themselves); and We recorded and broadcast a saturation buy of new television ads that repeated our challenge to the BC Liberals, and then closed with a confident, clear Adrian Dix spelling out his alternative.
Overall we invested some $1.5 million in these efforts. As a veteran of previous BC NDP campaigns remarked, every NDP campaign in recent history has needed a halftime boost like that – but this campaign was the first that was financially capable of doing so, a tribute to the remarkable financial and fundraising reconstruction of the party over the previous two years. “Too little, too late” was the ultimate verdict on all of this, in a number of pundits’ campaign analyses. And that was clearly true, given the results. But our tracking (and a tidal wave of public domain polling) suggested we had some cause for renewed hope as the campaign moved to the close. Page | 31
The final sprint While we worked to get all of this material in front of voters, the competing leaders’ tours continued their work and the competing war rooms continued to exchange rocks. Gordon Wilson rejoined the Liberal party and announced that Christy Clark was his kind of leader. Premier Mike Harcourt strongly endorsed Adrian Dix and the NDP’s approach to government. Ms. Clark toured construction sites, ignored for a decade under the Liberals, to argue that an NDP government would halt hospital construction in British Columbia. This was her interpretation of our pledge to continue with the Liberal government’s capital plan – another brazen and shameless lie. Which fired up Adrian Dix and led to some of the angriest, most heart-‐felt, and most compelling statements he would make on the road during this campaign, in front of the same sites. The Liberals claimed that the NDP wanted to say “no” to all job creation in B.C. Adrian Dix toured the mines, mills, farms, and factories the Liberals had abandoned during the past decade and recited all the measures the NDP would say “yes” to, in order to create jobs. A group of Liberals circulated buttons calling themselves the “8:01 club” – dedicated to the idea that Christy Clark should resign one minute after the election. Mc. Clark’s tour petered out in a series of small-‐bore photo ops. The Liberals broadcast a television spot summarizing their campaign – an ugly attack ad portraying Adrian Dix as a weatherwane. We broadcast a spot summarizing our campaign – the Liberals didn’t deserve another four years, and Adrian Dix offered a better alternative. The NDP campaign ended with a large, energetic rally and then a 24-‐hour blitz of the province. All “too little too late,” as it emerged on election night. But that isn’t how it looked in the days before the election. The relentless rise in Liberal support we could see in our tracking finally stopped, six days before the election. Our tracking then showed a modest recovery in the NDP vote, a small drop in the Liberal vote – and therefore enough of a spread, maybe, to win us the election. Angus Reid and Ipsos Reid both reported that the NDP was ending the campaign seven to eight points ahead of the Liberals – about twice what we believed to be the case, but an encouraging sign that we had reversed the direction of the election; that we had succeeded in reminding voters why they wanted change; and that Adrian Dix had persuaded British Columbians of his competence, intelligence and commitment to getting the province back onto the right set of priorities.
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Defeat on election night About mid-‐way through election night, a leading member of our team commented: “I guess we’re all members of the 7:59 club”. The club of people who believed, right up until the minute the polls closed, that the NDP was going to win the election. We didn’t.
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Part 3: Some lessons learned We didn’t win the election, and there are many lessons to learn in this. As discussed above, we’re mindful of the growing and well-‐grounded backlash against the rigidities and artificialities of modern politics -‐-‐ which are, currently, fundamentally about snippets of video on television news shows, minus the sound. But as we also said above, we can’t do good if we don’t win. We will offer our thoughts about lessons learned in two parts. First, some operating and tactical issues about our campaign. Second, some strategic points.
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OPERATIONAL AND TACTICAL ISSUES (1) Delivering a Consistent Message In focus groups held in the mid-‐way point of the campaign, our target voters were asked to recall the core campaign messages for the two main parties. Many participants quickly and easily identified that Christy Clark and the BC Liberals’ main message was “jobs” and the “economy.” But when it came time to recall what Adrian Dix and the BC NDP’s message was, no participant could do so. These voters had recalled hearing something from the leader and the party but could not articulate its central overall message. Lessons learned and recommendations for delivering a consistent and penetrating message: Prepared Speeches and Daily Message The Leader is the campaign’s most powerful message-‐delivery vehicle. To succeed, the message delivered over 28 days must be unambiguous, crisp, direct, and repetitive. Christy Clark succeeded by using every opportunity to deliver her message, over and over again in her prepared remarks, in one-‐on-‐one interviews and in answering questions from the media. Despite media claims to have disliked the repetitive nature of Clark’s message, they nevertheless reported it faithfully (and it was therefore digested by the voters). Our Leader’s remarks were almost exclusively extemporaneous and often contained several ideas competing for space. In the absence of a daily message guide, candidates, spokespeople and campaign workers had no guide as to what our story in the campaign was, so there wasn’t one. In modern campaigns with so many channels for voters to consume information, it is vital that a consistent message is delivered in all channels. Next time, our Leader should follow a tight, focused, brief, and consistent message through prepared speeches at every opportunity. A daily message guide containing talking points should be reviewed, internalized and repeated every day by the leader, candidates and by all who were working on the campaign. Exposure to Media on Tour A leader’s answers to questions by the media need to be concise and repetitive in order to be clipped, used and thereby heard by the voter. Detailed and wide-‐ranging answers don't ensure the message is heard by the intended audience. Communicating like this hands control of the campaign’s message to the media as they get to choose what the message is. Exposure through tour scrums should be kept to a minimum in order for the Leader’s message of the day to carry though to air and print time. Holding three or four scrums a day ensures that the intended message of the day gets lost in the myriad other things the media want to ask. The Leader should also resist the temptation to engage in commenting on the strategy of the campaign or predicting what may or may not happen. The Leader should not engage in punditry. Page | 35
The job of media relations is to help guide and shape the media’s interaction with the Leader in a way that best controls the narrative and the message in the interests of the campaign. This requires considerable discipline and control over the media’s access to the Leader. Ad hoc, one-‐off interviews -‐-‐ unless they are feature length or in-‐depth sit down sessions -‐-‐ should be strictly limited. Scrums should be managed with a “chair” to assign questions and a strict limit of the number of questions. The Leader’s answers should be short and repetitive. Scrums on the leader’s tour during a campaign should be brief, rare and generally focused on repeating the message of the day. Effective Use of Spokespeople Not all communicating during a campaign occurs on the leader’s tour. There are messages appropriately delivered through other spokespeople, or through press releases and online postings. With the myriad of outlets engaged in a provincial election, the campaign is constantly bombarded with media inquiries. The media unit in the central campaign were permitted to offer background information but were not permitted to be quoted as spokespersons. This led to long delays in getting back to outlets and opportunities to kill negative stories were missed. Elected and unelected officials should both be designated as official spokespeople for the campaign. (2) Contrasting the Choices in the Campaign Fearlessly engaging the opponent’s record, every day If elections are about choices, then campaigns must define those choices for voters. In defining that contrast, a successful campaign must take an aggressive and disciplined approach towards highlighting the opponent’s record and vulnerabilities. This effort does not need to be personal, but in order to cut through the clutter it must be short, believable and repeated again and again throughout the entire campaign. The decision to run a “positive campaign” failed in practice because it was interpreted as staying clear of our opponent’s record and vulnerabilities. While the BC Liberals attacked our Leader in personal and sometimes arguably libelous terms, the Premier and her record in government were often off limits. This was a mistake. The BC Liberals defined our leader and platform, while we did not define theirs and therefore failed to offer the voters our version of what the choice was in the election. The next campaign must contrast the choices and remind voters of the government’s record in clear, compelling and straightforward language from the first day of the campaign.
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Naming the enemy Increasingly, elections are leader-‐driven. By deciding never to ‘name the enemy’ by never mentioning Christy Clark, our campaign lost the opportunity to work with the BC Liberals' greatest liability – their leader. With the space the BC NDP campaign granted her, she was able to rehabilitate her image within the short 28-‐day campaign window. This is not a courtesy they returned. In modern, television-‐driven politics, the leader is the brand. Politics is personalized, and many voters make their ultimate decisions in the election based on trust and how they respond to the individuals offering themselves as Premier. In the concluding says of this election, we went after the “BC Liberals”, and the Liberals went directly after our leader. The leader being the brand, our campaign was less effective even in its closing days. Almost always, an effective campaign must engage the opposing leader by name, every day, and at every level. Dealing with Personal Attacks In the lead-‐up to and during this campaign, the BC Liberals and their allies spent millions of dollars attacking our Leader. Though this advertising at first did not appear to have a demonstrable effect on voter’s attitudes toward our Leader, it is clear from canvassing reports, polling, and the election result, that cumulatively it was persuasive and damaging. Such “character” issues are critical for voters in assessing who they want to hire to be their Premier. Our campaign assumed that the issue had been dealt with when, in fact, for many voters, the issue and our response was new information. Without a robust defense and counter-‐attack in the lead up and during this campaign, the BC Liberals defined our Leader. It is important to take attacks like this very seriously by addressing them early, frankly, and without reservation – well before the campaign begins. Character issues surrounding the Leader that may negatively impact perceptions of the ability to govern must be dealt with and be countered, decisively, prior to start of the campaign. 3-‐Dimensional Leader Definition Within the context of leader-‐driven politics, campaigns need to tell the human angle of leadership. Relying solely on policy and numbers to deliver the message will likely lead to a passionless campaign that doesn't connect with voters. Aspects of as a Leader’s personal life are an enormously valuable and important part of the campaign’s overall narrative. Voters want to feel a personal connection to the Leader through their family relationships, their interests and their private lives. The Leader needs to allow voters to see their personal side, to connect with them.
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(3) Communicating Platform Announcements The 2013 BC NDP platform was the most comprehensive and detailed in a generation. However, when it came to communicating its many aspects, our campaign failed. The campaign model of releasing entire chapters of the platform in one announcement meant that only a portion of the policy work received coverage. Media only have so many seconds or column inches to file, so when they receive multiple pages of proposals, they cannot absorb or report on it all, and so they focus on the digestible part – the cost. In many media reports the emphasis of our coverage was not on the effect of the policy, or the people who would benefit from it, but rather on the cost of it. Here is a sample of some of the headlines we generated, to illustrate this point: • • • • • • • NDP Promises Millions To Forest Industry (Canadian Press, April 15, 2013) Adrian Dix reveals $310M forestry plan (Canadian Press, April 17, 2013) NDP would spend more on education, Dix says (Times Colonist, April 18, 2013) Dix announces $24-‐million plan to grow B.C. agriculture industry (Vancouver Sun April 21, 2013) B.C. NDP makes financial promises for seniors, rural and mental health (Times Colonist April 23, 2013) Dix promises $70M for homecare for seniors and those with disabilities (CTV.ca April 23, 2013) NDP's Adrian Dix pledges to inject $240M into health-‐care programs (The Province April 23, 2013)
Another issue that hampered our ability to communicate the platform was last-‐minute decision-‐making. As a result, an enormous amount of central campaign and tour staff time and effort was put into the last minute production of materials. Communications decisions were too often made on the fly and with little time for reflection and planning. This hurried process resulted in unforced errors, like the release of our ferry fare commitment on the day we were supposed to be profiling our plan for jobs and the economics. Campaign platform announcements should focus on the issue being fixed and the main benefactors, rather than on the expenditure of the policy proposal. The policy and communications elements of the platform should be decided well in advance of the campaign so that they are thoughtfully considered and located better within the overall message, narrative and tour design. (4) Connections Between Tour and HQ At important points in the 2013 campaign, there were gaps between the strategic plan and the media narrative. This gap was felt most acutely when the decision to oppose the Kinder Morgan pipeline was announced. Without a clear plan to manage the fall-‐out from the decision, the campaign was caught flatfooted and unable to effectively control the story or the message it conveyed, adding to the confusion and political damage.
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Naturally, there will be times when a campaign must innovate quickly to respond to changing circumstances. Major developments in campaign strategy and message must be better understood by the media management team in advance of the announcement. (5) Embracing Visual Representations of our Message Voters’ opinions are increasingly shaped through visuals on television, online and in photographs in newspapers. Without question the work of the Tour Unit, the day-‐planners, advancers and tech crews were some of the best the BC NDP has ever seen. But the way we managed opportunities to amplify our message through tour visuals hampered the campaign’s ability to connect with the voter. Colour events should contribute to the campaign narrative and have the Leader in settings surrounded by people and engaging with voters. Evening rallies should be high energy and show momentum, excitement and support for the Leader. At each of these campaign events, participants should be placed ‘in the shot’ in order to maximize the value of the visual. Every event should be branded with appropriate visually consistent staging, podium art, handheld signs and banners. The Leader’s introduction and entrance should be managed and staged for maximum effect with a clear pathway in, surrounded by applauding supporters. Campaign music should be chosen for thematic and energy creating purposes. It should be captivating and excite the crowd and it should help tell the story. Our reluctance to embrace the political theatre aspect of modern campaigning led to the BC NDP losing the “shot of the day” to the BC Liberals too often. Christy Clark’s constant appearance in a hard-‐hat and safety vest was the visual equivalent of her message discipline. She was constantly surrounded by people, especially children, seniors, and members of ethno-‐cultural communities. Such images led the viewer to believe she was having fun, attractive to others and that her campaign had energy and momentum. From the Liberal campaign, the media were only given one image to broadcast, the image that represented the Liberal message. In contrast, while many of our images were compelling, they were often pre-‐empted. Too often our Leader was photographed alone, or with staff, either in scrums, coming off the bus, or walking to and from campaign events. A disciplined approach to the visual representations of our message as well as use all of the tools at our disposal to provide a regular appealing campaign image should be embraced.
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(6) Placing Well in the Debates The Leaders’ Debates are a critical point in modern campaigns. Voters pay attention to elections at the start and then not again until the debates. Debate prep is very important despite taking time from the Tour for several days. The key points in a campaign debate are the opening and closing statements, the response to murder questions, and the zinger attacks on and from opponents. In this campaign, debate prep was successful in identifying the likely questions posed. Nothing happened in the debates themselves that wasn’t covered in debate prep. Every issue and line of argument was thought of and discussed in debate prep. The team had a good sense of how the debates would unfold and what arguments and counter-‐arguments to use for best advantage. Our leader was well-‐prepared and ready for everything that came up. Our weakness was in the attention to presentation and in particular the critical importance of presenting well in the very first minute. The opening statement needed to be rehearsed and re-‐ rehearsed in order to nail it. Too much time was spent instead on policy discussions and the finer points of the arguments and not enough time was spent on presentation skills and the opening statement. As a result, even though the media and the pollsters reported that our Leader won the debate, our research indicated that the failure to engage the audience strongly, clearly and cleanly hampered the ability to hear our arguments. All participants in the debate preparation should all have a role there. The focus should be on the strategy for both offense and defense, and the presentation of the Leader. It is important not to get mired in research and policy during debate preparation, and to focus instead on strategy, zingers, and presentation skills. (7) Ethnic Media While most of our campaign’s time and effort went into dealing with the English media, the Chinese and South Asian media played a very important role in this campaign. Specifically, the Chinese media was overwhelmingly hostile to the BC NDP, regularly featuring extremely biased headlines and stories. The BC Liberals effectively used the Chinese-‐language media as part of a strategy to motivate the Chinese community vote in their target ridings, delivering specifically targeted messages. The ethnic language media relations unit should be better resourced and better integrated into the campaign. (8) Perfecting the Leader’s Tour The Leader’s Tour is a critical piece of the air war that tells the story of the campaign. The strategy in this campaign of targeting Cabinet members’ seats for platform announcement, using the second phase for colour and campaign narrative, and ending with momentum and whistlestops was a good one. The 24-‐hour tour was also very engaging and innovative. The design of the Leader’s Tour was sound. Page | 40
However, the Tour needs to be adequately staffed and every member of the Tour needs to be integrated into the strategic and operational thinking. The Tour staff must meet every evening to review the day and plan for the next day. In this campaign, Tour staffing was very limited and several staff did double or triple duty. The daily meeting, usually at the conclusion of the day’s events, is critical and every member of the Tour staff should participate-‐-‐ preferably also with the advancer for the next day and someone from the Anchor Tour team. These meetings help identify any difficulties with the day’s events and can highlight what worked well. That information feeds into the discussion of the next day, where the inside itinerary should be reviewed step by step, evaluated for its ability to contribute to the strategic objectives for the day, and providing an opportunity to identify any problem areas that need attention. Everything that happens on the Tour must be purposeful and contribute to a victory. Every member of the Tour staff needs to have a clearly defined role and opportunity for input. If the Tour staff are not meeting together every evening, then the logic of the events, the strategic importance of the events and the significance of any shifts in strategy are not apparent or shared. The staff cannot operate effectively as a team without insight and involvement in the thinking behind each day and the strategic objectives for each day. Execution without that knowledge limits the effectiveness of the Tour’s ability to tell the campaign story. The importance of every single person on the Tour staff participating in daily meetings to review and plan cannot be overstated. Most days, campaign events should include a morning announcement, a colour event in the afternoon, and an evening rally. And they should be built with a view to the image on the six o’clock news. The morning announcement should be about one thing only – with between 1 and 3 sub-‐points for amplification and illustration. Validators should be present, along with supporters who help tell the story. Colour events should contribute to the campaign narrative and have the Leader in settings surrounded by people and engaging with voters. Evening rallies should be high energy and show momentum, excitement and support for the leader. At each of these campaign events, participants should be placed in order to maximize the value of the visual. Every event should be branded with appropriate visually consistent staging, podium art, handheld signs and banners. The Leader’s introduction and entrance should be managed and staged for maximum effect with a clear pathway in, surrounded by applauding supporters. Campaign music should be chosen for thematic and musical purpose. It should be captivating and excite the crowd and it should help tell the story. It could also be changed at specific times to indicate a shift or emphasize something specific about a particular location or issue. The on-‐the-‐road tour team must be better staffed, integrated fully into the operations, and should meet in the morning and in the evenings every day. Page | 41
THREE KEY STRATEGIC ISSUES Finally, here are a few reflections on three strategic issues that may have contributed more than others to the outcome. The Liberals prosecuted us better than we prosecuted them In this campaign, we undertook a principled, admirable and well-‐intentioned attempt to conduct a positive campaign that would “change politics” in the face of an opponent playing by the right-‐wing populist playbook – an effort that did not succeed. This was true for a number of reasons: The Leader is the party’s brand. Negative messages about leaders cut through and are remembered, unless they are countered in kind. In running the kind of campaign we did, we allowed our opponents to raise serious doubts in the minds of voters about our leader without compellingly countering, pre-‐ empting and/or outweighing them by returning the favour; Failing to criticize opponents exonerates their conduct. As Adrian Dix acknowledged very honestly after the election, there was much we didn’t do to prosecute our case against the Liberals. There was certainly a clear case to prosecute against Christy Clark – about her competence, her education, her lack of experience in the real economy, her record as a minister, her conduct as premier, her priorities, her honesty, her behavior on the national stage, and her contradictions and flip-‐flops . There was a clear case to prosecute against many of her colleagues for their own conduct in their private, professional and public lives. And there was a clear case to prosecute against the Liberal government’s record, especially in the past four years. By choosing not to do this with sufficient clarity and decibel levels, we absolved them from accountability. The electorate can be forgiven for taking us at our word (or absence of words) on this; And finally, and perhaps most important: Almost always, issues about political process are less compelling than pocketbook issues. Politicians who ask for mandates to “change politics” risk sounding like they are talking about themselves instead of about the electorate, absent an absolutely compelling, mercilessly prosecuted negative case (for example, Watergate; the corruption scandals that destroyed the Italian Christian Democrats; the sponsorship scandal that destroyed the federal Liberal party under Paul Martin; the construction corruption scandals that undermined the Quebec Liberal party under Jean Charest; etc.) Absent a compelling issue that forces an urgent debate about “changing politics”, the public will want to hear about their own pre-‐occupations, which are about their daily lives -‐-‐ jobs, health care, education, taxes. “It’s too risky to change the government” worked In company with opposition parties all across Canada, our campaign failed to beat the core argument currently being offered by incumbent governments of all stripes (Liberal, NDP and Conservative) seeking re-‐election – that in these uncertain economic times, it is too risky to change the government. Consider the recent electoral record across the country: • The Selinger NDP government in Manitoba won re-‐election by attacking the leader of the Conservatives, and by arguing that in these uncertain times it is too risky to change a government focused on jobs and the economy; Page | 42
The Redford Conservative government in Alberta won re-‐election by attacking the leader of the Wildrose party, and by arguing that in these uncertain times it is too risky to change a government focused on jobs and the economy; The McGuinty Liberal government in Ontario won re-‐election (with a minority) by attacking the leader of the Conservatives, and by arguing that in these uncertain times it is too risky to change a government focused on jobs and the economy; The Charest Liberal government in Quebec came within a single point of winning re-‐election by attacking the leader of the Parti Quebecois, and by arguing that in these uncertain times it is too risky to change a government focused on jobs and the economy; and Prime Minister Stephen Harper is preparing to do exactly the same thing, setting up his next campaign with many millions of dollars of taxpayer-‐funded partisan political ads arguing that the Conservative government in Ottawa is busy with nothing but jobs and the economy.
We spent a lot of time thinking about this obvious strategy by the BC Liberals going into this campaign. What were the options? Run on health care: In many traditional New Democratic campaigns in jurisdictions across Canada, the NDP has tried to deal with this kind of challenge through diversion. The public doesn’t trust us on the economy as much as they trust the incumbent, so let’s talk about something else – like health care, education or (until the advent of the Green party) the environment. We certainly needed to do a better job than we did in 2013 campaigning on these issues. But the millions of dollars in public funds spent on government advertising in the run-‐up to the election were designed to close this option – and many NDP campaigns in recent history have foundered disastrously in their attempts to change the topic to “safe” NDP issues during campaigns. Alexa McDonough tried to do this during the 2000 federal election and earned 8.51% of the vote, for example. Run a representational campaign: A more historically successful alternative has been to run a “representational” campaign, as has been carefully researched and blueprinted by pollster and political strategist Vic Fingerhut, a wise, thoughtful, long-‐time friend and advisor of our party and of progressive and social democratic parties all around the world. This type of campaign accepts that a (perhaps the) key topic will be the economy – which we then talk about in representational terms: “who will speak for working families like you”; “who will fight for ordinary families”, and the corollary, “don’t vote for our opponent, because they only care about the wealthy.” This is the kind of campaign the BC NDP turned to in its last successful outing, in 1996, under Premier Glen Clark. It can work very well indeed. But it bears remembering that in 1996 this approach earned us 39.45% of the vote – not dissimilar to the 39.71% we earned in 2013. It does not reach well into the Chinese, Punjabi and middle class electorates we believed would be central to this election (it would, however, have played a great deal better in the interior than the campaign we ran). Beat them at the central game: A third alternative is to seek to beat our populist rightwing opponent in their area of perceived core competence – to argue that notwithstanding their rhetoric, they are fiscally irresponsible, their policies hurt job creation, and they have no answers to the real questions facing the economy (none of which are about transferring more wealth from the middle class and the poor to the rich, which is fundamentally what populist rightwing government is concerned with). Our governments in Saskatchewan and Manitoba defeat populist rightwing opponents by being – and being seen to be – more competent than our opponent on core fiscal and economic issues, as well as more caring about Page | 43
them. That is what we tried to do in 2013. We didn’t succeed, for all of the reasons set out in this note we suggest. If we want to reverse our fortunes in British Columbia and earn a lengthy run in office over a number of mandates (as opposed to the occasional moment of good fortune), we must find a way to do this. And finally: We needed to make a better offer Our campaign failed to inspire our current supporters and did not reach outside of our base: British Columbians open to supporting the NDP did not find us inspiring, populist, or compelling in our efforts to contrast ourselves to our opponent. This was a deep problem with our effort, woven through all of our work as set out above. There was no “wow” in our campaign, which focused on reassurance and responsibility while taking an unwisely complacent approach to our opponent. In all of his campaigns, Tommy Douglas campaigned on the basis of a campaign built on three legs (all good things coming in trinities, as he argued from time to time). First, he would be toughly critical of his opponents without descending into defamation. Second, he would spell out a clear-‐headed, financially responsible, fiscally responsible set of next steps forward for the provincial government. And third, he would talk about a big dream – in his case, national medicare, a project that was well beyond the powers of the Government of Saskatchewan. But it was a big idea and he promised to work towards it – in five separate provincial election campaigns. We needed a big dream in this campaign – an inspiring, aspirational goal that could not possibly happen overnight but that was worth working towards. The Liberals had a ridiculous one – a trillion dollars in imaginary revenues from twenty LNG projects that would pay off the provincial debt and fund every hope and dream of every community all across British Columbia. This was spoken about in the media as “Christy Clark’s imaginary friend”, and comprehensively discredited as a pipedream. But the public likes big ideas if you get everything else about your campaign right, too. They read the media and are influenced by it. But they also listen directly, in the tiny snippets they are allowed to hear, to public figures. And they look there for hope, and for inspiration, and for a road forward. In sum: It is usually a mistake for winning parties to “return to the scene of victory”. And it usually a mistake for defeated parties to try to refight an election campaign the next time out. The next election in 2017 will run on its own clockspins, issues and challenges. But the following will likely be true, we believe: • • • We must do a much more effective job of discrediting our opponent, each and every day of the campaign, when most people are paying attention to politics; We must defeat, or at least fight to a draw, whoever our conservative opponent is on core economic issues; and We must offer a campaign than people like; engage with; are inspired by; turn out to participate in; and are motivated to vote for – even after another immersion in our opponent’s darkest arts. Page | 44
These notes were drafted by: Brian Topp was campaign director during this election. He was deputy chief of staff to Premier Roy Romanow in the Government of Saskatchewan, and was national campaign director to federal NDP leader Jack Layton in 2006 and 2008. Jim Rutkowski coordinated NPD media relations during this election. He was chief of staff to BC NDP leader Carole James. Anne McGrath was a senior advisor on the Leader’s tour during this election. She was chief of staff to Jack Layton, and was lead political on the tour during the 2011 federal election. Brad Lavigne coordinated the NDP war room during this election. He was principal secretary to Jack Layton, federal secretary of the NDP, and national campaign director to federal NDP leader Jack Layton in 2011. Shannon Phillips was deputy coordinator of the war room during this election. She is the senior policy analyst for the Alberta Federation of Labour, where she specializes in energy and oil sands. She has worked in organization and communications for the federal NDP, Alberta NDP, and other provincial NDP sections.
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