Political parties and data mining: a whodunit

Young Canadian Christopher Wylie has been much in the news lately – among other things, for single-handedly hammering Facebook’s market value, and causing lots of political earthquakes in the U.S.

When Wylie was kicking around the Liberal Party of Canada, I didn’t know him.  “Couldn’t pick him out of a police line-up,” I told an enterprising Canadian Press reporter calling around about Wylie.  “Which may be where he is heading.”

As a result of all the controversy, the Liberal Party is being asked if it went along with Wylie’s apparent plan to illicitly/illegally abscond with the personal information of millions of voters.  The Liberals should be be asked those questions. The people who create the privacy rules should be expected to know and apply those rules.

But – as I just told a Walrus writer – it is ridiculous to think that just the Canadian Liberals and the American Republicans were the only ones doing this seamy data mining.  They weren’t, I assured her.

Here, ipso facto, is a presentation I gave many years ago about what the Harper/Kenney Conservatives were up to – and long before Christopher Wylie showed up in Ottawa. The Tories, I think, were in this space before anyone else in Canada.

Winning the Ethnic Vote Presentation – March 23 2011 by Warren Kinsella on Scribd

Lisa and the Senate in today’s Hill Times

Senate among top lobbied institutions in February

February fillings show Senate lobbying in 2018 is keeping pace with 2017’s record-breaking year, which tripled historic averages for influencers focused on the Red Chamber.

Last month, lobbyists recorded 169 communications compared to 175 in February 2017, putting it third for the month behind the House of Commons (958 reports) and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (222 reports). This is the “new normal” for the Upper Chamber, said former Liberal Senate staffer and consultant Lisa Kinsella. During sitting months last year, lobby filings for the Senate ranged between 105 to 215 communications.

Much has changed since Ms. Kinsella, now managing partner of Daisy Consulting Group, worked as Senator Grant Mitchell’s (Alberta) chief of staff from 2007 to 2009, when parties could rely on whipped votes. Sen. Mitchell was a Liberal Senator before being removed from the Liberal caucus along with his all of his colleagues to sit as independents by leader Justin Trudeau in 2014. He is now an unaffiliated Senator, as part of the three-person government representative team.

“The Senate has turned into the Wild West where they have really this newfound independence and they’re willing to exert it,”she said, though as appointees she thinks they’re still “respecting the tradition” where they don’t needlessly hold up government bills. 

Ms. Kinsella [said] the Senate is fulling its role offering sober second thought and are an important part of an advocacy strategy. “You can’t take it for granted anymore,” Ms. Kinsella said.

Fish where there’s fish

…that’s something I say so much about campaigns that my staff have heard it a billion times. Talk about the stuff voters want you to talk about. Manage the dialogue.

Thus, this from Campaign Research:

“The PCs have a significant lead over both the OLP and the ONDP. This is because the policy issues that matter the most to the electorate also happen to be the policy planks that Doug Ford is seen to be performing much better on. If Doug Ford and the PCs remain focused on these policy planks, the PCs could hold onto their lead…Kathleen Wynne and the OLP are outperforming in a significant way on some of the policy planks, but at this point those policy planks are not seen as being as important.”  – said Eli Yufest, CEO of Campaign Research Inc.

So, ipso facto, the current situation: Doug Ford is way ahead of Kathleen Wynne because he’s talking about the issues people care about. Wynne, not so much.

That’s also reflected in the latest Angus Reid, seen here.

Which brings to mind an anecdote from a few months back, when various Ontario Liberal folks were getting plenty nervous. A couple meetings were convened, at which the Ontario Liberal leader and her “chief strategist” described how they would win.

Basically, they told the assembled Nervous Nellies that, if they talked a lot about the sex-ed curriculum and stuff like that, they’d do smashingly. But no one, I’m told, asked this question: “But what if the campaign is about affordability and our perceived indifference to regular folks who don’t drive Volvos and listen to CBC and live in the Annex?”

Of such things are victories made. The other guy’s.

When you talk about stuff people don’t care about it…well, you know what happens then.

Publishers Weekly: Recipe for Hate “riveting…an unflinching page-turner”!

Publisher’s Weekly is the book trade publication in the United States.  As Wikipedia notes, it is the “American weekly trade news magazine targeted at publishers, librarians, booksellers and literary agents. Published continuously since 1872, it has carried the tagline, “The International News Magazine of Book Publishing and Bookselling”.

And I have never had one of my books mentioned in it.  Like, ever.

But here’s what they have said about my new one, Recipe for Hate:

“Riveting…Tension starts high and stays there in this unflinching page-turner, which offers a fascinating glimpse into the early punk scene and a moving testament to the power of friendship.”

Link is here.

Quill and Quire, now Publisher’s Weekly.  If you are so inclined, feel free to order your copy (or copies!) here and here!

Mainstreet: PCs “lead in every region”

Mainstreet – who, full disclosure, is one of the polling firms with which Daisy Group does business – dropped a big poll this morning.

It’s not good news for the governing Ontario Liberals:

The Progressive Conservatives would win a massive majority with new leader Doug Ford at the helm if an election were held today, a new Mainstreet Research poll finds.

The poll finds that the PCs have 47% support among decided and leaning voters. The governing Liberals under Kathleen Wynne are at 26.2%. The NDP led by Andrea Horwath have 18.6% support among Ontario voters, while the Greens currently are at 6.4%.

“While we fielded this survey before yesterday’s Throne Speech, the PCs are in pole position to get an overwhelming win in June”, said Quito Maggi, President and CEO of Mainstreet Research. “This is thanks to the PCs’ large lead in nearly every region in Ontario.”

This graphic is pretty revealing, too:

The PCs are leading in every part of Ontario – Hell, they’re even in play in Metro Toronto seats where, historically, they’ve only been protected by endangered species laws. How could this have been avoided? As written below – here and here – Ontario Liberals needed to:

  • Get rid of the Wizard and the Board.  They didn’t.
  • Get lots of new blood and new ideas.  They didn’t.
  • Get new face(s) at the top.  They didn’t.

Can the PCs still blow it?  Of course.  They’ve done so in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2014 – but they seem highly focussed on not doing that again in 2018, don’t they?  Also: can Andrea Horwath be the main beneficiary of all the Ford-fearmongering the Libs are about to unleash?  Of course.

The conventional wisdom is always that “campaigns matter.”  Sure, they do.  But Lisa and I worked on the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016, and we can tell you that Hillary had a much better campaign: more money, more people, more organization, more ads, more policies, more ideas, more everything.

And we still lost.

So, yes, campaigns matter.  But when folks want change – and, in Ontario in 2018, they assuredly do, as they assuredly did in the U.S. in 2016 – I don’t think the campaign matters as much.

Change > campaign.

Posted this a year before the Ontario vote. It’s still true.

Let’s recap.

  1. The Ontario PCs raised $16 million last year, and the Ontario Liberals – the, you know, government – raised $6 million.  Ten million less.  The government.
  2. The most powerful mayor in Canada – a very, very popular guy who has helped the governing Liberals out of many tight spots – has all but declared war on them. And Ontario’s extremely ambitious Transport minister is Number One on John Tory’s hit list, now.  Not good.
  3. And, last night in the Sault, the Ontario Liberal Party came third in a crucial by-election – and the PCs, who haven’t held that seat since the 1981 election, crushed them with more than 40 per cent of the vote.

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 8.29.54 AM

That’s just the past week. Previous weeks have been just as crummy, if not more so.  The budgetary goodies, the Hydro rate cut and youth pharmacare haven’t really done what they were supposed to do.

Radical change is needed.  Three suggestions:

  1. Fire the Wizard.  The “chief strategist” is doing to the OLP what the Wizard and his pals did to the LPC ten years ago: killing it.  Get rid of that crew, now, and bring in people who know how to win.
  2. New blood, new ideas.  The OLP desperately needs both.  Caucus – and some excellent staff in the Premier’s Office and minister’s offices – say the same thing: the OLP brand is strong, but it needs excitement.  It needs new and better ideas.  It needs new blood, in the form of some impressive candidates and thinkers.
  3. Reflect.  I know Kathleen Wynne.  I’ve worked with Kathleen Wynne.  I admire Kathleen Wynne.  And I know that Kathleen Wynne will not let the Ontario Liberal Party go down to third place in 2018.  She will do the right thing.  If she is dragging down the party, she will make the selfless decision.

As of this month, the election is twelve months away.  That leaves enough time – barely – to make some big changes.

Let’s make them, now.


Column: will Wynne’s story have a sad ending?

There are all kinds of clichés about how and why governments lose.

That they defeat themselves. That they die by degrees. That they become the very thing they had ‎once pledged to always oppose.

Mostly, though, governments forget the plot. All of governing – all of the politics – is telling a story, every single day.

Some folks call that a “narrative,” and assert that you need a narrative to win. And, it’s true: having a compelling, easily-understood story is pretty important.

People are busy. They’ve got a lot of stuff going on. ‎Taking a kid to early-morning hockey practice, getting an aging parent to the clinic, trying to get to work on time, catching up on sleep.

So, political parties need to get their attention. You don’t do that by throwing statistics at voters. You do that by having a narrative, a story. Facts tell, stories sell.

Barack Obama had one: “Yes we can.” Dalton McGuinty in 2003, too: “Choose change.” Justin Trudeau: “Hope and hard work.” Those were good ones. They worked, big time.

Kathleen Wynne, now less than 60 days from an election many expect ‎her to lose, has no story to tell. There’s no narrative, there. No bright red thread that runs through the stuff that she says and does.

She has briefly prorogued ‎the Legislature so that she can have a Throne Speech, sure. But Joe and Jane Frontporch don’t care about Throne Speeches. They don’t pay attention to those. The media and political people do, but that’s it.  Normal people don’t.

So, the last opportunity‎ Wynne has to tell her story – any story – is in the budget that is being unveiled at the end of this month. We don’t know much about what’s in it, but we do know one thing: Charles Sousa lost the argument.

Wynne’s Finance Minister was rightly proud of having balanced the budget last year. It was a big deal. But then he was told – instructed, really – to go back into deficit. So he will: $8 billion worth of red ink. That’s a lot.

When I heard that, I was shocked, and I don’t get shocked by politicians very much any more. That figure strongly suggests we are about to witness the most expensive Hail Mary pass in Canadian political history.

I don’t think it’s going to work. Not because Kathleen Wynne isn’t an amazing communicator and a wily campaigner. Not because she doesn’t know how to beat Conservatives. She does, she does.

I don’t think it’s going to work because it bears a strong resemblance to a previous political failure: the orgy of spending promises that took place in the dying days  ‎of Paul Martin’s regime in 2005.

Remember that? It possessed all the dignity of that helicopter lifting off that rooftop just prior to the fall of Saigon. It felt as desperate as a death row at midnight in the deepest South.

Martin promised to amend the Constitution in the middle of a leader’s debate: he actually did that. He proclaimed a stirring new vision for indigenous people without allocating a plug nickel to pay for any of it.

He promised tax cuts, lots of them. He started spending money, lots of it. “Mr. Martin, known for his careful stewardship of Canada’s public finances under Mr. Chretien,” The Economist wrote disapprovingly at the time, “has gone on a bit of a spending spree in the run-up to what he knew would be an early election.

The magazine continued: “The government promised $39 billion in new tax cuts and spending over the next five years. Mr. Harper accused of Mr. Martin ‎of promising over a billion dollars a day in order to hold onto power.”

In yesterday walks tomorrow, goes the saying. Down here in Toronto in 2018, it’s feeling like Ottawa in 2005 all over again. You know: spend like a proverbial drunken sailor, throw every single policy Vietnam at the wall, just to see if something sticks.

But, you know: if it didn’t work in 2005, it is unlikely to work in 2018.

So why is Kathleen Wynne making a losing narrative her only narrative? Good question. Lots of Liberals are asking the same question. “She’s smart,” they say. “Why the desperation?”

The answer may be found not in Wynne. More likely, Ontario Liberals say, the authors of the Hail Mary Pass Budget are found with those around Wynne, and not Wynne herself.

And guess what? Surprise, surprise: the ones who Kathleen Wynne are relying upon for strategic advice are the very same men who advised Paul Martin in his bunker back in 2005, as the blue horde was closing in. Same guys.

Same strategy, too. It has three parts. One, bet the house on your opponent doing some career-ending stupidity. Two, promise everything to everyone. And, three, spend like money is water. ‎ Go crazy.

Now, full disclosure: this writer doesn’t much like those Paul Martin guys around Kathleen Wynne. They hounded my friend Jean Chretien for years, and – as a result – they wrecked the Liberal Party of Canada for a decade‎.

They look like they’re getting ready to do the same thing to the Ontario Liberal Party – a political party about which I’m rather nostalgic. I ran the aforementioned McGuinty guy’s three war rooms, and I want to keep the OLP off the endangered species list, you know?

But the polls. The polls – Doug Ford, um, notwithstanding – have been showing the Ontario Liberal Party facing a possible third-place finish. Even against Doug Ford.

Doug. Ford.

The solution to that isn’t to ape Paul Martin’s losing narrative. The solution isn’t to go nuts with other people’s money.  The solution is to craft a narrative that makes sense. One that captivates peoples’ hearts and minds.

They don’t have one. They just don’t. And they’re out of time.

That, pretty much, is why the Ontario Liberal government is likelier to lose than to win.

They don’t have a story to tell anymore.