Saturday, March 8, 2008

lessons learned: #1

Some reflections on the campaign in Edmonton Beverly - Clareview:

1. Don't bother campaigning

Cynical? Of course. But it's hard to ignore the fact that after distributing 5000 flyers, half of which were distributed on foot and a good proportion of those in an eye to eye meeting, putting up 250 signs, and having an extensive on-line presence, I got very close to the same result that the Wildrose Alliance candidate in neighbouring Highlands - Norwood got, and he was essentially a name on a ballot. One can't very well turn to the explanation that he had a resume and I didn't, given that my colleague was all of 20 years old! More to the point, I've reviewed the poll by poll results and there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to where I did better and where I did worse. Although there does seem to be an explanation for the polls where I got less than 1% (these where generally polls in the north western area of the riding where I had neither door knocked nor distributed brochures), there is also no obvious explanation for why I did as well along 127 ave and Fort Road as I did, getting close to 10% at times. The only thing I can think of is that my cameo at the Transit Hotel amongst the drifters and down-and-outers somehow had a real impact in the nearby areas. Generally speaking, though, there were poll areas I had more of a campaign presence in than others and this did not seem to have made a consistently discernible difference.

Although it's possible that my vote count was simply too low to lend itself to meaningful analysis, consider the Liberal campaign in my riding. Dawit Isaac must have knocked on every door in the riding at least once and I've heard reports of twice. This includes apartments and condos since it was a condo door he knocked on when I opened it to first meet him. He for certain called every home in the riding and some homes 4 times, perhaps more. The RO called a meeting at his office mid-point where he distributed the revisions to the List of Electors following Election Alberta's canvassing of new areas early in the campaign, and the NDP and P"C"s where no shows. Just myself and Dawit Isaac's indefatigable campaign manager. This represented hundreds of names whose phone numbers would not have been available in the electronic version of the Electors List and so would not have been called by the Ray Martin or Tony Vandermeer campaigns. Dawit Isaac was actively raising money last year and obviously raised a lot, since he had a full size billboard on the Yellowhead highway at 66 st, had major advertising in local publications and in the LRT stations, and had multiple literature drops during the campaign. I once found a "Happy New Year" card from him, suggesting that he hit the riding with a mailout a month before the campaign. He got his volunteers together to have a cheer group at major intersection, something I never saw out of the NDP or P"C"s.

Yet for all that Dawit Isaac will not even get the $250 of his candidacy deposit back that he would have gotten had he received just 50% of the winner's vote count. Isaac got less than 2000 votes while Tony Vandermeer received more than 4100. There is simply no denying the fact that Isaac was by far the hardest working candidate in the riding, and although I'm sure all of the candidates were going full out in the last week, Isaac started laying the groundwork months and months ago. On election night TV Vandermeer said that he had reckoned it could have gone any of 3 ways. Clearly it couldn't really have, since he more than doubled Isaac. Vandermeer indicated that Stelmach must have gotten him at least 1000 votes, which suggests that Isaac's campaign was dead in the water the day the P"C's handed the reins to Steady Eddie. One of the great mysteries is why Dawit Isaac didn't run as an independent. He could hardly have done worse, and the Liberal Beverly - Clareview constituency association was largely built by the labours of him and his supporters anyway.

Which brings me back to my central thesis: what happens internally within the P"C" party, whether it be nominations for riding candidates or votes for party leader, are of far greater import to Alberta politics than general elections. Individual riding campaigns sink or swim with the provincial campaign.

Going forward, I could hardly blame any potential candidate, donor, or volunteer for saying that any time or money put into the Wildrose Alliance would offer a far lower return than trying to influence a P"C" nomination battle. It's a vicious circle, where no money, no volunteers, and few quality candidates breeds a poor election result which in turn breeds even less money and fewer people for next time. In hindsight it's now clear that the Alberta Alliance had been caught up in this downward spiral since 2004. If the Wildrose Alliance had doubled up on what the AA got in 2004, we'd start approaching that tipping point where people would sense the wind was changing and there'd be a rush of money and man hours into the party. But getting to that point is extremely difficult. At a minimum, we would need proportional representation so we get something more like a linear payoff (e.g. a series of 20% riding vote shares would produce more results than a series of 5% shares).

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