Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Queen of Sillyland

Sometimes I get the feeling certain Canadian political journalists don’t actually live in Canada. Instead, it seems they live in a faraway place I call Sillyland.

I imagine it as a nice little country that has only one ironclad law: Anyone who lives there must write columns on Canadian politics that make absolutely no sense.

And in my mind, the Queen of Sillyland must be Ottawa Citizen columnist Susan Riley.

I say that because she recently came out with a column that was silly in the extreme.

First off, her column pointed out that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a war-mongering, environment-destroying, big corporation-loving, right-wing zealot.

Of course, there is nothing new about this.

Open just about any newspaper to the editorial pages on any day of the week and you will see the exact same comments.

But what sets this column apart is who Riley blames for what she thinks is Canada’s sorry political state.

Why did supposedly left-leaning Canadians elect as Prime Minster a man who the media keeps telling us is a cross between Genghis Khan, Darth Vader and Benito Mussolini?

And how does Harper continue to stay atop the polls no matter how much he angers Margaret Atwood and David Suzuki?

Well, Riley doesn’t fault the media. As she puts it, “the media aren't to blame. We hector from the sidelines (guilty!), or, more usefully, uncover hypocrisies and small scandals.”

Nor does the problem rest with the Liberals or NDP. Writes Riley: “Opposition MPs - notably Bob Rae, Charlie Angus, Elizabeth May; but others, too - advance persuasive arguments, based on evidence, de-bunking Conservative crime policy, and other initiatives.”

So who is at fault for keeping Harper in power?

Well, according to Riley, the real villain is you. Yes that’s right, you and all other Canadians are to blame for Harper’s puzzling success.

The problem is rampant apathy, or as she puts it: “Many have given up - in cynicism or despair. They turn their back on politics, don't bother to vote, even imagine it is fashionable to remain aloof. They claim all politicians are the same, but they aren't. They claim it doesn't matter which party holds power, but it does.”

Translation: Canadians are stupid.

According to Riley if we were smarter we would have elected a Coalition government made up of arrogant Liberals, wacky socialists and Quebec separatists!

To bolster her case she also quotes NDP leadership contender Nathan Cullen who says the Tories are purposely cultivating public indifference.

"It is a deliberate strategy to turn people off," says Cullen. "He either bores people to death, or uses wedge politics. People don't see themselves in the conversation."

This from a man who is part of a leadership campaign that’s so dull it even makes Harper seem charismatic by comparison.

Of course, there is an alternative theory that Riley doesn’t even bother to mention: Maybe, just maybe, Canadians elected the Conservatives to a majority and continue to support them in the polls because perhaps they actually support the government’s policies.

OK that might be too radical and heretical a notion for Riley to accept.

So how about this idea: If Canadians are as apathetic as Riley maintains, then perhaps it’s because the NDP and Liberals are not offering voters much in the way of a credible alternative to Harper. I mean just because Riley finds Liberal and NDP arguments “persuasive” doesn’t mean voters should as well.

Yet what makes Riley’s column truly and unforgivably silly is the part where she writes: “If Occupiers had simply voted en masse in May, we wouldn't have a majority Conservative government today.”


How does Riley know this? Is she some sort of mystical pollster who can predict hypothetical election results?

Plus, how many Canadian Occupiers were there: 5,000, 10,000, 50,000?

I am no statistician but considering the size of the total voting population, the Occupiers are a drop in the bucket, especially since they are scattered across the country.

So it’s extremely doubtful Occupiers voting “en masse” would have changed last year’s election outcome to any significant degree.

And given that the Occupy Movement lacked a single coherent message, who would they have voted for anyway: the Libertarian Party, the NDP, the Greens, the Marxist-Trotskyite-Anarchist Party?

It just doesn’t make sense.

But then I shouldn’t be too hard on Riley. After all, her column will likely win a Pulitzer Prize in Sillyland.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The NDP’s Dilemma

There are people in this country who find the NDP leadership race fascinating.
That’s good news for the NDP.
The bad news, however, is the people who find it fascinating are also the same people who enjoy watching paint dry.
Meanwhile, everybody else in Canada is pretty much bored out of theirs skulls with the race.
Of course, you can’t really blame this state of affairs on the NDP leadership candidates. After all, it’s not as if they are doing anything wrong. In fact, the leadership race is unfolding exactly as it should according to Civics textbooks.  
The candidates are sticking to the issues, engaging in polite debate and refraining from any sort of “mud slinging.”
But ironically that’s the problem. Well-mannered, respectful political campaigns that stick to issues are by their very nature dull affairs.
And in politics dullness kills.
For one thing, boring campaigns make it difficult to attract media attention. That’s because the media really isn’t interested in issues or policies. What does interest political journalists is what I like to call the “politics of politics.”
In other words, the media cares about “horse race” stuff: polling numbers, who is ahead, who is behind and who has the momentum?
And the media also likes conflict and emotion; this is why negative attack ads always make news.
In short, a political race will get more column space in newspapers and hits on TV, if it has the drama of a “TV Reality” show.
So far, the NDP race has all the excitement of a chess match.
And this turns off more than just the media.
A dull campaign also makes it harder to mobilize party supporters. Think about it. Aside from hard-core party partisans, who wants to trudge to a gymnasium on a cold January night just to watch politicians argue over the importance of infrastructure funding?
At any rate, one NDP leadership contender, Brian Topp, recognizes the dullness problem.
Speaking recently to the media Topp declared: “If New Democrats are going to win, we can't be boring." He also suggested that unless the race gets a little spicier, Canadians will tune out and the party will suffer in the next election.
But here’s the dilemma the NDP faces: the party could also suffer in the next election if the leadership race actually does get spicier.
Consider, for instance, this scenario: Let’s say certain contenders in the race, after consulting their own polls, determine they are falling behind. Let’s further suppose they have no chance of boosting their support.
What do they do?
Well, the answer is obvious: attack the front-runner.
This might sound crass but it just makes sense; if you can’t increase your support, the only alternative left is to drive your opponent’s numbers down. And the only way to drive your opponent’s numbers down is to go negative.
We see this dynamic at work right now in the United States Republican presidential primary race, where Republican nominees have been hammering the front-runner Mitt Romney.
Watch for the same thing to happen in the NDP leadership race.
Mind you, all the candidates will deny this; they will talk about the need to remain positive and united. But sooner or later the instinct for political survival will kick in and the gloves will come off.
And when that happens things will escalate fast, with each side attacking and counter-attacking. Before you know it the NDP leadership race will resemble a UFC brawl.
That could cause a lot of wounds and bitterness.
But on the plus side, it will also generate lots of excitement and plenty of news coverage.

(This article originally appeared in the Ottawa Hill Times)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

NCC Fundraising Letter Gets an "F"

Sometimes politics slams into irony.

For instance, last year’s convincing Conservative Party’s victory is a double-edged sword for conservative advocacy groups. On the one hand, it helps to have a friendly government in power, but on other hand it hurts fundraising. After all, these are good times for conservatives. And good times are bad times for fundraisers. It’s more difficult to raise money when there is no sense of urgency and no sense conservative values are threatened by nasty Liberals or socialists.  In short, victory leads to complacency.

Anyway, I bring this up because somebody recently sent me a copy of the National Citizens Coalition’s fundraising “renewal” letter. It interested me because I wanted to see how the NCC was dealing with this very real fundraising challenge. Turns out the answer is -- not well.

Now let me back up a bit and note that as someone who once worked for the NCC I can tell you the renewal letter, which goes out in early January, is the group’s most important fundraising letter of the year. It can make or break the group’s budget. Consequently, the renewal letter must sparkle. It has to really rock the donors. That’s why in my day we used to literally spend weeks honing and polishing its message with agonizing re-write after re-write.

Unfortunately, this 2012 NCC renewal letter looks like it was scribbled out in about 20 minutes. In fact, it fails on just about every level a fundraising letter can fail: It fails stylistically, it fails ideologically and it fails as piece of political communication.

To see what I mean check out my analysis below. I have reproduced the letter in its entirety with my comments in bold font. But be warned: The NCC letter is painful to read. So if you wish to avoid any possible trauma skip to the bottom for the page for my summation.

With that caveat out of the way, let’s start:

Dear NCC supporter, 

This past year has certainly been a remarkable one for Canada, yet 2012 promises to be a year full of both global and national challenges.

For the past several years, when I have sat down to write out my end of year reflections on the state of politics in our country I have been beset by certain doubts.  Year after year of minority governments and constant instability in Ottawa meant that anyone looking for meaningful change had better be prepared for an uphill battle.

The first paragraph in a direct mail pitch is always the most important. A bad opening could cause a busy and distracted reader to toss the letter in the nearest trash can.  Unfortunately for the NCC this opening is trite and fails to pull the reader in. If anything it’s jarring and confusing.  To see what I mean just re-read the first few sentences. It begins with a line about 2012 promising “to be a year full of both global and national challenges” which leads me as a reader to expect the next sentence will elaborate as to what kind of challenges?  Instead, the focus of the letter abruptly changes. Suddenly the writer is talking about the stability of past minority governments. Do you see the problem? Unless a letter seamlessly and logically flows from one idea to the next you risk losing a reader or at the very least aggravating him. Also where’s the drama? You need to inspire your supporters at the onset not lecture them on the history of minority governments.

Even a “standard template” opening like this would work better:

Dear NCC Supporter:

The past year was one of the most successful years in the NCC’s long history.

In a year that saw many challenges and opportunities the NCC made a difference, standing up for your values.

And it’s all thanks to your loyal and generous support. We could not have done it without you!

The National Citizens Coalition persevered through it all, and with your steadfast support we helped make sure the economy was front and centre in last May’s federal election.

The result? Canadians elected a strong majority government. Now, as we look towards the coming year, will this government truly be more conservative? Will they show the strength to reduce spending, reduce taxes and tackle the looming crisis of skyrocketing healthcare budgets?

Lots of fuzzy language here. The writer says the NCC “persevered through it all”. What does that mean? I suppose it means the NCC managed to survive during the minority years? That may be true but it’s hardly a great claim to mobilize donors: “Hey look at us we persevered! Send us your money!”  Also it’s here we get the first mention of an NCC accomplishment from the previous year: “We helped make sure the economy was front and centre in last May’s federal election?” Interesting claim, but vague. And when it comes to raising money vagueness doesn’t work. You need to provide concrete accomplishments or some sort of clear victories.  Also, NCC supporters don’t care about the “economy”, they care about fiscal responsibility, smaller government, individual freedom. What I mean is when speaking to ideologically-oriented donors like NCC supporters you need to use ideological language. And speaking of vagueness to say the NCC kept the economy “front and centre” is also meaningless. Be more specific. Did the NCC run TV ads, did it sponsor national debates, did it set up a website? We don’t know because the letter doesn’t tell us. Donors aren’t mind readers. You can’t assume they know what the NCC did over the past year. The writer then goes on to make a completely unsubstantiated claim about the NCC’s actions leading to a “strong majority government.” (I guess the Conservatives had nothing to do with it.) And by the way NCC supporters are small “c” conservatives, meaning they don’t necessarily like the term “strong government”. In fact, strong government scares conservatives. So why use that language? A sure sign the writer is politically tone deaf. At any rate, what’s really important is that so far this letter has done nothing to really rouse any sort of emotion in the reader. And it’s emotion that spurs contributions. That’s why a good fundraising letter of this sort will start off boasting about all the group’s great successes in the previous year and how it made a difference. This is followed with something like: “But much more needs to be done in the upcoming year, the fight has just begun, we still face serious obstacles to attaining our goals, etc. etc.”

Canada is facing numerous challenges this year – including a global credit crisis, the danger of a new recession, a precipitously declining neighbour in the United States, and instability across Europe and much of the world. Our federal government has a great deal of work ahead in order to protect hard-working Canadians, our families, and our economic opportunities. It is time for action. 

Again suddenly the letter shifts focus. It went from talking about needing more conservative policies to “Canada is facing numerous challenges”. And what does a “precipitously declining neighbour  in the United States” actually mean? But here’s the real problem: the letter talks about our federal government having a great deal of work ahead of it. OK true enough but I thought this was a letter about the NCC? Why talk about what the government has to do? As a donor I want to know what the NCC will do. Then it says it’s a “time for action” but offers no hint as to what kind of action.

If you have already renewed your support for this year - thank you! On behalf of all Canadians, your donation is greatly appreciated. Please consider forwarding this email on to others whoe believe in the principles of responsible fiscal management in our government.

This is odd. Why is the letter writer speaking on “behalf of all Canadians”?  Do all Canadians care about the NCC? Also “who” is spelled wrong. It’s unprofessional to send out a letter with these sorts of errors; it undermines the confidence of donors. If I can’t trust you to proof read a letter how can I trust you with my money? Anyway, the letter changes course yet again as it presents a list for no apparent reason.

Fiscal Accountability: This government has pledged to balance the federal budget by 2015-2016 – one year ahead of the Parliamentary Budget Office’s earliest estimates. We have been holding their feet to the fire to disclose how they plan to achieve this – and to implement their plan without delay. Balancing the budget is this government’s most important task, and there is no excuse for keeping their plan hidden from taxpayers. Taxpayers gave this government a majority to enable them to make the difficult decisions and reduce government spending dramatically. In fact, this is the platform they ran on – any stalling or backpedaling will cost them their credibility.

See how the letter loses an opportunity to stir up passion? When discussing fiscal policy the letter states if the Conservatives don’t cut spending it will hurt their “credibility”. In other words, we need fiscally responsible policies not because it’s good for the country or good for taxpayers or good for Canada’s future, but because it’s good for the Conservative Party.  The NCC should be speaking about values at this point, not about crass political calculation. Better: “I don’t want my children to grow up in a country where they are burdened with high taxes and crushing debt ….”

Privatize the CBC: Earlier this year we launched a campaign to address public funding for the CBC – funding which amounts to more than $1.1-billion each and every year. We have launched a petition that allows signatories to add their names with thousands of other Canadians that would like to ‘opt out’ of funding the CBC. The entire CBC television arm should be privatized and sold off immediately – there is simply no longer any need for a national broadcaster. CBC television unfairly competes with the private sector for advertising dollars and has repeatedly refused to be transparent about its finances. Since taxpayers are paying their bills, this is unacceptable. While CBC radio still has a place in many communities, it is CBC television that receives the lion’s share of public funds without producing relevant content or maintaining accountability.

OK, when writing a letter to NCC supporters you can’t go wrong bashing the CBC. And finally we get a mention of a specific NCC action in 2011 – a petition. But no boasting about its success. How many people signed it? Did it make news? Did the left-wing attack the NCC for it? We just don’t know.

Protect the right to own private property: This year the NCC has also been pressing hard for much-needed change to the appalling state of property rights in Canada. It is unbelievable that our Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not protect property rights in Canada – in fact, we do not even have a unified legal definition of property! Without clear legal protection, provincial and federal governments alike routinely infringe on Canadians’ property rights under the auspices of legislation focusing on the environment, energy or any number of other seemingly unrelated issues. 

This is happening right now to property owners in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario.  We have been tackling this issue head on at the provincial level to fight against each of these transgressions, but we must see action at the federal level to ensure basic property rights are enshrined in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Protecting property rights is a good issue. But again what exactly did the NCC do to protect these rights? Ad campaigns? Media appearances? It’s all a secret.

Reform Healthcare spending: Overall healthcare spending in 2012 is set to top $200-billion for the first time. If this government is serious about reducing spending, a national strategy is needed to find efficiencies and drive these costs down. It is long past time to remove unnecessary layers of bureaucracy and provide Canadians with the healthcare we deserve - at a price we can afford.

Every year, healthcare spending accounts for a larger percentage of each tax dollar collected in Canada – this is the result of our provincial and federal governments approving budget increases of 6% or more each year.  Unfortunately, more and more of this money is being spent supporting Canada’s bloated bureaucracies instead of being used to improve actual services for Canadians. We must drastically reduce the size of our healthcare bureaucracy if we hope to improve the quality healthcare available to Canadians.

As of 2011, healthcare spending in Ontario has already surpassed 50% of total government spending. British Columbia and Alberta will reach the 50% mark by 2017, yet hospital wait times are increasing and services continue to decline. A recent study by the Fraser institute found that waiting times for surgery are at an all-time high across the country. It is not hard to determine where these budget increases are going – Canada has more than 10x as many healthcare bureaucrats when compared to similar countries around the world.

The National Citizens Coalition has been working hard to see healthcare budgets built from scratch each year, which would prevent wasteful spending. We simply cannot afford to increase healthcare spending by 6% year after year. Canada desperately needs the political will to reduce our healthcare bureaucracy before our standards of care plummet any further.

OK but what did the NCC do to fix health care? What will it do in 2012 to make a difference? Give me a bone here people. If I am going to part with my hard earned money I need some evidence that my money will be use for something besides paying NCC salaries. Also, and this goes for all the above points, a fundraising letter is not the place to explain why something is wrong. You should assume NCC supporters already support private property rights, a privatized CBC and fiscal responsibility. So why waste time and space trying to convince them? You risk boring the reader. Instead, get right into it. “The NCC plans to launch a nation-wide multi-media blitz to push our politicians to…..whatever.” Also a good idea to include a draft copy of an ad. People like to see the tangible ways their money will be spent.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has been working hard to show Canadians that his government intends to keep its election promises.  We have seen important legislation introduced in several key areas, including the long-gun registry, union transparency legislation, and ending the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly on western grain. This action has helped give this government some much needed momentum, because we know the hard work did not end with the election.

This is blatant Harper cheerleading. As a “non-partisan” organization the NCC is supposed to treat all political parties equally. But aside from the organizational ethics praising Harper in this way is a bad fundraising tactic. Think about it. If I am reading this letter I would be tempted to give money directly to the Conservative Party and cut out the middleman. Plus making Harper too much of a hero now will make it more difficult to raise money if you need to criticize him down the road. Also for years and years the dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly was a big issue for the NCC. Why just credit Harper with its demise? Why not claim this is an example of a huge NCC success!! 

Please visit our website at for more information on all of these issues and many more – you can renew your support for the NCC by clicking here with our easy to use donation system. You can even make additional donations directly to the campaigns of your choice!

As you can see, there is a great deal on the line this year and this is why I am asking for your generous support once more. There is no other organization like the National Citizens Coalition – together, our thousands of supporters all across the country help shape each of our campaigns from the ground up. This is why, with your help, we are able to have such an impact and protect the best interests of hard-working Canadians.

We must continue to stand strong together, and the most effective way to do this is to continue your support of the National Citizens Coalition.

Amazingly no real reason is given to make a donation except that “there is no other organization like the National Citizens Coalition.” This is pure laziness by the writer. I mean come on, if you want to convince people to part with their money you need to inspire them! Tell them they are helping to make the country a freer, better place! Remind them that they have an important role to play in pushing Canada in the right direction!

This year, the National Citizens Coalition was featured in more media appearances than ever before – in a remarkably wide variety of programs and publications. Our influence is constantly expanding and our voice is strong because the NCC has been championing the basic rights and freedoms of Canadians from our inception in 1967.

This is a dubious claim. If anything the NCC has virtually disappeared from the national radar. Certainly, the NCC achieved much more significant press coverage back in the 1990s. But OK for the sake of argument let’s assume the NCC did garner great media coverage in 2011. That doesn’t of itself mean anything. The NCC should be about getting results not mentions in the media. But if you do feel the need to crow about media attention at least cite examples of this great coverage. And how is the NCC’s influence expanding?

We need your support now more than ever before – 2012 is going to be a critical year for Canada and the world. Please continue your steadfast support, and together we can ensure that the coming year is one that delivers for taxpayers. I look forward to the challenges that await us, because so much is now within reach.

What does “delivers for taxpayers” mean?  Better: "With your financial support, the NCC can continue to provide a strong voice for your values and for your freedoms!”

A donation of $35 dollars or more will qualify you for our quarterly Freedom Watch publication and exclusive website content. You will be kept up to date on all our campaigns and political commentary from all across the country. All donations of $135 or more will also qualify you for our most celebrated publication – the National Citizens Review. The National Citizens Review features journalistic content from some of Canada’s top political minds, and it is all available exclusively to our supporters.

A very weak ask. You should say something like “Please make your most generous contribution possible … $500, $200, $100, $35...your support will make a difference!” In fact, it’s kind of strange that no where in this letter does the writer actually come out and say “Please donate money.” Subtlety rarely works in fundraising.

Thank you very much for continuing to stand with us and especially for sharing your feedback and ideas. We will always listen to your concerns and together we will help Canada continue to prosper for generations to come.

Peter Coleman
President and CEO
National Citizens Coalition
P.S.  Join with thousands of other like-minded Canadians all across the country – renew your support of the NCC today! Your support will send a clear message to politicians across the country that the NCC will be as strong as ever in 2012. And believe me – your support makes a big difference. You are helping make Canada a better place for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren. That is something to be proud of.

The PS is actually the best part of the letter. It’s concise and to the point. It would have been better had the NCC scrapped the previous 1,000 words and only sent out the PS!

Overall, this letter is not only a disaster, but it’s a disaster that never seems to end. It goes on forever. This would not be so bad if the letter was well written and structured. But it’s just a hodgepodge of ideas and issues thrown together willy nilly. But that’s not the real problem. The real problem is it lacks heart. It has zero emotion. In fact, it reads like it was written by an accountant. It’s all about government efficiency and savings and waste and what a wonderful job the Tory government is doing. The letter writer just doesn't understand the psychology of giving. Nor, apparently, does he understand how conservatives think. Indeed, what I find truly astounding is this letter does not even mention the words “freedom” or “liberty”.  Remember the NCC is an ideological organization committed to defending and promoting freedoms; political freedom, economic freedom, individual freedom. How can you send out a multi-page letter and not talk about freedom? It’s mind-boggling. Imagine the Ford Motor Company sending out a newsletter that did not talk about cars. To be successful raising money the NCC needs to push ideological hot buttons: freedom, free enterprise, small government, strong families, etc. What I am trying to say is good political writing is like poetry. It’s an art that evokes a reaction, a reaction that hopefully opens up wallets. This letter is the opposite of art. It’s trash.

Also, if you can't or won't take shots at the Conservatives then at least villainize their enemies.  This letter should have said something like, “Stephen Harper wants to set this country back on the right track. But standing in his way are the big union bosses, the left-wing media and the craven opposition politicians. They will resist Harper’s agenda every step of the way. That’s why we need a strong, well-funded NCC to stand up for our precious freedoms. Only the NCC can take on the forces of the left and win. Only the NCC can make sure Canadians hear the real story etc. etc.” It would also help if you could cite left wing  union bosses or politicians attacking the NCC. When a community comes under attack it’s members instinctively rally to the defence. Use that to your advantage NCC!!

Then there are the stylistic problems: too many long sentences, too much passive language, lack of strong verbs, poor phrasing.

To sum up, this letter just doesn’t resonate with a reader. NCC supporters are hard-core, right wing conservatives. They care about certain ideals and values. And if you can’t connect to them on with emotional and values-oriented language you won’t connect with them at all. You certainly won’t get them reaching for their wallets with a vague, boring, badly penned, sterile pitch.  Whoever wrote this letter didn’t feel the need to put any effort or thought into the message.

It’s too bad. Canada could use a strong well-funded voice for freedom.

At any rate, if anybody from the NCC reads this feel free to use my ideas --- for a fee!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ideas for choosing a leader

On at their recent convention, Liberal delegates voted to allow anyone who declares support for the Liberal party to vote in Liberal leadership elections, without actually become a party member.  

Of course, there were many other proposals to change the manner of choosing a new Liberal leader, but they never made it to the convention floor.

Here are some of the more interesting suggestions:

1. Randomly choose a name pulled out of Pierre Trudeau’s Panama hat.

2. Pick anybody with the last name “Trudeau”

3. Ban from running for leadership anybody who has earned a degree from Harvard.

4. Anoint a leader after consulting Mackenzie King’s Ouija board     

5. Pick the winner by means of a national best two out of three rock, paper scissors competition.

6. Use sample of Wilfrid Laurier’s DNA to create a clone.

7. Offer leadership to winner of Justin Beiber look-alike contest.

8. Produce some sort of Reality TV program where leadership candidates compete in competitions such as: “Throttle the Protester” and “Offer the Kick back”.

9. Let’s just forget all this stuff, because we all know Bob Rae will be the next leader.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Harper Restores Free Expression on Election Night

Media reports say the Harper government is dropping the election night black out ban.

This is a great victory for freedom.

The black out ban, technically known as Section 329 of the Canada Elections Act, prohibited the "premature transmission" of election results.

In other words, under this law you couldn’t reveal how Canadians voted in a region where the polls are closed, to Canadians living in a region where the polls are still open.

And believe me, the bureaucrats at Elections Canada enforced Section 329 with a Spanish-Inquisition like zealotry.

Just ask Paul Bryan.

Back in 2000 Paul, a British Columbia software developer, decided he would defy the law because he believed it infringed on free speech.

So, acting on principle, he posted real-time election results from Atlantic Canada on his website. This was back in the Stone Age era of the Internet when there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Craigs List. (How did we survive?)

Please note, Paul didn't project winners. He didn't provide analysis. He simply gave British Columbians a chance to see how voters in Newfoundland were casting their ballots.

Elections Canada took notice of this egregious crime and took immediate action to safeguard democracy.

The next day they dispatched police to Paul's home and officially charged him with a crime. The police also seized his computer  hard drive and other equipment.

Meanwhile, Stephen Harper, who back then was still president of the National Citizens Coalition, was outraged with the bullying ways of Elections Canada.

So the NCC took up Paul's cause and challenged the law in the courts.

Unfortunately, in an incredibly short-sighted ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against Paul and sided with Elections Canada, so the black out rule remains in effect.

Of course, it's a law which is now probably unenforceable. Modern communication technology has rendered it impossible to keep track of all possible violators.

As one of the lawyers arguing against Section 329 told the Supreme Court justices, "The only way to get fairness is to get rid of Section 329 or to shut the power off on election day so no one gets any results."

Prime Minister Harper has now pulled the plug on this ridiculous law. And for that he deserves the thanks of all Canadians who cherish free speech. 

Monday, January 09, 2012

Winning in New Hampshire

New Hampshire is in the news a lot these days because tomorrow the “Live Free or Die” state will hold the first primary in the US presidential sweepstakes.

And because it is the first primary, it can make or break a contender’s momentum.

In other words, New Hampshire may be small, but its influence on US politics is huge.

So what will it take for Republican presidential wannabes to win this key primary?

Well first off, the nominees better forget all that stuff about wining votes through new-fangled notions like social media.

To be successful in New Hampshire requires old-fashioned “retail” campaigning, namely lots of baby-kissing, hand-shaking and Town Hall-attending. Simply put, “Granite Staters”, as they call themselves, want to see candidates up close.

And make no mistake, Granite Staters know what to look for in an candidate. They are as knowledgeable about politics as Canadians are about hockey.

Just consider the New Hampshire state legislature boasts 424 members making it the fourth-largest English-speaking legislative body in the world, behind only India’s Parliament, the United Kingdom’s Parliament and the US Congress.

Not bad for a state with a population of only 1.3 million.

And get this: New Hampshire state legislators are paid a grand total of about $100 a year.  That’s right, for Granite Staters running for office, getting elected and passing state legislation are all basically hobbies.

My point is they appreciate a well-run campaign and a well prepared candidate.

And their interest in politics is intense. I saw this first-hand in 2010 while working on a campaign in a mid-term Republican US Senate primary race.

For example, one time my candidate’s organizers scheduled a “Town Hall Meeting” on a beautiful mid-July Sunday. To me this seemed a mistake. Nobody, I thought, would come to a hotel basement on a weekend just to hear a candidate prattle on about a primary election that wouldn’t take place for another four months.

Boy was I wrong. The place ended up packed with Republicans. And they all knew their issues backwards, forwards and sideways.

And what do New Hampshire voters care about? Well one thing they care about is the right to own and bear arms. Anyone who ever wants to run for a Republican nomination in the state, had better own a gun and had better have fired it in the recent past.

Also Republican candidates should pander a bit to the state’s largest ethnic group, which by the way just happens to be French-Canadians.  Check the New Hampshire phone book and you will find lots of Lamontange’s Boudettes and Ayottes.

Meanwhile, all candidates should beware of the Union Leader, the state’s largest newspaper, whose endorsement is extremely influential when it comes to Republican politics.

What’s interesting about the Union Leader, however, is not only does it endorse a candidate, it will often editorially savage the candidates it didn’t endorse.

This time the paper is backing Newt Gingrich, which certainly gives him an edge.

But that doesn’t mean Gingrich will necessarily come out on top.

In fact, polls show former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has a real good shot at winning in New Hampshire. This makes sense because Romeny is a New Englander.

If there is anything I learned about Granite Staters, it’s they can be wary of people from outside their region. So many of them may vote Romney simply because he is one of their own.

Oh and there’s one final fact candidates need to know about New Hampshire: It’s actually pronounced “New Hampshah”

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Anatomy of a Bad Fundraising Letter

Recently somebody passed along to me a year-end fundraising appeal from the federal New Democratic Party. I found it offensive, not for ideological reasons, but because it was a poorly written, poorly constructed letter. In fact, to my mind it utterly failed as direct mail fundraising material. Why do I say that? Well see below. I have reproduced the letter, with my commentary in bold font:
My Fellow New Democrat,

At the end of the year, all parties assess what they’ve accomplished in the last 12 months. For New Democrats, this year – there were many. But I would like to start by talking about what Canadians accomplished.

Quite simply, 2011 is the year Canadians changed Ottawa. Forever.

OK I am sorry but this is really a lame beginning for a fundraising letter: It’s boring. And that’s a killer, because the first paragraph of a direct mail pitch has to be like the lede of a news story; it has to grab your attention, make you want to read on or at least make some sort of emotional connection with the reader. But this opening just doesn’t cut it.  It’s just vague and uninspiring. Who cares about what “Canadians accomplished”? Heck, they are not even talking about what the NDP accomplished. What would make for a better opening? Well just about anything really, but most obviously, they should have invoked Jack Layton and his legacy:

My Fellow New Democrat:

As you know our party and our nation suffered a great loss this year with the passing of Jack Layton.

I am sure, like me, you miss him greatly.

But working together we can keep his memory alive forever by building on the wonderful legacy he left for our party. That’s why I am writing you today.

Blah, blah, blah.

Invoking Layton in the first sentence this way would have packed an emotional wallop.   

On May 2, four and a half million Canadians took a good look at Ottawa. And they didn’t like what they saw. The ongoing scandals… the divisive politics… and how little was being done to help Canadian families.

Canadians saw a place where Liberal and Conservative insiders got all the breaks. While Canadian families were left to fend for themselves.

They said Ottawa was broken.

And they put their trust in New Democrats to fix it. To bring change that would finally put families first.

The above paragraphs are nothing but political spin. There is a time and place for that kind of propaganda, of course, but that place is not a fundraising letter. First off, everybody knows the Conservatives actually won the election, so it’s a real stretch to suggest Canadians put their trust in the NDP to “fix” anything.  That’s not say the NDP shouldn’t brag, they absolutely should, but a good fundraising pitch needs grounding in reality. In the case of the NDP they should have focused on the big political news story of the year: the NDP’s amazing breakthrough in Quebec. That was huge. And it was real. Why not make that a focal point of the letter?

New Democrats have already started delivering on that promise of change.

The New Democrat team and I need your help to keep moving Canada forward. Please make an urgent donation of $50, $100 – or whatever you can afford – right now.

As I’m sure you’ve seen, some of the change Ottawa desperately needed happened right after the 2011 election. Because of New Democrats, Canada now has:

A record number of women in Parliament.

A record number of young, dynamic leaders.

The first Parliament with an average age of under 50.

A new tone in Parliament – an accomplishment that unfortunately too many other parties have not felt necessary to copy.

An Opposition that unites progressive Canadians from every region of the country – including, for the first time in a generation, a plurality of Quebecers.

A party that is committed to putting the old divisions aside and working together to build a better Canada.

Is it just me or is this a weak list of accomplishments?  Some are even dubious, ie “A new tone in Parliament”. (Paging Pat Martin) But there is a bigger problem here and this gets to the heart of why this is a bad fundraising letter. When it comes to seeking donations for a political cause, focusing on the positive accomplishments of your side is less important than illuminating the danger posed by the other side. In short, a good fundraising letter makes the reader afraid. Why? Simple. If donors are thinking rationally, they are less likely to hand over their hard earned dollars to a political party.  Think about it. Would you rather give money to a political party that has a “record number of women in Parliament” or to a charity that’s fighting cancer or some other disease that might kill you? Fear works. My point is, the goal should be to get readers reacting emotionally.That’s why you want to take aim at the heart, not the brain. In this case the NDP should be ringing the alarm bells about the scary dangers posed by the extreme right-wing Harper government. The letter should make it clear only a strong, vigorous and of course well funded NDP can stop this Harper menace.

But perhaps the biggest change has only been seen more recently.

For the first time, as we move towards the next election, Canadians now have a clear choice in direction for our country.

A choice between the Conservative’s fend-for-yourself inaction on job creation, and the New Democrats’ focus on helping small businesses and targeted action to help the job creators.

That’s a clear choice.

On pensions.

The Conservatives want Canadians to roll the dice with even more of their retirement savings – on failing stock markets. New Democrats want to strengthen the public pensions Canadians can rely on in tough times.

That’s a clear choice.

On Health Care.

Conservatives are already backing out of their one commitment on healthcare. A promise to maintain the 6% escalator on funding. New Democrats think the healthcare of Canadian families should always be a priority – in good times and bad.

That’s a clear choice.

On lifting First Nations families out of poverty.

Conservatives have completely turned their backs on aboriginal families. Blaming the community, passing the buck, not taking any responsibility for years of underfunding. New Democrats have shown that we want to work with First Nations communities, build a new relationship based on respect and trust, and work towards ensuring no Canadian families gets left behind.

Admittedly the NDP letter does try to raise a bit of fear about the Tories in this next part of the letter. But it’s half-hearted. Consider this sentence: “Conservatives are already backing out of their one commitment on healthcare”. Yawn. That kind of tepid language won’t motivate anybody. Better: “Prime Minister Harper seems determined to wreck Canada’s beloved health care system with his dangerous big-business-friendly, right wing agenda.”

That’s a clear choice – and as you know, a commitment I personally hold very dear to my heart.

So today I’m asking you to make a very special donation to Canada’s New Democrats. With your help, we can continue fighting to make life better for Canadian families – every single day.

Canadians also have a clear choice on the caliber of the team they want fighting for them.

6 years into government, Stephen Harper’s team remains an embarrassment. Tony Clement. Bev Oda. Peter Mackay. John Duncan. Peter Kent.

I will put my front benches up against this crew any day. Our united team is matched only by the caliber of the candidates from across the country who are running to be our new Party leader.

Check out the above paragraphs. Do you know what’s truly amazing about them? When recounting the litany of Tory villains they don’t single out who should be the biggest villain of all, namely, Stephen Harper! In fact, incredibly the letter only mentions Harper once in passing! This is crazy. It’s like Star Wars without Darth Vader or Batman without the Joker. I mean, let’s face it, for NDP donors the Prime Minister must be number one on their list of political bad guys. So why waste time on relative non-entities like Oda, Duncan and Kent? Why not use antipathy toward Harper to squeeze dollars out of wallets. Yes I know that sounds awful. But here’s the reality: if you want to raise dollars in politics you must invoke raw and powerful emotions. And the two most raw emotions are hate and fear. That’s why Harper should have been the star of the letter. The theme would be simple: “Here are ten reasons why Harper is the devil. Only the NDP can stop him. Send cash!”

On issue after issue, Canadians now have a clear choice between an out-of-touch Conservative government that will always put well-connected friends and insiders at the front of the line. And a New Democrat team that will ensure families come first, and nobody is left behind.

That was the core of Jack Layton’s values. The core of his dream for a better Canada. A Canada built on hope, optimism, perseverance and the rock solid belief that by working together, there is no challenge we cannot overcome.

Finally they mention Layton!! Too little, too late.

The outpouring we saw upon Jack Layton’s passing showed us something we all knew. These values are Canadian values. His dream for a better Canada is a Canadian dream.

New Democrats will never let that dream die. As we enter a New Year, that light remains as strong as ever.

And so there remains much work to be done.

We can build a better Canada – but I need your help to make it happen. Please make a generous contribution to Canada’s New Democrats today.

Together, we will defeat the Conservatives in 2015.

And what’s with talking about defeating the Conservatives in 2015? In a fundraising letter you need to build up a sense of urgency. “I am writing you this letter because we need your support RIGHT NOW for some important-sounding reason.”

And we will carry on Jack Layton’s legacy by forming a New Democrat government that will always put Canadian families – first.

Oh, this letter lacks one other essential money-raising ingredient: guilt. A good closing would have been something like: “Jack Layton always counted on your support in the past, so I know you will want to help ensure his legacy for the future. Please don’t let Jack down.”

Nycole Turmel
Canada’s New Democrats

Now maybe this letter will raise money. That’s fine. But my point is a better letter would have raised a heck of a lot more.