The lesson of 2009

The lesson of the 2009 BC election is simple but has never been revealed until now.  I am willing to part with it as a piece of free advice to our new leader Adrian Dix because, as the papers are already demonstrating, he’ll need it. (the good news is that he’s already following the advice.)

The election campaign has already started.  And your job is to define them and define us before they do that for you.  They, by the way, have a head start.

How is this the lesson of the 2009 election?

Well, the NDP won that election.  Except nobody noticed because we ended up with fewer votes and fewer seats.

But the NDP actually won the campaign.  I know.  I saw the polls.  I saw who moved the most votes and made up the most distance.  From day one to day 28, the NDP scratched back somewhere between 14 and 10 percentage points to finish less than 3 points behind the Liberals.   Despite a lousy first week, the NDP campaign was far better at winning votes than the BC Liberal campaign.

But when it comes to forming government the 28 day campaign didn’t matter.  What did matter was the proceeding six months and specifically December 2008 and January and February 2009.

During these months the Liberal party and its surrogates spent millions defining Carole James and the NDP in a broad based communications campaign – viral, editorial, news driven and anchored by two big paid advertising campaigns sponsored by two business coalitions.

The NDP and its surrogates were nowhere – with the airwar entirely dependent upon QP and earned media.  With BC’s media that gets you a big hole and not a dime to fill it.

The results were almost immediate.  Over twelve weeks from the end of November 2008 to early March 2009, James and the NDP fell behind Campbell and the Liberals by somewhere between 12 and 16 points.  The decline was in complete sync with the Liberal TV campaign.

A year and a half out, as I took on the job of Chief of Staff, I predicted this.  It’s not because I’m so smart.  It’s just an obvious and straight up function of a fixed election date with advertising windows.  And the party missed it.

And it could be worse this time – you can bet Clark has an early window in mind and her campaign will be ready to fill it.

If the same lead up witnessed in 2009 happens again, the same result as 2009 will be assured.  That means the first order of business is communication with the electorate.

And what are the elements of that?   A direct and real message about them and us; a disciplined effort to deliver it from every mouth; a simple and coherent package that shows we mean the change we talk about; a paid advertising campaign to deliver the message past the media guardians and a pile of cash to pay for it.

Anything less could be not enough.

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7 Responses to The lesson of 2009

  1. CB says:

    Clark has the clear advantage here. She can take the high road and avoid going negative because the MSM and big business will do the dirty work for her (check out The Province’s lead editorial today). I believe this will be her strategy.

    I agree that the NDP need to define Clark in the public’s mind before her supporters do but they can’t go too negative – it will just be used against them. The Crispy Crunch cereal ad is a good example of going negative without being saddled with the baggage of going negative. It users humour but, most importantly, it contains a kernel of truth that gives it legitimacy.

  2. Ian Bateson says:

    I think you’re dead on Ian. There has to be clearly defined policy from the NDP and it needs to be produced, announced and clearly in difference to the Christy lead “for families” formula she enunciates but really doesn’t outline as promises. They are not to be trusted, but the big question is who is. Make the promises and stick by them. Protect the very things we all stand for and mean it.

  3. Robin says:

    “But when it comes to forming government the 28 day campaign didn’t matter. What did matter was the proceeding six months… It’s just an obvious and straight up function of a fixed election date with advertising windows. ”

    This should be the NDP’s inner sanctum slogan.

    The “fixed” election date. I have always been suspicious and uneasy that both the Cons and their Con-sorts in BC arbitrarily, and simultaneously, changed the manner in which elections are called and how often we could have elections.

    They did this so easily and quickly, no one in the public seemed to even notice! I was alarmed, but no one else seemed to think anything of it. I was mystified. In the past, we’ve had some important elections called not just because we hadn’t had one for a while, but because of some issue. And their was never any grumbling about how often elections were held.

    At the time I attributed the motivation to playing up to the U.S., capitulating on everything from “security” to trade to Harper’s “presidential” style governing (presidential my asterisk, he sped past that to the autocrat stage virtually overnight, just as Campbell did ). And I was partially right, because look at how we’re now faced with a longer period of election campaign ads. Pretty soon our election run-ups (federal and provincial) will be as long as those in the U.S. with endless attack-ad commercials.

    And then, if the CBC and other meanstream media have their way, we won’t be “bothered” with any elections at all. We can all just turn our pretty little heads to… oh, shopping or hockey. CBC Radio is particularly bad, always moaning on an on about how we don’t want another election… Then when one’s called, CBC gets right in there, devises an online gimmick to tell us in 5 minutes (based on their questions), just who we should vote for. Note to people who take the bait – this is just our “public” broadcaster using you and being used to do free polling for their political masters.

    Actually, the CBC is complicit, beyond unwittingly being used. Surely their reporters and journalists can figure out that it’s not a good idea for the head of the CBC Vancouver-Victoria bureau to be engaged to the woman just appointed to an executive communications position within the new premier’s office? Hmmmm?

    Jeez! do people not get all this conniving corruption and the slippery slope we’re on? Canada has already become a police state, and the next natural step in this evolution is to become a dictatorship. We’re almost there, unless we can keep the Cons and their Con-sorts out of the top offices. We’re so close, Stephen Harper can taste it.

    Apologies for the longer post, you awakened something in the dim recesses of my cerebral cortex.

  4. Dan Schubart says:

    You hit it again. Those who would determine their own course must paddle like hell in that direction all the time.
    Also, it would be nice to think that your timely comment might have had something to do with the current rejection of Paragon. Now, about that roof…

  5. Malcolm James says:

    I don’t think she should be allowed to brand Adrian as last year’s man – a tactic she has begun. She carries more baggage than he and both the ruling on the striking of the teacher’s contract and BC Rail are her Achilles tendons. The FOI materials from the BCRail fiasco are showing clear links to her. An open public challenge to a full inquiry will put her on the defensive and she will look bad if she doesn’t comply and will be implicated if she does. The deal itself is so bad that the Liberals cannot possibly assume the role of a fiscally responsible government.

  6. Rod Smelser says:

    I think fixed election dates are good for the public and for any party that relies on people who are employed to operate their riding associations and campaigns.

    As for the winter of 2008-09, the period just preceeding the last BC election, there was another event during that period that would have had the effect of depressing NDP supporters and discouraging people from thinking about voting for the NDP at any level. That, of course, was the 40th Federal General Election of October 14th, 2008, an election in which the national NDP gained ground in nearly every province and territory save one, … British Columbia.

    In BC three disastrous candidate implosions pushed the federal NDP campaign into the ditch in the first few weeks. For months thereafter it’s reasonable to say that among people who are NDP adherents there wasn’t a whole lot of optimism or enthusiasm about the party’s overall health, and that among voters who are sometimes but not necessarily always NDP there would tend to be a slight lack of interest in hearing about the party after it had just slashed its own wrists in public.

    I don’t argue though with the need for some pre-writ advertising at both the local and provincial levels, to introduce and define the national or provincial party leader, and to make sure people see the local candidate as more than just a name on a yard sign.

  7. Julie says:

    I am in disbelief, that anyone would vote for The BC Liberals. They are so dirty with corruption and thefts from the province and the people. The lies, deceit, corruption, criminal deeds, dirty tactics and even cheating to win. Who would be that stupid?

    Christy won’t even, have a criminal investigation of, Campbell’s corrupt sale of the BCR, because, that subject hits too close to home. However, the judicial system in BC, is the most corrupt in Canada, so, I guess that would be an exercise in futility.

    Christy is no better than Campbell, she supported that monster, right to the hilt. Christy’s minimum wage is still, the lowest in Canada. All she has accomplished is to, look cute in a hockey jersey. Families first, Huh. There are thousands of BC moms, who would love to send their kids, to private school. Their kids would love to be able to play hockey too. But, the Liberals have thieved every last dime, from struggling families. Campbell, Hansen and Harper, forced the BC people to pay the HST.

    Campbell gave our HST to Harper, so he can give it to big business. We knew the HST would kill the province and the people, and it has.

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