This weekend the BC NDP Provincial Council meets to begin the review of the disastrous 2013 campaign.
From what I see it is set to fail, much like Dix’s campaign itself.
This was a campaign that Adrian Dix and the BC NDP were supposed to win going away. Instead they lost badly.
Dix didn’t lose because Clark’s Liberals were good (they were) but because his campaign was so bad.
Under his leadership the BC NDP were ill prepared, incompetent in the air and on the ground, deliberately under informed, unable to respond and technologically in the dark ages.
Money wasn’t the problem it has always been. Dix and his team spent more money getting fewer votes than any NDP campaign in history. They spent more than 3 times what the 2009 campaign spent to get a significantly smaller portion of the vote.
The campaign was an enormous waste of money. Think about that the next time you get one of those relentless phone calls or e-mails.
The problem according to MLAs and members of the campaign team was Dix – his foolishly amateur ‘positive’ strategy, his performance, his astonishing micro-management coupled with his inability to work with a team, including his caucus and his candidates.
There are, I’m told, at least two reports on the campaign written by senior insiders, one of which was prepared for a debrief held last week. One report is said to be a damning review of the Leader’s lack of campaign skills. (Will council get to see those reports before it decides how to review the campaign? What do you think?)
Yet Dix refuses to take responsibility, offering no indication that he intends to leave. It appears that he has decided to stick around to stay in charge of the official campaign review.
In other words, the problem has decided to oversee the solution. If that doesn’t undermine the party’s credibility it’s only because it has nowhere further to fall.
With Dix in charge it begs the question: why bother holding a review? It all seems set up to defuse blame and save Dix’s leadership. Why trust it will get at the real problem and convince Dix to go?
Here’s what people close to the campaign have to say about it.
No campaign decision was too small for the leader to interfere. Conversely no campaign decision was too big for the leader to do anything but go it alone if he wanted. See Kinder Morgan. Dix didn’t just blindside voters, he blindsided his own campaign team and MLAs.
The one thing Dix refused to take any part in was improving his own performance. The watchword was ‘authentic’ as in ‘a bad suit is authentic’. Dix was allergic to training and improving his own performance. As a result, the more voters saw of him the less they saw him as as a Premier-in-waiting.
‘Authenticity’ led Dix to throw away the decent line he was given to deal with the memo and come up with his own, the infamous “I was thirty-five”, giving the Liberals one of their best ads of the campaign. Christy probably sent him a thank-you note.
As somebody who would know told me, the story of the campaign is that “the bus managed the anchor, breaking rule number one. Dix made all the decisions. Topp’s big mistake was not resigning.”
But Topp didn’t resign. Instead he went on to direct and implement the disastrous polling, advertising, tour, targeting and GOTV campaign. Not one key element of the campaign worked.
Several people pointed out to me that mistakes piled upon mistakes right to the bitter end. The final tour blitz took enormous effort and resources at a key point in the campaign. Of all the ridings visited in the whirlwind final day we only won one. It’s likely that the tour took resources away from some who should have been pulling vote rather than marshalling an event for the leader.
Reviewing all of the above with Dix still in the leadership seems to me impossible. The party needs a change in leadership – an interim leader for example – before undertaking the renewal it so desperately needs.
Failing that several things must happen for the review to have even a smattering of credibility.
It must be seen to be independent: panel members must come with their own expertise and have no ties to the powers that be.
How about someone like Michael Balagus, former Manitoba Chief of Staff and Campaign Director? Dix complained about Balagus’ presentation at our last convention because Balagus’ strategy of defining the opposition wasn’t in line with Dix’s strategy of letting Christy off the hook. But Balagus was correct. Shouldn’t we ask people who have a record of getting it right to help review our mistakes?
Last BC election our pollster Leslie Turnbull – conflict disclosed, a close friend of mine – called 84 of 85 constituencies correctly. This time, Dix kept her company out of the campaign. Our polling turned out to be wildly inaccurate. Turnbull would be a good person to help the party understand why our polling was a useless mess.
(I’m told the campaign pollster was fired part way through after telling Dix the polling didn’t support his pipeline strategy. Firing people for telling you the truth is a very bad sign in a campaign. On top of this, there was no targeted riding polling done in the campaign. At the end they had no clue which constituencies were in play and where they should assign resources.)
I acknowledge I have a serious conflict in the area of party advertising, but it seems to me even crazier now that the makers of ‘Christy Crunch’, who have a record of winning provincial elections across Canada, were discarded by Brian Topp in favour of the makers of those insipid and useless commercials the campaign spent millions on.
And why was there no money for a decent last week media buy? And why was our buy so weak on programming that women watch?
Someone with advertising expertise needs to evaluate how and why those terrible decisions were made. After all, we wasted millions on ads that had voters shrugging their shoulders and changing the channel while the Liberals killed us with the weather vane spot.
The review needs independent members who will ask the right questions. And there are a lot more of those questions. For example:
- Where did all the money go?
- What was the social media strategy? How much money was spent on social media for what return?
- What was the polling strategy and why did our pollsters fail so badly?
- What was the advertising strategy? Were the ads tested?
- Were our opponent’s message, arguments and ads tested? If not, why not?
- Why were central data banks separate from local ones causing enormous duplication?
- Why couldn’t we pull the vote we identified?
- Why did the central campaign disregard local intel that said the leader was a problem on the phone and doorstep? I understand this was communicated often in the last half of the campaign.
- Why was the campaign absent in ethnic communities and media?
- What targeting was done and why did it fail?
- Why the hell wasn’t the campaign relevant to women – our key demographic?
- Why did we know so little about our audience? Did we even bother to understand who our persuadable voters were and design a campaign to reach them?
- Was the platform tested? Who developed the release strategy and why? Critics and others complain that the platform contained good retail politics that was lost in the release and debate over cost?
- Is it true the Leader was rewriting the platform right up to its release?
- Was the campaign strategy tested with our targets?
- Was there even an Election Planning Committee. If so did it ever meet during the campaign?
There are dozens of questions about all aspects of the campaign. The review should answer all of them, ruthlessly.
Provincial council and the party should have access to key information like the Campaign plan, budgets, media plans, outreach and targeting etc…
And they should have access to the existing debriefs from campaign staff.
I could go on and on about this awful campaign, but it seems clear to me that if Dix refuses to take responsibility in any concrete way Provincial Council has a duty to step up to the plate and ensure the review team has the expertise and independence to provide the party with a meaningful review, no matter how bad it is for the leader.
What I really mean to say is someone should tell Dix to go so the party can get on with the enormous job of rebuilding. Failing that party members and council should grab control of the review so it is not a whitewash.
With this election the BC NDP really has hit its “COPE” moment – that place where good people have to decide to stay or go, to help modernize or leave and let it ossify into irrelevance. It’s time to change or die.