Friday, October 30, 2009

What Would the Enlightened Savage Do? - Part 3 (NDP)

Dear Brian:

Wow. Imagine my surprise this morning when I received your offer to come in and rebuild Alberta's New Democratic Party from a caucus of 2 into an electoral juggernaut. I'm humbled by your faith in me - and to answer your question, no, I was NOT the person behind TPB.

Especially telling was your insistence that I "pull no punches", and that nothing was off-limits. Politics is a blood sport, and getting elected is a tricky business. I'm glad you decided to take this big step - and I think you will be as well, in time. :)

One of the biggest problems with the NDP as it stands is the perception that it is a "protest group", or a social justice club. You're a registered political party, Brian. It's time to start playing the game like you intend to win, instead of being happy that they let you onto the televised debates.

Without any further pomp and/or circumstance, here is your course of action:

1. Call Your Shot. You went into the last election insisting that you had a chance to be the Official Opposition, and you blew it. You blew it, because you automatically and pre-emptively dismissed any chance of forming government, and people don't go to the polls to elect an opposition - they go to elect a government. When you announce ahead of time that you want to be the first runner-up, people dismiss you. "Even HE doesn't believe he can govern - what if I voted for him, and god forbid his party WON?". Tell people you're running for Premier - and tell them NOW, not when the writ drops. If they think you're serious about winning, you'll attract members, volunteers, and quality candidates who can convince people to vote for them.

2. Take to Rachel. Seriously. There are only 2 images the average Albertans has of Brian Mason, because there are only 2 soundbytes that ever make it to air: Brian Mason talking to 30 supporters at a union hall (we'll talk about that later), and Brian Mason speaking in the Legislative Assembly with a sneering Rachel Notley staring at the minister being questioned. 90% of communication is non-verbal - while you may be making a perfectly good point, most of us can't take our eyes off the look of total contempt that your caucus-mate is directing towards the government benches. Contempt doesn't play well. Especially since it's pretty clear that Rachel's contempt isn't just reserved for the Tories themselves, but for the half-a-million voters who cast a ballot for them. Ask Kevin Taft how well the "stupid Tories and their stupid voters" strategy worked for him in 2008.

3. Move Past the Unions. We know they're your bread-and-butter, but the political influence of unions in Alberta is way WAY overstated. I belong to a union, Brian. They send me a newsletter - printed with my own money - to inform me of what they're doing to improve conditions in the workplace. But if anyone with the union thinks they can tell me how I should be voting, they've got another thing coming. This is case through much of the province. You need to reach out to normal Albertans and engage them DIRECTLY, rather than through their unions. A call from the UEW or AUPE urging me to support the NDP is a non-starter. Brian Mason appealing directly to me for my support? That's something else. That's something worth at least listening to.

4. Come Up With a Vision. Get it vetted by some conservative voters, fix it so it will appeal to your vetters, and then publish it. Do this in the next 6 months. If you want to distinguish yourself as a party, don't do it by fighting these battles you know you can't win, so you die in some pyrrhic defeat on the moral high ground. GET ELECTED. Articulate a vision for the province, and distinguish yourselves from the others by outlining a plan to get us there - and make sure that normal Albertans will get behind that vision. You've got to come and talk to those Tory voters that Rachel keeps sneering at, because some of them *could* be convinced to vote for you, if you have the best plan for the province. If the Liberals don't reach out and shore up their voters, than many of THEM could be had, if you come up with good policies and are seen as a contender - Remember, a lot of the people voting Liberal these days voted NDP in the 80's, when the Liberals were routinely getting crushed - they're not stupid, they know a losing horse when they see it. They can be brought back. You can also reach out to the silent majority of Albertans who don't even BOTHER to vote, IF you can make an argument as to why they SHOULD bother. They WON'T vote for you if your argument is "the Liberals suck, and we need to protect Albertans from themselves and their chosen government".

5. Change the name. I know Jack's NDP talked about this briefly and then shut it down, but hear me out... if you change the name, reach out to normal Albertans, put out policies that appeal across the political spectrum, and attract quality candidates... then the voters who pay attention might give you a chance. Just as importantly, though, the voters that DON'T pay attention - who get just as much a say as anyone else - will hear what you have to say, check their "never vote for the following parties" checklist, see that the "Progressive Party" isn't on that list, and decide to give you a chance.

The bottom line, Brian, is that your party has to fundamentally change in order to appeal to enough voters to make a difference.

This doesn't mean you have to sell out your fundamental beliefs. Here's a bit of a shocker for you, though - most Albertans SHARE your basic, fundamental belief in social justice and a tolerant society. Where you lose them is with nanny state policies that most of them will NEVER support, and the high tax rates that would have to accompany them. Their distaste for those 2 things is never going to change - and so, to get elected, you must. The further you can get from that political legacy, the better - because being "remotely related to the party of Tommy Douglas" isn't doing you any favours at this point.

You want to make this province a better place, Brian?

Then follow the steps above. And make it a better place, by governing it.

- E.S.


Snelgrove's creepy goatee said...

Um, have you ever actually met Rachel Notley? Or seen her work a crowd of rural voters?

She doesn't sneer at Tories voters (maybe at Tory MLAs - but they are pretty much deserving of it). Notley comes from rural Alberta and is pretty personable and avuncular. I've seen her in action in neutral to hostile crowds and she seldom fails to charm the pants off everyone.

Anonymous said...

I do agree with ES about the angry appearing NDP. And, in direct response to SCGS, Ms. Notley does have some of her father's appeal when in public, but certainly the ES description of her legislature antics is quite accurate. The NDP has always presented itself with an excuse and an admission that they aren't there to be the government. At the public forum for the 2008 election, the NDP candidate came right out and urged those present to vote for the Liberal because he could not fathom having another PC government!

Stu said...

But how much of the Notley sneer also playing to her base in Edmonton? Much of her internal support in her riding really look down on Tory-voters, especially rural. She ran a very smart campaign and maybe after another victory in her riding she can move past that.

I think she was also the NDP lead on calling for ministers to resign.