Last week we had a meeting to discuss the 2018 Ontario election results, and how to improve our campaigning for next year’s federal election. We had a decent turnout, and some great discussions that have me hopeful for more growth here in Northumberland – Peterborough South.
The Election Results
I joined the Green Party of Ontario because of our strong platform, which is rooted in principles that are well embodied by our leader, Mike Schreiner. Mike’s landslide victory in his own riding, as well as his popularity across the province, will help us in our next campaign; and our platform continues to be very strong, with evidence-based policies recommended by relevant experts. But if we’ve learned anything from the 2018 Ontario election, it is that effective campaigning has a bigger impact on election results than a party’s policy platform or their leader’s popularity, and that other factors (in this case, a deep a long-nurtured distrust of the Liberals) can play an even bigger role.
We can’t control for other factors, though we will gear our campaign toward them; but we can control the way that we campaign, and in that area we have a lot of room for growth. In this past campaign we made a strategic decision to focus on events and online presence, based on the resources we had. We used a minimal number of signs, mailed out postcards in just one area, and only ran ads on the radio in the last few weeks of the campaign; effective advertising campaigns can add 2-4 percentage points to our vote, and we did see some positive return on our advertising in the form of slightly higher votes in areas that had radio ads or mailout. Signs were moderately more effective, not only because they served as a form of steady presence on a street, but also because they themselves are a sign of support, and people are more likely to support a candidate or party that they see others supporting. But the greatest impact, worth 6-12 percentage points in a well-run campaign, come from canvassing.
We didn’t do much canvassing in the 2018 Ontario election for two reasons: first, the riding is huge and running a canvassing campaign in a big riding is very challenging; and second, because we had very few volunteers. Knocking on doors and speaking directly with citizens remains the most effective form of campaigning, and we even saw that in our results: the polls with the best vote count for Greens were those in the immediate areas of anywhere that we actually canvassed, specifically the polling station in my neighbourhood in Brighton and the one in David Brister’s neighbourhood in Cobourg. Considering the canvassing we did was unsystematic and sporadic, the fact that we can see real results from it speaks volumes.
The Importance of Membership
The way to build on our positive results this year is to make sure that we can run a good ground campaign next year in the 2019 federal election. In order to do that, we need more volunteers – and to get more volunteers, we need to grow our volunteer base, i.e., members.
David Piccini ran a very effective ground campaign, prioritizing canvassing over other forms of campaigning and utilizing up to 125 volunteers, with at least 25 involved in his Get Out The Vote (GOTV) campaign on election day reminding people to vote. This effectiveness is evident in the fact that our riding had a voter turnout 10 points higher than the provincial total. While some of his volunteers and funding came from the PC party, who were investing in NPS as a swing riding they wanted to win, most of it came from his membership base. But when he started campaigning, a year and a half before the campaign began, there were only 35 active PC members in the riding; by the time the election campaign started, he had over 2,000.
Membership is almost an old-fashioned concept: service clubs and churches and social clubs have all seen a decline (and greying) in their memberships, because younger generations aren’t as keen on being “joiners” even if they’re often more personally active in volunteering for various causes. We’d rather stand for a cause than with a group. I’ll leave it for sociologists to determine why that is, but I can’t stress enough how important party membership is for our cause, especially because we are a political party.
First, practically speaking, membership is a form of funding ($10/year per member) and helps us maintain contact with our supporters and develop a pool from which to draw volunteers and donations. And second, because as a political party our cause is only really served by us being a unified group. If the work of a charity or service club can be accomplished by the organized work of volunteers who are otherwise unaffiliated, membership isn’t very important; but in a political party we can only accomplish our goals by being a large group or movement that is committed to promoting the group itself. Our platform is our cause, but our goal is to get elected, and members drive election campaigns.
Preparing for 2019
The time to start preparing for the next election is right now. We’ve gained ground in the 2018 campaign, and we’ve learned a lot from it too. The next step is membership. 2,727 people voted Green here in 2018, but only about 40 of them are actually members. That’s more than David Piccini started out with, and if we can get even 1/4 of those 2,727 voters to join the party, we will have a much bigger base from which we can draw volunteers and donations, which gives us many more possibilities for campaigning in 2019. Some of the things we’d like to do include:
- Canvassing in your neighbourhood, which not only increases voter turnout but also provides opportunities to gain even more members, further growing our support base!
- Have a bigger lawn sign presence
- Have more local events beyond all-candidate meetings, such as coffee parties and barbecues in smaller communities
- Run issue campaigns before and during the election, dealing with important federal issues such as:
- Climate Change: pricing carbon, meeting Paris targets, and mitigating the damage we’re already seeing
- Trade: NAFTA, TPP, CETA, and the Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions in those deals that undermine our sovereignty and ability to address climate change
- Defense: NATO, Peacekeeping, and our place in the UN
- Economic reform: Guaranteed Livable Income, addressing tax evasion, supporting a green economy
- Have a paid campaign staff to organize all of these other things!
How to Get Involved
If we can grow our party membership to 650 by this time next year, so many more possibilities open up for us! Here are some ways you can help:
- Sign up for membership! It’s only $10/year ($20/year if you join both the federal and provincial parties). It’s a minimal commitment, but it’s the first step toward really making a difference! Join here.
- Give us feedback: what made you vote Green? What did we do really well in our campaign, and how can we improve it? What’s the most important issue in your community, and how can we address it?
- Volunteer! Are you willing to:
- Knock on every door on one street (about 1-2 hours commitment, training provided)?
- Hand out fliers for a few hours?
- Host a coffee meeting or barbecue and invite your friends and neighbours?
- Put up a lawn sign, or wave signs on a street corner for a few hours?
- Spend election day calling supporters to remind them to vote, or being a scrutineer at your polling station?
- Deliver signs to supporters and pick them up the day after election day?
- Become a member of the Electoral District Association executive council, meeting semi-regularly and helping to plan and organize our efforts?
- Donate: while we run very lean and efficient campaigns, the more money we raise the more we can do to support our volunteers, run advertising campaigns, and take all of our efforts to the next level!
- Talk to a friend about becoming a member. Politics is often portrayed as something nice people don’t talk about in public because it’s offensive and divisive. We want to do politics differently: tell your friends about your concerns, but mostly about solutions and reasons for hope. Having a better national political culture starts with the way that we think about politics and how we talk about it with others, so let’s be the change we want to see in Canadian politics. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s also effective and attractive.
We have much to be proud of from this campaign, and I’m so grateful to all of you for your support. I want to make sure that we make the most of our growth, so I’m asking you now to please make that support pay dividends by purchasing a membership, and then send us an email to say that you’ve done it, along with any volunteer commitment (from the list above or otherwise) that you might see yourself doing in 2019. Together, we can turn this campaign into a movement that sees growing Green influence and presence in Northumberland – Peterborough South!