Can we win in the West? Yes, we can. That is if we rebuild the Party.

“This makes the Liberal’s prospects in Western Canada… slim, to say the least. Even the NDP could have a hard time holding the Conservatives below 60% of the seats, even with the current polling.

The Liberals, like the NDP, can only truly win in urban areas of the West. The problem for the Liberals is that in the most opposition-friendly cities – Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina, and Winnipeg – the NDP are the more natural choice of voters, given their history and their status as Official Opposition. You can also say that polarization has hit these cities fairly hard as well, and the choice is really seen as between the two, with the Liberals playing spoiler roles”

–      Kyle Hutton,

Politics in not an object science: For that reason, I am not a fan of the modern tools of politics. Polls, Micro-targeting and Focus Groups do not speak to the heart. When Mulroney criticized Turner in 1984, Mulroney touched a chord in the Canadian electorate because he spoke from the heart. Obama’s win over Clinton, or Romneys’ troubles today, all speak to conviction, emotion and passion. Good Politicians – no matter what the time or place – need to speak to people’s emotions.

To do that one needs to be able to communicate through a variety of sources. As President Kennedy showed us, one needs to be able to use the tools of the day. For, Kennedy and Reagan this meant looking good on TV. Their messages had to be shorter and easy to explain. In this time, Nenshi and Obama have shown us the one needs to be able to talk to the digital world – through social media – as well as talking to the traditional world of TV, Radio and Newspapers. Politics is about passion and numbers are not the greatest way of translating that. That is why I dislike Polling.

For polling does not tell you about the passion that someone can bring to an issue. Nor does it reflect the possibility of change that exists in a community. Just look at the 2008 US Presidential Election Cycle. For those who do not remember, John McCain was seen as a front runner when the race started. He was a maverick. He had trouble raising funds. Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee polled better than McCain. They were more polished and on paper should have carried it.

Or look at the Democratic side. Who, in 2000 or 2004, would have predicted that a young black man with a Muslim sounding name would have won the Presidency of the United States? Experienced politicians like Dodd, Edwards, Biden and Clinton did not see it. Governor Bill Richardson could have been seen as a shoe in. A great speaker, Governor Richardson did everything one could have done to prepare for the job. He was Governor of New Mexico (2003–2011), United States Secretary of Energy (1998–2001), United States Ambassador to the United Nations (1997–1998) and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1983–1997). He even served on several corporate boards. The only thing that Gov. Richardson had not done was practice law. With that being said, a young black man – named Barack Hussein Obama – side stepped them all. Polls, as we are reminded regularly, show us “snap shot in time” and that is all.

Communication is essential. Without it, every great political idea is consigned to the trash bin of history.

Therefore, while my Liberal Colleagues argue that the West is unwinnable; I will sit here and politely disagree. The issue is our ability to communicate. Or put more pointedly, the inability of Liberals to have a strong organization in many parts of the country means that we are not able to communicate our message to sympathetic consistencies. For, as I noted from the start Politics is about Passion and Communication. The West can be won; we have just need to have the right tools.

The question is what tools will allow the Liberal Party to become a Party of significance again. If my contention is correct and communication is essential: we as a party need to have a vision which ignites the passion and vision of Canadians. We need a message that transcends provincial and regional borders. Since the Conservative Party is trying to sew up Rural Ontario and the West and the NDP has a lock on Quebec and Northern Ontario, Liberals need to have a message which binds both the West and the East. My argument is that vision starts with the “Respect of the Other”.  This vision should talk to the need for a Growing Economy within the Framework of a Protected Environment. This vision should look at remodelling our infrastructure needs. Consequently, if we wish to have private sector utility providers (i.e. telecom, internet, electrical infrastructure, rail), our political vision needs to find a way to update these systems, so that we can remain competitive with Europe, China, the US, South Korea and Japan.

I would argue that our new vision should touch back to our beginnings. Like George Brown and Laurier, we should speak to a return to Liberty and Free Will by weakening the Party and Executive/Cabinet Systems; while strengthening Parliament and the Courts. This vision should talk to the “Respect of the Other” and not the callous governance that we now receive. This passion is only the first of many tools that we need to have.

For, if we are to speak honesty, our party needs to have institutions that can forward ideas from coast to coast to coast. Polls, Micro-Targetting and focus groups do not explain ideas to people. For example, let us take micro-targeting. If we feed a particular constituency ideas on a few issues, they may not realize the larger needs of a society. Take a student. He may want to hear about student loans, job prospects and government bursaries and scholarship programmes. However, he also should hear about what our party feels about immigration, economic performance, government debt and constitutional renewal.

There are two simple reasons for this. The first is altruistic.  By explaining our policy views, we begin to teach citizens about the system. They understand that our country is a democracy and that in a multiparty system ideas or important. The Liberal Party would also help to explain the complexities and advantages that come from a federated country.

However, there is a second more self-interested advantage. By being explaining our view, we can show people that our Party is the adult in the room. It is important to do to regain the trust of Canadians. By explaining to every Canadian your vision, citizens get to see their connections. A Student realizes that they are not just a student. They are Canadians with Families and Friends. Students may begin to realize that by paying taxes – like the GST – they can secure a wonderful education. They realize that their friends and family could be in the same boat. Maybe by explaining ourselves, individuals can see that paying taxes means having roads and bridges. I may use these items every day or I may only use once in a lifetime. The same is true of Welfare, the Canadian Pension Plan or EI. For one day, I might need a government programme. Therefore, by contributing to the state, I am helping myself. By helping the “Other”, I am being selfish and helping myself.

But we do not have a party that can do that. Generally speaking, we have spent most of our time and assets in Ontario and Quebec. This was probably because our polling data told us that Ontario and Quebec provided us with the best opportunity to win seats in elections past. In thinking about the short term, Liberal Party assets were diverted from the rest of the country. While Leaders efforts were dedicated to Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and/or Quebec City, our Party crumbled everywhere else. So long before the National Energy Project, Liberals could not elect a member in Calgary. The wins of Harry Hays in 1963 and Patrick Morgan Mahoney in 1968 only add a little red to a community that has overwhelming elected Progressive Conservatives, Reformers, Canadian Alliance Members and now members of the Conservative Party. So if we honestly ask the question –  why have we not been able to elect a Liberal in Calgary since Patrick Morgan Mahoney? – the answer we get is an unpleasant one: there is not enough of a party here to carry the leaders message. There are few people to carry the passion, there are few people to carry the leaders message.

Let me provide a small example of this decay. In Toronto, the Liberal Party of Canada (Ontario) has a presence.  On10 St Mary Street, the office stands. In the good old days, it was often a hive of activity. For that office did a lot of work. “10 St. Mary” was a base of operations. Calling happened there and Planning happened there. The LPC(O) office was a place that retained institutional memory and had the muscles to take on heavy projects. There used to be a similar office in Calgary on MacLeod Trail. That office too served many purposes. Yet now it is no longer there.

This party decay means that it is harder for us to rebuild our party. From what we have seen from successful campaigns – like Nenshi and Obama – a physical presence is not just desired it is necessary. While, Social Internet/Media played a role in both campaigns, they were a part of an overall campaign. Or one can look at the Tories. In Tom Flanagan’s work called “Harper’s Team”, we note the presence of physical call centres. We note the idea of strong and permanent institutions. Through the building of the party – especially its finances – local associations were able to gain traction with the help of regional and national offices. The Tories are a well manned machine.

This machine, though, was not created overnight. We need to repair and reconstruct each of our riding association, so that they can win elections. For riding association needs to be able to pass on the message of Liberal Values, Policies and Ideas. Given the scandals that the Tories are dealing with now, I am not advocating that we copy them full bore. What I am talking about is appropriating their principle: rebuilding a strong party that can communicate ideas and develop policy This is the only way to win Calgary but it is also the only way to win Regina, Medicine Hat, Trois-Riviere, Chicoutimi and Fredericton. Politics is not an object science. As we learned, in 2011, every seat can be vulnerable. The question is will the party put their assets into all 308 – soon to be 338 seats. That is a question only time can answer.

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