There Can Be No Peace

This morning I had quite the Twitter argument with the former Liberal candidate for North Vancouver in 2011, Taleeb Noormohamed, who had just been interviewed for an article in The Tyee. (Full disclosure: I voted for him. Strategically…) The article describes, in lurid yet ambiguous detail, what the BCNDP must do to win: “Become The Party Of Growth.” I will set aside the arguments in this article, as I find them irrelevant to the question of winning governments and holding them.

For me the question is not how to win, but how to deliver on progressive goals upon winning. This is something Liberals are notoriously bad at, the Trudeau government our latest demonstration of a hundred shattered promises. And this is the question I wish to address today.

Every time the NDP are on the precipice of forming government, the same horde of advisors appears, with the same set of demands: compromise, centrism, Third Way ideology, “growth”, business-friendly policies, and so on, and so forth. And historically, for better or worse, the NDP has caved to this craven crowd of functionaries like Taleeb. This latest crowd is of course in direct employ of greenwashing mall-developer-heir plastics queen Joel Solomon (more here).

And how have these concessions turned out for us in the past? Disastrous, one-term governments, in large part. Need I name Bob Rae? But the Harcourt-Clark decade is just as bad. Don’t even get me started on the Larry Campbell trojan horse in Vancouver. And in Mulcair’s case, we couldn’t even hold it together to form a neoliberal technocratic sellout one-term government (thank god). And now the same crowd had materialized, again, in BC, in 2016, because guess what? We’re on the verge of another breakthrough, so it’s time to water down the wine.

There can be no peace. There can be no compromise with these people, because they will betray us at the first opportunity. They care for nothing but themselves, and they have only one nature. They are hungry ghosts. They will dangle a carrot, they will show us a shiny bauble, and then when our guard is down, they will kill us in our sleep.

There is a story, a very important story, that goes in many iterations, but my preference is the Frog and the Scorpion. And this is exactly the story we’re living today. We are the frog. The scorpion says it’s friends now, and that it just wants to ride along, and everything will be okay. We have every right to refuse. Are we going to let kindness get the better of us? Because the scorpion will sting us, halfway across the river. And then, as it is every time, we will all drown.

Govern yourselves accordingly.


The Queen And I

September 10th was my 32nd birthday. On the same day, Christy Clark was holding her famous “Beans and Jeans” fundraiser here in town with me, with an expected attendance, as in 2012, of well over a thousand. She had inherited the tradition from the Bennetts (along with the Premiership, of course). Of course I RSVP’ed, I love BC Liberal events, free food and wine? Sign me up. Happy Birthday me.

Looking forward to the event, I wondered what I would do if and when I finally met Christy Clark. Ask her a question? Give her a proposal? Try and make a deal? Wishes, promises, threats? Just say hello? Finally, I settled on one. What better thing to do with our photo op Premier, than to have a photo op with her? So I gathered the team, and we made the plan, and we executed.

When we got there, at the Bylands Nursery in West Kelowna at 5pm, I realized the level of security involved in the event was going to daunt us. There were registration tables, and they knew I was coming, and they knew it was trouble, they would manufacture an excuse to exclude me, because I know how much the Young Liberals love monitoring my social media. They were punking me at Okanagan Pride, so I know. So the team regroups in the alley.

A man recognizes me. “Nick! What the hell are you doing here?” It’s one of the event staff. They’re in the alley, smoking. Of course we’re all friends already.

“Why, I’m here to see the Premier.” They laugh. Of course he is.

So we all share a smoke, and then I ask them to let us in the back. They oblige.

We take a table, grab some free wine, and consult. The room is big. It’s laid out in standard tables of 12 mass-fundraiser-banquet style. She’s not here yet, people are still getting settled, we have some time to plan. I suggest that we wait until after the speechifying, where there will be a phase of glad-handing and such. My comrades shoot down the idea.

“No, let’s just engage as soon as the target is acquired.” Well then, I’m game. Eyes on the door, and I drink, and we wait, and chat. We remain unidentified, because everyone inside, except us, is a safely registered member of the BC Liberal Party.

She arrived. My photographer prepares himself. I beeline in. She greets me.

“Hello Premier Clark, I’ve always wanted to meet you, thank you for the opportunity.”

“It’s nice to meet you too! What’s your name?”

“My name is Nicholas Ellan. And guess what? You wouldn’t believe it, but it’s my birthday!”

“Wow, congratulations. And how old are you (young man/little boy)?”

“I’m 32. How old are you?”

“You can’t ask a lady that!” We laugh.

“Fair enough. Well, since it’s my birthday, can you do me a tiny favour, and can I have a picture with you?”

“Of course.”

The photo op commences. And drags on a little too long.

Minister of Agriculture Norm Letnick recognizes what’s happening, because he knows me, I’m his constituent, and hurls his granddaughter into the situation to attempt to defuse it. Clark is temporarily distracted. I gather my wits.

“Oh, one more thing Ms. Clark. Chris Green asked me to tell you something.”

She freezes. “WHO?”

“Chris Green. I believe you know each other from your student days at SFU. He said to tell you that you owe him one pint of Okanagan Springs Pale Ale.”

The smile becomes a grimace. She turns to my photographer. “And who is this?” (Guards, seize him.)

“That’s my official photographer. I am considering a run for the federal NDP. Have a great evening.” We head back to our table.

The Young Liberals join us. They begin bitching about how much they hate the Premier, which is surprising. I offer them drinks. One refuses, the rest make orders. They’re not allowed to help themselves, but they must accept gifts. I know how this game works. So we sit together, and drink, and share our stories.

Eventually the speech segment of the evening begins. Clark gives a long and blathering thing repeating every talking point and piece of nonsense. She makes jokes about how Site C is on budget *laughs* and LNG is going to deliver prosperity *more laughs*. On the inside, the whole campaign is a joke to these people. I stand.

I stand in the middle of the room, and simply stare. Eventually it seems like I’m the only person listening to her speech anymore. Everyone else is eyes on me, wondering… what is this guy’s problem? How’d he get in here? The poor floor manager comes up to my right, bends into my ear, and says:

“You know sir, if it pleases you, we could have security remove you, if you like.”

I smile. “Oh, absolutely, that would be wonderful. I look forward to meeting them.” Private security in Kelowna, they’re all terribly paid young people. She scurries off.

I stand for the rest of her speech, watching, listening. Security never arrives. The speech ends. We leave as the food is being served. Some people grab some for the car ride to Oliver. Security never arrives. It’s my birthday after all, and I plan spending it with family.

That was fun, thanks. And good luck in 2017, team.

[See, I can do a thing. Now donate.]

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

Okay, it’s time.

For two years I’ve operated this website, at my own expense, to contribute to the discourse of Canadian politics. I think I’ve done alright. I’ve built a readership of thousands, and accomplished a thing or two, here and there. I’m blessed to have an active readership, who I get to collaborate with through social media. Through this collaboration, we’ve made our mark on the country.

We uncovered and wedged the Green Party’s collusion with the Liberals to target NDP ridings. We dismantled arguments, pushed by the oil lobby, that the Fort Mac fire was “not the time” to talk about climate change. We mobilized activists to the NDP’s federal convention in Edmonton. We took the NDP to task for secretly advancing a pro-pipeline agenda. I revealed the paternalistic attitudes of BC-area organizers. We anticipated the Liberal Party’s regressive marijuana control regime. We stomped out misogyny after Ruth Ellen Brosseau was assaulted by the Prime Minister. We revealed the outdated electioneering practices of the ONDP.

There were a lot of other things over the course of the work, but I highlight these, as each of these posts got thousands of views across the country. How cool is that? For our niche subject, I think we’ve done pretty well.

But I have a lot more work to do. And I have to be honest: I can’t do it alone.


If you have found value in my writing, if it has helped you in some small, tangible or intangible way, if it has inspired you to take action, or given you new knowledge that helped you through the day…

Consider recognising that value, today, with a donation to me.

I didn’t start this website to make money. (If I did, it would have advertising.) I started the project because I believed it was the right thing to do. I have poured thousands of hours into it, not out of self-sacrifice, but on the contrary: because it sustained me. I remain convinced that speaking my beliefs, as idiosyncratic as they may sometimes be, remains the right thing to do. And there’s no doubt that politically speaking, I am going to continue to build both on and off it.

But now’s the time, my friends. We have something new in the works. I can’t tell you what it is yet, but it’s going to be big. You won’t be disappointed. Canadian politics is at a unique crossroads; the next year is going to be a doozy. I am determined to continue my work, with my team of friends both on and offline, at this critical moment in the history of the NDP and our country.

So consider what you can contribute today, consider the importance of the work, review whether I have helped you in some small way, and thank you for whatever you can do. That might just be sharing this post with your friends. That’s fine too.

And above all, thank you for reading. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And well, you know the drill…

On continue!


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Catherine Pinhas

Catherine Pinhas Mulcair: French national, bad psychologist, Zionist, military family, failed politician, her sons are assholes by all accounts, themselves barely possessed of infantry-level jobs, her family tree has deep roots in the American imperial project – everyone is buried in either Paris or New England – and yet she’s here in Canada, married to the former leader of the New Democrats. For reference: Tom never ever recognizes me, but she can never ever conceal her scowl. What a character.

Now, if Mulcair decides to run again, or let’s be kind and say if she decides to make him run again… why do you think anyone would do something so stupid, so completely doomed?

Answer why that might be, and you will answer everything.

What Not To Do

Yesterday I went to Scarborough to volunteer in a byelection. It was widely considered a safe Liberal seat – perhaps the safest in the Ontario provincial legislature – where historically they have gathered over 60% of the vote on a regular basis. The Liberals lost.

The NDP didn’t win. They certainly didn’t deserve to. They worked their asses off, tried their hardest, perhaps too hard, and got their worst result in years. Why couldn’t the capture they palpable desire for change? It was clear that change was in the air, but it didn’t help them one bit. How did the PCs squeak out a win with less than 40% of the vote, leaving us in third?

I’ll just recount my direct experience of the event.

I volunteered several days in advance of E-Day, let them know I was visiting from BC and on my way to Quebec and happy to outside scrutineer during the day. They said awesome, I said great, see you at 8:30am at the campaign office.

When I got there, it was already busy. So busy I was shuffled out of there almost as soon as I got my poll kit, which was a manila envelope that contained the literature and a list of identified supporters and the usual other bits and pieces like an authorization slip. I was poll #413, and they had me scheduled to knock until 9pm, which I corrected: 7pm at the latest, as I said earlier. There was no map included with the poll, but I Googled it, and off I went.  There was no coffee at the office, and no food, and therefore no reason to stay. There was no writing utensil in my poll kit either, but it turns out I didn’t need it anyway.

I thought to myself as I walked down the street to the apartment complex I’d been assigned, that if these people truly know what they are doing, they have placed me adjacent to the LCBO. And sure enough, the only one in miles is right across the street. But there was a Beer Store next door. Okay, we are in business.

Things start to get weird when I arrive at my destination. To my surprise, the polling zone is also a polling place! Elections Ontario has put a polling station right in the main lobby of the central building. This wasn’t a special outreach poll: this was just an apartment, and there it was, also a polling place. Neat.

Now, I’m from BC, and in BC we tend to put polling places in neutral territory like churches and schools and community centres. Every now and then the returning officer will do outreach to a retirement community, but that’s about it. And there’s a very good reason that we don’t use residential buildings as polling places. That’s because it’s illegal to distribute campaign literature and tell people who to vote for at a polling place.

So I wonder, hmmm, maybe the law in Ontario is different? The provinces do get to make up their own rules to a certain extent. So I decide to do the logical thing: I ask the Elections Ontario staff directly. They tell me I am correct: it is illegal while the polling place is open to do this particular outreach. So these flyers I have are garbage. (That’s okay, they were only in English, and they told people to “get dressed, eat breakfast, and go vote for candidate X”, and these voters aren’t six years old.)

So I asked the staff how far away from the polling place I had to be to campaign. And they said they had no idea. I asked if sitting outside was fine, and they said sure! Just outside the property line, thanks.

So I go to the beer store, and I pick up some Pabst, and I sit down on the traffic island that every single person coming in or out of this complex via motor vehicle must pass through, and I put a fallen highway sign up next to me, and I turn on my laptop and sit there and I get to work.

Eventually I get a call from the campaign office. They have time to call their volunteers to check in? Neat. “So how many people have voted so far?”

Like I would know that? I am not psychic, and I am definitely not babysitting these voters. They are the ones communicating to their inside scrutineers. They know the answer to this question, and I could not possibly. I am an outside scrutineer. I have done this before, I know how this works. I’d imagine lots have, and later most will.

I politely explain the situation and what has occurred. “Well that’s wrong, the staff are wrong, we will send someone to correct them. Just hang tight.”

Now forgive me for deferring to the state authority on this subject, but I do. But I have nothing better to do, so I read all the relevant legislation. People ask me for directions while I’m doing the research and everyone is getting directed to the voting area. Things are going fine, and I have beer.

The people who are to rescue me finally show up – I see their manila envelopes as they walk by – but don’t even say hello; they just walk past me into the building and start doing what I was forbidden to do.

A young man comes up to me a short while after. “Hey, are you volunteering for…” He looks at the sign. “…Neethan Shan too?”

“Why yes, I am, I was going to doorknock but this happened, so now I’m mainstreeting, and it’s pretty effective. How’s your day going?”

“Pretty well, I have pretty much covered all my territory, everyone got the literature, I’m just about out. Seems like people are voting.”

Yep. They sure are. After eight hours in Scarborough I’ve noticed I am the only white person in this neighbourhood, and the people that care and are around in the last week of August are organized. They do not need a white person to tell them who to vote for, I suspected, nor would they listen to me if I tried. We talk about the challenges of apartment outreach, the differences between strata and rental, that kind of thing. He doesn’t know about any of it. I offer him some literature, he offers me a bottle of water, I wish him well and he goes on his day.

I reflect. He was carrying a clipboard, and I didn’t see anything orange. Wait a second. Are we doing clipboards? No, we’re not. We are doing manila envelopes. We have too many volunteers to manage clipboards. He was lying to me. (Gee, I wonder what party he was from.)

A woman pulls up in a minivan and rolls down her window. “LEAVE! YOU HAVE TO LEAVE! THIS IS ILLEGAL! YOU ARE BREAKING THE LAW!” I look up from my laptop.

“Actually, I just read all the relevant legislation and it isn’t. Also I checked with the poll staff. They gave me permission to be here.” People behind her start to honk, and she glares at me for awhile, then drives off.

So as the sun starts to set I decide I’ve done just about all one might expect a volunteer to do under these conditions and then quite a bit more, so I get up and head back to Parkdale and get ready to go to Montreal. Jenny Kwan calls, and we talk about the energy on the ground in Scarborough. Too many volunteers, too many marks, so much to do but it was all getting done and then some. The conditions were perfect: if we can’t win now, I say, we’re obviously doing it wrong.

The Ontario NDP are doing it wrong. They are bad at winning elections. They do not respect their supporters as adults. They don’t treat their volunteers very well. They don’t know how to win: maybe they forgot a long time ago, maybe they never knew in the first place.

I mean, really. No coffee in a campaign office. None. Really? Really.

You guys better get your shit together, or you’re going to just help elect a PC government in 2018.

Little White Lies

On Saturday, I attended the funeral of the member of Parliament for Ottawa-Vanier, Mauril Bélanger.

In a rare break from popular culture, I actually take funerals very seriously. I believe they give us a unique opportunity to account for each other. I go to them not out of obligation but because I want to hear what relatives think of a person, after they’re gone. I am not religious, but I do believe that this is a way we live on; I respect the individual practices of each and every faith, and in my three decades I’ve found that every time I attend a funeral I learn an extremely important lesson.

You just have to listen.

There was all sorts of pomp and circumstance for this one, of course. Very important people said very important things, the Prime Minister included. Once we got all past that, we arrived at what we were all looking for in the first place: a story.

His stepson Barclay shared his final days with Mauril. They’d first met when he was 18, and Mauril courted his mother; as the relationship developed, they made a habit of dining out together. Each day they met they would take turns choosing the restaurant.

After Bélanger’s ALS diagnosis, Barclay landed a reservation at none other than my favourite restaurant, coincidentally: Au Pied De Cochon in Montreal. There was one small problem. The restaurant had done a lottery for tables, because they were in such high demand. They had won, but received a date in May of 2016. And it wasn’t clear at the time that Mauril would survive that long.

So, in Barclay’s recollection, he called the restaurant back, and told them of this complication. And the staff huddled, and planned, and decided that they could make a special exception, and there would be a table available earlier: Valentine’s Day, it turned out. Hallelujah.

So they went. And I didn’t get the description of the dinner itself, but I bet it was stellar. It was a stressful day for them, and they almost didn’t make it, but it all worked out in the end, and they had that last meal together, and I hope it was special. It was a touching story.

The only problem is it didn’t make any sense.

A spare table? At Au Pied De Cochon? On Valentine’s Day? With your stepdad?

No, no, no, no. Something was missing. This didn’t hang together. So it itched in my head. Having worked retail for some time, and worked in restaurants in particular, it just sounded wrong. But at the time, I shrugged it off. When I got home, I tried to tell the story myself to a friend, and in the retelling, I realized how stupid it sounded.

So I decided to find out why.

The problem with this story, it turns out, is simple. Valentine’s Day, as no doubt Mr. Bélanger’s friends well know, had a special significance for the man. It was the eve of Valentine’s Day – February 13, 1995 – that he was originally elected to Parliament. So Valentine’s Day was his first day on the job. That dinner party was a celebration of twenty-one years in government.

But why would one let such a critical detail slip from the eulogy of a man’s life? What is the problem? Why forget? Why not say?

I wonder.

But isn’t that special?

As I said before, if you take the time to listen, funerals can teach us something about ourselves. If you know why this little white lie came to be, you know something critical. You know something about the way Canada works. If you can understand the motivation for this fabrication, you can understand it all. This little white lie, well…let’s call it what it is: a fact of Canadian life.

Better Than We Were Before

This is about the place I grew up. This is about BC.

I was born in 1984, in North Vancouver, British Columbia. It was a pretty normal place run by a pretty normal government (let’s be generous) run by the… pretty normal guy named Bill Bennett. I had the privilege of attending his funeral this year. Anyway.

This isn’t about me, today. This is about the present. This is about the current government, and how they treat people now. But to understand what that means, we must start in 1991.

In 1991, the BCNDP were elected, for the first time in a generation. And that was a remarkable triumph, and good for them. And elsewhere, and I don’t know how, but it occurred, some other people decided something else was better. And good for them. And these people were known as Judy Tyabji and Gordon Wilson.

And they created a thing, and that thing was called the BC Liberal Party, and that was history. But it rapidly grew out of their control, as these things do, and who can blame them? And then it was this entirely other thing, run by Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark, and it made an Olympics, and it was terrible, and meaningless, and yet it was, and that’s okay.

All that brings us to not quite the present. Let’s start in 2013. Some bad things begin to happen, for some reason, right around then. I get dragged into a war on the DTES. The Tyabjis suddenly resume their dormant political activities, in service of Ms. Clark. We fight our own fights, side by side. We do what we need to do to survive. Me in Vancouver, them in the Okanagan. Whatever it takes, right?

And after all that it seems like the issue is resolved. We’re exonerated, they have a book deal, it’s all good, right? What could possibly go wrong. But then like hell on wheels, a giant package of drugs magically materializes on Judy’s son’s doorstep and just like that, poof, it’s all over.

It is agony to say this, but I must.

I see you, RCMP.

I am the son of the first woman chief judge of the provincial court of British Columbia and I see you. I grew up with you. We’ve had a long and lovely time together, and I have generally put up with it, but this time, you went too far.

I can’t stand for this. You have done wrong. This isn’t right. You have crossed the line, over, and over, and over again. And this time, I know why.

And I will hold you to account.


Nicholas Ellan



Thoughts On The NDP Leadership Debates To Come

What’s next for the NDP?

It’s a question that I hope many of us are already asking. For me, after Mulcair, there are many obvious lessons the party needs to learn. As usual, I’d like to move past policy questions (whether the party needs to be more left-wing, neoliberal “drift”, socialism in the constitution, etcetera). I will leave these questions to the general membership, and move on to the issues that I believe leadership candidates need to engage.

First is that the party’s organizing capacity has dwindled over the last five years, instead of grown. The party’s first experience forming the Official Opposition resulted in an overemphasis on performance in the House of Commons and an erosion of its development on the ground. We need to seriously consider how, despite record volunteers and donations, this didn’t translate into the momentum necessary to retain the party’s seats, let alone expand the party’s presence (especially in Quebec). The organizational structure of the party, at the riding level in particular, lacks the strategies and tools necessary to achieve this.

Second, which follows from the first, is what is the overarching strategy of the party? Is it, as Layton imagined, a vehicle for “social change” primarily and electoral success second, or is its role to win elections by appealing to the existing social preferences of Liberal and Conservative voters? And more importantly: are these two goals incompatible? I would argue they are not, and that the Orange Crush of 2011 (and the Red Tide of 2015) prove that they are not: that large groups of new, disaffected, and “somewhat likely” voters can be engaged by appeals outside of the existing political discourse. But it is incontrovertible to say that 2015 saw a pullback from Layton’s vision of pushing the envelope on social values, back to placing well-established policy initiatives at the forefront.

Third, and I hope this ties the above two together: how will the party renew itself, in vision and structure, to appeal to the millions of first-time voters who cast their first ballots for the Liberals specifically to stop Stephen Harper? In 2019, those voters will be considering a second foray into federal politics, and the vast majority of them will vote again. I believe the future of the NDP hinges on this point. If we do not have a concrete strategy to engage these new voters, the party is doomed. This means digital: the party’s existing social media and mobility outreach strategies are in the former case inadequate and in the latter, nonexistent. This needs to change, and I would expect to see ideas on how this will change from all participants.

If the 2017 leadership campaign is just a policy debate, instead of a critical look at the party-form itself, the NDP should get used to its old role as the conscience of Parliament. Or as I like to describe it, a thinktank for the other parties to steal their platform material from. If we seek to be a party outside of the House, a movement and a party, then we need to go deeper.

I have some ideas of my own here, but first I’d like to challenge others to do the same. What can we do to overcome these three issues I’ve identified? What others have I missed?

Sometimes Things Change, And That’s Okay Too

The other day I sat down and had a conversation with one of my closest friends, about our lives, what we’d become, what we expected, what happened, who we loved and who we’d lost. It was a long conversation, about things that mattered. I think it was a three hour phone call.

We covered a lot of bases but I think the most important thing we talked about, and what I’d like to share with you, was that she was laughing off the fact that even after everything we’d been through and all the things she had accomplished in her life, she was being tormented by an in-law as an “armchair psychologist,” despite being a registered clinical counsellor. And I said to her, I understand completely. I know what it’s like to be diminished by someone who claims to be your peer.

I told her that I was prepared for a lot of stressful things to happen to me when I decided to become “an activist,” but the one thing I wasn’t prepared for – not ready for the sheer scope and stupidity of – was that the more you change the system of the world in which we live, the more people will tell you to sit down and shut up.

And I went to public school, so I should have learned this at a young age, but I really was not prepared for the complete, profound stupidity of it all.

Even now, at the tender age of 31 and change, almost every day someone comes up to me and tells me that “You don’t know everything, you know.” “You have some growing up to do.” “Get some life experience,” or, that blessed unicorn, “a real job.” And what can I do, but stare at them, blankly?

These people keep coming to me, wondering why I do what I do, or why I am who I am, or why I won’t stop saying the things that I believe to be true. I can’t explain myself, but I can introduce them to some of my friends. I try to share their experiences.

Like my friend who is also the first Chinese-Canadian woman to be elected to all three levels of government, or my friend who is the first Korean-Canadian to be elected to the legislature of British Columbia. Or my friend who is the first openly LGBTQ person to be elected to public office in Alberta, at the age of twenty-one? (Well, one of two. Elected simultaneously. That’s a good bingo.)

No, no, meet my friend who is the Minister of the Status of Women, of the provincial government of Alberta, the first person to have a child while in office in the recorded (read also: written, colonial) history of the province. In the year two thousand fucking sixteen. Better yet: meet her son Patrick.

One of my friends likes to tell the story of being elected to the provincial legislature and then wondering what the boarded-up part of the women’s washroom was in the provincial legislature. She didn’t realize that when we built the thing, they didn’t design for women’s washrooms, so eventually they had to retrofit.

So I ask you, friends: do you think we need further retrofitting? Or do you believe the renovations are complete?

Change is coming, Canada. Change is here. It’s change for the better. And the change will continue.

But don’t worry, be happy. The future is friendly. People are good. And they are only going to get better. One practical step at a time.

Everything is going to be alright. True change comes from within. Etc.

Or as another friend of mine liked to say, “On continue.”

The BCNDP Needs To Find Itself

For lack of anything else to do, I found myself at BCNDP Forward 2.0 this weekend, where I had the opportunity to catch up with old friends, new comrades, and the usual frenemies. So on Sunday morning I was aimlessly wandering the grounds of Thompson Rivers University, drinking coffee and catching up with people. I crossed paths with my friend Joshua, who asked where I was headed. I said nowhere in particular; he recommended the morning workshop on persuasion canvassing, facilitated by Luis Avila. I thanked him and went there.

I was delighted to discover it was, in fact, my wheelhouse. As a bit of background, since the federal election I have been working for a direct-to-consumer marketing firm that modelled its sales tactics directly on the Obama campaign’s persuasion canvassing methods. It is a significantly different approach than the highly scripted technique of talking points that the BCNDP typically uses, and it was fascinating to watch the attendees struggle with the method.

The group followed along with the presentation well enough, till it came to the “close” of the persuasion discussion: where the canvasser must contrast the status quo (under the BC Liberals in this case) and the proposed policies of the BCNDP, in a way which makes tangible the difference between the two in a way which affects the voter’s everyday life. Easy enough, right? Apparently not.

As Luis took suggestions from the crowd, it became increasingly clear nobody could manage the task. Everyone raised droning policy comparisons; generalized pledges to re-fund education, healthcare, etc.; attacks on the credibility and ethics of the current provincial government and the premier in particular. Mr. Avila just kept asking the same question: “But what does that mean?” What does that mean to the person at the door, who in this case was worried about accessing healthcare when their kids needed it? The BCNDP knew why they (believed they were) a superior choice at the *macro* level, but they couldn’t connect it to the man at the door. They kept offering historical explanations, instead of connecting with the voter.

So I helped them along.

When I was canvassing in Calgary on the provincial election day, May 5th, 2015, I was in the riding of Calgary – Mackay – Nose Hill. I was doorknocking some rowhouses in the late afternoon, finding people who had yet to vote. I ran into a young mother whose kids had just gotten home from school. She wasn’t planning on voting, but she did want to talk. I asked her a couple questions and she began to tell me a story and I just listened. She told me about the time her daughter had a cycling accident and split her scalp open, and she rushed her to the emergency room. She told me that she was made to wait with her, despite her excessive bleeding, without seeing a nurse. She told me about the horror of holding her daughter and trying to stop the bleeding herself and trying to get help. And she told me that when a nurse finally came, the nurse was equally horrified; and afterwards, the nurse told her that if she’d waited another 30 minutes, her daughter would be dead.

And as she told me the story, she connected all the dots herself, and she realized that the Progressive Conservative government was responsible for this, and she agreed now was the time she should cast her vote. And she pledged to vote for the NDP.

I didn’t even *do* anything, other than listen to her story, and allow it to affect me. I will never forget that story.

This is the nature of persuasion canvassing. Listening. Finding out what matters to them. And knowing why you’re there in the first place.

So in the case of Luis’ hypothetical voter, a parent who cares about access to healthcare I suggested the following questions:

“When was the last time you took one of your kids to the hospital?”
“How long did you have to wait?”
“How did that make you feel?”
“Do you know why that happened?”

And then listen.

It’s that easy. The voter will explain to *you* why they want a new provincial government. You don’t have to tell them a thing. But the dedicated canvassers at BCNDP forward did an awful lot of telling, and not much listening. And they told, at length, why Christy Clark had to go, but when it came to answering the obvious questions: what would the BCNDP do differently? And above all, *why* would they do things differently and *how* would that matter to me? …when faced with these questions, the obvious questions, most people were stumped.

This is the problem our canvassers encounter: at the door, in the vast majority of cases, it is not about policy. Voters elect a government with the expectation that the government will identify and enact the policies that are necessary to achieve their promises (or at least some of them); they don’t need, or want, to hear the nitty-gritty of how that implementation will be achieved. They want to learn about your principles and how they will guide your government to those goals, and that process will affect them directly.

So here I am, after the weekend, and the question of “why” still lingers. I know who John Horgan is; I know who the BCNDP are; but the question remains. Why does John Horgan want to be the next Premier of British Columbia? And following from that question, what will he do if he is elected? What will change for me?

I don’t know. I mean, I know a couple of their planned piecemeal reforms, but I don’t know the guiding principles from which those reforms follow. And I don’t know if he knows, either.

And if we don’t know, who does?