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?