Tag Archives: election

Congratulations to Naheed & other fabulous people

(On a separate note, I’m giving a talk tomorrow at 3pm at UBC.)

For those who weren’t paying attention to the Calgary municipal election last night, Naheed Nenshi came out of third place and won the mayoral race. Of course, the articles are already focusing on the wrong things: he’s Muslim, his a minority, etc…

What really matters about Naheed is that he smart, he is about ideas and he’s progressive. That he’s managed to capture the imagination of a place like Calgary speaks volumes both about how hard he campaigned and how cosmopolitan Canada’s urban centres are becoming.

But back to ideas. I first met Naheed way back when he served as lead author of Building Up: Making Canada’s Cities Magnets for Talent and Engines of Development for Canada25. Essentially for as long as I’ve known him he’s cared about cities (and his passion predates my meeting him). There isn’t much more you could want from someone who is about to become your mayor. For me personally, his work became the template for me later when I worked as lead author first on Canada25’s report written at the request of the Privy Council Office and then, of course, on From Middle to Model Power.

It also speaks volumes about the types of people I had the pleasure to meet through Canada25 and watch grow over the years. Indeed, yesterday I ended up having lunch with Chris Kennedy – another Canada25 alum – who as Superintendent of Schools with the West Vancouver School District is also driven by a sense of public service and policy. Alison Loat, Executive Director of Samara, is another passionate believer in public service and public policy. I’m not sure whether to be more impressed by her own work or simply grateful for her unfailing belief and support of me and my work. And Andrew Medd, who gave me what may have become the best advice about blogging when I first started eaves.ca years ago: “Write for yourself, as though no one will read it.” (advice that actually was fact for the first while – you should only blog if you’re prepared to be alone with your thoughts). Of course there are so many I’m not mentioning like Ross Wallace, Debbie Chachra, Mike Morgan…

Watching the celebrations taking place in Calgary, all I can think of is how lucky I was to get to meet some of these people early on and how much I can’t wait to watch them going forward.

On a separate note, it is very much worth looking at MasterMaq’s election website powered by open election data from the city of Edmonton. From Naheed’s election (in which social media paid a powerful role), to the coverage through Twitter (that’s how I followed the events), social media continues to evolve and have an impact, especially at the local level.

Bush-Cheney and the Global Puke

Andrew Sullivan pretty much sums up what were all feeling about Bush, Cheney, the election and our collective hopes for America if Obama wins:

The more I think about it the more this election day feels like one giant collective, global puke. That Bush-Cheney thing never quite settled with us, did it? We’ll feel a lot better but a lot more tired once the last heave is over.


The most important election lesson – networks

So much has happened and, so little has changed. As Kinsella put it best before heading to the night, no one is happy. For me, I’m most saddened to see my friend Omar Alghabra lose, he’s smart, friendly, a great representative and an asset to Canadians – whether they voted for him or not. His loss is a loss for all of us.

So what lessons should the parties draw from last night – and in particularly the election’s biggest losers, the liberals?

Probably the most important lessons is both the strengths and limits of network effects in politics.

The Conservatives is by far one of the most networked parties for Canada’s political environment. Why is this? Because of their roots as the Reform party. Because they started from nothing – and were even feared by larger corporate funders who saw them as too radical – they developed and have come to rely on fund raising through individuals. This has two consequences. First, to fund raise successfully in this manner they must be keenly aware of what their network of individual donors think, so they are constantly in tune with their supporters listening to them and engaging them. Second, by relying on a network of grassroots contributors they have never relied on large corporate donors. Thus, when Chretien passed campaign finance reform and essentially eliminated institutional donations (from unions and corporations) he created an election fund raising ecosystem in which the conservative model was well positioned to thrive.

However, while their network enables Conservatives to raise money, it creates limits. Specifically, because the Conservatives are financially dependent on their core supporters they are constrained by how much they can moderate their message to expand their political support. The broader their appeal the harder it is to raise money from their base.

This is the Conservative dilemma. (It is also one shared by the Greens and the Bloc.)

In contrast the Liberals have almost the opposite problem. Over the past few decades liberals have become addicted to the easy money of a few wealthy individuals and large corporations. Rather then decentralized and networked, fund raising has been highly centralized – almost divorced from individuals. Unfortunately, the party has been slow to adapt since Chretien shut off this intravenous drip. Specifically, two interrelated  problems plague the party. 1) It is still wrestling to figuring out what infrastructure is needed to fund raise in this new individual donor-centric environment, and more problematically 2) to grasp that rethinking infrastructure alone is insufficient. Individual-centric fund raising will rethinking both the structure of the party and its relationship with individual members. Until the implications of individual-centric fund raising have been understood, fund raising – and thus effective campaigns – will remain a difficult endeavor.

But probably the party facing the biggest challenge – long term – is the NDP, the one party that can ignore networks and continue to survive. This is largely because the unions – which can no longer donate as much money as they once could – can still deliver boots on the ground to help out. In short the NDP is one party that need not cultivate a network in order to survive. This dependency means it will likely not put in place the infrastructure to enable organic growth. Consequently, growth will require an exogenous event, namely a Liberal collapse – something that while theoretically possible – is hard to imagine. As such, the NDP will continue to sit influence the debate indirectly, a role that satisfies some of its members while infuriating others.

Presidential debates and conservative candidates

Enjoyed watching the presidential candidate debates last night. I’m not sure anyone did exceptionally well (if anything both candidates seemed tired). McCain’s temper/contempt for Obama flared up at least once, but the only real good hit of the evening was scored by Obama (full transcript here):

McCain: You know, my hero is a guy named Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt used to say walk softly — talk softly, but carry a big stick. Sen. Obama likes to talk loudly.

In fact, he said he wants to announce that he’s going to attack Pakistan. Remarkable.

You know, if you are a country and you’re trying to gain the support of another country, then you want to do everything you can that they would act in a cooperative fashion.

When you announce that you’re going to launch an attack into another country, it’s pretty obvious that you have the effect that it had in Pakistan: It turns public opinion against us.

Obama: Look, I — I want to be very clear about what I said. Nobody called for the invasion of Pakistan. Sen. McCain continues to repeat this…

…Now, Sen. McCain suggests that somehow, you know, I’m green behind the ears and, you know, I’m just spouting off, and he’s somber and responsible.

Sen. McCain, this is the guy who sang, “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,” who called for the annihilation of North Korea. That I don’t think is an example of “speaking softly.”


Back in Canada, we’ve had the debates but only at between the party leaders. Sadly try having a debate at the local level in Canada. Our conservative candidates are more protected than Sarah Palin. Last night at the Canada’s World debate not one of 14 conservative candidates in the lower mainland could make it. Indeed, across the country it would appear that conservative candidates have been told to not do all candidate meetings. It’s a sad state of affairs for our democracy when the party in power essentially hides its politicians.

Check out this website for a list all the incidents identified so far where Conservative candidates have declined an invitation to attend an all candidates meeting.

Another foreign policy issue not on the election radar

I have a piece in Embassy Magazine today lamenting the fact that US-Canada relations are likely in for some significant changes over the next few years… and we’re unlikely to do much in the way of planning.

Certainly no one on the campaign trail is going to be talking about it.

Embassy, September 24th, 2008

Why Canada-U.S. Should Be an Election Issue

By David Eaves

Canada’s relationship with the United States has always experienced ebbs and flows. The question is not how do we prevent this cycle, but how Canadian governments choose to manage it?

And manage it we have not. Not since the Trudeau era has Canada been more marginal to debates in Washington. Even the basic elements that once kept the relationship running smoothly—such as quarterly meetings between senior Canadian and American officials—no longer occur. Consequently, when issues arise that relate directly to Canada—such as on the environment, protectionism, or energy security—our voice is frequently absent.

Today, Canada engages the United States not as a strategic partner, but as yet another country with a laundry list of complaints. Be it the border or softwood lumber, our concerns may be justified, but the tone and message is problematic: we have a concern, and you are the cause.

There are understandable reasons for this state of affairs. Over the past eight years, the United States has pursued policies, from Iraq to Kyoto, that, to understate the problem, made the vast majority of Canadians uncomfortable.

But the Bush era is coming to an end. And with elections taking place on both sides of the border, the political map of North America could look dramatically different by the end of November. A McCain or, more dramatically, an Obama administration could mark the beginning of a number of important policy shifts. Issues critical to Canada, and the Canada-U.S. relationship, will likely be reviewed. More importantly, policies that will shape the future of North America will be decided, with or without our participation.

Among the most important of these issues is energy security, something both presidential candidates have stated they will prioritize. As America’s largest energy supplier, Canada will factor significantly in these plans. In addition, at some point, a North American carbon regime will likely emerge, the environmental implications of the tar sands will need to be confronted, businesses will want to further facilitate the movement of goods and people across the border and, of course, Canadian and Americans will need to co-operate to ensure success in Afghanistan, especially as the United States refocuses its energies there. This is to say nothing of the unpredictable events and issues that will inevitably spring up.

And yet, none of the prime ministerial candidates will talk about renewing our relationship with the United States. The subject is simply too unpopular, and the outcome of the U.S. election too unpredictable. So at the very moment, when a plan and vision is most required from our leaders, when the opportunity for renewal is emerging, Canadians are least likely to receive one.

Perhaps others can begin strategizing and preparing. Canadians should hope so, for such a renewal is not only necessary but possible. In a recent Policy Options piece on renewing the Canada-U.S. relationship, Robin Sears notes: “Imagine the vision, the courage and imagination that it took in the harsh winter of European famine of 1947-48 for two powerless French statesmen to sit in a Paris café and begin to plan for a united Europe!”

Today, despite our differences, Canadians and Americans face not even a fraction of the obstacles that confronted Schuman and Monnet, nor do we want to even contemplate a vision half as grand.

Such planning will, as always, require Canadian leadership. Part of this is because of the asymmetric impact of any resolution. For Canadians the magnitude of the challenges is simply fundamental, but to America they are but a few of many pre-occupations. Their chess board is simply vastly more complex. But for domestic reasons, the Canadian public will demand their government lead, not follow, the Americans.

Somewhere in Ottawa, I hope, there is the Canadian equivalent of Schuman or Monnet, who see the opportunity and are planning a strategy to manage the next generation of Canada-U.S. relations. One thing is for certain, no one on the campaign trail will be.

David Eaves is a frequent speaker, consultant and writer on public policy and negotiation.

Pollster Deathmatch: Who's winning the election?

Anyone notice this? We seem to not only have a battle of political parties, but also a battle of pollsters.

According to Harris/Decima press release of September 21st the Conservatives lead is growing:

Liberals: 23%
NDP: 17%
Green Party: 11%
BQ: 8%.

However, a press release on the very same day by our friend Nik Nanos (who it is worth remembering predicted the last election within .2%) had the Conservatives lead shrinking:

Liberals: 31%
NDP: 20%
Green Party 7%
BQ 7%.

Personally, my money is on Nik, but something is going on here. These two polls are in disagreement well outside the margin of error. Liberal support is either at 23% or 31%? A lead of 5% versus 16%? These are huge differences…

When this election is over someone is going to really have egg on their face.

And he's off…

As with all things Obama it seems like people saw what they wanted to see in his acceptance speech.

Was it his best speech? Hardly. But it was the right speech. Political, attacking and yet still laying out a vision.

I’m predicting a 12% convention bounce. Bold, I know, but after Taylor’s prescient 5 month Biden prediction, I’m feeling the pressure to deliver something big.

Regardless of the bounce, I worry about how the Democratic Party seems to slowly be sinking its teeth into the Obama machine. Over the past few months I sense a slight drift towards a more “traditional” liberalism and less championing of a new progressivism. He’s started to play it safe – a challenge that arose during the primary and that, once he grasped, shook him up, loosened him up, and had being himself again.

Obama’s unique – and thus perceived risky – perspective is what made him popular. Put out that flame and you kill his passion. Fortunately, this speech showed his original political instincts and leanings are still very much alive. The policy prescriptions -bound together by a narrative of encouraging both individual and collective responsibility – were sensible and pragmatic. His instinct to reach out and make space for others, while holding firm to some core principles, also shone through.

I don’t think it is possible, but I do fear the party will do to Obama what it did to Gore and Kerry – try to force him to make compromise after compromise, slowly sucking the life and passion out of him as it transforms him into block-vote seeking automaton. It ain’t a pretty picture but look at the speeches Kerry and Gore gave, it would be a different world if they’d spoken like that 4 or 8 years ago.

Fortunately, the New York Times thinks Obama has insulated himself against this outcome in large measure because he’s already managed to remold the party in his image. I hope they are right. Looking at the people in the stadium – the mix of race, class and age – suggests this is the case. It certainly was a picture of America as we’d all like to see it.

I just hope that the make-over has filtered higher up as well. I can’t bear to watch the democrats lose another election – especially with such talent leading them.

What happened to Ibbitson?

The Globe’s John Ibbitson has always been one of my favourite columnists – Paul Wells may capture the politics of Ottawa best, but Ibbitson got and wrote most effectively on the issues, challenges and tensions that drove public policy in the capital. For a policy junkies like myself his Globe column was a daily must read.

This is why I’ve been unsure how to approach his coverage of the US primaries.

Firstly, and very much forgivable, he read the whole thing wrong when, back in October he pronounced that:

No, we’re not declaring that the New York senator has as good as won the 2008 presidential election. Anything can happen in politics, and anything usually does. But Ms. Clinton is the leading candidate, in both the Democratic and the Republican campaigns: Her own nomination is virtually assured… (Italics mine)

As stated above, many people believed that Obama would never go anywhere (except, of course, us Obama fans – in part out of blind faith and in part out of a belief that because many independents view Hillary as unelectable democrats would not easily nominate her).

But more recently there have been stories that haven’t jived with what I’ve been reading in the US papers. Take for example, yesterday’s article entitled Can his money trump her machine in the most expensive primary yet?. Which, I believe, misrepresents the dynamics of the race. The best example of this is in the 4th paragraph:

It all comes down to organization. Who can get out more of their vote? The answer reveals a simple but profound difference between the Obama and Clinton campaigns. In Pennsylvania, as elsewhere, he has the money; she has the machine. (my italics)

The analysis is correct – the machine often matters more than money – the problem is that few American commentaries agree with that assessment. From everything I’ve read in the US press the broad consensus is that Obama’s machine has been more effective and better organized (according to Time Magazine, The International Herald Tribune, The New York Times, as well as Chris Tucker and Chris Matthews of MSNBC. Indeed, the one exception to this is New Hampshire where pretty much everyone agreed Clinton had a better organization.)

Obama’s superior organization accounts for why he’s dominated the caucuses (where organization matters most) and why, earlier on in the primary season, when Hillary had the money, he was still able to compete. Things may have shifted and Hillary may now have the superior machine, but I’ve not read that elsewhere. She clearly does have deeper roots into the party – but this is a different matter and not the same thing as an organization. (Interestingly, one reason her machine may be weak is that she may have counted on her party connections and a media blitz funded by her initial financial advantage to enable her to crush her opponents quickly, causing her to underinvest in a national organization.)

Clinton’s lead in Pennsylvania has far more to do with the fact that it simply has more voters she appeals to: white, middle-aged and baby boomer, blue collar workers. If anything, Pennsylvania was designed for Clinton (just like North Carolina is designed for Obama). The problem is, she may only barely beat him in Pennsylvania, whereas he’ll thump her in North Carolina.

Which brings us to the final part of this piece – don’t expect Clinton to move on, even with a win. Machines may matter more than money, but you’ve got to at least have some dough. If Clinton doesn’t win big in Pennsylvania, she may (but may not!) hobble into Indiana and North Carolina. Either way she simply won’t have the resources to go beyond that barring some catastrophic failure on the part of the Obama campaign.

This campaign is probably over. All Obama has to do is sit back and be quiet. Above all, don’t say a word about Clinton – if he’s seen to be trying to muscle her out he’ll look bad. Let her either get there on her own, or let the party establishment do the work for him. I’m hoping Ibbitson’s next column is about Obama vs. McCain!

I'm betting on a fall election

The current mania around a spring election has started to fade, especially with Dion beginning to say the Liberals might not bring down the government over the budget.

There are good strategic reasons for this.

If, as it would appear. the economy is beginning to worsen, then the Liberals have every reason to delay. Governing parties tend to do worse when the economy is poor, so if things are getting worse, better to wait and trigger an election later when the pain of a shrinking economy is more apparent.

This alone, would be a good reason to wait. But there is another related reason to wait for the fall, and it has to do with the American election.

South of the border the Democrats will also be pounding away on the fact that the economy has run aground – in their case, they’ll blame George Bush and the Republican Party. The Liberals will stand to benefit from this in two important ways. First, the general theme of “a bad economy” will be everywhere in the press – as both the Canadian and American media will be talking about it. Canadians will simply not be able to escape the issue and the framing.

But better still, the simple fact that there is a US election means that a significant amount of media “oxygen” will be sucked up by this giant event south of the border. Like it or not, Canadians get a chunk of their media from the United States. This will make it harder for the Conservatives to implement a communication strategy to combat the issue of the poor economy – particularly as the Democratic Party is working extra time to get it in the media. In a real sense the liberals will working with the wind at their backs – benefiting from the messaging out of the US – while knowing that it will be harder for the Conservatives to create a counter-narrative.