Leadnow: Vote Together campaign aims to defeat Harper’s Conservatives
by Bruce Mason
• If we wake up to a new government on October 20, the vast majority of Canadians will have defeated Stephen Harper at his own strategy game. Nursing a hangover from the longest, costliest and arguably the most significant campaign in our history, many will be vowing “never again” as they clean up the ‘party’s over’ mess of our last ‘first past the post’ election. We will all be able to take part in a more healthy democracy and political life. Thanks, in some measure, to “communities” like Leadnow.
At press time, a half million folks were involved in the independent advocacy organization. Tens of thousands had signed Vote Together pledges. And thousands more had engaged and shared in direct participatory decisions, door-knocking, leafleting, phoning and voting. And – get used to it – they aren’t going away.
Leadnow’s elections campaign manager Amara Possian told Common Ground, “What we are accomplishing is unprecedented, a game-changer. Excitement and momentum are rapidly growing in an incredible response across the country. Canadians are making this happen because they know we need to work together and work harder than ever to encourage others to join us.”
In less than five years, a small youth-led team gathered together before the 2011 election to grow exponentially. They wanted to do their part in helping to halt the existential threat of runaway climate change and build a fair economy to reverse the obscene trend of growing inequality. Campaigns have been conducted on everything from omnibus crime and budget bills to the Canada-China FIPPA investors deal, fast-tracked pipelines and tankers, the CBC takeover, senate expense scandals, robocalls and runaway rail cars in Lac-Mégantic.
“We poll our community to ask them what type of campaign we should run and again and again we heard from people who were excited about connecting with others and a national action plan that focused on working across party lines,” Possian explained. “Consistently, the number one concern was defeating the Conservatives. We can’t make any progress with this government. Canadians were tired of our broken, distorted democracy in which a majority of voters can vote for change and still see Stephen Harper win 100% of the power with thirty-something percent of the vote.”
Meanwhile, Conservatives stacked the deck by passing the absurdly named Fair Elections Act, with US-style voter suppression laws, spending millions of taxpayer dollars on partisan ads and building a massive elections war chest to outspend the other parties.
Knowing that the outcome of the election would come down to some 70 swing ridings, dozens of groups formed and fought to “knock off” Conservatives. Groups include public and private-sector unions, an anything-but-Conservative veterans group, the Council of Canadians and Dogwood Initiative, the small-government National Citizens Coalition, environmentalists, the Canadian Medical Association, First Nations groups, the international lobby group Avaaz and others ranging from “Voters Against Harper” to ShitHarperDid. Their varied goals included improving seniors’ care, restoring door-to-door mail delivery as well as electoral reform and strategic voting. Some urged voters to cast ballots for specific parties, most notably the NDP.
Leadnow built VoteTogether, uniting centre-left voters around one candidate in selected ridings. They shared information about positions on the economy, environment and democratic reform, as well as data on who had the best hope of winning, based on results from 2006, 2008 and 2011.
The independent and nonpartisan group crowd-funded to pay for detailed, expensive, riding-specific polling so voters in 13 key constituencies could pick the “best” local candidate to win seats. Rather than tell pledgers whom to vote for, Leadnow not only provided information required for victory, but they also vowed to make MPs accountable and to press hard for ongoing issues, front and centre in the media. Moving beyond ‘shallow’ mass Internet engagement, the goal was to catalyze voters into voting for the more responsive and accountable politician.
Leadnow currently has a small, dedicated staff team, including field organizers, and a powerful, fast-growing network and army of volunteers, which includes students, previously marginalized people and First Nations, along with advisers who support their work. It also has a member-driven legacy – a profound transformation of Canada’s political landscape, through sophisticated engagement and innovation, with people on the ground and a coherent strategy and clear goals.
Anyone in the Leadnow community can start a campaign. There are a few common sense guidelines (campaigns can’t be offensive, discriminatory, inaccurate or illegal) but members can start a petition on anything they want, big or small, local or national and take action immediately with access to tips and tools to increase exposure and growth.
As an example, the free, self-paced online program, Skills for Solidarity, opens up the long-overdue conversation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples about their shared history and building a new reality, through personal stories, myth busting and more.
Leadnow offers a practical, effective leadership program to inform and inspire a new generation to work respectively around fear and conflict and forge lasting friendships. Before, during and after the election, you can glimpse Canada’s future going forward and people powered change at www.leadnow.ca
Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic. email@example.com