Sunday, October 02, 2011

Alberta PC leader Alison Redford & the New Politics

There's an old Latin saying ex africa semper aliquid novi. Now that Alison Redford has become premier, it's time to change that.

The new saying for Canada is ex alberta semper aliquid novi.

Alberta, nedneck province with the luck of Arab sheiks because of its vast oil reserves, is home to one of best educated populations in the country, a conservative bent in just about anythng you can think of, and a single party regime that would make Chairman Mao jealous.

And yet ...

And yet this province is at the heart of a political revolution that sooner or later will branch out into other staid provinces and cities, and upset the applecart of traditional politicking.

Alberta has seen a purple tide sweep in a rank outsider as the new mayor of Calgary, and now a woman as the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and mayor designate.

Both these candidates were given little chance of pulling off upsets against the establishment candidates they decided to run against. And yet both knocked the socks  off the establishment runners, and won against all odds.
Stephen Carter and Alison Redford

What is happening in Alberta?

The answer is very simple. What Governor Howard Dean and President Obama brought to American politics has now been brought to Canada, courtesty of Alison Redford and Naheed Nenshi.

But there's more. Behind these two notable candidates stands one man, with his "new theory of electioneering":

Key to Nenshi's win was [Stephen] Carter's "new theory of electioneering," in which he promoted three dimensions of brand politics: personality, ideas and story. "If you can build that brand, people will follow that brand. They're not interested in right or left (on the political spectrum)," says Carter.

Just who is Stephen Carter and what magic does he practise?

The word "magic" is a good one. He has been described as a storyteller who weaves magic. Howard Dean championed the art of storytelling in his new look at how to campaign,  and Obama picked this up and ran with it as well.

For a remarkable description of the "purple wave" that swept Nenshi into power, and how this new art of eletioneering actually works, you should read's article on the Nenshi campaign.

If you are a sitting MP for the Liberal Party, you should study that article, then paste it next to your mirror and read it again, each and every day for the next five years. If you are the leader of the Liberal Party, or on its executive, or an officer in one of the party's riding associations, you should also paste the article next to your mirror, and read it each day.

Because it tells you how to beat Stephen Harper in 2015.

And it tells you why the Liberal Party needs to study the "new" art of politics, and implement it.

For starters, who is Stephen Carter?

He is the campaign manager for Redford, and was the strategist for Nenshi.

Campaign manager Stephen Carter, who lead Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to a victory in 2010, said Nenshi and Redford have the same appeal to voters.
"Both of them have the ability to grasp issues and make them matter to their constituents," said Carter.
"Alison cares about health care, she cares about education. Those are issues that matter to people."

This is the kind of election campaign Redford and Nenshi ran:

Redford ran a risky but ultimately successful campaign by connecting to "hyper-engaged" voters over social media with her own ideas and personality.
It was a strategy similar to the one used by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, a campaign on which her manager Stephen Carter played a role.

Now, back to Carter:

If you want to know which way the wind is blowing in Alberta politics, just take a peek at the direction Stephen Carter is pointed.
As a political strategist who always seems to know which way to turn, Carter is something of a political weather vane.
He's worked for Stephen Harper, Joe Clark, Jean Charest and Jim Prentice, to name a few. In the past year, he's gone from working for the Wildrose Alliance to running Naheed Nenshi's successful mayoralty campaign in Calgary and then back to the Wildrose as chief of staff to Danielle Smith.

This is what Carter did for Nenshi:

Nenshi's "story" was of a Calgarian who was a child of public schools, public transportation and public libraries, nurtured by the community and who now wants to give back to that community.
It took 3½ months to build that story into a narrative for the mayoralty campaign, says Carter. The Redford campaign is only 30 hours old, he adds. Her "story" is still under construction.
But given that Redford has a jawdroppingly impressive resume that includes work as a human-rights lawyer in South Africa, the Balkans and Vietnam -as well as a stint for the United Nation in Afghanistan -Carter has plenty of material to work with.

Notice that we are back to "the story". Not the platform. Not the little Red Book. Not the Five Points.

The Story.

But the story also involves a campaign driven by linking up those passionately engaged in politics. This little band of 1% of people is the magic ingredient that helps propel the Story into victory on election day. In fact, the Little Band itself becomes a major part of the Story, and the methods the Little Band uses to spread the word also become part of the Story. The Little Band are the Connectors, the special people who bring the world together. If you want to understand these two campaigns, and the Little Band, dip into Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point and read about the role Connectors play.

For Nenshi, the Little Band became known as the Purple Army, the colour chosen for he campaign by his talented campaign manager, Chima Nkemdirim, a partner in one of Calgary's foremost law firms.

Let's put a little flavour into what a Carter-strategised election campaign is like, with a few quotes from the Nenshi one:

Mr. Nenshi’s team crafted a Thanksgiving strategy meant to thrust a virtual unknown forward in a wide race to a position as the third option to Ms. Higgins and Mr. McIver. Once they did so, they’d rely on their dedicated supporters to spread the populist Nenshi word at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

To get there, Mr. Nenshi said he aimed to “hit people where they live.” For many, it meant online. He gathered thousands of Facebook fans and communicated directly with supporters and critics alike on Twitter – his “tweeps” helped him pick, for instance, his victory tie Monday night. That support was used to build a door-knocking network, and the campaign took every media interview and debate appearance it could.

Air, ground and online – a three-part strategy that earned them momentum.

“Everything fires together. This is a winning campaign,” Mr. Carter told The Globe in late September, when Mr. Nenshi was still more than 25 points behind Mr. McIver. “This is working. Will it continue to work? I don’t know.”

And this one, redolent of Governor Dean's campaign ideas:

And so, the Nenshi campaign literally sent their ballyhooed social-media candidate into Calgary’s living rooms as Brownie Wise, the woman who sold Tupperware in the 1940s. The team created a program where people who don’t normally get involved in an election could meet the candidate for a coffee party. If you still have no idea what twitter is—and don’t worry, most of the people who voted for Nenshi wouldn’t know a retweet from a hashtag—these small, focused gatherings were its methodical flesh-and-blood precursor. Instead of a newspaper editorial board, Calgarians would vet this very unique candidate. They would report back to their friends. They would become vested in his campaign.

Sometimes he’d hit a coffee party with a hundred supporters, other times he’d get less than half a dozen conspiracy theorists demanding to know about fluoride and mind control. But it was always a two-way conversation. Politics in full sentences means that you, the citizen, must talk back. In contrast, the unspoken message throughout the Higgins campaign was: Barb is appearing at a certain location—come meet Barb: traditional, passive one-way dialogue. A candidate talking at us. 

By Labour Day, Nenhsi was spending as much time at these parties as the more public appearances and forums. He stood in our living rooms and proposed to build a city where you can walk to the grocery store. If there is an amazing thing about this election—and a reason not to feel too smug about ourselves—it is that we had not voted for such an idea before.

A heckuva story, of two significant campaigns, of two remarkable candidates, of two election campaigns grounded in "full sentences" – in treating voters as more than just little market segments, and in more than just a handful of political slogans repeared ad nauseum on television, and a remarkable political strategist.

ex alberta semper aliquid novi

Thank you, Alberta. You give us hope that we, too, might experience political rejuvenation.


  1. Passes Warren Kinsella as Calgary's Bishop Carroll High School's greatest politician. Producing the most Olympians in Canada, but first premier.

    The other point that makes Alison's success even more remarkable is that she was not a seasoned politician in becoming a premier. Other long-term politicians only story is their hackdom. They are indebted to everyone. If Alison gets a majority, Alberta will be the most progressive province in the country. The Alberta Liberal Party is irrelevant now in Alberta. Alison will make sure all who run with
    her are full of integrity.

    Sorry Cathy, I don't see the federal Liberals learning from this. Although, Borys may be the fresh face with a legitimate story

  2. Wait until the election to see if it holds true. I would bet the house there will be a woman as premiere in Alberta, just not the one you think.

  3. The Twitter link you posted is a MOCK ACCOUNT!!!! Wow, great research. THIS is the proper Twitter account:!/carter_AB. Sheesh.


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