The Evolution of Campaign Tactics in 2020

As someone who has worked over a dozen political campaigns at all levels in his life, I am a self-professed campaign nerd. I am always interested in seeing how campaigns evolve, how they innovate and how they respond to not just the situations they find themselves in, but how they use the tools at their disposal. Watching the US Presidential election unfolding to our south, it’s especially interesting given the resources those campaigns have at their disposals and the high stakes of the campaigns.

With the amounts that they raise and spend on those campaigns there, it’s always interesting to see what it is they do to not just engage voters, but make the best of what the campaign delivers them. Last night we all got a great example of the kind of big story that can deliver all kinds of fodder to a campaign, with the big story from the New York Times that confirmed a lot of what we already felt deep down:

Yeah, it was no shock that Donald Trump’s taxes were a problem and it’s nice to get that confirmed by the good work of the Times. But while this story does add colour and detail to a fact that most people suspected since he first ran for office, you could argue that those details alone might not change the conversation by themselves. The cynic in me would agree, but that’s where it falls to campaigns to do their work. Those details provide great content to move votes, and it didn’t take long for Joe Biden’s team to take advantage. Here is what they’ve done so far:

First off, that ad is devastatingly effective. Its one thing to point out that Trump paid so little in tax in 2016 and 2017, or the fact that he didn’t pay any tax in 10 out of 15 years, including in one year where Trump himself complained about Barrack Obama paying an over 20% tax rate. But where details like that really start to hit home is when you can connect them directly to peoples lives. The fact that everyday workers, like teachers, firefighters and nurses, all of whom make far less than Trump, pay so much more, is striking. It’s also so effective because of the vast chasm between the numbers.

It’s not like these people paid a bit more than him, they paid a Hell of a lot more. And as the Times piece pointed out, it was those same people who effectively paid for the $72 million tax return he got a while back. That just screams an injustice and unfairness that strikes a chord with people, especially when Trump himself attacks others as supposedly being the problem. In the year that Trump paid $750 in taxes, Joe Biden and his wife paid $3,742,974. Kamala Harris? She paid $516,469. We didn’t need the New York Times to tell us this fact because these two actually disclosed their taxes paid, another striking comparison to make here. But while those facts are very striking, how else can a campaign drive home the point about Trump’s hypocrisy here? Well Team Biden is getting creative:

I love the idea of the calculator, showing how much more you paid then Donald Trump in 2017. Not only does it drive home the point, but it really personalizes the effects of this story, helping people make a direct comparison to what they paid compared to Trump. It’s an effective tool that could help them drive some vote. And after that we’ve got the campaign swag, which to me is one of the more interesting developments in political campaigning these days. Thanks to companies who make items like those t-shirts on demand with relative ease, it makes it much easier for campaigns to produce cool campaign swag like those “I paid more income taxes than Donald Trump” t-shirts, stickers and buttons. It’s also an interesting way to raise some money as a campaign, something that frankly Donald Trump himself has done with great effect. So I find it interesting that it’s basically Trump himself whose provided the fodder for such a potentially effective approach and I’ll be interested to see how many shirts and buttons they sell.

Finally, while this is an important campaign and there is so much on the line, I believe that it’s still important for campaigns to be able to have some fun while getting their point across. When I see the campaign swag, that’s exactly what comes to mind; yes, it’s effective and makes a great point, but it’s also fun. There is no reason why we can’t have fun, even in the darkest of times. There’s no shock in the fact that Donald Trump did his best to avoid paying takes, but it can be fun to say “Hey, I contributed more than that joker.” I’ll be curious to see if the Biden team continues to have such impressive responses to issues like these as they arise because the campaign geek in me find this impressive. I know I may be alone in that but hey, so be it. We’ll see what else they come up with as this campaign continues.

One Step Forward, Many Steps Back

Here we are, at the end of September 2020. It’s been over six months that we’ve been in this fight against COVID-19 and really there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Case numbers in most parts of the country are rising again. In Ontario testing capacity is a mess, there are teacher shortages and schools are slowly starting to close because of COVID cases in them. And in Quebec, it looks like Montreal and Quebec City are on the verge of going back to some of the strictest measures because of the rapidly rising case totals there.

With the Fall now here, it’s expected that things will get worse before they get better, similar to what happened with the Spanish Flu epidemic over 100 years ago. In that case, it was the second wave that was the worst of all and if things stay on this track, that’s exactly the direction we’re heading it. With that in mind you’d expect our governments to take measures to deal with this concerning situation. Last week in Ontario, we saw one such move that made sense:

Yes folks, it was always strange that re-opening strip clubs and having people packed into bars was a priority of any government before they had the return to school sorted out. Yet at the same time, it was a typical Doug Ford kind of thing to do. To say that the Ford Conservatives approach to their COVID response has been contradictory and a bit erratic of late would be polite. At the same time that Premier Ford has rightly been chastising people for getting together in big groups, having parties and alike, he’s also first moved to re-opening bars and strip clubs, the exact kind of places where you would exhibit the same kind of behaviour that he is chastising elsewhere. It’s not a big leap in logic to say that “if I’m allowed to go drinking in a bar or a strip club, surely I must be safe to do the same with friends in a private setting?”

That is what the mixed messaging of the Ford Conservatives has brought us; confusion and seemingly arbitrary policy set to fight COVID. As of writing this, the Ford Conservatives told Ontarians that it’s not safe to “cram” more than 10 people in your home, yet it’s perfectly fine to cram more than 30 kids and teachers into a tiny classroom for 8 hours a day. On Friday they made those moves to close strip clubs and reduce bar hours then today this policy came into effect:

Yep, more confusion and contradiction in this COVID response. Just as COVID cases are soaring across Ontario and things are getting worse, now is the time that the Ford Conservatives decided to re-open the provinces casinos. They will be limited to 50 people at a time, people will have to register online to go, there will be no table games and people will be limited to two hours, all of which are sensible measures. Although again, the bloody mixed messages of this is astounding.

What exactly is the rush to get casinos open and running again in the teeth of a bloody public health emergency? What is the public benefit to doing this, beyond helping those who work in the casinos get back to work? You could easily argue there is no rush to getting them opened again. Late last week the company that operates most of Ontario’s casinos, Gateway Casinos, became the first (and so far only) company in the country to access the Federal governments Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEF), getting a $200 million loan from Ottawa. So when it comes to the survival of their business, they seem to be just fine. As for individual Ontarians, as much as I know that some people like to go and gamble, the ability to go play the slots at the casino is not one that is a question of a need that is required to live. Hell, you’d think that with so many people having lost their jobs in this crisis that it wouldn’t be a good idea to make it easier for people to gamble away what little money they have left.

But that leads to another reason why this move doesn’t need to be made, the fact that so many people who do like to gamble now do so online, either through sites located in other countries or through Ontario Lottery and Gaming’s own website. The point here being that if you really, really have the urge to go gambling, you can already do it online. You don’t need to go into a bricks and mortar casino to do it and even if you wanted to, under these rules you can only go play the slots. That’s it.

So that brings us back to the question of “why?”. Why in the Hell is the Ford government adding to the confusion they have already created in their COVID response by letting these casinos re-open? What exactly is the benefit to society in doing so? The only thing I can figure is an attempt to raise revenue for the province, because since those casinos closed the province has lost a lot of incoming money that they usually provide. If there is a better reason for doing so, my ears are open, and I’d love to hear about it.

This announcement looks more like a vain attempt at a cash grab than good public policy, but that’s part of the box governments put themselves in when they became so dependent on lottery and casino revenues. It’s just disturbing that it seems that in this dire situation, in this dangerous time, now is the time that the Ford Conservatives are doing this. It’s a policy by itself that makes no public health sense, and makes even less sense when you look at what they just did on Friday. So here we are in Ontario, a place where the government says that it’s not safe to be in the bar too late or a strip club at all because of COVID, but it’s totally fine to park yourself in front of a slot machine for two hours at a time in a casino. When this is the logic that we see rising to the surface from this government, it’s no wonder that there is confusion out there about what people should and shouldn’t be doing. In part it’s that confusion that’s making this situation worse and feeding the rising case count. And like with most of this, it’s something that’s completely within our own control. We’ll see how long these casinos will stay opened, but I feel safe in saying this decision will soon feature on that list of Ford government decisions that will make people wonder “what were they thinking?”. Again it’s “one step forward, many steps back” when it comes to our COVID response in Ontario and these back steps are coming at what might be the worst time possible.

Dangers at Home

We live in times that are fraught with danger, more so than usual. We’re seeing things happening on our TV screens, in the news and sometimes right in front of us on the street that are dark, disturbing and just make you stand up and take notice. With 40 days before the presidential election in the United States, we’ve seen a lot of those sights and they are escalating. Things are getting worse and it has many worried about where things may lead there.

Living next door in Canada we can’t help but pay attention to what’s happening to our south. How can we ignore a potential failed state on our doorstep, potentially hurtling towards more political violence or worse? As Jen Gerson correctly put it the other day, a descent into civil conflict in the United States could quickly blow any plans our government may have announced in Wednesday’s Throne Speech right out of the water.

While all of that is true, we can’t ignore what is happening here at home. The fact is that while we’re seeing armed vigilantes and militia groups in the United States taking to the streets and storming state houses in full military gear, we’re seeing some of our own disturbing sights at home. Last night one such sight made its way around Twitter, and it was one of those things that made me sit up & take notice:

That whole series of videos struck a chord with me for a few years. I have worked in the Parliamentary Precinct for over a decade now and I’ve seen many protests. I’ve seen protestors harass and or yell at politicians and journalists, some in aggressive manners. But that was something beyond anything I’ve ever seen before. That idiot was trying to “arrest” a respected journalist who he mistook for an MP for the apparent “crime” of refusing to believe the crap he was spewing. And as that video shows, he just didn’t let it go. He harassed him the whole way down the street all while someone who I assume is his equally idiotic sidekick recorded it. That went on for two blocks right in the middle of one of the best protected parts of Ottawa, with police and security all over. And after all of that, what exactly happened to these idiot wannabe vigilantes? This:

Yeah, this people tried to illegally detain a private citizen in the middle of the street and the police let him walk. That jumped out at me because that video was shot right outside of my bloody office. Now some might look at this and think “what’s the big deal here?”, which if you looked at it in isolation would be a legit question. But like most things, what happened last night didn’t happen in isolation. You see that man might have looked familiar to you because he’s the same idiot who did this back in the summer:

Yeah, this is the same idiot who tried to “arrest” the Prime Minister a couple of times back in July at Rideau Cottage. Of course that happened shortly after another armed idiot tried to storm the grounds of that same property armed to the teeth to “talk” with the PM. In all of these cases, the people involved have been spewing conspiracy theory crap about Mr. Trudeau and this creepily mistaken belief that they can just make citizen arrests of politicians right off the street. So while what happened yesterday as a single event might not have seemed like much, it’s part of a much greater pattern of dangerous behaviour that warrants much more of a response than the bloody Ottawa Police setting the idiot of committed it free.

Of course, this idiot is part of a slightly larger group of conspiracy theory spewing idiots who have been parked at the national war memorial for a long time now. In most cases, I wouldn’t have a problem with police ignoring such people but it’s clear that these people are escalating their behaviour. They are getting bolder and what exactly is it going to take for the police to take them seriously? We’re seeing what happens when those escalations happen in the United States daily on the news. If it’s not clear to the Ottawa Police at the moment, these people are inspired by the same conspiracy theories and crap that many of those same people storming state houses and shooting peaceful protestors in the streets have signed onto.

I look forward to hearing an explanation from the Ottawa Police about why it is that this person was released with a stern talking to after everything we’ve seen here, but in the meantime we need to take this as the warning sign that it is. We can’t continue to treat the threats that idiots like this pose in these dangerous times in our usual “ah, shucks” Canadian kind of way. We need the authorities to take people like this seriously and treat the threat they pose as legitimate. Protesting is fine, but what that idiot and those attached to him apparent seem intent on continuing to do is beyond protest or what is acceptable. I don’t want to find out what further escalation it might take for the authorities to take threats like this seriously because we are clearly in a dangerous time and those threats are not as idle as some might have thought in the past. We’re seeing in the US what happens when they are treated so idly, and I think we can agree that we don’t want to see that on our streets here at home.

UPDATE: Friday September 25th, 2020 @ 7:30 PM EST: Good Lord, it happened again, this time with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. This is crazy and dangerous, and it seems that after the Ottawa Police sent this idiot away with a “stern warning”, the message he got was that he could keep on doing this while making verbal threats.

Failing to Plan

There have been many things about the last few weeks in our COVID-19 world have been difficult. We’re seeing cases rise across the country, we’re starting to see some schools close because of COVID cases, we’re seeing insanely long lines at COVID testing centres and that’s just for starters. It hasn’t been smooth for sure and has left many in Ontario specifically wonder what exactly the plan is to fight this disease. It’s not something that Premier Doug Ford has been willing to share so it was noteworthy that today CBC reported the following:

Yep folks, that’s the plan. The CBC report on the draft of this plan quotes a communications spokesperson for the Premier saying the plan “has since evolved considerably” and the draft that CBC is reporting on “should not be considered complete.” Hmmm, some might say that about the plan itself. But when someone else puts it better, I leave it to them to say it. With that in mind, here is what Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star said on this, which sums up my thoughts:

Yeah, that really sums up a lot of what I’ve been sensing, feeling and the further we’ve gotten into this, assumed. That’s not much of a plan at all, or at least it’s more of a plan to avoid doing what’s needed. To read that draft, it feels that the Ford Conservatives are more concerned about trying to avoid another shut down rather than actually spending the money or taking the measures that would actually assure we didn’t need that shut down. What has that gotten us so far? Well here is a projection that CBC News showed last night before the post Throne Speech speeches last night:

Source: CBC News

Yes folks, that’s scary. We’ve been told to expect a resurgence in the Fall but without a solid plan in place and all options truly on the table, we could safely assume that those projections could be worse. Look at how bad that is if we simply maintain what we’re already doing and it’s clear that we may very well need to do more, which seems to be precisely to be what Ford’s draft plan that he refused to release tries to avoid. That surely isn’t ensuring that folks have a lot of confidence in what’s happening. Another sign of that growing sense came into my email box yesterday from a source I honestly wasn’t expecting; the Ontario College of Teachers:

That folks, is the Ontario College of Teachers basically pleading with people who hold qualifications or could get their lapsed certification re-instated to do so. It’s a message the likes of which I’ve never received in my 18 years as being a member in good standing of the college. It says that “Ontario is currently experiencing a shortage of certified teachers, which has only been magnified by smaller class sizes during the pandemic to improve physical distancing and reduce the risks of spreading the COVID-19 virus.” In short, they are asking teachers who aren’t in the classroom for whatever reason (either who let their certification lapse, retired or decided to do other things professionally) to step forward to go back into schools.

While I appreciate the sense of civic duty that the college is pointing to here, I’m blown away at the fact that this email came along and that it arrived on September 23rd of all days. The Ford Conservatives have done everything under the sun to try to avoid making smaller class sizes to ensure that schools were their safest for the return. We’ve even seen teachers gets laid off in some boards because of the drop of in-person schooling and families opting for online options. We’ve seen schools collapse smaller classes into massive classes with large numbers of students, while other classrooms in the same building stay empty. We’ve seen bus routes cancelled because of a lack of drivers and yes, we’ve started to see a shortage of teachers. We’ve seen some boards struggle to find needed staff and this is true of supply teaching pools, which are largely made up of retired teachers.

Let me be clear, I’m not surprised that there is a shortage of teachers. This is something that clearly was going to be a problem, especially as teachers started to either get sick or have to self-isolate because of COVID exposures for either themselves or their families. Given the rules about what must happen before those teachers could return to the class (either a negative COVID test or 14 days of self-isolation with no symptoms), you could easily foresee that there would be strains on the supply of certified teachers. That was something you could have foreseen back in the summer, months ago and then the government could have actually done something about it.

Yet that’s not what happened here. It’s been quite the opposite, as the Ford Conservative government has done everything in its power to avoid making those tough decisions, which that draft plan exposes. And that email from the College of Teachers, that is the result. Instead of having gotten these teaching resources in place months ago, when we assumed, they were planning for this, they ducked and didn’t do their part. Now we’re seeing the results, as COVID cases start to spike and the projections portend for even worse.

When I was young, I was always told that “a failure to plan is a plan to fail”. Even if the best plans created can’t ensure a perfect response or no mistakes along the way, those plans to help ensure that many things go right. They ensure that potential problems, like a shortfall of COVID testing caused by demand or an unusual need for more certified teachers, would be thought through with contingencies put in place to respond to them if they arose. What’s maybe most important, in a time when people are worried, scared and need reassurance from their government, a real, solid plan could offer that comfort and go a long way to helping the overall response. Yet instead we’ve got none of that in Ontario; no real plan, testing and teacher shortages, no reassurance as things start to get worse. Doug Ford’s failures in planning have resulted in failure, and that lays on his shoulders. I continue to hold out hope that the Ford Conservatives get this right because despite partisan differences, that’s exactly what we need. As someone on the opposite side of the political fence from Mr. Ford, I truly gain nothing by seeing him fail because his failure right now means pain and worse for so many. I sincerely hope that they take this chance to plan to succeed by actually planning because if he does the success isn’t his, it’s all of ours. I hope he gets that because, as much as it brings me no joy to point out now, there is more depending on this than his political beliefs. It’s never too late to do the right thing so here’s to hoping he does here.

Talking Throne Speech 2020 with Kristy Cameron

Yesterday I joined Kristy Cameron on CFRA’s “Ottawa Now” along with Katlyn Harrison & Lindsay Maskell for a special Wednesday “Political Heat” panel. We talked about the Speech from the Throne, what we thought of what it had to say, what we should expect this to result in and we wade into the speeches to come later in the night. You can listen to the audio below starting at the 39:00 minute mark.