I ask this question following some brief Twitter exchanges with the man and his team on Twitter and doing what PhD students do all too well, think. Well organized social media electoral campaigns are still something many politicians struggle with.
Case in point, Liberal Party contender Harvey Locke briefly blocked me on Twitter when I said I wouldn’t vote for him, although initially he had been my first pick. It took the intervention of a former Liberal candidate in the same riding of Calgary Centre, to let him know I wasn’t the “enemy.” I’ve written way too many articles at ComicBookBin, a comic book news site, criticizing the Harper Government and lambasting the New Democrat leader Thomas Mulcair. If I’m on any voter’s list, I’m pretty sure that Harper’s Conservatives have me pegged with a big red circle saying – enemy. Still, Locke, a newbie to social media politics didn’t know better and blocked me. It’s hard for non-geeky users of Twitter and Facebook to see nuances in conversations that are on average 140 characters-long.
But that’s not a problem that Green Party candidate Chris Turner has to contend with, to some extent. As well as having his own active Twitter account, his team crafted one for his election bid in the Calgary Centre bi-election that was called after long-time Conservative Member of Parliament Lee Richardson quit in the spring 2012. Turner’s entourage includes some of the same social media and elections’ experts that helped pioneering Calgary Mayor Nenshi win his bid in 2010. The story then is the same as today. The least known candidate from the smallest party leaped-frogged to a solid lead, causing voters and the media to pay attention to him. In the same April 2012 election that saw Lee Richardson quit the federal Conservatives to join the staff of re-elected Alberta Premier Allison Redford, the same team helped Alberta’s first female premier fend off a surge from the rightwing Tea Party-like Wildrose Party. Again, an intricate campaign targeted social media.
I’m not used to seeing Green Party candidate run elections that are so smooth. Turner’s campaign is a far cry from the William Hamilton, the previous federal Green Party candidate used to run. Hamilton is a transit expert and has his heart in the right place. A writer, he really championed green ideas for Calgary. Because of distance, I haven’t had the opportunity to meet Turner or seeing him speak. His followers on Twitter, aptly sporting the green branding used in his campaign, swear he’s the best orator ever. Being used to read about Marvel Comics hype, and having watched, followed and attended many political rallies and debates in the past, I’m weary about the support Turner gets. It’s a beautiful crafted story about the underdog surging in polls.
These polls, as a recent article I wrote, are bogus. The sample was too small to matter and Turner’s organization pressed their supporters to answer the automated phone calls coming from the pollsters, thereby gaming the system. From an initial poll, a story was weaved about a surge in voting intentions for Turner. A second poll, with an equally small sample also confirmed some movement over the last weekend. It was all that was needed for Turner’s team to start peddling their underdog surging narrative to mainstream media. The mainstream media responded positively, although some elements seem genuinely skeptic and ignored the fourth party’s narrative that they were being proposed. As David Climenhaga’s blog post that exposed the Green Party’s poll gaming, observers used to the Alberta political scene will see echoes of Mayor Nenshi and Premier Allison Redford’s election in Turner’s campaign. When queried over this on Twitter, Turner and his supporters’ response was (loosely quoted) “the other guys do it too.” And they are probably right. This is how election are run in 2012.
However, there are two problems with Turner’s Green Party answer. First, politicians who say the other guys do it, so it’s OK if we do it, push lower common denominator tricks on the public. This is ethically dubious. The other guys jay walk, so I jay walk too, is never a good excuse when one is a politician. Secondly, and this is the most important question for me, who foots the bills for this extensive and well-coordinated campaign that one would expect from the Conservatives, the Liberals, the NDP but not the Greens? Were Harvey Locke’s or the NDP’s Dan Meades’ teams managing their campaigns like that, I would have totally ignored it. But what do the Greens have to gain from this? Why are, what one would expect well-paid strategists helping the smallest party with representation in the House of Commons? What’s the real game plan?
Would Chris Turner stick with the Greens if elected or try to take over Elizabeth May? Would Turner play king maker in some chess game that would allow him to join the Conservatives, the NDP or the Liberals in the future? I’m asking the questions because the energy that has been put to get Turner’s campaign going is unusual for someone running for such a small party. A win in Calgary Centre is strategic for any party. It’s the downtown district with the surrounding Southern inner-city riding. It’s the most diverse and changing part of the city. It’s also the city’s economic engine.
Perhaps, I’m too cynical. Perhaps, the Green Party has decided to take winning seriously and targeted specific ridings where they can make a difference, the same way Elizabeth May has done when she was elected over a year ago in British Columbia. Perhaps, the Reinvigorated Green Party has decided to hire the same team that helped Nenshi and Redford and is selectively testing their merit with Turner. I don’t really know, since Turner’s campaign hasn’t been as focused about the environment as his predecessors. Harvey Locke has better environmental credentials than Turner. I’m not sure what Turner’s intentions are or if he’ll stick with the Greens long if he wins. But his appetite surely will not limit him to such a small playground, such as the Green Party of Canada. The one party that has the most to gain from the vote split between the Liberals and the Greens are the Conservatives. No comments. In any case, Turner better brush up on his French, if he wants to play in the big leagues.