Sunday, July 04, 2010

More and Better New Democrats

While we're comparing the state of online organizing in Canada and the U.S., let's note one important difference which is fairly surprising considering the seeming amount of organization required to affect political outcomes.

In the U.S., even a single primary can cost as much as an entire Canadian general election, and the scale of money involved in general elections dwarfs what exists in our system. But rather than seeing that as a problem, grassroots online organizations have been able to exert substantial amounts of influence on both. And indeed, Barack Obama's presidential campaign was able to harness small-money donors to swamp both public funding and corporate contributions as a force for change.

In Canada, on the other hand, the dollar amounts needed to radically change the outlook for any given seat should be well within the reach of even a small amount of online political organizing.

For general elections at the federal level, candidate spending caps ensure that nobody can spend more than a high five-figure or low six-figure sum to pursue any seat. And that amount is further reinforced by our electoral financing system: the tax credit system refunds 75% of low-level individual contributions, and the post-election expense rebates cut the real costs to any given candidate by 60%. Which means that a campaign which takes the simple step of borrowing against its expense rebate can run a fully-funded campaign of $80,000 at a real cost of $8,000 to its donors.

For nomination races which represent the best opportunity for change within a party (to the extent they're allowed by party leadership), the credit and rebate systems don't apply. But the cost of nominations as they're currently run is also substantially lower: a few thousand dollars are generally enough to fund the level of operation normally carried out. So again, a relatively modest amount of organization should be able to make a massive difference in outcomes.

The rules may vary at the provincial level, but the dollar amounts would figure to be lower than the ones which apply federally. So in effect, there shouldn't be a single race in Canada where the cost of running a campaign is beyond the reach of our own netroots.

Yet while a few isolated campaigns have tapped into online fund-raising, nobody has made a concerted effort to imitate the Blue America movement to fund progressive challengers within the Democratic Party, nor mirrored the "More and Better Democrats" credo that's driven the most successful progressive blog on the planet. And my sense is that it's time for change on that front.

So beginning in the near future, I'll be introducing a new feature: "More and Better New Democrats", which will provide ongoing placement on Accidental Deliberations (rather than the isolated posts I've sometimes put up in the past) to draw readers' eyes to the candidates who are best positioned to strengthen the NDP in numbers and in principle. The idea will be to provide each candidate with:
- an initial introductory post profiling the candidate and providing links for readers to get involved through donations or volunteering;
- a profile on my sidebar for a fixed period of time (likely a week or a month depending on the level of interest), again with links to donation/volunteering opportunities; and
- a continued sidebar link to the profile as a listed "More and Better New Democrats" candidate as long as the candidate continues to run for the office or nomination involved.

For the most part, I'll try to avoid too much focus on candidates who are already on the NDP's list of targets or provincial equivalents, since the candidates already highlighted by the party figure to have enough organizational heft to run fully-funded campaigns.

Instead, the goal is to identify and promote candidates - at any level of government or organization - who can best improve their ability to make the case for progressive change with a modest amount of exposure outside their core supporters. At levels where the NDP isn't considered a likely potential government, the focus will largely on the "more" part of the equation - while for those where the NDP is in or near power, the "better" aspect will come into play more often as a means of ensuring that future NDP governments include the strongest possible left-wing voices.

Naturally, I have some ideas in mind as to who might get promoted in the future. But I'm wide open to input from candidates and supporters as to who might fit the criteria and why - or indeed how best to describe our goals. So please feel free to leave comments or send e-mails with your suggestions - and hopefully this can serve as a first step toward closing one of the most important gaps between Canadian progressives and our U.S. counterparts.

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