-posted by Tonda MacCharles, Ottawa bureau, Feb. 28/12
Like other media, we've been trying to pull together threads of the allegations of deceptive and/or harassing calls during the 2011 election campaign.
My colleague Susan Delacourt has been writing about the role of marketing strategies in Canadian politics for some time now, and is on leave writing a book about same.
In light of the discussion around the political parties' targeted voter contact efforts, I dug up a cached link to a piece by the CBC's Keith Boag a few years ago about this. Not sure how long the original ran, but this ends somewhat abruptly at 8:23, so probably incomplete.
While it makes clear all parties are doing this kind of voter profiling, Boag focused on how far ahead, even back then, the Conservatives were on the technology and national/local input into the Constituency Information Management System or CIMS - a database that has been fattened with information about Canadians' voting habits by the effective direct marketing techniques employed by RMG or Responsive Marketing Group Inc.
In a story in today's Star, colleague Allan Woods and I write about RMG and one of its lead political marketers, Stewart Braddick.
Braddick is currently on vacation, and declined interview requests. The people he referred me to at RMG did not return our calls or emails. Interesting marketing strategy.
In any event, for the curious, here's more of what Tom Flanagan, one-time chief of staff to Stephen Harper, wrote in his excellent book, Harper's Team, about the development of CIMS (some of which made it into the story today, apologies for duplication).
Flanagan portrayed RMG, which now claims 400 employees nationwide, as riding to the rescue of the Conservatives’ early efforts to develop a modern, sophisticated voter ID and political fundraising machine.
Before RMG came along in 2003, things were in disarray.
“The Reform Party and the Alliance had had a chronic problem of losing all voter identification data acquired during campaigns,” wrote Flanagan. "We were starting from zero as far as direct voter contact was concerned."
Under Harper’s leadership, the Canadian Alliance launched the development of the new system, which was a modified version of the Trackright system developed by the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, Flanagan wrote.
“Theirs was a voter ID management system; we wanted to go further by incorporating financial data into CIMS,” he said.
The beauty of the new system would be its availability to campaigns at the national and local level, but it would be owned and maintained by the national party, ensuring that “all data would be saved from one election to the next,” said Flanagan.
For example, if the national party sold a new membership and entered the tombstone data in CIMS, that same information would become available to the local riding association, which could then approach the new member to volunteer in the campaign or put up a lawn sign. Similarly, if the local campaign found a new supporter by door-knocking and entered the data in CIMS, the information could be used in national fundraising programs.
Flanagan says the party was making all the "classic mistakes" in developing its database, including seeing "techies" gaining too much influence and loading it up with "feature creep."
The CIMS project was running behind schedule and over budget, prompting Harper to refer to it, “in a moment of exasperation, as ‘the Conservative Party’s own gun registry,’” writes Flanagan.
RMG came along in early spring 2003 when the company’s president Michael Davis contacted Flanagan, and pitched how they could work together.
Very quickly, says Flanagan, the party “gave all our voter-contrat work to that company.”
“Our relationship with RMG linked nicely with our development of CIMS. RMG was already familiar with a CIMS-style system because of the work they had done with the Ontario PCs, and CIMS provided a receptacle for the hundreds of thousands of records generated by RMG’s large-scale calling programs.”
When the Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives merged into one, the party had to quickly mount the 2004 campaign, and though it didn’t win, Flanagan said RMG’s work was key to electoral gains that snowballed in the elections to follow.