Friday, November 09, 2007

"Netroots" making an appearance in New Brunswick

(crossposted to CanadaEast)

I've been blogging about New Brunswick politics for 15 months and some odd weeks and have had a relatively stable following for the past while.  Here on my primary blog, I consider a post a success if I get 10 comments, I don't believe I have ever had much beyond 20.

A post I wrote earlier this week about the Fredericton Conservative nomination race did above average at 15 comments.  The post I wrote on the results however has attracted 38 comments (and counting).

Canada has tended to be a few years behind the U.S. in political innovations.  In the U.S. we have seen the rising of the "netroots" - a term that plays on "grassroots" - as a force in politics, this group has been largely untapped and unreported in Canada.

Keith Ashfield was not the netroots candidate in Fredericton and that is abundantly clear.  In response to my first post, one person was annoyed that Ashfield was the only candidate in the race that didn't have a website.  In response to my second post, and to a lesser extent the first, there has been near unanimous criticism of Ashfield from all commenters, yet he won the nomination meeting.

Certainly there is a great potential to harness those interested in politics through the internet.  The fact that at least 10 (it is hard to figure out which anonymous posters are distinct from each other) Tories, most of whom seem to have attended the meeting, have come to a relatively obscure Liberal blog that gets between 100 and 200 page views per day is evidence of that.

Ten people may not sound like a lot, but the margin of victory on Wednesday night was 8 and at the last Tory nomination it was 3.  Wednesday's nomination meeting had just under 1000 delegates and it was considered "huge"; 10 people represents 1% of the attendees of a "huge" meeting, a relatively significant sample.

Canadian political parties have done very little - when compared to their American counterparts - to reach out to the netroots constituency.  As far as I know, New Brunswick parties have done nothing at all.  I think the reaction that has been shown on my blog shows that there is great potential to engage some very enthusiastic and well informed voters and would-be political activists here.

I wonder if any party will take on the challenge and whether or not the netroots will make a difference here like they have south of the border?

FOOTNOTE: I do have to tap myself on the back about my pre-nomination analysis.  I said, Ashfield "can only win if a second ballot is required and Forestall supporters move to him en masse" but that many Forestall supporters would skip the second vote.  The results were as follows: Ballot #1 - Macdonald 428, Ashfield 397, Forrestall 134; Ballot #2 - Ashfield 440 (+43); Macdonald 432 (+4); missing from voting 87.


Spinks said...

I thought the lack of a website was odd of Ashfield too. Clearly it didn't matter.

However I'm not convinced that strategy would be as wise in a general election. As I wrote at my blog, Ashifield would be wise to tap into Brian MacDonald and Will Forrestall for their ideas and expertise. They both used a variety of communication tools to reach out to people.

I've always said comments aren't necessarily indicative if a blog is well read or not but the number of comments do tell you if you've struck a nerve. 39? Ouch.

nbpolitico said...

Certainly I think in they year 2007, you can't get away with not have a good website in the general election campaign. However, I don't think that they are that necessary for a nomination candidate considering the small audience you are selling to; in fact they are the exceptions not the rules in most nominations I have observed.

Uniting the teams together after a nomination contest is wise advice in any circumstances, but particularly in the case of one that was this close. Obviously Ashfield and Forrestall's people have already built a relationship seeing as Ashfield picked up 43 of 47 Forrestall supporters who voted in round two. There may be work to do to bring some of the Macdonald folks on board but for a successful campaign it is necessary work to do.

Last year in Fredericton-Silverwood, Rick Miles tapped the man who ran Anne Bertrand's nomination campaign against him to run the general and it served him well; I don't think anyone predicted Silverwood would land in the Liberal column.

Anonymous said...

I guess Old School still works, hard pill for you guys to swallow I know but... you are probly right I am sure kieth will have a web site up for his election campaign

Eugene said...

I'm assuming anonymous 1:44 is the EDA member from the last thread due to the telltale misspelling of "Kieth".

So I'll ask the obvious question. Is bashing Fredericton's newcomers and half of your party's membership on these threads part of the new campaign strategy, a directive from Ottawa, or are you simply an illiterate moron who gets kicks from embarrassing himself in public?

Sheesh. Is there any wonder why Andy won so many elections against these losers?

Kit said...

Eugene - I tend to agree. An 8 point win is an endorsement, but its hardly overwhelming. I too find it an odd way of building a team and reaching out to the other faction by telling them to "suck it up", calling them sore losers and trumpeting the glory of the "old school" when evidently many of them are not.
Interesting that none of the candidates have come out with an olive branch - what does that say?

Kit said...

Oh, and to stay on thread. I think blogs are a great way to reach out and state your piece and to let people vent... I would encourage Mr. Ashfield to try it.

Anonymous said...

It eludes me about the no website thing that Keith didn't have one and still won. Was it a factor? Who really knows. He did still win, maybe with a blog and website the final margin would have only been wider. I wonder if the liberal candidates had websites and the NDP candidate and green party have one? Right to say not enough candidates and party's use the blogs and web and they should take advantage of this void. There is definitely a constituency out there that is not being tapped into.

Brian, Will and Keith brought a lot of talent to the table. They are all party people and will come together to win the riding. The conservative party is targetting Fredericton Riding and that will bode well for the people of this riding. Fredericton Riding could really make the difference of a majority government or not, this puts the riding in a very good position. If we go Conservative and help give Harper the extra seats he needs for a majority he will remember this and it will help secure projects down the road. He needs us. This is a great opportunity for the city and surrounding areas. The paper said that the conservatives elected a star candidate for Harper. This is good for us overall either way. Scott did well for the riding and now we can have a Conservative do well for us too. Plus be on the side of government provincially too. It is there for the picking if we choose.

Eugene said...

God, I hate talking points.

nbt said...

Great post, nbpolico. And you're absolutely right, political parties in NB should exploit technology to the fullest. (remember your blog comments during the last campaign)

Btw, it reminds me of an idea I came up with while driving to work this morning (yeah, that's right, I even think of politics and tax cuts while half asleep in the car).

Anyway, now that the provincial tories are officially in renewal mode, I was thinking that they should come up with an idea that would allow the party to showcase their potential candidates while connecting to grassroots members/voters in a modern and innovative way. And then it came to me: hold a billingual Youtube debate. What do you think?

nbpolitico said...

That would be totally awesome! I wonder - all you Tories that are hear to comment on Ashfield/Macdonald go forth to your party brass and call for a YouTube leadership debate!

Spinks said...

Good luck. I've seen little evidence the provincial Tories have grasped this Internet thing yet. There are grassroots Tories doing things with the Net but the upper tier of the Party seems to think its a passing fad. :)

RS said...


You are right on, the provincial PC Party is very behind on all things internet. It is one more way the youth wing of the party is being neglected.

The older party members do not see why it is important to use the internet to attract youth to the process. The current generation of students is being handed to the Liberals with almost no challenge.

Federally, the Ashfield team did bring together the establishment of the provincial PC Party, the old guard of the COR party and the right wing Reform / Alliance people for the recent nomination. It appears that they all settled on a candidate they can live with. He is conservative enough for the Reformers, English enough for the COR people and made a deal to support the right-to-life acceptable to win Forrestall’s support.

However, with the exception of his relatives, the younger right-to-life supporters and provincial party workers, there was not a lot of youth involved in his campaign. This is evident in his campaign being very traditional, no web site, nothing really new or cutting edge about it. That said, he did win, so obviously the groups he brought together did not care that it was very traditional. The youth do care though. It is tough to be a conservative on a university campus, so it must be fun, interesting and current. Cutting edge would be even better.

If the Ashfield team can keep the youth involved that Macdonald brought to the contest it has a chance to truly broaden the base in this riding. I am not sure if his coming of age on right-to-life is enough to keep Forrestall supporters motivated, but that group will probably stay onside because they have nowhere to go anyway (I assume David Innes is probably pro-choice?).

If we do not make it ‘comfortable’ to be young and conservative, we will struggle continuously in both this riding and nationally. Using new technology will help us to find young conservatives and hopefully keep them involved.


Anonymous said...

Liberal David Innes is very pro-life, way more than Ashfield. No political party in NB has much of a web presence, including the Libs. Although their website is superior to that of the Tories.

It will be difficult for Innes to win the riding in the shadow of Andy Scott regardless.

Ashfield obviously did something right to win the nomination. This surprised many MacDonald supporters who felt they were ahead. This has also surprised the many left-Liberals who are very upset. And the web based people who can't believe a candidate in the 21 century without a website acutally won a nomination meeting.

MacDonald was out earlier for a year and a half, had more members signed up, had new members and experienced members, but just couldn't deliver the vote. It is not as though he didn't have experience on his team, he did. But in the end more members felt comfortable with Ashfield than MacDonald. More members felt Ashfield could go on and have a more likely chance of winning the general election. Probably his track record contributed to this.

Yes websites help, as does direct household mail, telephone, and perhaps newspaper ads. But nothing beats the basics. Sign up members, get them to the convention, and keep them there. If there is a possibiltiy for more than one ballot, build bridges with the members from the other teams leading up to the nomination. At the nomination work the floor.

Ashfield is a three term MLA and former cabinet minister who is known for building support from other parties in his riding to win. It looks as though, if he uses the 1400 people at the convention as a springboard by building coalitions with MacDonald and Forestall, he should win the riding. Remember MacDonald was out early and contrary to some he picked up a lot of traditional conservative support by making one-on-one visits. These people will have little problem supporting Ashfield in the general election giving Ashfield the needed boost of party support going into an election.

RS said...

Although Innes may be more pro-life than Ashfield, everybody knows the Liberals will do nothing about this issue. The media will exploit the Conservatives legacy on this, drudge up every crackpot that has ever said anything about this. They will not do so with Innes.

Funny how the pro-life movement apparently has two pro-life candidates, neither of whom will have any impact on their respective party’s positions on the issue, no matter what the outcome of the next election.

As to the shadow of Andy Scott, although not a supporter myself, he is still very well liked in the riding. If he delivers his campaign team and personally campaigns for Innes he will bring a lot of votes. I really do not get why.

As to the web presence, I do believe Ashfield will get a website done, hopefully in French too (which even Macdonald who does speak French did not do).

With two older candidates, who actually look alike, the candidate that attracts the most youth may have an edge. I am not sure how to make either of them trendy, so maybe the whole issue of new media will not be relevant. It would provide the NDP with an edge to capture some younger voters, but their chances of winning this riding is slim, to put it very politely.

Anonymous said...

Here's a hint: very few internet users or for that matter - youth - are interested in backing parties who focus on "pro-life" as a defining campaign platform.

Until recently, most internet users probably didn't bother with politics, as they perceived all options as nearing parity on uselessness. The rise in conscience about the overly corrupt leadership in America is due to their awakening over 911 and the Iraq war fatigue. The rising interest from New Brunswickers may be due to the looming global economic waves. Where we can fully expect the Irvings and Walmarts of this world clamp down on their debt slaves as they transfer assets to the next generation.

In times of trouble, we'll need honest politicians to try and mitigate these problems; we're hoping the internet provides a way to slow unwanted progress.

There's a reason why they're buying up the bloggers, just like they did the last generation of media.

Anonymous said...

This discussion is very interesting indeed. From what I have seen and heard, the reality is that for Innes, the old boys network is all that matters to him.