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Category: Politics

On romance, narratives, and politics

Just over ten years ago today, the Conservative Party of Canada won its first majority government and the first majority for the centre-right in 23 years. Like Saint George exultant, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, surrounded in a sea of blue amidst a wave of cheering supporters, had slain the Liberal serpent and brought Canadians a “Strong, stable, national, Conservative majority government.” The country that Canadians woke up to on May 3, 2011, was bright and hopeful. The years of politicking and the parliamentary shenanigans of unscrupulous and out-of-touch Laurentians were over.

There was an ad that stuck with me from that campaign, and rewatching it now almost moved me to tears — perhaps because it represents such a stark contrast from the aimless messaging from the Conservative movement today, but possibly more so because its message makes it an ad that still works for our current moment:

How easy it seemed ten years ago for Conservatives to relay a message wrapped up in patriotic images: not only is our country not as great as it could be, but it is greatness that we should be striving for, and constantly pursuing progress is good.

It is self-evident that the Conservative Party is struggling to find its footing — at the time of this writing, the most recent polls suggest that the Liberals may lead the Conservatives by 6 – 10 points. Such a lead spells almost certain disaster for the party: one may recall that the Conservatives lost by 7 points in the 2015 election that delivered a Liberal majority government. As it looks like we may be headed that way again, it may be worthwhile to reexamine what happened during the 2015 campaign that caused the Conservatives to lose their grasp on Canadian voters. I believe that the catalyst for their demise was the Liberals selecting Justin Trudeau as their leader.

Steven Lukes describes three ways political power manifests: decision-making power, non-decision-making power, and ideological power. Ideological power allows one to influence people’s wishes and thoughts, even making them want things contrary to their own self-interest. Romance, in a way, is like exercising ideological power — it can be understood as a mutual influence on the other to stir interest to work towards an affair or a relationship. Both ideological power and romance subtly change a person’s thinking and decisions.

From a political strategist’s point of view, there should be efforts to create interest around their candidate in a titillating sense — the voters want to pay attention to a seductive personality because it is pleasant to do so. When we consider narratives, few narratives are as appealing as romance: people want to fall in love and be seduced.

When we think about voters’ choices in 2015, Stephen Harper’s campaign was a “hard sell,” while Justin Trudeau embodied the “soft sell,” the soft sell being more romantic.

In the hard sell, one is tempted to tout achievements, quote statistics, and induce fear — it would be unwise or even irresponsible for voters to vote for anyone else. The aggressiveness of this approach may turn off or offend voters: would electing a government from a party that has governed the country for most of living memory really be as apocalyptic as the hard sellers suggest?

The other approach is the soft sell — create a positive association with your name and message, do not appear like you are selling anything, appear in good spirits, and focus on the medium, not the message. The package that the 2015 Liberal campaign was seeking to sell did not mark a radical departure on matters of policy (both parties supported a neo-liberal, free-trading agenda). Still, voters ultimately flocked to a refresh in tone: from mean and paternalistic to one of hope and optimism draped in a softer friendlier inclusive patriotism.

Robert Greene wrote of the strategies used by John F Kennedy and Ronald Reagan in their respective presidential campaigns. The observations he made have applicability to Canadian politics. For example, Justin Trudeau, in his romance of the Canadian voter, bore many similarities to John F Kennedy.

One of the striking moments of the 1960 Presidential Campaign, which remains a fascination by political scientists and analysts, was the TV debate between Nixon and Kennedy (note that the video below is quite long):

Kennedy’s opponent, Richard Nixon, an experienced politician having served successfully as Vice President during the Eisenhower administration, was a skilled debater — he never stumbled answering questions, was able to drop statistics and his government’s accomplishments with force. However, under the hot TV lights, his contrast with Kennedy was striking — he looked sweaty, unkempt, unpolished, and looked directly at Kennedy as one would typically during an in-person debate. Kennedy, in contrast, addressed his remarks directly at the cameras, speaking directly to voters — when Nixon focused on particulars, Kennedy focused on a narrative: freedom, building a new society, recapturing the spirit of America that underpinned the American dream.

The lesson to be learned from this is that images matter — policy is essential, yes. Still, without a story and pictures to tie the policies together with the politician, the politician has limited appeal. While some voters are persuaded by the technical facts presented before them, there’s limited evidence that this plays a significant role in who they vote for. When a party releases a policy platform dozens of pages long, voters cannot analyze each policy individually. Instead, they will gravitate towards the one or two items in the document that may appeal to them and their interests. However, even if a policy offered by party A is objectively worse than a similar policy offered by party B, a voter who likes the leader of party A may be willing to overlook what they may now regard as “trivial” differences.

Greene also discusses another example of a masterclass in political communications in the 1984 re-election campaign of President Ronald Reagan. Reagan ran under the slogan “It’s morning again in America.” His 1980 election slogan, the now-infamous “(Let’s) Make America Great Again,” would naturally flow into the new slogan with the story of how his presidency had restored American glory.

Reagan’s Democratic challenger, Walter Mondale, thought Americans had enough of Reagan’s soft sell and wanted honesty. Mondale declared on national television: “Let’s tell the truth. Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won’t tell you; I just did” He repeated this message through to an absolute thrashing at the ballot box, losing the popular vote by 18 points and the electoral college 525 to 13.

Greene points out that his team always managed to get him photographed in the perfect setting — a testament to the quality of his tour team — he looked strong and presidential: shaking hands with physically disabled athletes in wheelchairs and cutting ribbons at senior centres. When the Press pointed out that his policies cut funding for the disabled and seniors, the reaction did not play out as they perhaps expected. The Press put out a feature where the images of Reagan glad-handing were displayed on the television. A reporter pointed out that Reagan was using these images to counteract the negative coverage cuts for the disabled and seniors may otherwise have had. However, the reaction from the public appeared muted — self-evident in the election results. The images associated with Reagan overrode the message the Press was trying to push. The Reagan team remarked that by pushing out these images, the Press effectively gave free advertising to Mr. Reagan and the media line was lost in the feel-good pictures. A Reagan official stated: “What are you going to believe, the facts or your eyes?”

The Conservative re-election campaign of 2015 bore many similarities to the dynamic of Kennedy vs Nixon, coupled with the misappreciation of the opponent in Reagan vs Mondale. The Conservative line was, “Justin Trudeau — he’s just not ready,” contrasting this with the experienced and battle-worn Stephen Harper:

Considering the lessons from Kennedy vs Nixon and Reagan vs Mondale, this ad’s approach (attempting to feed a narrative that Trudeau cared about only his image and was not a serious leader) did not pan out. Further, the statement “I’m not saying no forever, but not now” may have even backfired as it could very easily feed into the yearning, fantasy narrative that Trudeau’s own team was trying to build. Trudeau was quite easily able to turn the focus on his image into a positive and put out ads reflecting this:

It is worth pointing out that one of the frequent charges against Conservatives is that they lost the 2015 campaign because their campaign was not “positive”. Those kinds of statements are interesting because the Liberals certainly did not shy away from attacking their opponents in their messaging (the video above makes a few jabs at Harper and Mulcair). Typically, attacking one’s opponent instead of touting your own virtuous qualities or policies is what most people understand as negative politics. I would instead suggest that Trudeau instead likely learned lessons from the 1984 Reagan campaign, or at least followed a similar formula. By surrounding the campaign in positive imagery with himself at the centre, he evoked a positive schema around his entire campaign, which was implicitly contrasted against the Conservative campaign, which accordingly evoked a negative schema. When reflecting on the 2015 campaign, it is unlikely that voters would recall the negative attacks levied against the Conservatives, because they were caught up in the more positive Liberal messaging.

By focusing on the images of Justin Trudeau as the focal point of their attack, the Conservatives are not contrasting themselves but rather evoking a positive mental schema. In 2019, when all anyone was talking about was how the Prime Minister was in blackface three times, the images did not have the desired effect for Trudeau’s detractors. Justin Trudeau could stand on his record, which was thematically and temporally distinct from the images that blackface conjured. Instead, the images refocused the attention of the voting public back to the qualities of the leaders. The stories of Andrew Scheer’s paper-thin pre-politics resume, undisclosed American citizenship, and his perceived failure to address his social views suggested that he was currently hiding something instead of Trudeau, a prime minister with a defensible record who merely had suffered from youthful indiscretion.

The lesson for Conservatives is clear: focus on integrating positive branding with the leader’s image and not drawing attention to their opponent’s image if their opponent has a positive brand.

To shift gears a bit, while the nation is wondering how to respond to the teardown of statues and other images that ordinarily have positive brand associations, a simple statement like “Canada is fundamentally good” is an appropriate line to draw in the sand and forces the Liberal party to take an uncomfortable stand in the ongoing culture war fight. I’m not going to claim that I know how to pull this off, but the opportunity is certainly there. During the 90s to early 2000s, the slur levied against Conservatives was that they hated Canada. They claimed Conservatives wanted to make Canada into the United States, citing their stances on healthcare reform or the long-gun registry. Liberal support for Canadian institutions was tied to a soft anti-Americanism serving to entrench a centre-left nationalism that was focused on the institutions of the moment: “We are multicultural, democratic, we love the CBC and free healthcare,” etc. etc. But given that our history is so poorly taught, especially in glossing over the problematic elements of our past, the idea that Canada is fundamentally good no longer has the same salience among the centre-left.

For the modern Conservative leader, if they can successfully tie Canadian values and symbols to their brand (something that Liberals have successfully monopolized in living memory), then maybe the Conservatives will be able to fight a culture war on their own terms. However, Conservatives cannot simply rely on contrasting themselves with Trudeau by picking someone who appears boring. Look at Kennedy vs Nixon or Trudeau vs Harper, the contrast was there, but it wasn’t contrasting on what mattered from the point of view of the voter. If politics is romance, then a Conservative leader must make voters fall in love with them first, and then the leader must make the people fall in love with the country.

The upshot is hardly complicated, however. Simply that tour, personal style, image consultants, and a professional photographer are just as key to a modern political campaign as are the policy analyst or the communications specialist. Conservatives would be remiss if they dismiss the importance of these roles simply because the Liberals and Prime Minister Trudeau use them well.

On Quebec Favouritism and the Maverick Party

On occasion, the punditry in English Canada expresses varying degrees of shock and outrage regarding the perceived favouritism that Quebec enjoys from the various federal leaders. This is felt especially acutely in Alberta, where my fellow Albertans have collectively whined about Quebec’s special treatment for decades. This boils over into debates on nationalism and nationhood, energy, and cultural concerns, among other things.

As in the examples linked above, Quebec’s Bill 21/Loi 21 is a lightning rod for much of this recent consternation. Loi 21- An Act respecting the laicity of the State asserts that Quebec is a “lay state” based on the following principles: the equality of all citizens, the separation of state and religions, the religious neutrality of the state, freedom of conscience, and freedom of religion.

Loi 21 attracts controversy by preventing persons in positions of coercive authority from wearing religious symbols and invokes the notwithstanding clause to avoid a Charter challenge. The law has been opposed by civil liberty groups on the basis that “[p]eople should not be forced to make the choice between their religion, their identity and their profession. The government should not be allowed to impose their beliefs on the people of Quebec, nor should they be dictating to individuals what they can and cannot wear.”

The punditry has noted that in pluralist English Canada, a provincial government that attempted to pass such a law would receive almost universal condemnation. Globe and Mail columnist Robyn Urback pointedly noted, “I am a broken record, but if federal leaders are actually genuine about wanting to tackle Islamophobia in Canada, they might start by finding the balls to call out Quebec law that bans people wearing hijabs (and other symbols) from certain jobs…We will fight discrimination of Canadian Muslims wherever they face persecution, outside of Quebec”

For myself, there are two issues that I am personally interested in that arise from the Loi 21 debate:

  • Should a state/nation/province/society be able to pass laws that explicitly impose a pattern of values on its citizens, especially if the pattern of values is inconsistent with pluralistic liberalism?
  • Why are federal politicians so soft on Quebec?

These two questions are significant enough to warrant separate discussions. For this blog post, I will focus on the latter question, which I believe to be a product of simple electoral calculus.

What I hope to do is walk the reader through a brief overview of our electoral system, review the relative competitiveness of the individual provinces, and discuss the theoretical impact of a new western-based party (Maverick in this case), could have on Canadian politics.

In Canada, seats are apportioned by section 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867, which uses the following formula to calculate the size of a given electoral district:

  • Divide the estimated population of a province by a determined electoral quotient (initially set at 111,166).
  • If the number of members determined is less than what a province had in 1985, increase its seat count to that number.
  • If a province’s population was overrepresented in the House of Commons at the completion of the last redistribution process and would now be under-represented based on the calculations above, it will be given extra seats so that its share of House of Commons seats is proportional to its share of the population.
  • Add one seat for each of the territories.
  • No province can have fewer MPs than it has Senators; otherwise, the calculation will determine the number of seats.

As a result, the population per seat within a province is roughly the same between seats. However, provinces other than Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia get extra seats beyond what they would otherwise be allocated based on the quotient alone because of the various clauses listed above.

When considering the federal political landscape, the obvious difference between Quebec and the rest of Canada is the Bloc Québécois (BQ) presence. The BQ’s stated purpose is to create the conditions necessary to establish a sovereign Quebec nation. It is extremely doubtful that the BQ will ever form a government due to the party only fielding candidates in Quebec. However, the BQ should be understood as the most transactional of the major federal parties. Despite being notionally environmentalist and socially democratic, the BQ will support any legislation it sees as being in the interests of Quebec and has historically worked with both the Liberals and Conservatives as a result.

Canadians elect members to the House of Commons via an electoral system called single member district plurality, commonly known as first past the post. The candidate that wins the most votes in any given electoral district is elected: it does not matter if the candidate wins by one vote or 10,000.

Considering this, if I am strategizing where to devote my limited campaign resources, one of my primary considerations would be to focus on electoral districts or regions where the threshold for winning a seat is lowest. In theory, it takes less effort to win over a few hundred votes than several thousand. Since we know that to win a seat, one only needs to have one more vote than the second-place party; we can generalize this into the following formula based on historical election results:

A riding splits into three pools leader, target, and others. Others consist of all other parties. A party’s swing-to-win is the swing, taken proportionally, resulting in the target overcoming the leader.

A target party’s vote to win is defined as P + Δ. Δ comes from the Leader at L/(L+O) and the Others at O/(L+O). Therefore, the necessary percentage swing proportionately can be defined as the inequality: Δ > ((L+O)(L–P))/(2L+O)

While this is an abstraction that produces some unusual and unlikely behaviours, (for example, it assumes that the party you are modelling will draw from all other parties proportionally), it illustrates the relative “difficulty” of winning a seat in terms of proportion of the vote required to overcome the leader.

Putting this into practice, we know that there are areas within Quebec where the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, and BQ are competitive. For the purpose of illustration, let us consider the riding of Beauport—Limoilou, which was a three-way race between the BQ, Liberals, and Conservatives back in 2019. The below chart is taken from Wikipedia:

Using the above formula, we obtain the percentages necessary to win a riding assuming the target party draws from the others proportionately. For P + Δ we generate the following values (note that the BQ percentage is the same as their vote share obtained above):

  • 29.1 for the Conservatives (Δ 2.8)
  • 29.0 for the Liberals (Δ 3.1)
  • 30.2 for the BQ (Δ 0, since the BQ already won, the proportion of the vote needed to win does not change to win again)

Dividing by the percentage received gives the following competitiveness scores:

  • 0.90 for the Conservatives
  • 0.89 for the Liberals
  • 1 for the BQ

Let us then consider then a very uncompetitive riding:

Calculating for P + Δ we generate the following values:

  • 85.5 for the Conservatives (Δ 0)
  • 47.1 for the Liberals (Δ 43)
  • 47.4 for the NDP (Δ 42.3)

Dividing by the percentage received gives the following competitiveness scores:

  • 1 for the Conservatives
  • 0.09 for the Liberals
  • 0.11 for the NDP

As we can see, the closer the above coefficients are to one, the more competitive a party is in a given riding. It then follows that if the average competitiveness within a riding is closer to one, the more competitive the riding. Therefore, the threshold for a new party to win a particular riding is lower. A score of 1 indicates that a party is perfectly competitive (i.e., obtains the most votes). In contrast, a score of 0 indicates that the party is incapable of receiving any votes in the riding.

Taking the average competitive score for each riding for the major five parties in Quebec returns a score of 0.49, while Alberta is less competitive with an average score of 0.41.

The conclusion is obvious: parties are soft on Quebec because Quebec is electorally competitive, and parties have an incentive to appeal to Quebec voters, as it takes comparatively less effort to win a seat there than in Alberta.

Before I move on, I want to strongly qualify my comments on the lack of competitiveness in Quebec. Quebec has stark regional political preferences compared to other provinces. Conservatives enjoy significant strength in the area around Quebec City but can often finish in fourth place in Montreal. The Liberals, on the other hand, dominate Montreal and the Ontario border and do well in cities. The Bloc is competitive everywhere except Montreal proper and the Ontario border.

Noting the difficulty in operationalizing “competitiveness,” which is a subjective measure, we have established on an internally consistent basis that Quebec has a more competitive political environment than Alberta.

Considering the competition gap, it is reasonable to assume that Conservatives (electorally speaking) can afford to take the province for granted. As the Liberals or NDP have no chance of winning more than a handful of seats each in the province, the incentive to appeal to Alberta instead of Quebec is limited.

Given the state of politics in this province, it is highly unlikely that there will be any mass movement towards the Liberals or NDP regardless of what the situation is provincially. Recall that in 2015 when the NDP won a majority government in Alberta, Albertans turned around a half year later, and 60% of them cast their votes for the federal Conservatives.

So, how can Maverick change the equation?

Interim leader Jay Hill stated in an interview with Global, that “the anger is so deep-seated and the frustration with a failed Confederation is so widespread now in western Canada that we are taking this extraordinary step, I believe, to organize federally … and elect members to Parliament similar to what the Bloc Quebecois has done.”

The Maverick Party website offers a few more hints regarding their goals and objectives. Like the Bloc, they want to advance the west’s interests and pursuing that objective via pushing for constitutional reform contemporaneously with organizing for an independence referendum. Maverick MPs, like the BQ, would vote for legislation they believe to be in the west’s interests.

Regarding where Maverick MPs would run, Jay Hill indicated that Maverick MPs would run in ridings where a perfect split of the existing Conservative vote would not result in a Liberal or NDP victory.

This exercise is moot because since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, serious discussion of Alberta separatism has fallen off a cliff with respect to media airtime, and Maverick has failed to establish any notable or consistent presence in the western provinces in opinion polling. But if Maverick were to take half of the Conservative vote in the seats where they run candidates, some interesting changes could emerge.

Hill has indicated that Maverick will only consider running candidates in the 107 ridings west of Ontario, and that too only in safe Conservative seats. Suppose we define a potential Maverick seat as a riding where the existing Conservative vote divided by two is still larger than the next largest party. In that case, there are forty-nine potential seats where Maverick could run.

Comparing average competitiveness scores before and after the addition of Maverick under these rules sees the average competitiveness score of Alberta increase from 0.41 to 0.58, therefore making Alberta now more competitive than Quebec. The Liberal and NDP competitiveness scores across the province increase from 0.33 to 0.47 and 0.27 to 0.40, respectively. What this would indicate is that even though the Liberals or NDP do not stand to gain any additional seats under a perfect execution of Jay Hill’s plan, the increase in their relative competitiveness scores would indicate that it would require less marginal effort to flip a given seat.

Therefore, even if Maverick’s plan resulted in zero extra seat gains for the Liberals or NDP, what it would encourage is Liberal and NDP strategists to target the Edmonton and Calgary exurbs. The hope would then be, if the Liberals or NDP deem Alberta as a potential location to make gains, then Alberta would receive increased attention, and therefore more Alberta-friendly electoral commitments from self-interested parties.

That said, this presupposes the underlying assumption that Alberta has a distinct political culture that is primarily coloured by the debate around the energy sector. Considering our political history, it is easy to take this assumption for granted. I am, however, not convinced that the demographics that support this trend will hold. Alberta is becoming increasingly diverse and is moving away from energy as its primary economic driver. As Alberta’s economy changes, I suspect so will its political identity.

Accordingly, I am not convinced that Maverick’s brand of grievance politics is unlikely to garner significant attention. That said, Jay Hill’s calculation does have the potential to achieve what he is setting out to achieve, and Maverick should not be dismissed as a bad faith movement as a result.

On staffing

My War Room Staff Badge from the 2019 Federal Election Campaign

On occasion, I’m asked, “How did you get involved in politics?” or “How does one get a job in politics?”

In Canada, the process is relatively straightforward:

  1. Pick the party with which you are most closely aligned.
  2. Get involved with a local association or campaign.
  3. Volunteer enough to build a positive reputation.
  4. Indicate to either the candidate or the campaign manager that you would like a job.
  5. Apply for jobs as they become available.

Political parties and caucuses will advertise openings openly through their websites for entry-level positions. The other option is applying through a party’s internship program (typically, these run once a year).

The criteria for applying for one of these positions are not terribly stringent. In most cases, it requires some post-secondary education and a social media scan (i.e., don’t post anything cringe), but I have certainly known a fair few staffers that lacked the former and were instead simply dedicated, longer-term volunteers.

When I served as a staffer, I was uniquely privileged in that the contracts that I signed were limited-term, and I did not have any genuine desire to continue staffing on their expiry. As a result, I had a degree of freedom to make some observations, (and perhaps some lessons learned), that I hope that the reader will find interesting.

These observations and suggestions are based on my own subjective experiences and the combined experiences of dozens of individuals that I’ve spoken to over the course of my 6+ years of active political involvement from conservative, liberal, and social democratic parties — they do not refer to any specific party, individual, or incident.

In short, the political career of any given junior staffer evokes Hobbes’ state of nature: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

In other words, staffing involves long hours, poor compensation, the nastiness and brutality commonly attached to partisan politics — not to mention the vulnerability to burnout.

I certainly was no special exception to this — my time staffing had a terrible impact on my personal relationships with a secondary effect on my mental health. But given that my staffing career was contemporaneous with my legal education, (and it was always my intent to return to the private sector), I certainly was not a textbook staffer.

The ideal junior staffer, in my view, is fresh out of university and unattached. The work environment is certainly not conducive to anything else. In the lead-up to the 2019 federal campaign in Ottawa, my workdays were typically 12 hours long, and I would typically get one free weekend off a month. In hindsight, I should have fought for more weekends and regular hours, but I have no regrets about taking the positions themselves.

There are many reasons why one may consider staffing: it is an excellent opportunity to network, the proximity to power, a desire to shape public policy — but at the end of the day, a staffer becomes a staffer because they believe in the “movement.” A staffer will tolerate poor working conditions more than an ordinary employee because, at some level, they believe that what they’re doing is for the good of the party, and by extension, moving the country or province closer to their own idealized worldview.

This tolerance, however, is not unlimited or unconditional. I have seen and spoken to several talented staffers who leave politics altogether — they felt their efforts were underappreciated, saw no opportunities for advancement, or in extreme cases, were placed into deeply uncomfortable or problematic positions where they no longer felt safe in their workplace. All three of these factors contribute to turnover and poor morale. Turnover and poor morale, in turn, results in a staff corps that is lazy and inexperienced. Laziness and inexperience inevitably lead to poor political outcomes when mistakes become public.

The former two criteria are tied together fairly closely: generally speaking, feedback is only provided to those who ask for it (and, of course, when an obvious mistake is made), and it is not formalized on any rubric. No one is told why a particular individual is promoted, and there are no obvious pathways to obtaining a promotion. For a young adult wishing to obtain a degree of security before settling down, politics is scarcely the place to do it.

The latter factor is a more complicated problem. It is disconcerting because there is not a readily apparent solution. HR departments in the private sector get a bad rap because “they work for the company, not for you.” The problem is far more acute in the political sphere: no MP, MLA, MPP, or candidate will get publicly canned or reprimanded less the party invites a self-inflicted political scandal upon themselves. More likely, one would see quiet shuffles or reassignments — that too, only if there is an obvious person to hear the complaints, and typically there is not.

The biggest strength that a political staffer has over a private-sector worker, from the point of view of their employer, is their loyalty. A private sector employee has no loyalty to a specific employer. If an employee is offered a better compensation package by a direct competitor, ceteris paribus, that employee will typically switch jobs. On the other hand, a staffer may burn out or leave politics, but they are exceedingly unlikely to defect to the other side, even when subject to poor working conditions. Loyalty to the party and the movement should be developed and encouraged in staffers at every opportunity. The best way to do this is by building trust between senior and junior staff. One suggestion I would offer is to explain to junior staffers the reasons for pursuing a specific course of action or the meaning of their work and how it fits into the bigger picture. If these courses of action can be shown as being for the “good of the party,” one will find that staffers are far more willing to toe the line and perform even in the face of negative coverage in the mainstream media, by the opposition, and on social media.

The best thing senior staff can do to develop good employees is by making an effort to identify and communicate what they believe to be the strengths and weaknesses of their junior counterparts. Junior staffers will then more easily understand where their opportunities for growth lie and make necessary adjustments to be more effective in their role in the hopes of being rewarded either via raise or promotion in the future. As it stands now, even though senior staff may have a systematic approach for assigning certain roles to certain individuals, the process for promotions and raises appears arbitrary, and the appearance of arbitrariness leads to reduced morale among staffers.

On the other hand, there appears to be a level of latent disrespect or arrogance among certain staffers towards the elected officials they work with. Staffers should note that elected officials have staff because they have a multitude of responsibilities inside and outside of the chamber as well as in their constituencies, committees, and not to mention their personal lives. The staffer class is not exceptionally diverse — most staff come from educated, upper-middle-class, urban backgrounds. As such, some may be inclined to think that they “know better” than an elected official simply because they have developed a subject matter expertise on a particular topic and are frustrated with their member for taking some stance or the other. This problem is particularly acute in parties where the demographics of a particular caucus are in stark contrast to the demographics of the staffer corps. While it is true that staffers will be less inclined to work for those that they do not respect, from the point of view of a caucus or a government, one must work with the elected officials that were elected. A possible solution to this problem is parties should consider hiring staffers who reflect the demographics of the riding a particular member represents. In theory, this should result in that member being more effectively supported in their day-to-day roles. How this may be put into practice depends on the organization of the party — the hiring process should involve both the elected member and senior staffers to ensure that personalities will not clash and ensure that a staffer will act in the party’s best interests.

One other thing that would serve the staffer well to keep in mind is that ultimately while their paycheque comes from taxpayers between elections, their jobs do not exist if their members are not re-elected. It is the responsibility of their members to win re-election, and the member (as the representative of a given electoral district), is the person best positioned to know what it would take to win re-election in that district.

With the hope that I am not coming off as overly banal or trite, the above concerns that I raise are all due to a breakdown in communication between senior and junior staff and elected officials. The lack of communication does not foster a culture of trust, and without trust, all are less effective at their jobs. Politicians and staff would be well served by ensuring that they can communicate freely and openly in their offices. This would make the party, and in turn the government, more effective.