Guest Commentary

John Nunziata

How To Win Elections

(Editor’s note: John Nunziata, former Liberal MP for York South-Weston, Ont., served four terms in the Commons. In an October 4, 2011 interview with Blacklock’s publisher Holly Doan, he spoke candidly on electioneering. Following is a transcription of Mr. Nunziata’s remarks)

Issues don’t really matter. If you have the proper organization – I mean, you need to have people supporting you and the Party – all you have to do is manage an effective organization on election day to get out the vote. Majorities only occur when they are deserved, when you have true leadership.

We had an inexperienced canvasser, and she was upset because she had a few doors slammed in her face by people who weren’t supporting the candidate. I said, don’t worry about it. Of every ten doors you knock on, five aren’t even going to vote. All you need is two-and-a-half people to identify, and if we get them out on election day, we’re sailing.

If your goal is good government, then sure, voter turnout matters. If you’re concerned about living in a true democracy then hell yes, it matters. But if your only goal is to win power then no, turnout doesn’t really matter.

When you win a majority, it’s like: “Yes! We’ve got four years to do as we please!” People are happy to have their majorities and just carry on and hope to get re-elected, but nothing is certain anymore in politics. We should expect minority governments are going to be more frequent than they were in the past.

I remember Keith Davey coming to Liberal caucus meetings in the early 1980s and saying, you know, we could always rely on our core vote. That all went out the window. Core voters became more independent, they became more knowledgeable, they were tired of being taken for granted. With the advent of the internet and easy access to information, fewer people are voting because they’re getting turned off politics, the more they see of it.

I left Ottawa in 2000 and never had a computer on my desk. I didn’t know how to operate one. Most MPs didn’t know how to use it. It was something “out there.” I remember the Party always wanted to computerize election campaigns, to use electronic programming to identify voters and help get out the vote. I had a campaign manager who said, “Hell no!” He liked the old-fashioned way. I’ve been involved in campaigns where, halfway through, you’d just disregard the computers and mark the voters’ lists by hand, identifying supporters.

I remember in 1993 we first used a system called demon dialers. You hired a company and they’d make these automatic calls from a phone bank at the campaign office. You’d pre-record a message: “Hi! It’s John Nunziata. Election day is Thursday. Really need you to vote.” People started getting annoyed. We ultimately reverted to the old way of doing things because it was tried, true, tested, and it worked.

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