The Green Party must decentralize media communications to be taken seriously

Why should a newspaper cover Green ideas, regardless of how good they are, if they come from an entity that only seems interested in elections, but doesn’t speak up enough with thoughtful criticism during the actual governing of this country?

Thus, the present situation is – we’re a party of innovative and thorough policies, but don’t do an effective enough job of communicating these ideas, and the “fringe” image that our operations (rather than ideas) continue to exacerbate prevents the media from taking the Green policy ideas seriously.

So the solution would seem to be – professionalize operations, particularly communication with media. When important, challenging issues arise in Canadian political debate, the Greens should promptly be on the scene with innovative perspectives and solutions to such topical problems. We should operate as if we were a party deserving of seats in parliament, and ready to seamlessly assume them come the next federal election.

But how easy (or realistic) will it be for the Green Party of Canada to professionalize their operations?

We know that the Greens receive more than a million dollars of electoral funding each year, due to the popular support we now garner at federal elections. We also know the central GPC office has a paid staff of at least 10, likely supported by a much larger number of volunteers and interns. But are these financial and human resources enough for the party to operate in a more professional way?

Helping to set up Electoral District Associations (EDAs) across the country was currently a high priority for the GPC central office – and fair enough, as the Greens need to have significant pockets of support across Canada, especially at the local level. But add to this the need to arrange the upcoming policy/leadership convention in August, and various other bits and bobs, and suddenly the paid staff of 10 has its hands full.

I won’t argue whether EDA creation or the need to professionalize party operations and media communication should be the higher prioritiy for the GPC – that could be an entirely different topic. But seeing as the GPC has apparently already chosen its main short-term goals, and dedicated most of its resources to those, how could we also add the tasks of improving operations and communications – without stretching current resources to breaking point?

To me, the solution seems simple – tap into an army of largely under-utilized supporters.

By this, I don’t mean the Conservative tactic of annoying call centres and direct mailing to beg for money. Instead of asking for money, the Greens need to convince supporters (and the vast number of potential supporters) to donate their time, energy and expertise. Divert a minimal percentage of central resources to organize a sea of national volunteers, and let these people scattered across the country do the brunt work.

There are potentially thousands (or even tens of thousands) of people with an interest in Green ideas, who would be thrilled if their voices could not only be heard, but translated into substantive policy. Whether these be people interested in the environment (preferably skilled individuals within Environment Canada or The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, economics, health care, aboriginal issues, federal renewal, or whatever else – these individuals with passion and interest (and hopefully even expertise) could be brought into the party fold as volunteers to communicate their ideas under the Green banner, helping to “professionalize” and diversify the Green Party’s operations.

Greens already do a good job of capturing such ideas from the public and converting them into policy creation – the Living Platform is perhaps the best example of grassroots ideas translated into actual policy. But are the people who come up with such policy ideas also used effectively within the party’s communications arm? Do they play a role in writing press releases, and for conveying the Greens’ innovative policy ideas to the media?

Judging from the lack of Green press releases, and comments from the media about the Greens seeming to be largely dormant between elections, the answer must be a resounding “no”. While we Greens may be coming up with some truly brilliant ideas for tackling Canada’s numerous problems, we’re not communicating these ideas to the media when they’re topical issues under debate. It is apparently acceptable practice to open up policy formation to people outside the central GPC offices, but the Greens (perhaps ironically) are not taking the same approach with communications – as this is putting a muzzle on the Green Party’s ability to get their message out regularly and punctually.

So what’s the answer to this need for decentralized policy communication? Send out Green Party of Canada letterhead to every single GPC member, and adopt an anarchistic form of communication where anyone can officially speak on behalf of the party? Surely not. But perhaps the system we have at present, of press releases being thought up and crafted solely within central offices Ottawa, is just as extreme and hurtful to the Greens.

I’ve mentioned that the central offices are over-stretched, thus the lack of GPC press releases. I’ve also mentioned the grassroots policy creation, and the potential for the Greens to attract more informed and expert voices. What could the GPC do with such a scenario?

In my opinion, as I’ve already briefly mentioned, the Greens could to divert a minimal percentage of central resources to help organize a potential army of supporters for writing press releases. These writers could be the same people who help create new and innovative party policy – but they could also be asked to help write media releases that detail these policies whenever such related debates pop up in parliament or within Canadian political circles.

Let’s start from the top. PM Harper has 26 people in his “streamlined” cabinet, excluding himself. That’s 26 portfolios. The Greens need to appoint a shadow cabinet with “ministers” for all 26 portfolios. The present GPC shadow cabinet only has 22 portfolios – and five of those are directly related to the environment (environment, climate change, deep ecology, energy, environmental economics). While there’s no real problem in having several environment-related portfolios, surely we should be shadowing all of the other portfolios covered by Harper’s real cabinet before we start creating numerous environmental portfolios – as this will simply execerbate the perception that the Greens are a one-issue, environmentalist-only party. A quick visit to the government website’s cabinet page shows a significant number of portfolios that the Green shadow cabinet doesn’t cover.

Once we have all portfolios covered in our cabinet, each shadow minister needs to either assume high-level communications responsibility themself within their portfolio, or appoint another person as communications leader for their portfolio. The shadow minister and portfolio communications head (potentially but preferably not the same person) must then become thoroughly knowledgable regarding Green policies on the issues, to prevent people from going off on personal rants not reflective of the overall policy position of the Green Party. This point may prove slightly tricky, as policy is partially created decentrally in the GPC, especially at the local level (within EDAs) – but overall the Green Party does have official party positions (after all, it does have policy conventions, like the upcoming event in August in Ottawa; and it also published policy platforms during election campaigns), and these must be adhered to if the GPC are to effectively decentralize some elements of official media communication.

Each shadow portfolio then needs to attract volunteers who are passionate (and preferably also an expert) in that particular area, teach them the “party line”, and have them available (at relatively short notice) to write a press release when portfolio topics are debated under parliament and/or hit the news. Such volunteers wouldn’t be paid, and would have proper jobs and other commitments outside of their Green volunteer work – so perhaps only one or two out of 10 would be available at any giving time. That would work out perfectly. They could be quickly contacted, get to work, and have a press release written and ready for distribution while the issue is still topical to the media.

The finished press release would then be sent from the volunteer back to the shadow portfolio’s communications head, to ensure it accurately reflected Green policy, and to possibly edit it for grammar, house style, etc. It could then be directly distributed to the press without ever having to go to the GPC head office in Ottawa. The head office might wish to add a second level of screening to the process, by having the portfolio communications heads send all press releases to the head office to screen/edit as well – but that would take up resources of the head office, and could potentially be reserved for “crucial” policy areas, or for portfolios with shadow ministers/communications heads who were still new to the job and needed a “training” period before they could be trusted to engage directly with the media.

Why would this relatively decentralized media communications strategy work? It would:

  • ensure that topical issues in Canadian politics are regularly addressed by the Green Party
  • raise the profile of the Green Party within Canadian media via regular press releases, garnering us more respect and attention
  • help convey the appearance of a professionalized shadow cabinet and media communications
  • move closer towards the demands of backroom party operations for when Greens became MPs
  • take up minimal resources of the (already busy) head office in Ottawa
  • encourage more party members to play a larger role within the party, and volunteer more of their time
  • encourage potential party members to join and volunteer, knowing that their voice could be heard much more loudly via the Greens than with “old line” parties
  • give members a more profound feeling of party “ownership” (not just membership), and encourage more pro-active and innovative participation

So that’s my humble proposition for the Green Party of Canada to “professionalize” and yet also decentralize its media communications.

What do you think?