Former top Obama adviser Mitch Stewart talks about narrative building, melding cold, hard data, analytics at Broadbent Institute summit

Tim Naumetz / Hill Times

A former top campaign organizer for U.S. President Barack Obama, now working on a political action committee backing Hilary Clinton should she seek the presidency in 2016, gave closed-door briefings and workshops to union organizers, activists and NDP volunteers Thursday as part of a Broadbent Institute  “progress summit” for political action.

The workshops and strategy sessions by Mitch Stewart, a series of briefings that also featured members of the institute’s newly appointed field of high-profile “leadership fellows” also involved in the sessions, took place the day before the official start of the summit that headlines former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard as a somewhat controversial keynote speaker.

Elected as Australia’s Labour Party prime minister in 2010, Ms. Gillard included opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage among her main policy positions.

The two-day summit hosted by the Broadbent Institute—a left wing or progressive version of the Calgary-based Manning Centre, a right-wing training ground and networking institute founded by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning—features activists, authors, professors and social democrat politicians with panels and individual presentations covering a range of social and economic themes, including green politics, indigenous peoples’ rights social networking advocacy campaigns and defence of trade union rights.

Some of Parliament Hill’s top journalists, including author Susan Delacourt ofThe Toronto Star, Canadian Press bureau chief Heather Scoffield, and Maclean’s magazine columnist and author Paul Wells, are moderating several of the panels.

Mr. Stewart, founding partner at 270 Strategies, a longtime political activist, and Battleground States director for the Obama campaign in the 2012 presidential general election, was unable to speak in detail about his remarks and presentations behind the closed doors of “summit leadership training,” but explained them in general terms during an interview with The Hill Times.

A recent national Liberal policy convention in Montreal also featured closed-door campaign training sessions for party activists, but a presentation on online campaigning from another former Obama organizer was open to journalists.

“We talked about the lessons that we learned on the Obama campaign of running an effective campaign, running an effective organization, talking about setting goals, what are the strategies that can help you achieve those goals, and then what are the tactics that can help your strategy achieve those goals, giving some real-world examples and then workshopping a little bit with some Canadian specific examples,” Mr. Stewart said, without elaborating on the Canadian content.

“We’ll talk a lot this afternoon about relationship building, telling the story itself, narrative building, we’ll talk a lot about goal setting, and kind of melding the relationship-building aspects of the campaign with the cold, hard data and analytics of a campaign and how you employ the organization to help you achieve goals that the data and analytics inform,” he said.

Asked if Canadian political parties had reached the same level of sophistication as the Democrats and Republicans, in terms the kind of data-based voter contact campaigns and online networking that first propelled Mr. Obama into the White House and led to his re-election in 2012, Mr. Stewart replied: “I think they are exploring ways of trying to catch up. Your data and privacy acts are different here than they are in the United States. We have access to a lot more information than parties here do, to their voters. Not everything is transferable or replicable.

“In the United States, voter files are basically public information,” Mr. Stewart said. “If you’re a registered voter, everything you put down on your voter registration card, you could have access to, what your address is, anything you put down there,” Mr. Stewart said.

Importantly, electors in most of the states also register as either Democrat or Republican supporters. In Canada, that information can only be obtained through direct voter contact, either by door-to-door canvassing or telephone calling, and usually through election writ periods.

Although the Democratic Party maintains a vast database of state and federal electoral information centrally in Washington, D.C., it is securely guarded from unauthorized access from either inside or outside the party.

“We have a whole staff of people that manage, for sure, and most states have a person too,” Mr. Stewart said.

“The information on there, there is some proprietary information based on door knocks or phone calls, what candidates they support, but there are very tight limitations on what you can use a voter file for and what you can’t,” he said.

In a ruling over court challenges of the outcome in six federal election districts for the 2011 general election in Canada, based on allegations of fraudulent calls to voters who did not support the Conservative party, Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley said as part of his judgment that the voters’ home telephone numbers were likely drawn from the Conservative party’s main voter contact and information data base.

However, Judge Mosley ruled there was not enough evidence to rule that misleading calls in any of the six electoral districts affected the outcome of the vote.

A media relations expert providing consulting assistance to the Broadbent Institute, chaired by former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, said summit attendees are not exclusively members or supporters of the NDP.

“There’s a wide group of grassroots volunteers, some of whom will likely be volunteering on NDP or for other political parties,” said Caitlin Kealey of MediaStyle.

Progress Summit focuses on building a new prosperity for Canada

OTTAWA–Progressives from across Canada are gathering in Ottawa for the next three days to map out a fair, sustainable and prosperous Canadian economy.

“Convening a gathering of Canada’s most impressive thinkers and leaders for the Institute’s inaugural Progress Summit is a role I cherish,” said Ed Broadbent, chair of the Broadbent Institute.

“We are dedicated to finding the best way forward for a more equal Canada, and I am optimistic that coming out of this Summit we will have real policy answers for the challenges and opportunities facing our country.”

Throughout the weekend, participants will be learning from the best and the brightest from Canada and around the world, including keynote speaker Julia Gillard, the former Prime Minister of Australia.

“The best ideas come through vigorous discussion and debate,” said Rick Smith, the Broadbent Institute’s Executive Director. “The Summit won’t disappoint -- and will no doubt inform the nation’s policy debates and give new momentum to the Canadian progressive movement.”

The summit will focus on shared prosperity, building a green economy and democratic renewal. Leading organizers and experts in online engagement will share their expertise on how to craft winning campaigns.

There is also a focus on celebrating women in politics, with all four keynotes being prominent women. In addition, the Broadbent Institute and Equal Voice are hosting a reception on Saturday evening for Gillard. Australia’s first female Prime Minister will be named an Equal Voice Global Champion for women in politics.

The summit kicks off with a welcome reception Friday evening and wraps up on Sunday afternoon. On Saturday night, Canadian musicians Sarah Harmer, Blurred Vision and Sally Folk of Montreal are performing for participants.

For the full schedule:

Speakers include:

  • Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia
  • Mariana Mazzucato, author of The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths
  • Anastasia Khoo, Marketing Director, Human Rights Campaign
  • Axelle Lemaire, French National Assemblywoman for Northern Europe
  • Don Drummond, Professor at Queen’s University and Canadian economist
  • Alex Himelfarb, former Privy Council Clerk
  • Nancy Neamtan, Executive Director, Chantier de l'économie sociale
  • Mitch Stewart, 270 Strategies Founding Partner and Battleground States Director for the 2012 Obama for America campaign

For more information:

Caitlin Kealey
[email protected] or 613-818-7956

Progressive think-tank gears up to take on conservatives

Mark Kennedy / Postmedia 

For years, Ed Broadbent fought his battles on the front lines of Canadian politics as leader of the federal NDP.

These days, he’s taking his fight to a different plain — to the battle of ideas, of influence and of political relevance.

He is chair of a think-tank — the Broadbent Institute — that champions “progressive change,” trains activists and confronts some of the long-term issues political parties ignore.

He’s intent on countering the influence of Canadian think-tanks such as the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, established in 2005 by former Reform leader Preston Manning.

“Mr. Manning, from his point of view and from the conservative point of view, has done very well,” Broadbent said in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen.

“They have had an impact on the public debate. And it’s time we did some catch-up, frankly.

“Mr. Manning’s institute does it on the right and we want to do it on the left in Canada.”

Call it the battle of think-tanks. Left versus right. Broadbent versus Manning. Progressive versus conservative.

The two organizations have now become parallel incubators for ideas in Canadian politics, unrestrained by the formal partisan ties that can stifle debate among true believers within parties. Moreover, unlike most traditional think-tanks, both organizations offer training on how to achieve political change — all the way from community groups or city hall to provincial and federal politics.

This weekend in Ottawa, the Broadbent Institute, founded in 2011, will hold its first annual “progress summit.” About 600 people are expected to attend.

The conference will feature topics such as: income inequality; the federal government’s “attack” on the labour movement; the rights of indigenous peoples on natural resource development; and how businesses can build a “green economy.”

The institute believes in the merits of learning from “progressives” elsewhere in the world. Former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard will headline a list of speakers that includes a French politician describing the “rise of the right” in Europe, and a human rights “marketing director” based in Washington, D.C.

There will be a session on how to use Google and social media in campaigns, and on “lessons from winning progressive campaigns in the U.S. and Canada.”

The event is virtually a mirror image — with different policy leanings — of the annual Manning Centre conference, the most recent of which was in Ottawa in early March.

Chuck Strahl, a former Conservative MP who chairs the Manning Centre, said the country is well-served by having  parallel think-tanks because political parties are more focused on winning elections.

“The parties themselves are forced, if you will, to focus on what they do best and that leaves it open for other organizations like the Manning Centre and the Broadbent Institute to delve into some of the big issues. We don’t have to get elected to anything.”

Strahl said he welcomes the emergence of the Broadbent Institute.

“It’s not really a competitor; it’s a competitor for ideas. We’re not tilling the same soil here. We’re looking for people on the conservative end of the spectrum, but we both have the same sort of objective: to engage them in civil society.”

Broadbent said his institute faces a big challenge getting its message out because many of the country’s prominent think-tanks, such as the Fraser Institute and the C.D. Howe Institute, are predominantly conservative.

Broadbent’s institute is not a registered charity, nor does it plan to become one. It funds its operations through donations — often $5 or $20 from thousands of donors, says executive director Rick Smith — and will have a budget of over $1 million in the next year

There is a strong NDP tinge to the group; some key players have held prominent jobs in the party.

But the institute proclaims it is an “independent” and “non-partisan.” It has the support of Allan Gregg, once the Progressive Conservative party’s chief pollster, and John Laschinger, formerly campaign manager for many federal and provincial Progressive Conservatives.

Indeed, Smith said the institute appeals to a broad range of Canadians.

“On any given day, the vast majority of Canadians are untethered from any particular party affiliation. They’re open to good ideas and they’re looking for a good debate about the issues of the day. That’s is the kind of audience we’re trying to cater to and reach.”

Equal Voice to honour former Australian PM Julia Gillard as global champion

Broadbent Institute and Equal Voice to celebrate Australia’s first female Prime Minister

OTTAWA—Equal Voice and the Broadbent Institute will host a special event to celebrate Australia’s first female Prime Minister Julia Gillard this weekend. Ms. Gillard will offer remarks on her career in politics and Equal Voice, a national organization dedicated to the election of women in Canada, will name Ms. Gillard a Global Champion for Women in Politics.

WHO: Former Australian PM Julia Gillard; Equal Voice’s National Chair Raylene Lang-Dion; and the Broadbent Institute’s Kathleen Monk

WHAT: Remarks by Former Australian PM Julia Gillard, followed by a cocktail reception

DATE: Saturday, March 29, 2014

TIME: 6:15pm – 8pm

Delta Hotel, Penthouse
101 Lyon St N


For more information, please contact:

Nancy Peckford, Equal Voice (613) 292-7941
Denise Siele, Equal Voice (613) 276-3274
Kathleen Monk, Broadbent Institute (613) 296-2073