Fair Vote Canada Montreal Chapter

FVC Presence at the 2006 Liberal Party National Convention


Federal Liberal Biennial Convention Nov 29 - Dec 1, 2006

Federal Liberal Leadership Convention Dec 2


Montréal - Palais des congrès

201 Viger Street W Montreal, Québec  H2Z 1X7



In pursuit of Fair Vote Canada’s mission to promote electoral reform, FVC volunteers were mobilized and a booth was paid for at one of the largest political conventions in Canada’s history: the 2006 Liberal Convention in Montréal.  5,500 delegates and thousands of others decided on party policy and selected a new leader.  This page provides some details of the Fair Vote presence at that convention, with the hopes that it may prove useful from anyone organizing a Fair Vote presence at other events.




 Knowing the specific reason for being at any event is always important.  Our objective statement for the convention was:


 "To create awareness amongst our target audience that PR is both supported within and advantageous to the Liberal party"


 Our target audience was Western Liberals, Quebec Liberals, Women Liberals, and also the Media.  We felt it was necessary to focus our target because we knew that with so many thousands of people there and only limited personnel, we’d only be able to reach a fraction of them.  We also thought the target Liberal audience selected would have a higher awareness of our issues and efforts made to campaign for change would be more fruitful.  Since our event was of wide political interest, an army of media people was covering the event and we obviously targeted them as well.





 We had 8 volunteers committing over 150 person-hours on the convention floor, and we talked to well over 2,000 people there.  Because we had paid for a booth, there was effectively no limit to the number of volunteers we could have.  We had people staffing our table / booth at most times, as well as volunteers talking to people or handing out literature at other parts of the convention floor in order to maximize our presence. 


 Convention work isn’t easy: volunteers are on their feet at all times and often experience periods of alternating boredom and overwhelming flood.  To help scheduling and rotating shifts, we used a web page accessible to everyone that they could change at will (a Wiki).  This collaborative web page was key because it showed everyone immediately who was responsible for handling what and when, and they could sign up for “shifts” according to their availability.  Double- and triple- booking was avoided, and staffing holes were filled in.  Best of all, Wikis are open source and free.  Visit our Schedule Wiki to see more.  [Photo (inset): Part of the Fair Vote team (L to R) Andrew Prevost, Barbara Odenwald, Stuart Parker, Andy Blair, John Deverell]



The Fair Vote Booth


 A 10’ by 10’ booth was booked, and because it was booked early we got to choose the spot: a corner or end location is better.  The only booths available were in a row called “Vendor’s Alley” near the entrance to the cafeteria.  Having the first end booth meant that we were the first ‘vendor’ encountered as people entered the cafeteria.  There was a great deal of space in the cafeteria, and an extra 25’ from our booth to the door, so we capitalized on this by borrowing a 10’ by 30’ carpet lying around in the next room and using this to expand to a giant booth of that size.  Convention organizers didn’t object when they saw we did this since it was empty space anyways, and as Deverell says “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.”



[Photos: (above L to R) 1. The hall leading to the Cafeteria was lined with leadership booths ready for set-up.  2. The door to the Cafeteria.  3. As soon as you walk in the door, “Vendor’s Alley” is in front and to the right.  Ours was the first booth in this vast hall that also included the Internet Cafe]



[Photos: (above L to R) 1. Our booth before set-up; we were the first group to arrive.  2. We had lots of room to expand.  3. We borrowed a 30-foot carpet and greatly expanded our booth towards the door]




A Welcoming Booth


 Unlike other vendors, we opened up our booth by moving the table from a position across the front of the booth (which sends a “stay out” message to visitors) to one along the side or back of the booth instead.  This more open concept results in more people entering, and adding plants near the back of the booth takes the edge off of the institutional feel of most booths.  Studies show that adding plants to the back (but not the front) of the booth increases traffic by over 10 percent.  Free mints were offered since delegates spend all day meeting others for the first time, and coming from the cafeteria they may be conscious about bad breath – this results in yet more traffic pausing at our table.  All this, including the available seating and double carpet (more comfortable than the concrete floor people have to walk around on all day) makes people linger more in our booth when coupled with ample easy-to-read information. 


[Photos: (below L to R) 1. The Equal Voice booth, who paid the same amount as us but set up on Day Three of the Convention.  2. The Pink Book Booth (a Liberal policy book on women’s issues) was abandoned much of the time.  This “Vendor’s Alley” was starting to turn into a low-traffic backwater…]






Grab Their Attention


Before people can be drawn further into your message and booth, you need an attention-getter so that people will notice you in the first place: this can be a celebrity working your booth or an attention-getting public demonstration, for example.  In our case with a very small budget, we used a free book draw with a prominent translucent white ballot box with strobe lights inside, placed as near the traffic flow as possible.  When delegates cruised past to the cafeteria lineup, we would say “Have you entered our free book draw?” and over half would stop and enter their name and contact information on a ballot.  This gave volunteers a chance to strike up a conversation, and more often than not delegates leave for the cafeteria lineup, reading one or other of our brochures after a short discussion on PR.  It’s also very useful to have a very knowledgeable person in your booth to handle many of the more detailed questions that new volunteers often can’t; in our case Stuart Parker was brilliant at handling these.


[Photos (L to R) : 1. A book draw with flashing lights attracts the attention of passers-by.  2. Exactly 2,078 delegates entered the draw with names & info. 3. Books about both electoral reform and Liberal leadership candidates were successful in getting people to stop and browse.]





Moving Locations


Other than meal rushes, when the flood of delegates was often too great for our staff to handle, the cafeteria was quiet.  This was not helped by the fact that the cafeteria was expensive and there were many restaurants in nearby Chinatown.  Late on the second day of the convention we decided to relocate part of our booth to the main foyer, where traffic was heavy and non-stop.  There was some free space there, and the convention organizers were always impossible to get ahold of, so we decided to move in and ask questions later.  We could always have moved back if anyone objected, but nobody did.  From this point on, we often had one person at the cafeteria booth and one or two at the foyer booth, while one or two others cruised the convention floor talking to delegates and the media.  This resulted in a large increase in our visibility and the number of people we got to talk to.  At times our booth was inundated with too many people to handle, especially when leadership campaigns were passing by.  Thousands of brochures, leaflets and cards were distributed to passing delegates, who often entered the free book draw which we also moved to the foyer. 

[Photos: (above L to R) 1. Part of the booth was moved to the main hall, beside the entrance to the registration hall.  2. Traffic immediately picked up; here Stuart Parker talks to attendees.  3. Jaimie Anderson helps a delegate fill in a book draw ballot and also hits them with some info on proportional rep.  Looks quiet here, but it soon got very busy – Video: Click to see us walking from our booth up the escalators, then back down again only an hour later with FVC volunteer Ben Rankin.]



Go on the Attack


 At a few points during the convention we felt we had to have even more of an impact.  John Deverell and Andy Blair sometimes stood at the bottoms of the escalators and handed out our literature and said things like “Welcome to the convention.”  Many people would take these and read them on the ride up.  This was discontinued after a day or two when the leadership campaigns caught on and decided to start doing this as well – delegates were then inundated with pamphleteers, rendering this practice useless.  Next we noticed that many delegates were resting near the many seating areas of the convention, with that bored convention look on their faces.  We started seeding all the seating areas with our literature (especially the newspapers) and people would then pick them up to read as they rested.  This too was soon taken up in earnest by the various leadership campaigns, and we stopped after another day. 



[Photos: (above L to R) 1. Montreal volunteer Jaimie Anderson talks to an Iggy supporter.  2. The lineup to vote in the various leadership ballots was long, slow, and often snaked past our booth.  3. At times the second location was too crowed: here Barbara Odenwald is pressed back from the crush of people moving.  Video: Click to see our inundated booth, and more video of our swamped booth]




[Photos: (above L to R) 1. Unmanageable crowds gathered when leadership candidates went by.  2. In quieter times, our central location enabled us to talk politicians who were omnipresent; here Barbara Odenwald talks to former finance minister Ralph Goodale..  3. The media swarms were an opportunity to talk to reporters about our cause.]



A Tailored Message


 It’s important to tailor you message to you audience; how does your idea or product impact them?  A Liberal flyer was produced specifically for this convention and printed on bright yellow paper.  Our message was that proportional representation was not a foreign idea to the Liberal Party and the Party uses PR to select it’s delegates.  Click here for a PDF of this flyer.  Response from delegates was largely favorable, with perhaps 10% against and 10% noncommittal, but 80% agreeing that some form of PR was a good idea federally.  This was surprising.  Response from MPs and leadership candidates was decidedly less enthusiastic, however.  A survey was sent out before the convention with the aim of rating candidates, but despite emailing, faxing, calling, and visiting campaign offices in person, only Joe Volpe completed our survey.  Click here for a MS Word copy of the survey.


 John Deverell also produced media kits that were on hand at all times with something newsworthy up front: a court challenge of the Elections Act on the grounds that it violates the Charter of Rights & Freedoms (right to equality and right to representation).  At conventions like these it’s always important to court the media, since a single news story or article may be seen by many more people that at the convention itself.



[Photos: (above L to R) 1. Barbara Odenwald congratulates Andrew Coyne of the National Post for an excellent column recently endorsing proportional representation.  2. Andy Blair catches leadership candidate Bob Rae on his way out of the Palais des Congres at midnight the first day.  For the candidate positions on PR (and those of others at the convention), see below.  3. No sale: Barbara Odenwald talks to Don Newman.]



Hits & Misses


 Of note were two resolutions for consideration on electoral reform and proportional representation.  The one on PR was especially interesting  - but unfortunately neither was adopted by the party.  The resolutions are numbers 86 Political Reform  (pg 100) and 92 Proportional Representation  (pg 106) of their Policy Workbook.  Resolution 82 on gender parity may also be of interest.  Andy Blair, Stuart Parker, and John Deverell were at the plenary session for votes on resolutions 86 and 92.  The one on PR lost by about a 4-to-1 margin, but there were only about 200 delegates voting in a room meant to hold four times that amount.  If we had mobilized a little earlier or if the resolutions weren’t considered immediately at the first and second days of the convention, and if we had seen the resolutions before arriving, we quite possibly could have campaigned more successfully to fill the room with supporters.  This would have been a major victory, but there are also a lot of “ifs” in there.  Something to think about for the Conservative Convention in Winnipeg next year…




[Photos: (above L to R) 1. Not all was work for delegates: famous musical acts entertained the crowds in the cavernous Main Hall, as well as at hospitality suites where complimentary food and drink flowed well into the morning hours.  2. Barbara Odenwald talks to CBC reporter Mark Kelley.  Covering politics isn’t really his thing, apparently.  3. Star magnet: Barbara Odenwald laughs it up with Rick Mercer.  Video: See what the convention Main Hall was like with FVC volunteer Alain Barnett, and watch them announcing the final winner Stephan Dion]



Lobbying Movers & Shakers


 Conventions of this type are invaluable for meeting with decision-makers, even if many of them are hardened by many people lobbying them; this convention was no exception.  Below is a list of most of the MPs and other politicians contacted (that we remembered to write down).  More plus signs means more of a positive response to the idea of PR for Canada, and more minus signs means they are more hostile to this idea.  Following this list is a list of media people contacted, what was given to them, and their willingness to cover this story.



MPs & Politicians Contacted


Name: Hedy Fry

Response: +

Follow-up: Wants more info; meet in Ottawa


Name: David McGuinty

Response: +++

Follow-up: Agreed to sign on to Charter challenge


Name: John Godfrey

Response: +

Follow-up: Supports an all-party committee on electoral reform


Name: Belinda Stronach

Response: ++

Follow-up: Wants to meet with Fair Vote in Ottawa


Name: Eddie Goldberg

Response: --

Follow-up: Against PR completely


Name: Bob Rae

Response: +/-

Follow-up: Cagey response; Parry Sihota will work on him


Name: Ujjal Dosanjh

Response: +/-

Follow-up: Wants more discussion, meet with Fair Vote in Ottawa


Name: Ralph Goodale

Response: +/-

Follow-up: Noncommittal response


Name: Paul Szabo

Response: +

Follow-up: Will help us to connect to people


Name: Keith Martin

Response: +/-

Follow-up: Meet in Ottawa


Name: Don Boudria

Response: +

Follow-up: none.


Media Contacted


Chris Hall - CBC Radio News

Press Kit, interested in interview.


Paul Wells - Macleans

Side convensation


Andrew Coyne - National Post

Positive response.


Mark Kelley - CBC TV News

Noncommittal, politics not his area of news.  Says to follow up with him when charter challenge launched.


Paul Hunter - CBC TV News

Business Card, interested in charter challenge.


Pierre Donais - CPAC Francais

Business Card, contact this week for possible interview


Xian Hu - Sept Days (Mtl Chinese Language Weekly)

Press kit, came by booth for photos and did interview with Andy Blair


Yahoo! News - Canada (Online news)

Press kit, came by booth for photos and did interview with Andy Blair


CKCU-FM - Ottawa (Carleton University Radio Station)

Press kit, did radio interview with Andy Blair at booth, aired this week AM.


Ray Heard - iChannel TV (Cable)

Press kit, interested in interview later this week in Ottawa or Toronto (based out of Toronto).


Jim Travers - Toronto Star

Press kit, interested when charter challenge starts.


Susan Delacourt - Toronto Star

Business card, interested when chrter challenge starts.


Bruce Champion-Smith - Toronto Star

Positive response,


Thomas Walkom - Toronto Star


Juliette O'Neil - Ottawa Citizen


Robe Linke - Telegraph-Journal

Positive response,


Rheal Seguin - Globe and Mail


Don Newman - CBC TV News

Opposed to PR.


APTN TV - Francais

Press kit, not really interested.


Linda Diebel - Toronto Star

Not very positive.




Go Back to Temporary Fair Vote Montreal Chapter Page

Larry, can we have a page on the main FVC site?

Updated 6 Dec 2006 by Andy Blair