Dogwood and the BC Sustainable Energy Association (BCSEA) linked arms over a year ago to prepare for the federal election. The partnership took a lot of work, but it became a highlight of our election campaign in the capital region.
Everyone loves a good partnership, but like a marriage, partnerships are notoriously difficult to manage. So why was ours so successful? Here are a few ingredients:
A clear purpose
Shared committed leadership
Division of labour based on strengths
Good communication & follow-up
Ability to handle conflict
Strong personal ties
Dogwood organizers at the Langford federal election candidates debate.
The BCSEA took the initiative a year ago and invited Dogwood to co-sponsor their series of candidate forums on climate change and energy in Victoria. Dogwood agreed and began helping with promotion and logistics along with other partners. We learned a lot from the knowledgeable speakers – especially Guy Dauncey, BCSEA’s founder.
The well-attended series got us thinking. As we knocked on doors gathering signatures for our citizens’ initiative, we repeatedly ran into voters who’d say:
“I know what you’re against, but what are you for?”
“My husband works in the oil patch and we need the money.”
“Where are the jobs in renewable energy? Give me examples.”
So in the spring, we took the next step and deepened our partnership. Trust had been built. We agreed to work on three fact sheets on renewable energy, green jobs and the risk of oil spills, which both organizations agreed to distribute as a lead-up to the election.
Dogwood organizers in the capital region set up a volunteer public education team and got to work with help from BCSEA. It wasn’t easy, as countless drafts bit the dust and we had to sort out Dogwood’s endorsement. The organization had not taken a policy stance on the issue of renewable energy and green jobs, and yet we were charging ahead. We had to pull back.
We divided up the work, with the BCSEA producing fact sheets on renewable energy and green jobs, and Dogwood writing the oil tankers fact sheet. Dogwood volunteers distributed all three fact sheets and found them incredibly helpful when canvassing at the door and community events.
As the election drew near, we took on an even bigger challenge. We decided to co-sponsor five candidate debates in four different ridings. Dogwood had organized a successful municipal candidates meeting in Esquimalt the year before, but the federal election turned out to be another order of magnitude.
We set up a joint steering committee and hammered out our purpose, themes, candidate questions, debate format, promotion and personal accountability. We delegated the logistics to semi-autonomous riding teams, each led by a member of the steering committee. Talk about the “snowflake model”!
Other partners soon joined including churches, local businesses, yoga centres, VanCity, CFAX and Generation Squeeze. The churches were especially generous in donating their space and we were happy to incorporate a philosophical/moral question into the debates.
The crowd at the Sidney federal election candidates debate - a fully packed house!
“Best ever” debates
Most candidates described the five debates as “the best ever”. MP Murray Rankin praised our “solid organization, clear questions, good moderators, and creative time-keeping.”
Liberal candidate David Merner told us, “I really appreciated you hosting the candidates debates, which allowed me to reach a lot more people… it was also great that you didn’t pick winners/losers.”
More than 1,700 people turned up for the debates after 115 volunteers distributed 12,000 flyers. BCSEA handled the media via Transition Sooke’s star communicator, Jeff Bateman. He generated 22 articles in local media and Dogwood promoted the debates heavily on its social media sites.
Our teddy bear, standing in for absent Conservative candidates, became iconic across B.C.
A clear purpose
It took time to hammer out our purpose within the steering committee. Both organizations wanted to increase voter turnout and help citizens make good decisions based on solid information. We trusted voters to make up their own minds. We also wanted to influence policy development inside the major parties by encouraging candidates to take strong stances on climate change and energy.
And finally, we wanted to remain bias-free – political but nonpartisan.
After much discussion, we reached consensus on six debate themes: Canada’s international climate obligations, Enbridge/Kinder Morgan, the National Energy Board, renewable energy, green jobs and the needs of future generations. Consensus-making takes time, but in our case, it was well worth it.
Shared, committed leadership
The steering committee met often and I represented Dogwood as its regional organizer. Marion Pape, chair of BCSEA’s Victoria chapter, led the whole show and did a fantastic job. She has a flair for strategizing, communication, and detailed follow-up. Tom Hackney, BCSEA’s policy director, took the lead on developing draft candidate questions and was remarkably patient as we chewed yet again on draft number 10.
I took the lead in making sure Dogwood volunteers in each riding helped with promotion and logistics. Our capital region team soon got excited about the project. And both organizations backed up each other in the field. BCSEA folks even joined Dogwood’s Get Out the Vote phone campaign.
Victoria candidates Cheryl Thomas, Murray Rankin and Jo-Ann Roberts.
Division of labour based on strengths
BCSEA is strong in policy development, especially around climate change and energy – they’re also good educators. Dogwood is strong on the ground. We have 134 volunteers and more than 50,000 supporters in the capital region. We could mobilize people and get the word out. The two organizations blended their strengths and it was a great smoothie!
Many trees gave up their lives during our partnership, but we tried to use electronic means whenever possible. Everything was documented. Nothing was left to interpretation. This was key. We met regularly and Marion followed up every decision – a true organizational terrier.
Poor communication and follow-up is often the downfall of a well-meaning partnership.
Conflict resolution skills
Internal conflict was minimal, because we talked everything through. And we weren’t afraid to challenge one another, especially if an action or article could be viewed as partisan. And none of us took offense when our latest “draft” was ripped apart! We were committed to a common goal and had the maturity to stay focused on the big picture.
External conflict surfaced when the Communist Party challenged our decision to restrict the debate to candidates who stood to win seats in the federal election and whose party had more than 1 per cent of the popular vote. We wanted to influence party policy and avoid a superficial debate with a big cast of candidates. Tense moments ensued but we stood our ground.
Strong personal ties
Dogwood is known for its emphasis on story-telling and building personal relationships. As the BCSEA and Dogwood worked together, we became friends at both the steering committee and local team level.
We made time for the occasional beer and got to know each other personally as we shared our stories. This made our work fun. We look forward to further collaboration, especially in this sunny, post-Harper era.
Dogwood’s mission is to help local citizens reclaim decision-making over their land, air and water. As we deepen our roots in local communities, we hope similar partnerships will emerge.
No organization is an island!