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Compelling Vision, Exceptional Partnerships and Skookum Volunteers

Marion Pape, Chair of the BCSEA Victoria Chapter
Monday, November 30, 2015
2015 Victoria Candidates Debates on Energy, Climate and Our Future

BCSEA Victoria Chapter held a summer retreat in 2014 to determine a project for all of 2015 that would unify, inspire and motivate people to action. We unanimously agreed to work on the proposal submitted to explore all major areas related to federal policy on Climate Change up to and including the 2015 Federal Election Campaign.

We called it “Energy & the Next Federal Election” Speaker Series and included topics such as Behavioural Change; empowering people to act and influence others; Energy and Buildings; Transportation Policies; National Energy Policy and Climate; A National Carbon Tax for Canada; and Building a Viable Economy Based on Sustainable Energy.

It was a massive undertaking to identify speakers and prepare the events. We took a leap of faith that this was needed and developed a great series that doubled and at times more than tripled our normal audience numbers. We also developed a multi-faceted Communications Plan and expanded our partnerships with Dogwood, Sierra Club, PICS and U of Vic. The success was energizing and our volunteers grew.

Our final event in September 2015 was a Victoria Candidates debate and we courageously took another leap of faith to sponsor five candidates’ debates in all four ridings in southern Vancouver Island. The series was titled “Energy, Climate and Our Future”. Engaged crowds, lively discussion and strong organization characterized the candidate’s debates in Sooke, Victoria, Esquimalt, Langford and Sidney. An impulsive idea to place a teddy bear in the absent candidate’s seat contributed much laughter and broke the tension about a party that did not allow its candidates to speak about climate change during the federal election campaign. Teddy went viral on social media.

Victoria Candidates Debate First Metropolitan United Church

Funding from Vancity allowed us to engage a professional media person with specialization in social media. He generated regional and local media, and worked with each of the five local organizing teams to create excitement around each debate. We produced and distributed 12,000 flyers and over 1,000 posters. We published three media releases. BCSEA developed fact sheets on Renewable Energy and Green Jobs, which were distributed by Dogwood teams throughout the summer, along with the debate flyers. CFAX 1070 Radio was a major media sponsor, providing free on-air promotion. We achieved twenty-two articles or announcements on the debates in the local print media. A Times-Colonist article featured the stand-in teddy bear to illustrate the non-participation of Conservative Party candidates. We believe we increased the public perception that energy and climate issues were important to the election. Because of the great media work, the debates were well attended, including two standing room only/overflow crowds.

BCSEA/Dogwood Initiative Partnership and Teams

Our partnerships deepened especially with Dogwood Initiative who saw the synergy of our programming and the growing audience interest. The BCSEA/Dogwood Partnership expanded into five self-organizing teams that maximized local input, enthusiasm and mobilization on the issues of energy and climate change.

BCSEA and Dogwood will continue working together to promote our common issues. Evaluative comments from Dogwood volunteers included: "Dogwood, BCSEA, faith-based groups collaboration worked really well.” “ BCSEA good partners in our ground effort.” “ Candidates’ debates were most important. Perhaps the best visibility of all for Dogwood. Audience feedback and attendance were excellent."

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Candidate Debates in Langford at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church

We also developed meaningful relationships with faith-based communities as we sought venues in each of the 4 federal ridings. We were continually impressed to be strongly supported by Ministers, Priests, Rectors and often their congregations. We felt we were successful in reaching beyond the choir out to the congregations of people who wanted to hear our message. In the end, we attracted a total estimated attendance of 1,700 members of the voting public and 115 volunteers.

Building Credibility

The debate questions helped us build credibility with organizing teams, candidates and audience members and were regularly rated as excellent. The quality of organization was much praised. Some candidates indicated that researching the issues became a top priority of their campaign. Certainly we observed that the quality of the discourse at the debates including candidate preparation was higher than we usually observed. “You guys had by far the best debate in terms of organizing and questions ...” said NDP candidate and now Victoria’s MP, Murray Rankin.

Successful Non-Partisan Political Action:

BCSEA/Dogwood volunteers were non-partisan throughout. We felt this was an important factor in building political action. Post election evaluation has shown an exceptionally strong voter turnout in the region. We realized that many “undecided” voters attended the debates. At least a portion of that increased voter turnout can be attributed to the joint BCSEA/Dogwood efforts.

Overall Evaluation:

Such a huge project as the speakers’ series and candidates’ debates needs fully dedicated leaders and teams over the long haul. Our BCSEA Victoria Chapter Steering Committee augmented by the ubiquitous Dogwood volunteers displayed talent, energy and enthusiasm throughout. We all knew that this was an election of a lifetime and that, we the public, needed to influence the energy and climate change policies of our country in the lead up to COP21. A grant from Vancity boosted our confidence at a critical juncture. All of our partner churches helped enormously with the venues, advertising and engaging the community. Our Dogwood partnership brought fun, a distinctly positive attitude and amazing skill sets that wowed everyone.

Continuous revision of our plans was a trademark of the two series. We left egos at the door and went with what we thought would work. Relationships and trust in one another grew as we diligently worked together in every capacity. We talked through potential problems, sometimes even before they happened. We developed our creative skills to make each candidates’ debate fun and interesting. We are convinced that we changed the course of the election in some ridings on Vancouver Island. And finally, we are slowly setting a high standard for a model of partnership that creates synergy for everyone involved.