For the record

Katie Telford on what the Liberal campaign was really all about

For the record: The chief of staff to Justin Trudeau on hard work, evidence-based risked, and people — lots and lots of people

Katie Telford, 2015 National Campaign Co-Chair speaks at the 2016 Liberal Biennial Convention Winnipeg Friday, May 27, 2016. (Photograph by John Woods)

Katie Telford, 2015 National Campaign Co-Chair speaks at the 2016 Liberal Biennial Convention Winnipeg Friday, May 27, 2016. (Photograph by John Woods)

Katie Telford, Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, spoke today at the Liberal convention in Winnipeg. She was introduced by Christina Topp, national director of the Liberal Party. What follows is a transcript of their remarks:

Christina Topp: And now I’m lucky enough to have the privilege to introduce Katie Telford, although Katie really needs no introduction. As our 2015 National Campaign Co-Chair, we all know how central Katie has been in our movement’s transformation. She is not only one of the principal architects behind all that we have built together, she’s also a guiding spirit and a champion, someone who saw possibilities and great potential from the very beginning of Campaign 2015, not only in the numbers that we all know she loves so much, but most definitely and most importantly in all the people, in all of you. She inspired and challenged all of us to knock on more doors, make more calls, raise more dollars and to step forward. She brought great discipline and focus to help all of us achieve together what many did not dare to dream or imagine and what many said was impossible.

Now Katie has always asked for numbers in every daily campaign meeting, so today I have a number for Katie as well as – as well as all of you, and that number is 350. That’s the number of volunteers working tirelessly this weekend here as part of our Winnipeg 2016 Convention – (applause) – making all of this possible and reminding us that volunteers truly are the backbone of our Liberal movement.

So with that and with that number, I would like to welcome and hope you’ll all join me in welcoming Katie Telford to the stage. (Applause.)

Katie Telford: Thank you, everyone. That was some video. I hadn’t seen it yet. Probably get a little exercise — I’m going to off script for a moment, just to warn people.

How many – if you could stand if you were a member of a green light committee or the National Election Readiness Committee, one of the campaign committees across this country. I’m looking for you. They’ve probably seen me so often, they don’t want to be here. Oh, I’m seeing some of them.

Now could you stand if you ran in the 2015 election as a candidate, elected or not? (Applause.)
Now keep standing. If you were a campaign manager—keep standing—if you were a campaign manager or a chief agent on—because I often said that was the most important person a candidate needed to have by their side, could you please stand up? (Applause.)

Now anybody who knocked on a door or made a phone call in the 2015 campaign, please stand up. (Applause.)

Okay, you’ve got to sit down and listen to me for a few minutes.

You are the heart of this movement. Your stories, your tweets—it is me managing my Twitter account—your Facebook posts. I’m keeping track of as many of them as I can and because they would fuel me and the incredible team of field workers across this country, the staff and the volunteers at headquarters every day with me, we followed your stories because they kept us inspired. And today, it is an absolute pleasure and honour to stand before you as your 2015 National Election Readiness Chair and Campaign Director. Thank you for having me here. (Applause.)

I thought about saying you made it easy for me, but that would not be true. You did make it the experience of a lifetime, and today, I would like to reflect on the experience with you for a few moments.

I want to talk to you about three campaign themes: hard work and taking evidence-based risks, that’s one; the people behind the numbers; and our not-so-secret obsession at National Campaign Headquarters—you’re going to have to wait till the end to hear what that was.

I couldn’t help – so starting with hard work and evidence-based risks, I couldn’t help but think back to the last biennial in Montreal as I looked forward to Winnipeg. Let me take you back with me for a quick moment.

Only just a couple of years ago, not a single one of those candidates we just saw standing were nominated. We didn’t have a single candidate across the country nominated at that time, but potential candidates were everywhere. 8 a.m. sessions on campaign strategy were packed, and there was a buzz in the air in Montreal.

There was also some scepticism and some chatter in the hallways with each other, sometimes with a few reporters—that’s okay—about whether open nominations were the right thing, whether they might impede women from succeeding, whether there might be stealth single issue takeovers. Do any of these arguments sound familiar in 2016?

But we moved forward together, and what a team we had in the 2015 election. (Applause.) As our brilliant Équipe Trudeau French ad said, “Ce sont des gens comme vous et moi avec des compétences exceptionnelles.” And weren’t our candidates exceptional and extraordinary? And because it was 2015 – (applause) – and because of your support and hard work, we have an Incredible Women’s Caucus, a Women’s Caucus that is bigger than our entire caucus pre-election. (Applause.) We have a rural caucus that is bigger than our entire caucus before the election. (Applause.) We had a small caucus to start. And tens of thousands of Canadians got involved in the nomination process and thus the political process. And I’m not just talking about the tens of thousands that got engaged in Surrey, British Columbia, but the tens and tens and tens of thousands that got involved right across this country.

Je me souviens des discussions de corridor—et soyons honnêtes, ça ne provenait pas seulement des médias—à l’effet que le nom Trudeau était toxique au Québec, et probablement encore plus toxique en Alberta, qu’on ne pourrait pas gagner aucun siège dans l’Ouest du pays ou en milieu rural, que d’espérer une majorité de sièges en Ontario, un pourcentage dans les deux chiffres en Colombie-Britannique ou un retour en force au Québec, c’était trop ambitieux, sans compter que de rafler tous les sièges dans les provinces atlantiques était complètement impensable.

Mais malgré les gens qui soulevaient des doutes ou qui questionnaient la stratégie, nous avons regardé droit devant et sommes restés concentrés sur le travail que nous avions à faire, et nous l’avons fait ensemble. Nous avons ouvert nos portes, gardé l’esprit ouvert et testé nos théories. Nous n’avions pas peur d’être trop ambitieux et de prendre des risques—des risques calculés, bien sûr.

And fast forward to today, my friends. Despite the cynics who thought a positive message would never beat attack ads about our leader’s nice hair, that young people would never actually turn out to vote, so we shouldn’t waste time there, we persevered, we worked hard, and I think it turned out pretty darn well. (Applause.)

I’m proud to think it is because, together, in greater numbers than I think any of us anticipated in Montreal—I actually looked back. It was a little embarrassing to look back at a video of yourself where I said we need tens of thousands of volunteers. Well, just wait till you hear how many we had later.

We built a team and a plan that Canadians supported, engaged with, voted for and trusted. So congratulations.

And let’s talk about the people behind the numbers now because apparently I have this thing now. My husband – my wonderful husband smiles at this every time he hears it—especially when he catches me counting on my fingers—that I’m the woman known for numbers now. But I hear there’s an expectation I now need to talk about numbers, so I thought I’d tell you my favourites.

You may have heard these before, but I can’t repeat them enough about the campaign. What is greater than the number 80,000? That was the number of volunteers that we had signed up and engaged in the campaign in 2015—over 80,000 volunteers. (Applause.) So we more than met our goal, but we were always pushing for more.

Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau greets the audience as he campaigns during the Canadian Federal Election at the Embassy Grand Convention Centre in Brampton. August 25, 2015. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star/Getty Images)

Justin Trudeau during the federal election campaign. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star/Getty Images)

And do you know that another 4,000 signed up—just as a bonus number here—another 4,000 signed up to volunteer between October 20th and December 31st, 2015—after the election? So it really does keep going, folks.

We couldn’t have achieved these next numbers if it wasn’t for that first one, and that’s why that first volunteer number is my favourite, but my second favourite: over 12 million. That incredible team of volunteers—all of you—reached out to Canadians over 12 million times. That’s phone calls and door knocks. And bonus number, over 25 percent of that work, those phone calls and door knocks was done before that 78-day campaign even began and that our achievement grew in terms of the numbers we could do by day throughout the course of the campaign. So imagine if the campaign had been even longer. (Laughter.) Kidding.

So over 80,000 volunteers reached out over 12 million times, and that led to, as some of you discussed, I believe, on a panel this morning, to over four million actual conversations with Canadians in every corner of this country. Now that is a field program, my friends. That is a movement. That is what allowed us to stay connected in every part of our organization to what mattered to Canadians. And that’s just what we tracked.

I know not all of you enter your data yet, and there are still some of you determined to do it your way—I’m on to you. There’s a smaller number of you now. I’m still – I’m still – I’m still going to be after you, and we’re going to convert you yet, but to the 99 percent of you who did enter your data, so that we could track these wonderful numbers, let’s be honest. Despite the narrative of my love for numbers and that the party’s become a party of numbers now, it can be a bit cold to talk about numbers, especially if you don’t know them as well as some of us got to.

Justin Trudeau with Gerald Butts and others on the road during 2015 Federal election campaign. (Adam Scotti/Liberal Party of Canada)

Trudeau with Telford and Gerald Butts in conversation with Jean Chrétien during 2015 campaign. (Adam Scotti/Liberal Party of Canada)

Some of us had the pleasure of spending our time debating every metric from eyeballs on Facebook versus YouTube videos, to ratios of door knocks to phone calls, from radio ad buys against TV ad buys and which baseball game more Canadians might be watching. We spent our days and many nights—we actually did have these debates. We spent our days and many nights talking about numbers and turning each one of them into a meaningful element of the campaign. But my co-conspirator that you saw in the video earlier, Gerry Butts, would swing by headquarters early on in the campaign on a down day for the plane, and he would remind us what the numbers were really about, what he was seeing out there on the road.

And he went around to the whiteboards throughout campaign headquarters, and he’s kind of tall, and then he got up on a chair, so he was even taller, so it put it up really high—no one could erase it—and he wrote three words: People, People, People. That was really what the campaign was about. That was what the numbers were about. It was about recruiting and activating volunteers, engaging Canadians on the issues that mattered the most to them and making voting the easiest, most important moment of every Canadian’s day, whether they were voting in advance polls or on election day—because we all know the easier it is, the more likely to vote and we want them to vote.
It was all about people and what would drive them to engage with us. Only people could change the numbers that we were looking at on the page or on the screen, as the case may be. The numbers, though, could tell us about the people. They could tell us – they could tell our field team in Vancouver that the best time to canvass was when it was cloudy or rainy. That was when you had to go blitz because if the sunshine was out in Vancouver, no one was home. We actually learned those kinds of things. They could tell us what Canadians were saying at the doors and how often. They could tell which teams had the most energy and which teams had the most volunteers. Those weren’t always the same thing. They could tell us at headquarters how ready a local campaign was for central support and amplification.

And that brings me to the final theme I wanted to talk to you about today and that was our not-so-secret obsession at headquarters in Ottawa. It wasn’t actually numbers. We weren’t obsessed with partisanship or the latest headlines either, but with the needs, the uniqueness and the successes of our local campaigns and how we could help them.

At our LPC offices—we actually literally moved in the weekend that the writ was dropped; it was well-timed, one would argue—the walls were covered with numbers right around the office, from the ground on up to the ceiling, riding by riding, and – because it wasn’t true unless it could be backed up by numbers. Each field meeting, we talked about our best riding success story that week and what riding was facing a challenge that we wanted to help them solve for. We did this for months, years before the campaign.

And what do I mean by a riding that was ready for support? Let me tell about two ridings that demonstrated everything that worked during the campaign. Let me bring you into the LPC boardroom for a moment. Speaker phone in the middle of the room, my favourite meeting. Somewhere in this room, though they’ve heard me so many times, I would understand if they weren’t here, but if they were here Dan and Sean and Hilary and Jeremy and others they’re smiling because they know I’m about to tell you about our RAP meetings. We also had meetings called AC/DC and Metallica, but that’s a story for another time.

The RAP meeting stood for Research, Analytics and Pathways. We would do the research, hear about the analytics and determine the pathways in this meeting multiple times a week for months and even more during the campaign. How healthy was a riding organization? What patterns could we see? What insights could be gleaned? Did we need to change course? Right up until the last week of the campaign, we kept testing ourselves and testing our theories.

And two weeks before election day, we learned—anyone in the room from Hastings–Lennox and Addington? So we learned you were doing – you were doing pretty well, and we were feeling a lot stronger than we thought, you know, we might have originally predicted for your riding. You of course knew better. We zoomed in on it at our RAP meeting—and I mean literally we could do that, we could zoom in on it on the screen—and wanted to check what their ground game looked like. How much money did they have and what might it take to give them an extra edge?

We looked at how their neighbours were doing, their neighbouring ridings and whether they could help. Well, Hastings, you had a beautiful ground game up and going. Your neighbours were strong, and we knew, looking at that, that we could do this.

When I get asked when did I know things were turning, it was moments like this, when we looked at our advertising in the area to see how we could beef it up a little. It was actually though when we decided to send the Leader to Hastings because, by the way, there was only one riding in the country the Leader visited that we didn’t win. And so we weren’t sending the Leader where there weren’t ground organizations, where we couldn’t pull people. We followed the people. We followed your hard work.

Justin Trudeau, right, chats to his chief advisor Gerald Butts after taking part in the the Liberal leadership debate in Mississauga, Ont., on Saturday, February 16, 2013. (Chris Young/CP)

Trudeau with Butts after taking part in the the Liberal leadership debate in Mississauga, Ont., on Saturday, February 16, 2013. (Chris Young, CP)

For Gerry, his moment was Fundy Royal. Anyone here from Fundy Royal? I heard some murmurings. You’re not as loud. There – well, yes. It was the one time in the campaign he questioned the RAP team—me too. He got word on the plane we were sending the plane to Fundy Royal and Gerry called the data team directly. The Liberal Party had only won that riding once since Confederation. I think he thought we had a soft spot for the candidate—which we did, as she was working and the team was working so hard—but the data team explained to him what we were seeing. We stuck with the plan and we now have newly-elected MPs Mike Bossio and Alaina Lockhart. (Applause.) And you did it.

There are so many other examples of this hard work, this discipline, this unity of purpose across the entire organization from Fundy Royal to Chicoutimi to Hastings to Kelowna to Edmonton and here of course in Winnipeg.

So to conclude, we worked hard. We worked together for a long, long time to build this movement. Montreal two years ago seems like a lifetime, I think probably to many of us. Sometimes, it wasn’t easy. Whether it was me—yes, I did this—throwing the Liberal Party Constitution—respectfully, of course—against the wall, or should I say the 18 Liberal Party Constitutions against the wall before falling asleep with it on the night table for months after the leadership campaign trying to sort through it all, whether it was seeing volunteers’ hearts breaking for their candidates that did everything right, but they aren’t sitting in Parliament—at least not yet. Whether it was fighting the fears of trying new things and taking risks or whether it was just the enormity of the work that the team had to put in, playing catch-up, sometimes surpassing and often creating the most modern campaign techniques in 2015. Whether it was busting old Liberal myths open or busting myths about Liberals with data, often, or whether it was learning to trust ourselves in the darker days—we heard Sean Casey referring a little bit to that—and staying relentlessly disciplined and positive, even when the anonymous trolls or anonymous supposed Liberals sniped from the sidelines. We moved forward together. We did it.

Mais n’oublions pas tout ce que nous avons dû surmonter pour en arriver là. Nous avons travaillé avec acharnement. Certains d’entre nous—en fait la plupart d’entre nous—sont encore fatigués. Alors nous devons continuer d’ouvrir nos portes à des gens pleins d’énergie. Nous devons continuer d’encourageons plus de Canadiens à joindre notre mouvement. Nous devons continuer d’apprendre les uns des autres et de nos voisins, qu’ils soient libéraux ou non. Nous sommes à notre meilleur lorsque nous gardons un esprit ouvert, prenons des risques et étant à l’écoute. On a tous intérêt à continuer d’apprendre ensemble. (Applaudissements.)

We are at our best – we are at our best when we are open, when we are taking risks—calculated risks—and when we are listening at the doors. So this is a long way of saying you should come to my campaign debrief me and a few panellists are having later this afternoon because we’d like to hear from you, because we need to keep learning together. It’s an even longer way of saying when you get home, three words for you: go knock doors. (Applause.)

Friends, thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your support. Your hard work, your positive energy, your passion, your relentless discipline is an inspiration to me. Let’s keep sharing. Let’s keep growing. There is no one I trust more than our volunteers, this movement of Canadians, to keep making great things happen.

Thank you very much. Merci beaucoup. (Applaudissements.)