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Big Red Machine gets shiny new engine

The Liberal Party of Canada has acquired the database consolidation software that helped propel Barack Obama to the White House, but they don’t want to talk about it.

“I can’t talk about what it does, or what kind of data we’re keeping,” party spokesperson Daniel Lauzon told The Tyee. “I can’t get into it.”

It’s no secret that the Grits need reorganizing. The Tories raised $21 million to the Liberals’ $6 million in 2008. Even worse, an estimated 800,000 former Liberal Party supporters did not vote in the last election.

“They didn’t go to another party, thank God. But they stayed in their seats,” Michael Ignatieff told riding executives on Thursday. He called those 800,000 stay-at-homes “the most disturbing number we have to turn around.”

In order to get a handle on those voters, the party’s new chief, Rocco Rossi, led the purchase of a software package from a Massachusetts-based company called Voter Activation Network. The company’s website claims “nearly every Democratic campaign in America relies on VAN Software.”

The VAN interface enables frontline volunteers to update voter databases using hand-held computers in the field, according to US media reports. The system consolidates that information with existing lists of prospective voters, supporters, volunteers, donors, and members – not only of the Liberal party, but also of its political opponents.

Campaign managers in the US have mined and mapped the consolidated database, and used the results to tailor persuasion tactics on a voter-by-voter basis.

Lauzon refused to comment on how the Liberal Party of Canada will use the system.

“If you look at what Obama was able to do,” he said, “and you look at the way he was able to reach out to people, if you look at that way they were able to be engaged, well….”

The affable Liberal spokesman cut himself short, smiled, and said, "It’s not magic."

The not-magic software was developed by Paul Sullivan, a loyal Democrat based near Boston, Massachusetts. Sullivan began assembling the system while working for Senator Tom Harkin’s campaigns of the 1990s, improved it during former Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 presidential bid, and perfected the package as part of last year’s record-breaking Obama campaign.

Sullivan is reported to be attending the Liberal convention this weekend in Vancouver. But the party won’t talk about him, either.

All of which has transformed Sullivan into a kind of stealth celebrity, and rendered him the subject of a “Where’s Waldo” game among a few of the hundreds of reporters and opposition researchers stalking the halls of the massive Vancouver Convention Centre.

Registered delegates, on the other hand, are being quietly herded into 90-minute training sessions where the VAN software – which the Liberal Party of Canada has renamed “Liberalist” – is being introduced.

“Liberalist training is a big part of the convention agenda,” Lauzon said. “Now we have the infrastructure to do this… but without trained people, and without the will to get out there and gather information, the software would be useless.”

Those training sessions are strictly off-limits to reporters. So are today’s series of “readiness workshops” about campaign, communications, fundraising and membership strategies.

“That’s just not something we’re willing to share,” Lauzon said.

Monte Paulsen reports for The

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