Brian Gallant's engagement used by Liberals to woo email addresses

Brian Gallant and Karine Lavoie aren't the only ones getting engaged.

The New Brunswick Liberal party is using the news of the premier's impending marriage to "engage" with voters by gathering their email addresses.

But it's not to invite them to the wedding. It's to send them pro-Liberal messages.

The party is asking people to use a form on the Liberal website to "join us in congratulating" the premier on getting engaged to Lavoie.

The form doesn't work unless the well-wishers submit their email address, and Liberal party president Joel Reed acknowledged Thursday it's so the party can send them Liberal promotional material in the future.

"It's probably evident that if you submit your email address voluntarily to a political party, we're going to assume that you're interested in our activities and try to stay in touch with you," Reed said.

Reed said "all parties" place a lot of importance on gathering email addresses.

He noted that Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau have both used "these sorts of outreach tools quite effectively and extensively. Gathering information is now vital to everyone's campaign strategy."

Reed also said most visitors to the Liberal website "are most likely supporters, or at least interested in the party. A very significant proportion would be existing members, and this allows us a quick and convenient way to update their contact information."

The web page includes a photo of Gallant lifting Lavoie off the ground in an apple orchard, the same photo he tweeted on March 13 when he revealed the couple was engaged. There's no date yet for the wedding.

No rules broken

The request doesn't break any rules, and it doesn't use any government funding.

The page also has a link to the party's privacy policy, which clearly says an email address can be used "to communicate with you about the New Brunswick Liberal Party and its activities, as well as to provide you with news and information."

Reed said people who submit engagement congratulations can also unsubscribe from the Liberal emails once they start getting them.

He said the premier's office wasn't involved in the decision to solicit the congratulations and emails but said Gallant was probably asked for permission.

A few hours after the New Brunswick Liberal party tweeted a link to the congratulations page, Gallant used his own Twitter account to thank people who had sent their best wishes. He didn't link to the Liberal web page.

Others have done it

Author Susan Delacourt says Gallant is "following in the path of many other political leaders who do this."

In 2014, the president of the federal Liberal party went online to ask for congratulatory messages for Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie on the birth of their third child — messages that required the senders' email addresses.

And then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper invited visitors to the Conservative party website to wish his wife Laureen a happy mother's day in 2013, while submitting their email addresses and postal codes.

"It's all about the same thing. It's about collecting email addresses, which are way more valuable to political parties than membership fees," said Delacourt, the author of Shopping for Votes, a book about how political parties have adopted retail marketing technique.

'Foot in the door to their lives'

"Once you've got an email address, you've got a foot in the door to their lives," she said.

Delacourt said parties are especially interested in engaging with voters with only a passing interest in politics, because they're easier to sway with direct, targeted messages.

"Often email and Facebook and all those places are where politicians are finding people," she said.

Reed said he didn't have any numbers on how many people have used the web page.

Delacourt said people who wish Gallant and Lavoie a lifetime of happiness are likely to receive a lifetime of emails from the Liberals, including requests for donations, notices of what Gallant is doing as premier, and information on his election platform next year.

"Data is now the way people win elections, and email addresses are the way they collect that data," she said.

And despite Reed's assertion that recipients will be able to unsubscribe to the emails, Delacourt said "it takes a lot to get off" party email lists once you're on them.