Monday, February 17, 2014

The Liberal convention and the Conservative little "silly-buggar" games!

Good Day Readers:

Thanks in no small part to a mole(s) buried deep within the Conservative Party of Canada, voters now know a great deal more about the Tories pre-election 2015 dirty tricks strategy. It should be interesting to watch the spies and counter spies skulking around the hidden recesses of Montreal's Palais des Congres during the upcoming Liberal biennial convention (begins Thursday, February 20th) trying to catch each side in "compromising positions."

"There I caught you bloody little Grit!"
Clare L. Pieuk
Conservative memos: 5 Things
Susan Delacourt
Parliament Hill
Tuesday, February 2014

Susan Delacourt, the Star's Senior Political Writer in Ottawa, has covered federal politics for more than two decades.

Conservative strategy memos obtained by the Star: What to make of this flood of information?

By now, readers of the Star’s political news will know that we seem to have come across a remarkable amount of information about the Conservative party’s political strategy, in the short-term and long-term. So what do we make of them? What have we learned?

To recap: early on Monday morning, we told you about what they were planning for the Liberal convention in Montreal February 20-23. Then, throughout the day, we gave you another four stories.

Colleague Tonda MacCharles has written two comprehensive pieces about how the party is planning for the 2015 election (and yes, it does seem to be 2015, according to the timeline), as well as the machinery being oiled - which includes parliamentary resources. Bureau chief Bruce Campion-Smith, meanwhile, wrote about how the Conservatives are looking into retaining the legal services of former PMO chief of staff Guy Giorno , whose law firm also represents another former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, in the ongoing PMO-Senate scandal. As well, I wrote about how the Liberals reacted to the memo on disrupting and dividing.

Overall, reaction to this flurry of information has been interesting. To address some of the questions and theories raised, here are five things people might want to consider or think about:

1. No, this was not a planned “leak.” It is fascinating to see how many observers of Canadian politics, notably some of the most ardent critics of the Conservatives, are always eager to see every move as master-class chess strategy. This is no doubt a compliment to the way Conservatives have managed things so far and how cleverly they have played the political game. (It is not a compliment to us, especially when it comes from our colleagues in the press gallery, but that’s another story.) Without getting into details of the legal back-and-forth on Monday between the Star and the Conservatives, we can reliably assure you that these were not documents the party “planted” or “leaked” to us because it served some mysterious political strategy.

Nor do we have any evidence that there was -- or wasn't -- a “mole” in Conservative ranks.

2. Jaded types were insisting that political parties always play silly-bugger games at their rivals’ conventions. Yes, that is true, though I can tell you, in 26 years of political reporting here, I had never seen high-ranking PMO officials at a rival convention until 2006 - let alone some of those officials handing out mock buttons, as then press-secretary Dimitri Soudas did at the 2006 Liberal leadership in Montreal. Usually those tasks are relegated to lower-level volunteers. I can’t say I understand the strategic purpose of Conservatives showing just how much they care about the perceived threat from the Liberals, but these documents show that the obsession continues.

3. On that same score, yes, it’s true there isn’t much mention of the New Democrats in all these strategy documents. That’s not to say the Conservatives don’t care about the threat from the official Opposition - perhaps they have some plans in documents that weren’t made available to the Star. And maybe there is an ad campaign in the works, similar to what they have already aired to undermine Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. For now, however, we have no evidence that the NDP preoccupies the Conservatives as much as the Liberals do. Read into that what you will.

4. Tonda’s latest story, on what machinery the Conservatives are using to gear up for an election, should be a matter of concern to people who would like some clearer lines between politics and governance. Those lines exist in modern democracies to remind governments that they are there to serve all Canadians, not just the people who vote for them. Just one of the concerning points: the documents appear to confirm that the Conservatives’ database is being fed with the help of parliamentary resources. In plain language, that means that if you contact your MP to raise an issue as a citizen, the information you give could be fed into the political database. There ought to be a law about that.

5. Hey, wait a minute. There is a law - or a proposed law. As coincidence would have it, these documents fell into our hands just days after the Conservative government unveiled its 242-page Fair Elections Act. So we now have a considerable body of work, so to speak, on how the Conservatives view elections. And we have one stark contrast: behind the scenes, their planning documents show that the party is very much preoccupied with databases, digital technology and advertising, especially in non-election times. Yet the Fair Elections Act is virtually silent on any of those weapons in the political arsenal. No mention of advertising; no mention of databases, no attempt to keep the playing field level and fair between elections. It would be like the United States, in the 1960s, proposing rules for conventional warfare, while resisting any similar rules for the nuclear capabilities it was amassing. In short, the Conservatives’ documents show that the Fair Elections Act will have very little impact on politics as it’s currently practiced in the trenches.


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