05.30.2017 07:41 AM

The Liberal war room moves to the CPC leadership convention

Fun story in the new Maclean’s, here. I blabbed about how we made sausages. So shoot me.

Kevin Bosch, research director for the Liberal Party, wore a blue dress shirt on Saturday and a Conservative-branded nametag like everyone else. His partner, Braeden Caley, the Liberal Party’s communications director, slinked at the back of the room. On Friday, the pair brought backup of three aides. On Saturday, the squad included two members of Parliament.

Inter-party “observers” operate with three primary missions: to gather intelligence, disseminate propaganda to divide the host party, and, for the recognizable faces like Liberal MPs Adam Vaughan and Francis Drouin, appear in media interviews to give the enemy bad press. On Friday, Bosch and Caley targeted the media filing room and scattered about 40 black folders, jokingly titled “Top Secret,” tempting journalists to read a booklet reminding them of the hypocrisies of Maxime Bernier. They planted erasers around the room, with notes reading, “Andrew Scheer can’t erase the past,” and toy scissors representing Scheer’s cuts to government spending.

“Knowing how thorough Kevin is, my suspicion is he’s probably got information on all the top candidates,” says Warren Kinsella, a former special assistant to Jean Chrétien. “Their hotel and flights are costing the party a lot for them to be there. They’re not just there to do nothing.” Bosch asked not to be quoted. Kinsella says, “They’re gonna be nervous to say [what they’re doing]. Nobody likes to talk about how they make sausages.”

Retired from the disruption gig, Kinsella is more transparent. When he worked for Chrétien in 1993, he set up a “war room” at the leadership convention in which Kim Campbell was a candidate. “We were feeding [Chrétien] rumours and stuff like that we were hearing,” he says. “You’ve got all these people together who nominally belong to the same party. A lot of them hate each other’s guts. We would make use of that.”

Whether they are called “warriors,” “task forces,” or “observers,” troublemakers at the federal level are tolerated for the sake of democracy. Parties almost always give opposition MPs free admission as a courtesy to the media who seek a balance of input. But this weekend, Vaughan and Drouin were outraged to learn they were told to pay for passes, i.e. donate to their enemies. NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice was welcomed for free. Vaughan and Drouin ended up walking in a back door without paying.

This sort of mischief permeates politics at all levels. At an Ontario PC convention in 2007, Kinsella booked a room in the middle of the venue, using the fake name of a law firm. “In the middle of the night,” he says, “we conducted a press conference right there. They were furious. They were livid. They wanted to kick us out but they couldn’t.” At another leadership event, for Ontario PC leader John Tory, who was criticized for being a “rich kid,” the Liberals handed out silver spoons.

Behaviour got extreme in 2011. During the Ontario election, Kinsella’s team got a tip that PC candidate George Lepp, while drunk, had Tweeted a photo of somebody’s genitals—possibly his own—before removing the tweet instantly. Kinsella’s team caught the photo and hung onto it until the candidate’s speech, then sent it to media outlets. “Right when he was going on about family values, we blasted it out,” says Kinsella. (Lepp and the Tories denied the photo was of him and claimed someone had gained access to his Twitter feed.)



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    JH says:

    Back in the day while growing up, folks like myself used to be called Micks by a certain segment of the population. It was a degrogatory term for Irish Roman Catholics. When I watched Adam Vaughan and other LPC spokespeople this past week-end and read their comments about Andrew Scheer, I couldn’t help but remember those days when we were attacked for our personal religious beliefs and the tenets of our faith. I noted too that many in the media had picked up on the fact that the Trudeau gang, was taking that tack, even though the PM himself, at least nominally is an RC. So I’m not alone. And all this despite the fact that the new leader has said his personal beliefs will have nothing to do with policy, as has been proven by the CPC in the past. I wonder WK if you as a war room guru would have recommended this attack direction?

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      Warren says:

      It’s not about his faith. It’s about his willingness to impose his faith on others.

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    CuJoYYC says:

    “And all this despite the fact that the new leader has said his personal beliefs will have nothing to do with policy, as has been proven by the CPC in the past.”

    Good ole Stockwell Day, he of the $792,064.40 legal debt still owed to Albertans, said the same thing. How did that work out?


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      Howard says:

      Well Stockwell Day never imposed his views on anyone. So not sure what you are implying?

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    Miles Lunn says:

    It can be quite effective, but can also backfire too since while every party leader once to get as much mud on their opponent as possible, the attack ads have to be credible not smack of desperation. Trudeau is still reasonably popular and has a healthy lead in the polls so not too much to fear at this point. Off course if things tighten than the negatives will become key to hit back. For example when the Tories merged in late 2003, Martin had a 30 point lead in the polls so didn’t really care much about them as they posed no threat and most voters believe its important to have a healthy opposition, but when the sponsorship scandal erupted and their lead evaporated to single digits that is when they started throwing all the dirt they could and it worked in 2004 although not in 2006 as Harper in the case was better prepared for what was coming at it. A lot will depend on who defines Scheer first, does he define himself or let the Liberals define him since if the latter happens he is toast. Likewise does he closely resemble the caricature the Liberals paint as Dion and Ignatieff did of the Tory caricature or does on the campaign trail he seem very different such as Trudeau and Harper in 2006 where attack ads initially worked but on the trail neither was like they were portrayed so it backfired. It will be interesting times ahead. Probably the best thing the Liberals have going for them is Scheer is fairly young and not overly experienced so more likely to make a rookie error than a veteran more experienced would and Trudeau is only running for a second term and Canadians generally unless you screw up badly give people a second term. In the last century, only twice has a PM failed to get a second term (RB Bennett in the 30s and Joe Clark in 1979, both Tories interestingly enough).

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    Innocent III says:

    Speaking of electoral high-jinks, I wonder if you’ve had a chance to read ‘Shattered’, J Allen and A Parnes’ book about the Clinton campaign? Thoroughly devastating critique, it seems to me. Did your experience last year mirror this in any way?

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