Bob and Gordon
If the Liberal Party of Canada ends up doing better than expected in Campaign 2011 – and, so far, the Grits are doing much better than anyone thought they would – they should give Bob Richardson and Gordon Ashworth a great big thank you.
In fact, if the Liberals somehow win back power, Richardson and Ashworth should be appointed to the Senate (one of them, I’m pretty sure, would accept).
They’re not household names, but they’d probably prefer it that way. The Toronto-based businessmen are partners in a modestly-sized consulting firm called the Devon Group.
Richardson has been a pollster, chief operating officer of Toronto’s Olympic bid, and a chief of staff to one-time Ontario Liberal leader Lyn McLeod. At the moment, Richardson is the head of the Liberal Party’s Red Leaf advertising consortium. All of those hard-hitting – and, the polls tell us, highly effective – Grit TV spots are mainly Richardson’s work.
Ashworth, meanwhile, has been a top adviser to former Ontario premier David Peterson, a co-manager of Jean Chretien’s three majority election wins – and a senior guy in all of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s victories, too.
Currently, Ashworth is the Liberal Party’s campaign manager. If the Liberal campaign is running more smoothly than it did in 2004, 2006 and 2008 – and, I can assure you, it is – Ashworth is the reason why.
Both men, full disclosure, are good friends of mine. But Bob and Gordon are friends with lots of people, of all stripes – Richardson is very close to Conservative Party pitbull John Baird, for instance, while Ashworth is known and admired by Conservative legends like John Laschinger.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and his caucus, of course, have been doing very well on the campaign trail. But among unelected Grits, it is Richardson and Ashworth who have made the most difference.
From the time of their arrival in Ottawa, Richardson and Ashworth have firmly taken control, and gently moved aside many of the ineffectual, self-absorbed senior staffers Ignatieff had around him (that is, the ones who took the party even lower than Stephane Dion did). The pair have given the Liberal Party’s efforts a maturity and strategic sense that, until just a few weeks ago, it simply didn’t have.
An example: The party’s platform launch, with a family focus. Ashworth made sure to lower expectations about what the platform would contain, and limited the document’s circulation to prevent leaks. He emphasized Ignatieff would be unscripted, unlike Harper (even though every aspect of the platform’s debut was meticulously planned).
Richardson, meanwhile, arranged for Monday morning’s Metro giveaway paper to be wrapped with sunny, pithy facts about the latest Liberal Red Book. From coast to coast, 600,000 Canadians learned about the Grit platform directly from the Grits, without any pesky media filters.
The Conservative campaign, meanwhile, is led by a first-time manager, Jenni Byrne. While widely hailed as smart and aggressive, Byrne’s style – and that of the Tory war room – could not be more different than Richardson and Ashworth’s. It’s akin to watching a posse of intoxicated frat boys attempting to beat a pair of wily veterans. It can’t be done.
Campaigns aren’t decided by backroomers, of course. But if the Liberal campaign looks and sounds like it’s doing better, this time around, you now know why.
- Kinsella is a lawyer, blogs at warrenkinsella.com and will appear regularly on Sun News Network