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ANALYSIS


                                     The Magic, Disappearing PC Campaign Managers:

                                      Now You See Them, Now You Don't

 


By Susanna Kelley

A recent attempt to put the blame for the Ontario Progressive Conservative election loss on the shoulders of party leadership candidates Christine Elliott, Monte McNaughton, Vic Fideli and soon-to-be candidate Lisa MacLeod, rather than with Tim Hudak and his campaign team where it belongs, seriously stretches credibility.

According to the Canadian Press, sources that worked on the Hudak campaign say the MPPs weren't broadsided, as they claimed, with the disastrous pledge to fire 100,000 public servants. 

Rather, all four signed documents a year before the campaign - documents obtained by both CP and OntarioNewsWatch - in which the idea was floated.

It is important to remember the documents are marked "draft," as you see below, and were not identified as the platform. More about that later.

                                                                            






















Some of those who worked on the campaign are angry they're getting blamed for both the idea and the loss. 

They are upset at attempts to run them out of the party by Tories who are angry at the fourth election loss in a row.

Interestingly, three of those losing campaigns - 2003, 2011 and 2014 - were run by members of the old Mike Harris gang, the so-called "Whiz Kids."  

The Whiz Kids won in 1995 and 1999 with their trademark campaign - one that introduced vicious attack-ads, divide and conquer tactics, and deliberately targeted specific groups - welfare recipients and teachers - to beat up on. Simply put, the divide and conquer tactic worked. 

Chief among the Whizzes are Tom Long and Leslie Noble, architects of three campaigns since 1995 (Ms. Noble ran a fourth as well, in 2003.)

                                                                                                 

                   









When their campaigns were successful, the pair were quick to publicly take credit for the wins.

But when there are losses, they are nowhere to be seen. 

And so, it seems this time, with the party suffering its worst defeat in more than 20 years, blame is landing everywhere but at their feet.

This is not the first time.

Election night, June 5 1995.  I was in North Bay to cover PC leader Mike Harris as the polls closed and the votes were quickly tabulated.

The Tory campaign had been a new kind of knockdown, drag-em-out, divisive and nasty fight not seen in Ontario before.

Mr. Long and Ms. Noble had introduced tactics used by the US Republican party in the campaign.  It featured a slew of integrated platform planks that had been carefully crafted and released (accidently) a year before the election. It was called the Common Sense Revolution.

As in all successful campaigns, however, just two or three of those planks were emphasized, cherry-picked from a booklet full of promises: a 30% across the board tax cut, a 22% cut in welfare payments and ending affirmative action. 

This is the usual way things are done in politics: the campaign team cherry-picks a couple of issues they think can win power for them, and they go hard on those messages.

On that election night at Mike Harris' North Bay victory celebration, the mood turned from tense excitement to unbridled joy as the results poured in.

It was a landslide. Mr. Harris had won a majority government.

As is always the case on election night, the TV networks, including the one I was working for at the time, all had their spots lined up one beside another, the length of the hall.

As the vast size of the Tory win became clear, into the hall came two individuals every network had been clamouring to interview: co-campaign managers Tom Long and Leslie Noble.

Up and down the media line they went, happy to give interview after interview on national television about the massive Tory win and their parts in it.

Oh, they were humble on-camera: "This is Mike Harris' victory," they said, careful to give credit to the party leader. 

However, just by going in front of the cameras that night, everyone knew they were getting the credit too. 

Two political stars were born.

Both were quite available to come on television shows as panelists for the next several years.

Election Night, June 3, 1999.  Again, I was in North Bay to cover the Tories for election night; again, all the networks were on hand, set up side by side in a line the length of the hall.

Again, when the votes were tallied, Mr. Harris had been re-elected with a majority, this time with 45% of voters casting their ballots for his party. Back-to-back majorities: quite an accomplishment.

Again, into the hall came the co-campaign managers Tom Long and Leslie Noble.

Their political stardom ensured every network was once again jockeying to get them on air, and they were very happy to oblige.

So again, up and down the media line they went, giving interview after interview to every network about how they'd run the campaign. 

Election Night, October 2, 2003. By this time Mr. Harris had resigned and Ernie Eves was Premier. Leslie Noble and Jaime Watt were the co-campaign chairs.  Jeff Bangs was the campaign manager.

When the Tory loss became apparent, of the three, only Mr. Bangs would come out to face the cameras to try to explain the defeat. Another Tory operative, Andrew Hodgson, was sent out with him as well to do the dirty work. The only Whiz Kid that made himself available was Paul Rhodes.

Ms. Noble and Mr. Watt had refused to come out to be interviewed about the losing campaign.

Election Night, October 6, 2011: Leslie Noble, Tom Long and the Whiz Kids are involved in the campaign at the highest levels, but secretly. The idea to push what became an infamous charge that "foreign workers" were taking Canadians' jobs  (this Tory campaign's version of sacrificial victims for the Tories to beat up on) was pushed hard by Whiz Kids and their operatives working full time on the campaign.

But despite pulling the strings behind the scenes, when Mr. Hudak loses, the Whiz Kids are again nowhere to be found. Instead, the blood on the floor belongs to campaign manager Mark Spiro, who deliberately and voluntarily takes it on to shield Mr. Hudak.

Obviously Mr. Spiro was not to blame - Mr. Hudak lost 17 seats in the next election when Mr. Spiro was not involved.   

Beginning to see a pattern here?

Election Night, June 12, 2014. Ms. Noble and Mr. Long are again co-chairing the PC campaign, Tim Hudak's second as leader.

This campaign too is a disaster. The pledge to fire 100,000 public servants sends voters running to the Liberals, delivering the PCs their fourth straight election defeat in a row.

Guess who takes the fall in the press over the next several days?

Not campaign co-chairs Tom Long and Leslie Noble, who called the shots all the way through the campaign.

Instead campaign manager Ian Robertson wears the defeat in public.  It is he that does the scathing media interviews.

But in the Tory backrooms, no one is fooled.

And there are many in the party who want the Whiz Kids out for good.

As the criticism of them grows louder, including by the leadership candidates, suddenly the signed documents outlining the 100,000 firings are leaked and blame now spreads to the leadership candidates.  

Except as noted above, these documents are clearly marked drafts, were shown to the MPPs a year before the election, weren't the official and final platform, and contain many different ideas that the party may or may not run on.  

Let's be very clear here.

It is always - always - the campaign team that picks the two or three big campaign issues to run on.

There is absolutely no evidence it was any different this time.   

Yet when it comes to taking responsibility for picking the 100,000 public servant firings, like a game of Where's Wally, Ms. Noble and Mr. Long can't be found.

At the regional post-mortem meetings after the campaign last summer, no one seems to have seen neither hide nor hair of either one, according to a number of Tory insiders who attended.

Mr. Long and Ms. Noble have both benefitted tremendously from the "star" reputation they gained through the PC party.

Their careers soared, and their pocketbooks have been fattened with a lot of both public and private sector money gained through their association with PC Premier Mike Harris and the other party leaders.

But when the political going gets tough, it appears Mr. Long and Ms. Noble get going ... running as fast as they can, as far as they can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : October 01, 2014

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns
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