January 8, 2006


How Harper Fashioned his lead: Willingness to delegate, informal help from Australia give the Tory Leader an edge heading into final debates (BRIAN LAGHI, January 7, 2006, The Globe and Mail)

One of the key changes, said one Ottawa official, is Mr. Harper's willingness to farm out at least some of the workload that he took upon himself in 2004.

Sources say, for example, it was a staff member whose close study of the 2004 Australian election resulted in the importing of certain tactics from Prime Minister John Howard's campaign.

The Australian Prime Minister surprised many by not only winning a fourth mandate, but increasing the number of seats for his party. Patrick Muttart, one of Mr. Harper's chief strategists, studied the victory closely and saw things in it that might apply to the Tories.

The result was the informal participation of Mr. Howard's federal party director, Brian Loughnane, in the Conservative campaign. While not a main player, insiders say Mr. Loughnane speaks regularly to campaign officials about strategy.

The Tories have also leaned on the Australians for help on how to attract swing voters, a group that Mr. Loughnane and Mr. Howard have had some success in winning over in the past.

The Australian example led the Tories to aim tax cuts at targeted groups. A Conservative promise that would give tax breaks to apprentices purchasing tools was lifted directly from Mr. Howard's 2004 election campaign.

Sources also say that a few key changes at the top of the campaign structure have allowed Mr. Harper to cut back his involvement in certain tasks perhaps better left to others.

One of the chief complaints against him in 2004 revolved around his insistence on being his own campaign strategist, press secretary and senior adviser.

That has changed with a beefed-up staff on the road and the addition of a new chief of staff in Ian Brodie.

Mr. Brodie, a political scientist who studied at the University of Calgary, has become a key conduit between the campaign plane and the party war room in Ottawa.

In 2004, Mr. Harper communicated his ideas directly with the Ottawa staff, which colleagues said impaired his ability to concentrate on his most important job: that of campaign messenger.

Unlike his predecessor, Phil Murphy, Mr. Brodie is seen to have more latitude in shaping campaign strategy and somewhat more independence from Mr. Harper.

He is also even-tempered, a trait some say has tended to calm the enthusiasms of an Ottawa operation that, in 2004, delivered an ill-timed missive suggesting Liberal Leader Paul Martin supported child pornography.

"The worst thing is to have the leader as his own tour director, his own director of communications, his own director of research," one source said. "So, I think there's been a refinement of the process."

Mr. Harper has also taken to travelling with a larger retinue that sometimes includes former Progressive Conservatives such as Senator Hugh Segal and Senator Marjory LeBreton.

Insiders say Mr. Harper listens closely to Mr. Segal, a former PC moderate who sources say has played the role of happy warrior, advising the Leader on communications and on projecting a positive image.

Ms. LeBreton, who was an aide to then-prime minister Brian Mulroney, has been credited with being a friendly influence on the media. Her presence also alerts reporters to the fact that the two-year-old party is mostly over its internal growing pains. Ms. LeBreton was a Progressive Conservative and had been a strong foe of the Canadian Alliance-PC merger that created the Conservative Party.

It's not easy transforming yourself from Bob Dole into George W. Bush.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 8, 2006 9:18 AM
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