Thursday, February 15, 2007

harper is all ready to go; with money to burn ... ...

but can he really muzzle 'all' of his candidates? is there another candidate for the Okanagan -Shuswap?

Tories prepped for March campaign
Party has airline, bus contracts in place, plan to play Harper's image as strong leader

BRIAN LAGHI Feb 15 Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — The Conservative Party's chief election strategist has laid out a detailed campaign blueprint for Tory insiders warning that the government expects to be fighting an election battle by March.

The plan would see the Tories exploit polling numbers that they say show Stephen Harper possesses substantially better leadership qualities than Liberal counterpart St├ęphane Dion.

As articulated on Tuesday by Doug Finley to about 75 Conservative candidates, organizers and nomination hopefuls, the Tories are ready to run a highly centralized, quick-response campaign that includes a 1,600-square-metre war room.

They have also arranged for bus and air transportation and want nominations wrapped up by March 25 or 26, sources quote Mr. Finley as saying.

Mr. Finley, the national campaign chairman, made his remarks at a closed-door luncheon at Toronto's Albany Club.

Sources said he told listeners that the government has no intention of triggering an election, but that he expects to be planning for a vote soon after the budget, anticipated on March 20.

Election speculation has increased over the past week, given improving polling numbers for the Tories and a series of environmental announcements.

One Tory insider said Mr. Harper and Mr. Finley might be purposely talking up a possible vote to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy and wouldn't necessarily be upset that news of the speech leaked out. Although Mr. Harper might want to capitalize on an election, it would be very difficult for him to call one himself because he has already put forward a bill that would set the next election for 2009.

The insider noted that polls are still inconsistent and that the date of the election is essentially controlled by the opposition.

In his remarks, Mr. Finley said the cornerstone issue of the campaign would be the leadership qualities of Mr. Harper. Despite the dead heat in the polls, the surveys show that Mr. Harper is substantially ahead of Mr. Dion when it comes to perceptions of competence and trustworthiness.

“Leadership is an issue that they're going to be well aware of,” a source who was at the meeting said. Mr. Harper is seen as the party's biggest asset, Mr. Finley is quoted as saying.

The campaign would also be highly centralized in the sense that a newly expanded party headquarters would devote more time to ensuring that individual candidates don't make missteps, as happened in previous campaigns. At 1,600 square metres, the size of the new headquarters is equivalent to the largest Shoppers Drug Mart retail stores.

Sources said that within 60 minutes of a significant campaign event or remark, candidates would be told how they should respond. The new office is located outside Ottawa's downtown and is substantially larger than the previous election headquarters. The party also plans to identify which candidates might be provoked into making off-the-cuff or damaging remarks.

“They're going to enhance some of the elements within the [election war-room], like, for instance, the communications department, the seat-targeting process, etc.,” the attendee said.

The campaign would also make efforts to get its message out early and bypass the Ottawa press gallery, instead emphasizing a presence in local outlets. The party would also increase the use of e-mail. And the new headquarters has its own television studio, making it easier to do interviews with local news sources.

Mr. Finley also addressed the recent series of Tory ads criticizing Mr. Dion, saying that, although some critics believe they look like the work of amateurs, they are cost-effective and they work. The party would sooner spend money on repeat purchases than on glossy ads, he was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, yesterday, some Liberals were also speculating about an early election after their weekly caucus meeting, with some suggesting May 28 as a possible day.

With a report from Jane Taber