In my decade and a half in volunteering and working on political campaigns, I’ve been blessed to get to have many amazing experiences. Those experiences have taught me a lot and given me the chance to live out some childhood dreams and honestly, get to see things that a Métis kid from the bush of Northwestern Ontario probably was never supposed to.
For those chances, I have many people to thank, but right near the top of that list are people who took the time out to teach and mentor me over the years. Those people took the time to pass along the lessons of how to run campaigns, how do work in politics and how to do it all in an ethical and moral way. I owe those people much today, and it is with that in mind that I always jump at the chance to pass those lessons along. I’ve had the chance to train many campaigners myself over time, spending free time on my weekends passing along that knowledge and experience, passing it forward.
One of these lessons that I learned early on, one that I’ve passed along at many a session, comes down to a matter of ethics and how one campaigns. Inevitably during a session some eager volunteer asks about using some of the darker arts in politics; the topic comes up in various ways, with various ideas about how they could pull one over on the competition and they’d do it so well, so perfectly, that no one would ever know it. My answer to them every single time, without fail was always this; if you’re thinking about doing something like that, don’t. Just stop and use the time you’d waste on your scheme towards campaign activities that will actually help you win; make calls, knock on doors, enter data, etc. I never miss a chance to point out that as good as you think you are, as slick as you think your plan may be, you’ll always get caught. I saw that because that almost always turns out to the be the case. The only thing that is without fail is that the plan will eventually fail because you’ll get caught. A prime example of this advice is playing out in Alberta right now, right at the worst possible time for those who decided to dabble in these dark arts; weeks before a provincial election:
Yep, the CBC story here lays the whole case out very well; allegedly Jason Kenney convinced someone else to be a stalking horse candidate in the Alberta Conservative leadership race, one that he was widely considered to win by a wide margin. But instead of doing things above board and just going out and winning the race on his merits, it’s alleged that Team Kenney did the opposite:
The leaked cache of documents show Kenney’s campaign provided Callaway with resources including strategic political direction, media and debate talking points, speeches, videos, and attack advertisements, all aimed at undermining Kenney’s main political rival, Brian Jean.
The documents also show Matt Wolf, a senior Kenney campaign staffer and his current deputy chief of staff, communicated regularly with Callaway’s communications manager Cameron Davies, and also on occasion with Callaway’s campaign manager, Randy Kerr.
A document prepared by Davies for the office of Alberta’s election commissioner, with whom he is co-operating, alleges the Kenney campaign made a concerted effort to recruit a “stalking horse” candidate for the specific purpose of attacking Jean, the former Wildrose leader.
The documents include several emails between Wolf, Davies, Kerr and sometimes Callaway. The emails reveal Wolf and the Kenney campaign were providing not just communications support, but also planned, regular strategic political direction throughout Callaway’s campaign.
In a telephone interview Saturday, Davies confirmed to CBC News the campaigns had even decided in advance when Callaway would quit the race.
“Callaway’s withdrawal was something that wasn’t necessarily negotiable,” Davies said. “It was something that had been decided in a meeting in mid-July between Callaway and the Jason Kenney leadership team.”
Folks, that’s amazingly detailed stuff here, and extremely damning. Team Kenney gave them pretty much everything, basically set up the entire campaign for him, right down to the time when he’d bow out and back Kenney. They had it all laid out by date, planning themes and everything for him. This is extremely dirty stuff, especially for the candidate who was a hands-down favourite to win the race. This has all now lead to an RCMP investigation, which is a great illustration as to why you don’t take of the risk of such plans in the first place.
But if the brazenness of this plan wasn’t enough for you, the excuses given by the United Conservatives of Alberta to try to explain this away would be downright hilarious if they weren’t so weak.
An emailed statement from UCP executive director Janice Harrington simply repeated the claim made previously by Kenney that there was communication between his campaign and the Callaway campaign and this was “perfectly normal in a preferential ballot election and was within the rules of the 2017 UCP Leadership Election.”
Harrington also included a statement from another leadership contender, Doug Schweitzer, a lawyer, who said he and his campaign team “kept lines of communications open with all other registered, and prospective candidates in the UCP leadership race.
“Ongoing dialogue across all campaigns is normal throughout leadership races within the same party, especially those with ranked ballots,” Schweitzer’s statement said.
When I read those quotes I had a really hearty laugh, because either they think the public are fools or they really don’t have a better excuse. I’ve worked three leadership campaigns run under preferential ballots, and I can say that yeah you keep talking to other campaigns. It’s true that somewhere down the line that in order to win you’ll need other candidate’s supporters to give you their 2nd place votes, so you don’t want to upset them by crapping on their preferred candidate too hard. But those open lines of communication are really just the basics of being polite to one another, being friendly. They don’t include giving the other campaigns resources like talking points, prepared speeches, videos and attack ads. Oh yeah, they also don’t involve giving another campaign a full-made message calendar or a pre-planned date for their backing out of the race. You don’t need to be a seasoned political expert to understand that.
What makes this story even more damning against Jason Kenney and his team are, as usually tends to be the case, his own words, recorded on tap. You see Kenney was asked about this rumoured scheme back in 2017, and guess what he had to say then?
Yeah, he denied it all, of course. So how can you deny there was nothing there on one hand, while on the other, a couple of years later, say that “hey, this is all normal stuff…. Campaigns talk all the time”? Yeah, you can’t do that, or at least not do it while retaining any credibility of any sort.
It remains to be seen what will come of the RCMP investigation into this and what effect it might have on the Alberta election this spring, but let this story serve as the lesson for everyone out there. No matter how well you scheme, no matter how good you think your plan it, you will get caught someday. That will likely come at the worst possible moment for you, and it will do far more damage than any benefit that you would have gotten by pulling it off. So instead of trying to re-create a scene from “House of Cards” in your campaign, stick to the things that will get you over the line; make calls, knock on doors and talk to voters. It’s not sexy stuff, but it’s what wins campaigns.