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Five simple rules from the unwritten Tory playbook 

[PoliticsWatch updated 5:20 p.m. May 23, 2007]

OTTAWA  — Last week, a 200-page Conservative party playbook on how to disrupt and control House of Commons committees mysteriously fell into the hands of the National Post.  
While the opposition parties have labelled it a "dirty tricks" manual, political parties using procedural wrangling is nothing astonishing. What is astonishing is that the Conservatives took the time to write down in great detail some of these procedures. 

The excerpts that the Post republished read almost like corny self-help book. It tells committee chairs to "use negative body language," when it is appropriate to engage other committee members with humour and when it's not. After giving instructions on how to control, manipulate and even disrupt meetings, there is also advice to committee chairs to act fairly and to build trust by getting to know opposition MPs both politically and personally. 

If the Conservatives have how to behave in committees down on paper, then there remains the possibility that general House of Commons etiquette exists somewhere. 

While no such guide does exist on paper, looking at how the Conservatives have behaved over the past year if one manual on overall Harper Tory behaviour did exist it would probably look something like this. 



Fellow Conservatives. You know the score. The Liberals are elected for 20 years and once in a generation you get a crack at power. 

Well, my friend, that time is now and we should not blow it. 

The following advice is meant to help you -- today's New Conservative. To show you that you can have it all. Do you want to get more out of being in power? Do you want to keep your polling numbers in the low 30s? Do you want to alienate your base? Most importantly, do you want to bend over backwards and dole out billions to Quebec and see your polling numbers in that province drop? 

If you do, then all you have to do is follow these simple universal Tory principles. 

1. Remember, if you mess up, it never happened

Love is never having to say you're sorry, just Tory. 

You love Canadians. You crave for voters to pick you. However, no one is perfect and some times we Conservatives make mistakes -- even Stephen Harper. 

Some times you have to admit your mistakes and apologize -- income trusts. But if you start to make too many mistakes voters will catch on and then you get labelled "incompetent." Incompetent governments tend to get voted out and they rarely win majorities. 

If mistakes start to be inexplicable and frequent then the best way to deal with it is to pretend you had nothing to do with it at all. People have the attention span of fleas with ADD and will quickly forget come election day if it doesn't hit them in the pocket book. 

Take the Shane Doan controversy. That whole star chamber got the public and callers to open line shows all heated up didn't it? You were probably getting a lot of calls from angry constituents who couldn't believe Conservative MPs would vote for a Bloc motion to have a show trial about the captain of Team Canada. 

The best advice is to follow what Stephen Harper has done. Pretend our party had nothing to do with it. That's right. Repeat after me, "The opposition was to blame for the Shane Doan goofiness." Now say that in a mirror three times without cracking up. Once you get it down pat you will be able to face your constituents. 

2. If someone gets in trouble, it's Peter's fault

Some times the opposition parties can be mean and will continue to dog you or one of your colleagues in question period about allegations that you cannot deny away. 

If you start to take too much heat in question period and start to stutter and stammer, remember always defer to one of the two Peters. 

When Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor was hiding in elevators who was answering his questions in question period? None other than Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay. Peter is a master of soundbites and probably a better politician than you, so don't be afraid to hide under your desk and let Peter do the talking for you. 

If Peter isn't there to protect you then you can always rely on reliable Government House Leader Peter Van Loan. While he's not a walking soundbite machine like the other Peter he is very good at reading his notes and sticking to his scripted answers and never straying. He is all about technique. He just keeps giving the same answer over and over again until people get bored with it, start to get mad at him and forget they were ever mad at you. It's genius. 

3. If someone questions the war you say "So you want the Taliban to win?"

War is hell. War is messy. But even worse -- war is something Stephen Harper can't control. 

All kinds of things are going to happen when Canada has troops engaged in combat missions. Things you couldn't even see coming and they're happening on the other side of the globe far away from the PMO.

Some times you won't be able to explain things but the opposition will keep pestering you with questions. 

There's only one good way to stop that from happening. Call them a Taliban lover. That's right. It's that simple. 

Here's an example of how such an exchange should happen. 

Lefty Opposition MP: The government is too focused on combat and not reconstruction ... blah blah blah
Tory MP: What? You want the Taliban to win don't you? 
Lefty Opposition MP: How dare you question my patriotism. 
Tory MP: By "patriotism" you mean your loyalty to the Taliban, right? 

Now I know what you're thinking. "How can this work? The media is going to be all over this" 

You would be correct to assume. that. 

I know a lot reporters in the left-wing, pinko outlets like -- well pretty much all of them -- and I know first hand that nothing gets them more all worked up than when a Canadian politician gets all George Bush like when being asked a question. 

But that's the point. It's called headline alteration.

You want the media to make the headline to be "Tory questions opposition MP's patriotism," not "Problems in Afghanistan drag on." 

4. Declare historical victory even when you lose

Voters like confidence, even if it's delusional ... well not Dennis Kucinich delusional, but you know what I mean. 

If you try to get a certain result and the strategy backfires, then just recalibrate your goals and declare victory. Never, ever say you failed. This is similar to Rule No. 1. 

Take this year's Quebec election. 

It looked like it was no coincidence that our budget with mega billions for Quebec Premier Jean Charest came out in the final days of the Quebec election campaign. 

Although we may hire separatists to investigate Liberals from time to time, Conservatives want nothing more than to have a federalist government in power in Quebec to avoid referendum headaches down the road. 

Come election night and mega billions later what happens? The federalists lose their majority in Quebec. You think we gave all that money to Charest so he would lose and have the "autonomous" ADQ making demands in a minority legislature? Of course not. 

So what is a Tory to do when you lose? You retroactively recalibrate your goals. 

See, now that Charest lost, the election was no longer about the federalists winning. You say, "Federalists winning? That happens like every other Quebec election. No this election was special. It was about the separatists coming in third."

Watch how the prime minister changed the narrative from having a strong federalist government pre-election, to not having a referendum after the election. 

Harper: Obviously we're very encouraged to see we have a government in Quebec that is opposed to having another referendum, we have now an official opposition that's opposed to having another referendum. It's the first time in almost four decades that we've seen a situation like this.

That's right. Not only is Charest losing not a defeat for our strategy, it's historical. Four decades since whatever. It doesn't make much sense if you think about it, but it sounds damn impressive and voters and the media like to feel like they've witnessed history. Never get in the way of a good story. Got it? 

5. Never underestimate the power of threatening arrest

The Liberals leak things like crazy. 

Read the paper the day after their caucus meetings. You'd swear Jane Taber snuck into the room in Stephane Dion's knapsack. 

We Tories are different. We are a tight-lipped group. (Well except for Garth Turner and whoever gave Don Martin our committee playbook -- we will catch you, by the way!!). 

Some times it is important to understand that not all people were born with our God-given Tory gifts to keep a secret, well, secret. 

There are Tories and everybody else and everybody else can best be described as attention-craving "talkers."

They love to blab and read about it in the media, even if it endangers their own lives. 

Well there's one way to put a stop to that. Threatening arrest. 

Take the prime minister's trip to Afghanistan. The trip was kept under wraps, and rightfully so, because you don't want to give the Taliban the heads up when the PM is coming to town. Now the journalists who travel with the prime minister would also be in harms way but logic dictates that even the possibility of their own deaths won't stop reporters from blabbing. 

That's why it was important, as the Canadian Press reported, that national security officials tell reporters on the way to Afghanistan that any mention of the PM's itinerary beforehand would wind them up in handcuffs for breaking the rules. 

The possibility of getting killed in a suicide attack isn't enough to stop reporters, but threatening arrest is. 

Another thing to remember is that even when government officials don't threaten arrest it's okay to seem to take credit for it, just to keep people on their toes. 

Remember that media monitoring worker at Environment Canada who got frog marched from his cubicle by the Mounties for allegedly leaking the Green plan? 

Now the government didn't do that, it was the RCMP acting (or over reacting) on their own. But that doesn't matter. It's the perception. 

Tories are tough on crime and one of the biggest crimes in a Tory's eyes is leaking Tory secrets. 


Now that you know these rules you can go out and be the best New Conservative you can be. 

Walk proudly, avoid reporters and remember what P.T. Barnum said, but just don't repeat it outside of caucus. 

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