In mid-September, I found a message from the Conservative Party of Canada in my email inbox. The sender was identified as “Mike Duffy” — yes, that one. The subject line — “Let’s talk about moving Canada forward” — was followed by a brief text message that introduced a personalized video extolling the virtues of Stephen Harper’s government and asking for my participation in determining its new priorities.
I first met Duffy in June of 1974, when he was one of the “boys on the bus,” covering the campaign that produced Pierre Trudeau’s third mandate. Over the intervening years, I’ve seen him at work at various political conventions and on other campaign trails. But we’ve rarely spoken and I’d be shocked if he actually remembered me. So when the former TV journalist-cum-senator looks into the camera and says “Hey Larry, it’s the old Duff,” I credit the sophisticated production prowess and messaging capability of the Conservative Party, rather than the TV host-cum-senator-cum pitchman’s memory.
All politics aside, the federal Conservatives have become masters of new communication tools. This is not a new development; they’ve long been extremely media savvy. I recall covering Reform party events in the 1990s in which party organizers (and those they hired) proved themselves to be technology wizards in deploying the latest big screens and high-tech gadgets to assist in the business of their meetings and conventions. The same was true as the party morphed into the Canadian Alliance and then the Conservative Party of Canada. The Progressive Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats, by comparison, just didn’t operate at the same level of sophistication when it came to use of technology.
I suspect the difference is a function of two factors: the money the Tories have been able to amass through donations, and the armies of technology sophisticates the party attracts through its centre-right ties to business.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff spent part of the past summer recording his own video messages (with production values considerably higher than the disastrous video message to Canadians by Stéphane Dion late last fall). Ignatieff’s spots are already on the air, with the Liberals seemingly determined to force a general election yet this fall.