The Standard (St. Catharines)

ELECTION PREPARATIO­NS

Campaign managers grapple with how to press virtual flesh for possible vote

- CHRISTOPHE­R REYNOLDS

OTTAWA — The three main national parties are firing up their election engines, even as they insist they want to steer clear of a campaign.

Liberals, Conservati­ves and New Democrats are on the move in advance of a potential election this year, recruiting candidates, training volunteers and grappling with how to kiss babies and press the flesh in a virtual, pandemic-restricted world.

The uncertaint­y of COVID-19 has left each party ravenously raising funds and wooing would-be nominees while suspended in a kind of limbo, forced to map out multiple scenarios for an election whose timing under a minority Liberal government remains unknown.

The Conservati­ves are first out of the gate on several tracks, including fundraisin­g, nomination­s and digital prep.

The party says it raised a record $8.5 million in the first three months of the year — a windfall more than twice the size of any other party’s last quarter — and nominated 197 candidates so far, including incumbents. It also set up what communicat­ions director Cory Hann calls a “state of the art broadcast studio” in a ballroom at the Westin hotel in downtown Ottawa equipped with stage lights, multiple cameras and a massive background screen.

“It allows us to beam the leader across the country, whether it be through a Zoom meeting or a live stream or press conference­s,” Hann said.

The Tory election budget of $30 million also means Leader Erin O’toole could spend indulgentl­y to criss-cross the country preaching his message, one church basement at a time, should public-health measures allow it.

For the NDP, ground zero is a basement.

Jennifer Howard, campaign director and chief of staff to Leader Jagmeet Singh, spends her days in the depths of her south Ottawa home among “my many chargers and my earbuds … and about three baskets of laundry to fold.”

Like other parties, the NDP is planning a heavier focus on online campaignin­g and social media advertisin­g, which can micro-target voters by age and location to provide more bang for your buck.

Party brass have met with strategist­s who helped run U.S. President Joe Biden’s field operations last year as well as organizers from British Columbia to New Zealand to soak up lessons from elections fought in the grips of COVID-19.

Morale remains a concern on all sides. Howard hopes her party can grow camaraderi­e among the grassroots without the hothouse of bricks-andmortar headquarte­rs or latenight beers and bull sessions.

“You do it because you believe in something, but there’s also a great social element to it,” she said of PRE-COVID campaignin­g.

“Somebody brings in donuts at the end of a hard night and you sit back and talk about politics. And when we’re all in our homes doing our work, you lose that.”

To stoke team spirit, the NDP created what she calls a “virtual campaign office.” Launched last month, the private Team Jagmeet Facebook group posts how-to guides on digital promotion and upbeat messages from online organizers to spread the orange gospel.

The NDP has nominated 65 candidates, with 33 more nomination dates scheduled before the end of June. The party snagged a $22-million loan to anchor an election budget of $24 million, said officials.

The Greens have named five candidates, including all three MPS and Leader Annamie Paul, who remains without a seat in the House of Commons. The party said it has received more than 200 applicatio­ns.

The Liberals have nominated 152 candidates — 129 are incumbents — as of this week. Four incumbents have said they won’t seek re-election so far, including organizing heavyweigh­t and former cabinet minister Navdeep Bains, the Grits’ campaign cochair.

The Liberals hope to build on their relative popularity despite an initially shaky vaccine rollout and a widening fundraisin­g gap with the Tories, with support particular­ly strong in voterich Ontario, according to recent polls.

A national convention last month marked the largest policy gathering in the party’s history, with more than 4,000 faithful in virtual attendance. More than half were first-time attendees, “and that energy has carried strongly into their new involvemen­t as active volunteers,” said party spokesman Braeden Caley.

 ??  ?? Jagmeet Singh
Jagmeet Singh
 ??  ?? Justin Trudeau
Justin Trudeau
 ??  ?? Erin O’toole
Erin O’toole

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