Alberta Diary

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David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

Foundering B.C. premier hires Alberta strategist Stephen Carter

| October 27, 2012
Stephen Carter

As predicted here at Alberta Diary, British Columbia Premier Christie Clark has hired Alberta-based political strategist Stephen Carter in hopes of turning around her foundering campaign against the province's New Democrats.

As we explained the situation back on Sept. 28, with Clark, "a conservative Liberal, desperately low in the polls, facing an election in less than eight months, having just been forced to fire her chief of staff for unspecified naughtiness, who would want to bet against Carter showing up in Victoria with a smile on his face and a nice apartment overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca?"

Well, remember where you heard it first. The CBC reported yesterday that Clark's B.C. Liberals used a party pep-rally in the ski resort of Whistler yesterday as an opportunity to trot out Carter, the avid Twitterer who served ably as Premier Alison Redford's leadership and electoral campaign manager, and a little less ably as her chief of staff.

Carter also played a similar role in the campaign of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, although there are former Nenshi supporters who dispute the claim Carter's role was quite as pivotal as it is now said to have been.

In all three cases -- that is, Redford's leadership campaign against front-runner Gary Mar and others, her election campaign against front-runner Danielle Smith and her Wildrose Party and Nenshi's campaign against front-runner Ric McIver and others -- Carter has been credited by many observers with having devised the winning come-from-behind strategies.

Since well behind B.C. Opposition Leader Adrian Dix is precisely where Clark finds herself and her party, Carter must have seemed like a good fit for the B.C. Liberals' campaign for the election they're locked into fighting on May 14, 2013. It remains to be seen, of course, if his trademark strategies that worked well in Alberta's political monoculture will also work in B.C.

For his part, Carter, who is not a shy guy, told reporters yesterday that British Columbians really want to like Clark, she just needs to be … ummm … more likeable. Or, as he put it in his own words, "I think right now they want to like her, they just don’t know what it is she’s in government for. I think she just needs to get back to who she is foundationally and people will remember why they liked her."

Well, it was his first day on the job, knowing Carter it's likely he'll come up with something better than that quite soon.

One of those better things is very likely to be an unexpected poll that casts Clark in a different and much more complimentary light than everyone had thought was shining on her.

This seems to happen a lot when Carter is around, although it may be that he's just lucky, which is certainly what he would like you to think.

We do know that days before the second Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leadership vote in early October 2011, Redford's campaign effectively used an unexpected Calgary Herald-Environics poll that put her in second-place behind Mar. This in effect created a new reality that motivated her supporters and gave her sufficient momentum to push her narrowly over the top.

The mid-September poll was controversial because it was based on a list of 22,000 card-carrying PC Party members that probably ought not to have been given to the polling company. You know, because giving it to them likely violated Alberta’s privacy laws.

The next day, Conservative Party President Bill Smith issued a stinging rebuke on the party's website of whoever allowed the "unauthorized and inappropriate use" of the party membership list.

However, no one but the people involved really knows who gave the list to the Calgary Herald to pass on to Environics, and the Progressive Conservative Party lost interest in pulling on that particular thread the instant Redford became the leader.

"It's the miracle on the prairies. Nobody would have picked her," PC party president Bill Smith later said diplomatically of Redford's victory. He has since moved on.

Similarly, back in the fall 2010, Nenshi's campaign gained sudden momentum and credibility from an unexpected September Calgary Herald poll that put the mayoral candidate in third place.

Indeed, third place is where Carter likes his candidates to vault from -- which may be a problem in B.C. since the implosion not so long ago of the Wildrose-style B.C. Conservative Party.

So if an unexpected B.C. poll suddenly puts Clark in a more credible position at just the right moment before the election date, it would not come as a complete surprise to political observers on this side of the Great Divide.

Likewise, British Columbians should probably brace themselves for residential telephones ringing off their hooks with a barrage of automated robocall push polls designed to drive them away from the NDP.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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Comments

NOTE: Stephen Carter writes this morning on Facebook: “Not working for the BC Liberals. Simply speaking at their convention." So, under the circumstances, who am I to argue with him? Still, I'll let this post abide here for a spell - and if any unexpected polls show up during the B.C. election campaign, well, we can simply assume that the techniques of the model come-from-behind campaign are now part of the general political curriculum studied by strategists for all political parties.

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