In researching my local Conservative Candidate, Tim Laidler, the young Conservative candidate in my home riding of Port Moody-Coquitlam, I started to notice a remarkable number of repeated patterns and parallels between his social media feed and the social media feeds of many other young Conservative candidates across the country. These patterns kept coming up again and again. They included: (1) a considerable amount of social media interaction between young Conservative candidates from different regions, (2) an apparent disproportionate number of endorsements of these young candidates prior to their nomination from various sitting MPs and Conservative party brass, and (3) a large number of congratulation messages for these young candidates from sitting MPs following their nomination. Some of these endorsements and congratulations seemed somewhat strange to me as they came from what appeared to be from quite distant and seemingly unconnected sources. Some examples of the endorsements noted above are provided below.
I began to wonder was everyone’s social circle really that broad or were there some connections between these young Conservative candidates and sitting MPs and party brass that were not immediately apparent? Interestingly many of these young candidates seemed to somehow know each other often tweeting congratulations directly to each other when they are nominated (below) and even more recently
arranging meetings amongst themselves following their nominations. Case in point:
What exactly was going on here? Could this all be part of some Conservative strategy for the next election? Could they be trying to appeal to the youth vote by putting forth as many young candidates as possible in the hopes that they would represent an untapped resource that would put them back into a majority position? The Conservatives had already been successful with a previous focused appeal to ethnic voters in the last election, could the same be happening again? Is there evidence out there of a focused movement to appeal to young voters by actively promoting young Conservative candidates?
(Before going any further I must give a hat tip to Minister James Moore for providing me with the first list of the candidates for me to research and for giving me the idea for this blog post. That came from the tweet below).
I began my quest for evidence of this potential focused youth movement by looking at the websites and social media feeds of a number of young Conservative candidates including my local candidate Tim Laidler. I was quite frankly surprised by what I discovered. I ended up focusing primarily on three candidates and the nomination process within their ridings and compared that to what took place in my local riding of Port Moody-Coquitlam (a few of these candidates have already been identified above). The candidates selected for comparison included: Tom Kmiec (the young Conservative Candidate for Calgary Shepard), Garnett Genuis (the young Conservative Candidate for Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan), and Marshall Neufeld (the young Conservative Candidate for South Okanagan-West Kootenay). I then compared their social media accounts and their nomination websites with what I could piece together for my local candidate, Tim Laidler, the young Conservative Candidate for the riding of Port Moody-Coquitlam. What immediately jumped out at me (and will to you if you’ve already clicked on the links provided above) is, and was, the obvious similarity between the websites for all of these candidates, right down to the use of similar fonts, similar page names, similar information provided, size of graphics, format, etc. suggesting that an overriding customizable template had been used for all of these websites thereby suggesting some type of overriding intra-riding outside influence was apparent within these campaigns. The common pages within these websites included:
Similar Welcome Pages:
Similar “Why I’m Running” pages:
Similar “Supporters” pages:
All of these sites show the unmistakable signs of a common origin and thereby suggest that a larger overriding hand is at work here.
It should be noted before proceeding any further that in the case of my local candidate, as noted previously both here and here, Tim Laidler’s nomination website had been deleted following his successful nomination campaign and a full copy can not be retrieved from any of the usual internet archives. However there are enough remnants and tidbits out there surviving on the Net to suggest that Mr. Laidler’s nomination webpage would also fit the same established pattern that can be observed in the campaign websites of the three other candidates previously identified. For example, the first few seconds of Tim Laidler’s campaign video shows the immediately recognizable familiar template of the other three candidates welcome pages. A screen shot of this is provided below.
In addition, one tweet from July identifies the existence of a “Why I’m Running” section and the captured content identified earlier includes what appears to be remarkable reminiscent of the Bio Section of the other candidates webpage along with an apparent link to a supporters page. The captured content from his website also includes a reference to “click here to see who else supports (fill in the name)”, a tagline and link common to all of the three candidates’ pages (see below). Taken in its totality, I would argue that is more than likely that Mr. Laidler’s page very likely would have looked very similar if not almost identical to the other three candidates webpages as it more than likely was generated from the same template. Remember these are websites that were created for the nomination races. These are not the websites that will necessarily be used when the actual race begins. The similarity of all these websites suggests the presence of an outside influence in the nomination races.
So where exactly did this master template come from that is clearly being used by all these young Conservative candidates? The answer can be found at the base of the last page of each of the pages that remain viewable.
I’ve zoomed in on the credit at the base of the webpage so that it is more easily visible.
The answer is to this question is that the pages are all credited to (aka “built by”) a Vancouver-based company digital company named Go Newclear. So who is Go Newclear you may ask? Go Newclear, which describes itself as an “independent digital agency with a focus on advertising and digital public affairs”, will be immediately familiar to those that follow the inner workings of the Conservative Party and Ethical Oil (see below).
The principles of Go Newclear include Brendan Jones, who according to their website, was “the creative force behind the television and digital campaigns during the 2006, 2008, and 2011 elections”, and Hamish Marshall, who was the “Manager of Strategic Planning in the Office of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, where he was involved in the strategy behind the ‘Not a Leader’ campaign.”
Hamish Marshall is also, according to Desmog’s Emma Pullman, “the husband of current Ethical Oil spokesperson Kathryn Marshall, and a former Conservative campaigner, former PMO staffer and Conservative strategist deeply connected to oil interests”.
Brendan Jones, according to Desmog’s Emma Pullman,
“worked as a website administrator for the Office of the Leader of the Opposition from August 2005-February 2006. Following Harper’s election, he worked as the special assistant for the Prime Minister from February 2006-November 2007. Jones then moved to the Conservative Resources Group, or Conservative Caucus Research Bureau, an agency responsible for developing political communication products, branding and marketing decisions and liaising between the federal Conservative caucus and Prime Minister’s Office, until 2009.”
Additional details concerning Go Newclear can be found here. Needless to say but Go Newclear is clearly linked to the highest echelons of the Conservative Party if not directly to the Prime Minister’s Office itself. Greenpeace, according to an article in the Globe and Mail, even suggested that as part of their business, that “Go Newclear Productions, created and host websites for Ethical Oil, and Conservative cabinet ministers Joe Oliver, Pierre Poilievre, and Jason Kenney”. A promo video for the type of products and service provided by Go Newclear can be seen here.
The obvious and clear connections of Go Newclear to the higher echelons of the Conservative party suggests that the highest levels of the Conservative party are involved in the clear and deliberate promotion of selected young candidates in certain ridings potentially at the expense of others. The presence of the handiwork of Go Newclear suggests that the pursuit of the youth vote may be part of a focused campaign at the National level. It seems apparent that, like the previous focused effort to secure the ethnic vote, that materials and a strategy were clearly being made available to certain young (and perceived electable) candidates by the party brass in key ridings.
The apparent promotion of these young candidates by party brass and sitting MPs (as noted above) in addition to a well-connected digital agency with clear and deep Conservative party ties raises a number of questions: Were all of the Conservatives nominees in these ridings given equal access to the template and materials provided by Go Newclear or was it just certain candidates (particularly the chosen and seemingly deemed electable, young ones) that were provided these materials? In my review of numerous websites of candidates from several different regions of the country, I have yet to find an older candidate that utilized the now familiar young and hip Go Newclear template. If all candidates were given equal access to the Go Newclear materials, is it just a coincidence that only certain young candidates seem to be utilizing the template provided? Does the apparent promotion of these young candidates potentially at the expense of others on the part of the Party cross the line in terms of the fairness of the nomination process within Conservative constituencies? Does the support of these young candidates at the senior party level constitute meddling in the affairs of local Conservative constituencies and nomination races?
Interestingly, a recent CBC news article (Dec. 29, 2014) suggested that the Conservatives have quietly nominated approximately 60% of their candidates for the upcoming election. It will be interesting looking forward to see if the pattern established and described in the following holds in the upcoming Conservative nomination races that are still to be decided. This pattern includes: (1) the putting forth of and/or preference of a young candidate by the party and the party brass, (2) the selective endorsements of young candidates by sitting MPs and party brass over other candidates, (3) the use of templates and materials supplied by the party via Go Newclear to selected individuals, (4) increased interactions between these young candidates once nominated, and (5) the passing over of older candidates without much perceived political upside in favour of candidates potentially handpicked for their perceived electability on a number of narrow attributes? If I were a Conservative candidate running in any upcoming and/or future nominations I would be very wary if I was running against a young candidate using the familiar Go Newclear template and brandishing endorsements from sitting MPs and party brass as the chances that I would be winning the upcoming nomination would appear to be not be so good. It should be noted that not all young Conservative candidates utilized the Go Newclear template. It is unclear whether this means that they just choose not to utilize it or if they were not offered it for use.
It seems that Mr. Laidler, the young, and dare I say handsome, articulate, and a veteran to boot! candidate in the riding of Port Moody-Coquitlam (pictured above, third from left) would appear to be the poster boy for this new-found focused strategy especially when one considers the AV club vibe that one gets from most of the rest of the candidates identified above. Consider again the recent numerous endorsements and the recent partisan promotion of Mr. Laidler on the public’s dime, etc. from party brass and you can see that the party is clearly actively promoting Mr. Laidler for a number of reasons. I would suspect from the interaction going on between the various young Conservative candidates identified that they will all be part of some upcoming “New Conservative Generation” campaign that James Moore may have slyly hinted at back in November.
(Edit: An astute observer on Twitter [Thanks Jen!!] also pointed out that Tom Kmiec was the Director of Corporate Affairs for the Human Resources Institute of Alberta (HRIA) which often utilized Abingdon Research, of which Hamish Marshall is the Chief Research Officer. Below is a credits page from a recent HRIA report. In addition she pointed out that Garnett Genuis is the VP of Abingdon Research working directly under Hamish Marshall and that Marshall Neufeld replaced Hamish Marshall on the Conservative National Council. Yet more connections it would appear. Be sure to also check out Allison’s Creekside blog for some great additional, and frankly unnerving information concerning the extreme right wing tendencies of Garnet Genuis and Tom Kmiec, people that Mr. Laidler is in turn supporting. One wonders if Mr. Laidler shares these extreme right wing views)
Turning our attention back locally and to the nomination race in my home riding of Port Moody-Coquitlam, I do wonder if all of the other Conservative candidates for the nomination within the riding were aware of what was going on prior to the nomination meeting? By his own admission, Mr. Laidler only recently moved into the riding and has only a somewhat distant past connection to the riding having grown up in Anmore. Did the other nominees know that Party sources were potentially providing resources exclusively to Mr. Laidler? Did they really even have a realistic chance against Mr. Laidler when it really came down to it? Would the party have let someone else represent Port Moody-Coquitlam other than “the chosen one” given their investment in him and his perceived larger value to the party and cause?
I do wonder how many other earnest and sincere candidates in Port Moody-Coquitlam as well as in other ridings were pushed aside by the party as they didn’t fit the new contrived mould (them being too old, etc.) and/or because they just happened to be running in a riding in which certain young chosen ones were running? In the riding of Port Moody-Coquitlam, the local popular Head of the Chamber of Commerce, Janine Davies, who one normally would think would be a “shoe-in” for the Conservative nomination, was unsuccessful in her candidacy. Was she as well as the other impressive local nominees with significant local ties to the riding perceived by the party brass and sitting MPs to be less of an asset than Mr. Laidler and subtlety (or not so subtlety perhaps) pushed aside accordingly? Did she and the other candidates for the nomination just have the plain misfortune of seeking the nomination in one of the ridings selected for the presence of one of “the chosen ones”? Are these young candidates the best people being put forward by the Conservative party or are they only those that fit a narrowly preconceived cluster of electable criteria established by party insiders?
BTW, if you still aren’t convinced on this new-found focus of the Conservatives on youth consider the following recent tweets from Jason Kenney, the website http://www.campusconservatives.ca, and the upcoming Conservative Youth Conference scheduled for March 6-8, 2015 in Ottawa.
It could be argued that the recent Canada Apprentice Loan program could also be part of a calculated effort to court the youth vote too. BTW, is this program the updated 2015 appeal to former Harper strategist Muttart’s archetypal swing voter “Dougie”?
Is it just a coincidence that Prime Minister Harper has as a backdrop the flag and a large number of youthful workers? Then there’s the summer intern program for university students.
You could also argue that the recent tax cuts and increased child care benefits could also be part of the larger strategy to appeal to youth as who else has young children? Is this the updated 2015 appeal to former Harper strategist Muttart’s archetypal swing voters “Steve and Heather”?
Many of the sections of the party’s platform for supporting families could also be interpreted stepping back as a direct appeal to youthful voters. Sensing a pattern yet? Note that Mr. Kenney’s name comes up constantly in association with these younger candidates and initiatives. I have definitely chosen to focus on him and his social media accounts as he was arguably one of the main architects of the strategy of focused engagement during the last election. It seems to me that it is a tell that he seems so active in regards to youth matters.
So, is this all so far-fetched? As noted, you may remember during the last election that the Conservatives initiated a concerted effort to court the ethnic vote. At the time the thinking was that the base demographic for the Conservatives was getting older and frankly smaller year by year and the Party Brass came to the realization that they need a new source of supporters in order to have a legitimate shot at gaining a majority in the House of Parliament. As a way of trying to bolster support, the Conservatives smartly identified a target group (the substantial immigrant and recent immigrant population) and hatched a plan in order to specifically appeal to these voters. Ethnic voters, who had long been considered largely Liberal and NDP supporters, were identified as a potential source of votes and accordingly, a party led strategy was initiated in order to court the ethnic vote. This initiative, which appears to have been largely led by Jason Kenney, was accompanied by directives and materials supplied by the higher echelons of the Conservative Party and the identification of target ridings which were perceived to be ripe for the picking. Evidence of this can be found here. The eventual result was, as we are all aware, that the Conservatives were able to achieve a majority and retain power with only 39% of the popular vote in part as a result of their new-found success in certain targeted riding that had substantial ethnic populations.
Fast forward to 2015 and a new dilemma has now appeared. The Conservatives have now largely tapped the ethnic vote, their base is still getting older and smaller year-by-year, they are in trouble over the economy, and they are now looking for a new source of votes in order to retain power. But where are they going to get these votes? I believe that the Conservative party has already identified this potential new source of Conservative support and, like the ethnic voters in 2011, the source of these new votes appears counterintuitive. It is in fact young voters. The justification for this youth movement on the part of right-wing parties can be found here. Going after youth represents an opportunity to renew the party and put a new face on what is largely an old tired image. Whether or not they will be successful in attracting young voters remains to be seen but it seems clear that the Conservative party is betting on this as part of their strategy for the upcoming election. The evidence would suggest that that is indeed the case.
Note the banner above from a Conservative riding association. Just who are they trying to appeal to here?