Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is holding one-on-one meetings with each Conservative MP to gauge their interests as he prepares to assemble his front bench of critics.
The meetings come ahead of an expected announcement of Poilievre’s “shadow cabinet” in mid-October, multiple sources tell Global News, timed around a week-long break in House of Commons action.
While the Poilievre era has begun on a relatively quiet note – Thursday’s sparring between the new Conservative leader and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau notwithstanding – sources familiar with the transition suggest significant, if slow, behind-the-scenes moves within the party that Poilievre’s team believes are needed to get the Conservatives ready for the next general election.
And there’s a significant amount of work to do. The Office of the Leader of the Opposition (OLO) saw turnover after the Erin O’Toole’s election defeat in 2021 and ousting in 2022 – and attrition continued under Candice Bergen’s interim leadership.
“I think part of it is, look, you don’t want to sort of hitch your wagon not knowing what’s going to happen (with the party),” said one Conservative source of staffing departures before Poilievre’s leadership victory.
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The source, and four others with knowledge of the transition work, agreed to speak to Global on the condition they not be named.
“Just because something was organized in a certain way under one leader doesn’t mean it makes sense. So I think there’s sort of a full-scale review (of party operations), which is why you’re seeing people take the time.”
In a statement, Poilievre press secretary Anthony Koch said that the transition team does not comment on staffing and does not do interviews.
Getting MPs “back to work”
The source noted that while much of the media attention will be focused on plum front bench positions, there’s plenty of work for MPs to do behind-the-scenes as the party gears up.
“Whether that’s shadow critic roles or, you know, projects or running with something else we’re planning, but just getting people back to work after not only a leadership (contest), but these two and a half years of weird virtual Parliament,” the source said.
“(Poilievre is) a guy that chews on one issue or … goes really deep into one issue.”
“And I think it’s (about) rather than trying to do 40 things really well, that you focus on one or two that (will) bring the team forward.”
One of the new leadership team’s main priorities is overhauling the party’s data operations – a crucial aspect of modern electioneering, and an area where there is widespread consensus the Conservatives badly trail the governing Liberals.
Data operations include things like voter identification, and guide parties’ decisions on things like ridings they’re targeting, what messages are most effective in a given region, and where the leader should spend the bulk of their time touring. They also include mining massive amounts of information to glean insights not immediately apparent to those on the outside – including their political rivals.
After Poilievre’s decisive first-ballot leadership win, Hamish Marshall – who ran Andrew Scheer’s leadership campaign and the party’s 2019 national campaign – wrote on LinkedIn that his company developed a custom data platform to translate social media “likes” into Poilievre voters.
“It was our task to take offers of support from across social media and turn them into a meaningful process to sell memberships, raise money and get data to volunteers to make sure everyone voted,” Marshall wrote.
“It was a big challenge especially as there was no time to get ready. We had to assemble the machine while it was already operating.”
One source cautioned that the data requirements for a national campaign are significantly more complex than what Poilievre needed to secure the leadership. But a second source acknowledged that translating Poilievre’s significant social-media reach into actionable voter data is likely to play a part in the new system.
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“(Poilievre) casts the net with the things that he says and how he says them (on social media),” the source said.
“And we need (people) who can make sense of what we get back. For a long time, we got a lot of stuff back, but nobody was mining it in a way that was in any form useful to the good people that would … target seats in the future.”
Mike Crase, Poilievre’s pick for the party’s new executive director, will oversee the data operations overhaul.
Crase, the current executive director of the Ontario PCs, was involved with the provincial party’s transition from CIMS – the aging “constituent information management system” employed by the federal party – to their own more modern system.
But multiple sources told Global News that the party doesn’t intend to rush some of the larger changes to their electoral machine. When O’Toole won the leadership in 2020, his team believed Trudeau could call an election at any time – which led them to outsource some of their election operations like data and some strategic communications planning, rather than building up the party’s internal infrastructure.
“We’re behind on the way that we campaign,” said one source.
“And so you’ve got a new guy who comes in who effectively uses social media to data mine, in an operation that doesn’t have the tools to use (that). So we’re going to build the tools to use that on a much bigger scale.”
Global News requested an interview with Crase, and confirmation that Poilievre has hired long-time Conservative hand David Murray as his director of policy. Murray worked on policy for Poilievre’s leadership campaign, and previously worked with former leader Andrew Scheer. Murray’s hiring was first reported by Politico.
The Poilievre team denied the interview request and declined to comment on this article.
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