The Man Beneath the Veil

Lynton Crosby. Most of us heard his name for the first time in early September.

He is a Lord Voldemort of political professionals, a master of the dark arts who specializes in ripping apart tenuous bonds between neighbours and there, in the vacuum, systematically works the “divide and conquer” algorithm until the big problem of resistance is broken down into bits that can be overcome.

He uses micro-targeting as the tool to get the job done, picking at the body politic until he finds a sore spot, aggravating it until it rises up, red, raw and painful. He usually works this hideous game towards the end of an election campaign, poking, poking, poking for new spots and infecting the existing ones before there is time for the rifts to heal, able to claim victory over his sickened opposition.

“We were fans of Lynton Crosby before many people knew who Lynton Crosby was,” Stephen Harper’s spokesperson, Kory Teneycke, told the Guardian in September 2015.

Harper introduced the “old stock” idea into his first debate. It was the call for the Conservative Base to wake up and gather around, as surely as if their tattooed arms had begun to glow with the Dark Mark.

And Harper was ready with the red meat to rile them up and have the medicine that would save their angry souls:

  • He stood his ground, even choking up a bit for the cameras, when a little boy’s body washed up on a beach in Turkey, galvanizing the world’s attention on the unprecedented refugee crisis, chastising Chancellor Angela Merkel when she opened Germany’s borders. Refugees are terrorists in disguise was the message.
  • He sent Chris Alexander out to play hardball with Rosie Barton on Power and Politics. And while we were all thinking wow, Rosie’s some great interviewer, it was all part of the script. It didn’t matter if what Alexander said was true. He was living up to the completely false notion that the CBC was gunning for Harper’s Conservatives and has no respect for their supporters. It was time to circle the wagons.
  • Harper challenged the niquab at the Federal Court of Appeal, creating a division where none existed because he knew this was a sore he could confidently pick at during the election, especially in Quebec.
  • He had his lieutenant, Jason Kenney, respond to Calgary Mayor, Nahed Nenshi, who called the election tactics “disgusting” and “dangerous.” Kenney used very specific wording in his tweeted response.  Mayor Nenshi and people like him were politicizing the issue. And now that his base was paying attention, awoken by the call of “old stock,” they were alert for the message.
  • Another lieutenant, Kellie Lietch announced a tip line so people could turn in their neighbours for perceived Barbaric Cultural Practices, a borderline unforgivable curse, as a way to create Stasi-influenced citizen police forces that spy on their neighbours.
  • Backbench devotees contribute to the unravelling of social cohesion. At an all candidates debate hosted by B’nai Brith, Joyce Bateman, Conservative MP from the hotly-contested riding of Winnipeg South Centre, read off  “a list of names from the Liberal campaign—volunteers, paid staff workers and candidates alike—who had been identified by the Tories as ‘enemies’ of Israel’,” according to the debate’s facilitator, Dan Lett. The list included retired lieutenant-general, Andrew Leslie, who fought in Afghanistan and is running for the Liberals in Ottawa-Orleans. “But to be fair,” wrote Lett, “Bateman was only doing what she had been told to do. This was not an impetuous act; it was part of a carefully scripted strategy to use Israel as a wedge issue to capture majority support from Canadian Jews.” Click here for Lett’s column on the experience of moderating the debate.

In the meantime, the Bloc and Harper’s Conservative’s are picking up ground in Quebec, largely from the NDP, and pollsters expect a four-way split. Many of Ontario’s 905 ridings appear to be up for grabs, as are a chunk of ridings in B.C.

On the broadband, the NDP has started an aggressive radio campaign going after potential Liberal-leaning voters, accusing Trudeau of having bad judgment. Piggy-backing on  Conservative ads, the NDP ads end with the tag line, “Justin Trudeau, he just lost my vote” using the same number of syllables and spoken in the same cadence as “Justin Trudeau, he’s just not ready.”

The new Liberal ads are taking aim at Harper himself, barely mention Mulcair and refer to “real change.”

And it doesn’t matter too much what Harper is saying on the broadband. You can be sure the actions of his party are grounded in the micro-targeting that’s happening well beneath the veil.

There are 15 more days to Voting Day and so we are likely to see more of Mr. Crosby’s handiwork. But you are going to have to look for it. We’ll need constant vigilance, my friends.

Sketch of Lynton Crosby from The Sunday Times, U.K.


Author Photo 01 Sandy Tam PhotographyGail Picco is a strategist who has worked in the nonprofit sector for 25 years. She is the author of What the Enemy Thinks, a recent novel set in the nonprofit sector, and is Chair of the Board of the Regent Park Film Festival. She also writes about baseball and F1 racing.

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