Struggling Canada Conservatives aim for campaign reboot

Thu Sep 10, 2015 8:51pm EDT
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By Randall Palmer and David Ljunggren

OTTAWA/COLLINGWOOD, Ontario (Reuters) - Canada’s Conservatives, reeling from a bad start to their reelection bid, have turned to a high-powered Australian political strategist known as "the Wizard of Oz" and pulled their campaign manager off the road and back to the Ottawa war room to help steady a listing ship, party insiders said.

A refresh of the campaign, aimed at clawing back lost ground at the midway point of an 11-week campaign, include a new string of attack ads brought forward to this weekend and sharper messaging on the negative outcome the Conservatives say Canadians would face if they vote for a different party on Oct. 19.

Hit with bad news including a lingering Senate corruption scandal, an emotional refugee crisis and a recession, the campaign playbook that won Prime Minister Stephen Harper three consecutive mandates looks to be failing.

"We haven't had a couple of good weeks. It's been a mess. We haven't managed to get our message out, what with the stories about refugees and candidates in trouble," said a senior Conservative familiar with the party's campaign strategy, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Two Conservative candidates dropped out this week after they were identified in embarrassing videos, including one who was caught on camera urinating into a coffee mug.

The government also came under fire after it emerged that the family of a Syrian toddler whose body washed up on a Turkish beach had wanted to emigrate to Canada. Insiders said the campaign misjudged the extent of emotional reaction in Canada to the issue.

"You play better offense than you do defense, and I think the prime minister has had to play more defense than he's liked," said strategist Tim Powers, a former Conservative policy director.

The Conservatives confidently kicked off an extended election campaign on Aug. 2 with a plan to outspend their left-of-center rivals – Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and the New Democratic Party led by Tom Mulcair - and convey a message of stability, but have watched support drop to third place and hopes for another majority government dissipate.   Continued...

Political strategist Lynton Crosby arrives at Downing Street in London October 16, 2014. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth