The Manning campaign manual on voter contact

- March 5th, 2012

Today, in the Globe and Mail, there is this “letter to the editor”:

Robo-ethics

In January, 2010, my UVic inbox had an e-mail invite from a democracy centre to attend a campaign school. Intrigued, I signed up for the three-day event.

Topics covered included voter identification. Discussion ensued about suppression techniques. Instructors explained voter suppression tactics were borrowed from those used by the U.S. Republican Party. Many kinds of suppression calls were canvassed. Another instructor gave detailed explanations of how robo-calls worked, techniques for recording messages, plus costs involved. He distributed his business card upon request.

Instructors made it clear that robo-calling and voter suppression were an acceptable and normal part of winning political campaigns. With election ethics like this, a more compelling case for changing to a system of proportional representation where each and every vote counts is hard to imagine.

John Fryer, adjunct professor, School of Public Administration, University of Victoria

I have sent an e-mail to Fryer to see if he might expand on this but I’m pretty sure he is referring to a “Campaign School” put on by the Manning Centre for Democracy in January, 2010 in Victoria.

I was at this Campaign School and others through 2009-2010 where I was paid to lead a workshop on how journalists interact with politicians. There were no discussions about voter suppression or robocalls at my workshop and I did not attend any other sessions. (In fact: I used my “down time” in Victoria that weekend to attend and report on the anti-prorogration demonstrations in that city that weekend).

Attendance at these campaign schools was open to anyone who wanted to pay the attendance fee. At the campaign schools I taught at, I met those who were working on campaigns for Green Party candidates, BC New Democrats, BC Liberal, Alberta Progressive Conservatives, Wildrose Alliance members, and federal New Democrats. Indeed: Fryer was working as the campaign manager to elect Green Party leader Elizabeth May  in her Vancouver Island riding. (Something he doesn’t mention in his letter to the Globe.) I cannot recall ever meeting someone at these campaign schools who identified themselves as working for a federal Liberal candidate.

Had I been a candidate or campaign worker — particularly one working against a federal Conservative candidate — these campaign schools would certainly seem to have been worth the few hundred bucks to attend for the simple reason that they were organized by individuals  — Richard Ciano, Fraser Macdonald and Nick Kouvalis — who had played key roles in campaigns to elect federal and provincial Conservatives. In other words: For a fee, you could get some insight into the Conservative campaign playbook. Valuable stuff, if you ask me. And, in fact, I was informed at the time that the Conservative Party of Canada took a dim view of these campaign schools for precisely that reason and discouraged its candidates and campaign workers from attending.

Now, as I mentioned, I did not attend the session Fryer refers to in his letter to the editor so I do not know who the instructor he is referring to.

But all attendees were given a copy of the Manning Centre Campaign Manager Manual, 2nd Edition, by Mssrs. Ciano, Macdonald and Kouvalis. (Ciano and MacDonald were on staff at the time for the Manning Centre and have since left. Ciano, for example, is now president of the Ontario PC Party. Kouvalis, then and now, has a political market research firm called Campaign Research).

The manual, to my eyes anyway, is an excellent compendium of tips and strategies for any campaign anywhere in Canada, regardless of the party. It is not a partisan manual but a manual that can be put to use by conservative, liberal, progressive, or independent candidates at municipal, provincial, or federal campaigns.

I have, you won’t be surprised to hear, recently re-read the manual to see if there is anything on “vote suppression techniques” and could find nothing specific in that regard.

There is some advice on using call centres contained in a chapter on “Voter Contact”.  You can read that chapter for yourself here.

Manning Centre Campaign Manual – Chapter 9 – Voter Contact

Categories: Politics

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9 comments

  1. Kevin S says:

    “Borrowed from those used by the U.S. Republican Party” is a dead giveaway it isn’t real. The writer couldn’t resist including a Liberal fantasy, much like Peter Gleick’s now famous “Heartland Climate Strategy”.

  2. syncrodox says:

    Has Mr. Fryer responded to your e-mail yet? I look forward to his “expansion” and documentation of his claims.

  3. David Akin says:

    @Syncodox Not yet. I remain ever hopeful.

  4. MgEllis says:

    I find it weird that voter suppression techniques would be discussed at this campaign school. I’ve been to many of these campaign schools put on by the conservative party, the manning centre, the leadership institute and countless others. I have also run many campaigns in target seats and never once have i heard discussion (formally or even informally) about voter suppression. Not once.

    I would be interested to know how many of the robocalls that went out advertising incorrect polling locations were made using polling locations provided by elections canada that were changed after the deadline by EC. Could this be a simple mistake?

    I’d also be interested in knowing how many of these calls sent people to polling locations in jurisdictions where those contacted used to live (i.e. was a local campaign using the often terrible voters lists provided by elections canada). EC does such a terrible job of maintaining the voters list that this is a likely scenario.

    If an intrepid reporter wanted to to some checking i’m sure he’d find thousands upon thousands of voters who were not listed on the EC voters list even if they’d lived in the same house for decades. I’m also sure that they’d find that EC had people listed to vote in polling locations nowhere near where they live or have lived for decades. This has been common on many of the campaigns i’ve worked in the past.

    I’m not saying there’s nothing to this story. maybe it is all a massive conspiracy and there certainly appears to be at least a little bit of nonsense that’s gone on but the vast majority of the 30,000 some odd complaints received over the past few days would likely end up being simple misunderstandings caused by incorrect voter information provided and collected by elections canada.

  5. Sojourner Soo says:

    The letter writer is also a professor of public administration. His credentials are far better than yours are, Akin. Since you find the fact that he worked for Ms. May’s campaign significant, I guess you think that fact negates his published allegations about what the Manning Centre for Democracy (oxymoronic name, if you ask me). You also did not attend the session his letter discusses, so how can you know anything about it? You weren’t there. He was. All Elections Canada has to do now is connect the dots.We’ve got motive, means, theoretical justifications, and the evidence is building. No doubt video exists of that session the professor discusses. One more search warrant coming up.The leaders of your tribe are going to find themselves in jail one day. I look forward to that day.

  6. Stephen says:

    Your presentation of the Campaign Manual is what people familiar with this kind of tactic would call “a red herring”. Mr. Fryer is not claiming that the Manning Centre publishes any kind of document endorsing or encouraging knowingly breaking the law.

    Of course, this is no more a rebuttal of his claims about what actually transpired than would the observation that the cover of the manual features a child in an NDP-orange shirt be proof that Jack Layton was a sponsor.

    What gets me is that you seem to be knowingly intending to mislead.

  7. syncrodox says:

    The last two commentors make some interesting albeit somewhat convoluted points. Public Administrator vs. Journalist is apples and oranges and totally irrelevant. What matters here is evidence.

    Sojourner Soo points out Mr. Aiken was not at the session in question, displaying a keen sense of the obvious since Mr. Aiken clearly states that fact. Now the fact that Mr. Fryer was Ms. May’s campaign manager does not negate his anecdotal evidence, although it surely casts it in a different, somewhat partisan light. That Mr. Fryer neglected to disclose this information in his letter only serves to weaken his case.

    Which raises the question…What is Mr. Fryers case. At this point it is anecdotal but one would assume that an Adjunct Professor, schooled in scientific meathod, would have something concrete.

    Mr. Fryer states business cards were handed out and that there were multiple instructors. Identifying the instructors and the company/entity they represented would go a long way to fleshing out this story. Any course materials that spoke to voter suppression Mr. Fryer could provide would be the proverbial smoking gun…No?

    It seems to me that a highly educated man, an expert in public administration even, would have recognized the importance of substantive evidence.

    Which brings me to red herrings.

    Stephen seems to think that Mr. Aikens offering of documentation that actually physically exists constitutes a red herring while totally unsubstatiated claims by a partisan operative is evidence.

    Odd that.

    I also note that Mr. Aiken indicates he has contacted Mr Fryer for the purposes of expanding and I assume bringing forward evidence of his claims.

    I will also note that I contacted Ms. May via twitter yesterday regarding this matter. I did so because Ms. May is on my twitter feed and retweeted a link to Mr. Fryers letter at a different site that you can view here;

    http://jcvdude.blogspot.com/2012/03/voter-suppression-school-manning-center.html

    Ms. May was kind enough to respond to my twitter querry and confirmed Mr. Freyer as her campaign manager although she failed to comment any further when I directed her to Mr. Aikens post.

    Additionally, Bob Rae and Justin Trudeau have been directing their twitter followers to the above link but also both failed to respond when directed to Mr. Aiken’s post.

    In the interests of truth I would expect Ms. May will use her personal/professional relationship to urge Mr. Fryer to disclose any and all substantive evidence he has regarding anyone who councilled others to perpetrate election fraud.

    IMHO, Weak anecdotal evidence is not enough in this case and could leave Mr. Fryer vulnerable to legal action if The Manning Center for Democracy is so inclined.

    BTW Mr Aiken…heard back from Mr. Fryer yet?

  8. paulsstuff says:

    “I met those who were working on campaigns for Green Party candidates, BC New Democrats, BC Liberal, Alberta Progressive Conservatives, Wildrose Alliance members, and federal New Democrats.”

    So the federal New Democrats have members trained in voter supression? I wonder if that’s something Fryer took into consideration when writing his tripe.

  9. Bill D says:

    I attended the course mentioned above and was present for all scheduled sessions along with three others from our riding association. I participated in the informal discussions during the periodic breaks for meals and refreshments, so I don’t think I missed much.

    Presentations covered all aspects of voter ID, voter contact methods and ‘Get-out-the-vote’ techniques, however; at no time did I hear or see anything from the presenters of any session to do with ‘voter suppression’ much less recommend anything that a reasonable person could construe as unethical or illegal.

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