Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre 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, timing around a one-week lull in House of Commons action.
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While the Poilievre era has begun on a relatively calm note — despite Thursday’s sparring between the new Conservative leader and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — sources familiar with the transition suggest significant, albeit slow, movement behind the scenes within the party as Poilievre’s team believes are necessary to prepare the Conservatives for the next general election.
And there is a significant amount of work to be done. The Office of the Leader of the Opposition (OLO) saw turnover following Erin O’Toole’s election defeat in 2021 and ouster in 2022 – and attrition continued under Candice Bergen’s interim leadership.
“I think part of it is, look, you don’t want to kind of hitch your wagon without knowing what’s going to happen (with the party),” said one conservative source of staff 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 that 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 kind of a full-scale review (of the party’s operations) and that’s why you see people taking their time.”
In a statement, Poilievre’s press secretary Anthony Koch said the transition team does not comment on personnel and does not do interviews.
Get MPs “back to work”
The source noted that while much of the media attention will be focused on plum front bench positions, there is plenty of work for MPs to do behind the scenes as the party gears up.
“Whether it’s shadow critic roles or, you know, projects or running with anything else we’re planning, but just getting people back to work after not only a leadership (competition), but these two and a half years of weird virtual parliament, ” said the source.
“(Poilievre is) a guy who chews on a subject or … goes really deep into a subject.”
“And I think it’s (about) rather than trying to do 40 things really well, that you focus on one or two that (will) move the team forward.”
One of the new leadership team’s main priorities is to overhaul the party’s data operations – a crucial aspect of modern election campaigning and an area where there is widespread consensus the Conservatives lag badly behind the governing Liberals.
Data operations include things like voter identification and guide parties’ decisions about things like ridings, they target which messages are most effective in a given region and where the leader should spend most of their time touring. They also include mining vast amounts of information to gain insights not immediately apparent to outsiders – including their political rivals.
After Poilievre’s decisive first-ballot leadership victory, Hamish Marshall – who ran Andrew Scheer’s leadership campaign and the party’s 2019 national campaign – wrote on LinkedIn that his company was developing a custom data platform to translate social media “likes” into Poilievre voters.
“It was our job 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 ensure everyone voted,” Marshall wrote.
“It was a big challenge, especially since there was no time to get ready. We had to assemble the machine while it was already in operation.”
A source warned about it the data requirements for a national campaign are significantly more complex than what Poilievre needed to secure leadership. But another source acknowledged that translating Poilievre’s considerable social media reach into actionable voter data is likely to play a role in the new system.
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“(Poilievre) is throwing the net out with the things he says and how he says them (on social media),” the source said.
“And we need (people) who can make sense of what we’re getting back. For a long time, we were getting a lot of stuff back, but no one was extracting it in a way that was in any way useful to the good people, that would … target places in the future.”
Mike Crase, Poilievre’s pick for the party’s new chief executive, will oversee the overhaul of data operations.
Crase, the current executive director of the Ontario PCs, was involved in 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 several sources told Global News that the party has no intention of rushing some of the major changes to its electoral machinery. When O’Toole won the leadership in 2020, his team believed Trudeau could call an election at any time — leading them to outsource some of their election operations like data and some strategic communication planning, rather than building the party’s internal infrastructure.
“We are behind the times in the way we campaign,” said one source.
“And so you’ve got a new guy coming in who is effectively using social media to mine data, in an operation that doesn’t have the tools to use (it). So we’re going to build the tools to use it in much larger scale.”
Global News requested an interview with Crase and confirmation that Poilievre has hired longtime Conservative hand David Murray as his policy director. Murray worked on policy for Poilievre’s leadership campaign and previously worked with former leader Andrew Scheer. Murray’s employment was first reported by Politico.
The Poilievre team declined the interview request and declined to comment for this article.
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