So says apparent leak within PC caucus
In a media scrum on Friday, Premier Danny Williams said the ABC (Anything But Conservative) campaign will not start until the federal election starts.
When the Prime Minister does call the election, "the writ will drop and the shoe will drop, and we'll commence ABC," he said.
However, at least one member of the Danny Williams team says otherwise.
Steve Outhouse, the director of communications for DFO Minister Loyola Hearn, says he has been told by someone inside the Williams Government that the campaign is well underway, behind closed doors.
"We were contacted late last week by a member of the provincial PC caucus, who told us that they were contacted by someone in the premier's office, asking all ministers and MHAs to find at least four people in their ridings who they can call upon to put their names to letters to the editor, or to put calls in to Open Line shows, to give the appearance that the ABC campaign is away more grass roots' than perhaps what it is. These calls are happening during business hours from someone in the premier's office, though I won't get into who."
Outhouse said that, despite the premier's assurance on Friday that ABC would not begin until the election is called, there are already people on the public payroll implementing the campaign at taxpayers' expense and directly through the premier's office.
"This member of caucus wasn't very happy about what they were being asked to do, and I think there are several within caucus who aren't pleased about it," Outhouse said. "At the same time, I think everyone knows that their career prospects under Premier Williams will be limited based on how they perform with this campaign So we are fully expecting to see all 40-plus members of caucus out attacking us on this campaign, even though not all them will have their hearts in it."
Outhouse said that caucus members will likely be provided with rough templates or talking points that can be used for call-in shows or letters to the editor. "So from the editor's perspective of the 17 Transcontinental papers, they will get letters to the editor that look virtually the same It will be an attempt to get around the checks and balances that editors have in place to avoid publishing (form) letters."
I reminded Outhouse that the Conservative Party of Canada has on its web site a section of talking points that party supporters can reference, when calling talk radio or writing letters to newspapers. I asked how this is different from what the premier's office is doing.
"From our perspective, the difference is this. We have tools that are available that we can communicate with our members, with people who are interested in doing those types of things. If someone is feeling motivated, if they want to give a point of view or perspective on an issue, it is available for them to go in, log on and use it. There is no coordinated approach. I remember when I first took this job, people would say that Danny's guys stack the open line shows and we should do the same thing, but we tell them no, we're not going to run a communications strategy like that.
"Certainly, every party has talking points. But at the same time, that is different from calling through all 40-plus members of your caucus and making it a responsibility for them to provide a minimum of four names into a centralized co-ordinator, so that materials can be sent for them to sign and send to a local newspaper. That's a very significant difference."
In my view, what's most significant about this story is the fact that, despite the premier's reputation for running a tight ship, one of his caucus members is calling the enemy' to leak information.
And you know what they say about leaks. Once started, they just keep getting bigger.