The Big Blue Machine: How Tory Campaign Backrooms Changed Canadian Politics Forever
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An inside account of the Progressive Conservative’s campaign organization.
The Progressive Conservative Party’s “big blue machine” pioneered electoral techniques of centralized control, communications, campaign advertising, polling, policy-presentation, and fund-raising. Inspired by Dalton Camp and Norman Atkins, its widespread yet close-knit network of organizers and specialists changed how Canadian campaigns were fought, even as their “political machine” transformed Canadian public life itself.
J. Patrick Boyer’s behind-the-scenes account reveals how and why the blue machine’s campaign innovations (most imported from the U.S.) transformed Canadian politics forever. Boyer’s direct experience in these changes, and interviews with key players from Tory backrooms, enrich his authentic and timely account. This saga of the formidable campaign organization operating inside the Progressive Conservative Party for more than four decades shows why the big blue machine deservedly became a Canadian political legend.
had, from the beginning, incorporated a healthy mixture of public policy and campaign strategizing. His instincts and efforts were not abstract, but practical, because he lived in and absorbed the experiences of a real world. He might one moment be advancing or criticizing specific programs, but the next, writing inspiring speeches for candidates or getting voters to the polls. At the highest levels of electoral politics, Norman had witnessed Dalton fusing brilliant strategy, writing cogent
awkwardness. Tory delegates, being first, were uncertain about how to act, but knew — and were told by media-savvy players from the backrooms — that they’d have to present a dramatic, upbeat show to convey the right impression to the watching public. The dawning age of Canadian television was about to transform politics. Chapter 15 Hardball Politics Ottawa mayor Charlotte Whitton, an advanced feminist and ardent Tory who would soon be a parliamentary candidate for the PCs, jubilantly welcomed
curious folk going to watch a freak show, not a political phenomenon manifesting historic change. Tory representation in Atlantic Canada rose from five to twenty-one members. In Quebec, the PC ranks remained about as slim as when major campaign spending took place: nine seats out of the province’s seventy-five. In Ontario, the number of PC representatives climbed from thirty-three to sixty-one. On the Prairies, PCs edged up from six to fourteen seats, while in British Columbia, the three became
the way to 24 Sussex Drive. Tourism was the ideal kind of account for an agency whose highest specialty was an election campaign. The tourism “product” was a destination, an experience, a personal encounter with the good life. Selling somebody on a destination was, at heart, an appeal to emotions about finding something better than they had ever experienced before. If Camp and his admen could persuade more folks to vote for John Diefenbaker, or for the Tories in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia,
win had been claimed by Diefenbaker, it seemed fitting that credit for the party’s diminished standings should flow to him as well. In the party backrooms, Eddie Goodman of Toronto, vice-president of the Progressive Conservative Party, tried to get John Diefenbaker to agree to a retirement date, only to be angrily sloughed off. Canadians looked at the number of Commons seats each party had, because that after all determines which party governs, and politicians and journalists used this same seat