Jenni Byrne: the (other) woman behind Harper

The Tories’ top tactician may keep a low profile, but she has a fearsome reputation

 

The (other) woman behind Harper

Jill Propp/PMO

Jenni Byrne, one of Ottawa’s highest-ranking tacticians, does not speak to reporters. But 14 years ago, she was both less powerful and less reticent. And so when an Ottawa Citizen reporter sought out young people to comment on the growing number of conservatives under the age of 30 in Canada, Byrne was willing to explain herself. Described as “a believer in debt reduction and tax cuts” who joined the Reform party at 16, she was then the 21-year-old president of the campus Reform club at the University of Ottawa. “It’s great for them to say don’t cut here or there, but they won’t be the ones affected by [the debt],” she said then of her parents. “They’re in their late 40s and they will probably still benefit from government programs. But Canada looks like a bleak place for me by the time I’m their age.”

That sentiment sounds similar to the doom Stephen Harper presently foretells if he is defeated by one or all of his political opponents. A doom that Byrne, as director of the Conservative campaign, is now charged with ensuring never comes to pass.

“I think she’s long since established herself as Harper’s single best political organizer,” says Ian Brodie, Harper’s former chief of staff. That is no small compliment given the vaunted nature of both Harper as a political operator and the Conservative party as a partisan machine. And it is part of a reputation for both political skill and strident partisanship that precedes the low-profile Byrne.

Since joining the Reform party, she has been well-placed to witness the chaos and rebirth of the conservative movement in Canada. Like many of those around Harper, she has been through the years in the “wilderness,” as Brodie puts it. “This town and this country are littered with people who gave up on the conservative movement and the Canadian Alliance as part of it and then kind of came back into the fold later,” says Mike Storeshaw, the former director of communications for Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. “You can’t count her among that number.”

In the years between leading the campus club and directing the national campaign, Byrne worked as a volunteer, organizer and aide within the party apparatus, Harper’s leadership campaigns and, later, the Prime Minister’s Office, steadily advancing up the hierarchy. She was a deputy to Doug Finley when he ran the Conservative campaigns in 2006 and 2008, and an adviser to Brodie when he ran the PMO. For a time, she oversaw “issues management”—the department charged with internally managing day-to-day crises and headlines. When Finley was appointed to the Senate in 2009, she became the director of political operations for the party and when Finley’s treatment for cancer made it unclear how much he could participate in an election, she took over the national campaign. “She’s as well prepared as anybody would be for this particular job,” says Brodie.

She is undoubtedly committed to the cause and, in fact, rather close to it—her sister Jerra is an aide to Lynne Yelich, the minister of state for western economic diversification, and Byrne was, in the past, romantically linked to Pierre Poilievre, currently the Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary. She brings, as well, a tenacity for which she is at least as famous, or perhaps infamous. “She has a single-minded unwillingness to put up with people screwing around. In politics, there’s a certain number of people who are from time to time screwing around. And she’s totally, totally, totally intolerant of that,” says Brodie, laughing.

Indeed, she seems to have built a somewhat daunting reputation—”a hard-ass with a temper,” as one Conservative describes it. But whatever questions there may be about her management style, her word is, as another Conservative notes, “gospel.” “It’s abundantly clear what her agenda always is: it’s to help get the Prime Minister elected,” says Storeshaw. “People get can pissed off about her style, but understand that it’s implementation of something. It’s not just her being grumpy and wanting something, it’s because this is coming from somewhere a little higher up.”

As a pursuit of higher power, this election may represent Harper’s best and perhaps last chance at a majority government. And not yet in her 40s, Byrne now has a chance to ensure the future is more to her, and Harper’s, liking.




Browse

Jenni Byrne: the (other) woman behind Harper

  1. I was wondering when we'd get the first Jenni Byrne story. It seemed to be a bit of a rough first week for her.

  2. I was wondering when we'd get the first Jenni Byrne story. It seemed to be a bit of a rough first week for her.

  3. Young Byrne: “It's great for them to say don't cut here or there, but they won't be the ones affected by [the debt].”

    Older Byrne: "It's abundantly clear what her agenda always is: it's to help get the Prime Minister elected."

    My job as a conservative voter would be much easier if Ms. Byrne would advise her boss to spend a little more time on her first thought, and a little less time on the second.

  4. Young Byrne: “It's great for them to say don't cut here or there, but they won't be the ones affected by [the debt].”

    Older Byrne: "It's abundantly clear what her agenda always is: it's to help get the Prime Minister elected."

    My job as a conservative voter would be much easier if Ms. Byrne would advise her boss to spend a little more time on her first thought, and a little less time on the second.

    • Amen!

  5. .
    It's been my ongoing theme in comments that Harper has brilliantly exploited a minimalist message, on and off campaigns:

    tax

    And it works.

    At 16, Byrne easily reflected the cognitive abilities of those who haven't time to process 1000+ word vocabularies, multisyllabic words, and complex nuanced syntax.

    tax-cut
    cut-waste
    trim-fat
    tax-credit (a daring foray into disyllables)
    tax-relief.
    job growth through tax cut

    Ignatieff and Layton can't compete with that.

    Their messages are complex, diverse, nuanced, intelligent, and long enough to be easily targeted for real or perceived weaknesses.

    Bolstered by land-line skewed pollster, and now political pundit Nick (the fixer) Nanos, Canadians can only believe that we are really behind our Glorious Dear Leader of the Democratic Milton Friedmann Republic of the Government of Harper.

    And Gaddafi has guaranteed that we really need to dump tax dollars into the American military-industrial complex to pay for those late 20th century spears and arrows, when we could consider funding Bombardier et al to develop leading edge pilotless drones, semi-autonomous robotic defense systems, laser, satellite, and spread-spectrum redundant command and control of them, etc.

    But that would waste tax money on domestic enterprise.

    We can't have that. It confuses the message.
    .

    • And you would suggest:

      – Socialism, and it's proven power to destroy nations, even Europe today.
      – Ignatieff Liberals, who don't really have any kind of principles, right or wrong.
      – The Green Party, who don't have their unicorns (nor their votes).

      No.

      I would suggest, and perhaps I'm wrong, but I percieve just another rant by someone so inured by the educational industry as to believe that theory is the same as reality; who believe that grade scores really count; who believe that the bubble worlds of a campus are reflective of reality.

      They're not. Your posit is wrong. Your view of freedom is skewed. Your values are noble, but your map untenable, and I hope and trust that few people vote for it. Read the newspapers: socialism and socialist nuance is doing nothing but creating riots and ruining economies. Weak leaders like Ignatieff are inflated with conceit; the pin-prick of reality would be devastating. The Green Party — well, it's a fringe, from the fringe, destined for the fringe, and without unicorns, they have nothing.

  6. Amen!

  7. Big deal.
    The environment and economy mix.
    And Iggy, Harper, and even Jack Layton should beware – and Green Party leader Elizabeth May, a "real" powerful woman, must be smiling.
    When Germany's Green Party was born 30 years ago, then-Chancellor Helmut Schmidt dismissed it outright, says a story in the Christian Science Monitor. "They're just environmental idiots who will have disappeared again,” he said.
    Current Chancellor Angela Merkel faces a new reality, with her deputy Guido Westerwelle resigning over the weekend as head of junior coalition partner Free Democrat Party (FDP) after he and Ms. Merkel felt stinging losses to the Greens.
    Because the party didn't disappear. In fact, in a turn of events reverberating across the country, on March 27 the Greens ended six decades of conservative rule in one of Germany's wealthiest states, completing their transformation from a radical protest party to a mainstream force shaking the traditional political order.

  8. Big deal.
    The environment and economy mix.
    And Iggy, Harper, and even Jack Layton should beware – and Green Party leader Elizabeth May, a "real" powerful woman, must be smiling.
    When Germany's Green Party was born 30 years ago, then-Chancellor Helmut Schmidt dismissed it outright, says a story in the Christian Science Monitor. "They're just environmental idiots who will have disappeared again,” he said.
    Current Chancellor Angela Merkel faces a new reality, with her deputy Guido Westerwelle resigning over the weekend as head of junior coalition partner Free Democrat Party (FDP) after he and Ms. Merkel felt stinging losses to the Greens.
    Because the party didn't disappear. In fact, in a turn of events reverberating across the country, on March 27 the Greens ended six decades of conservative rule in one of Germany's wealthiest states, completing their transformation from a radical protest party to a mainstream force shaking the traditional political order.

  9. Romantic and Pierre Poilievre – I am having a problem associating those two together.

  10. Romantic and Pierre Poilievre – I am having a problem associating those two together.

  11. …and Byrne was, in the past, romantically linked to Pierre Poilievre…

    OK, say what you want about the party itself, but THAT is dedication to the cause. Most people don't like the idea of being in the same building as Poilievre, much less the idea of dating him!

  12. …and Byrne was, in the past, romantically linked to Pierre Poilievre…

    OK, say what you want about the party itself, but THAT is dedication to the cause. Most people don't like the idea of being in the same building as Poilievre, much less the idea of dating him!

    • Early on in his reign of terror, Pierre was going on about the sanctity of marriage, but stopped shortly after it was pointed out he was living in sin. That was the first time I'd ever heard of Ms. Byrne.

      Now that I think about it, parachuting him into this riding as the Conservative nominee after his living here all of three months may have been a case of her begging someone in the party to give her loser boyfriend a job.

  13. And you would suggest:

    – Socialism, and it's proven power to destroy nations, even Europe today.
    – Ignatieff Liberals, who don't really have any kind of principles, right or wrong.
    – The Green Party, who don't have their unicorns (nor their votes).

    No.

    I would suggest, and perhaps I'm wrong, but I percieve just another rant by someone so inured by the educational industry as to believe that theory is the same as reality; who believe that grade scores really count; who believe that the bubble worlds of a campus are reflective of reality.

    They're not. Your posit is wrong. Your view of freedom is skewed. Your values are noble, but your map untenable, and I hope and trust that few people vote for it. Read the newspapers: socialism and socialist nuance is doing nothing but creating riots and ruining economies. Weak leaders like Ignatieff are inflated with conceit; the pin-prick of reality would be devastating. The Green Party — well, it's a fringe, from the fringe, destined for the fringe, and without unicorns, they have nothing.

  14. Early on in his reign of terror, Pierre was going on about the sanctity of marriage, but stopped shortly after it was pointed out he was living in sin. That was the first time I'd ever heard of Ms. Byrne.

    Now that I think about it, parachuting him into this riding as the Conservative nominee after his living here all of three months may have been a case of her begging someone in the party to give her loser boyfriend a job.

  15. Follow any sock puppet's strings and you will get to the puppet master…. nice to put another name and a face to Harper's evil. There's getting to be so many accomplices that i think i'll start putting the names and faces on the back of playing cards….

    ….simply brilliant.

  16. Follow any sock puppet's strings and you will get to the puppet master…. nice to put another name and a face to Harper's evil. There's getting to be so many accomplices that i think i'll start putting the names and faces on the back of playing cards….

    ….simply brilliant.

  17. In the US, last week's news was, almost exclusively, the impending government shutdown due to the rising debt, and the "solution" of reducing spending by approximately 10 days worth of interest on that debt.

    Meanwhile, in Canada, electioneering politicians compete to buy votes with money that will have to be borrowed. We think we're immune?

    We can only hope that Jenni sticks to her original principles, and Harper is listening.

  18. In the US, last week's news was, almost exclusively, the impending government shutdown due to the rising debt, and the "solution" of reducing spending by approximately 10 days worth of interest on that debt.

    Meanwhile, in Canada, electioneering politicians compete to buy votes with money that will have to be borrowed. We think we're immune?

    We can only hope that Jenni sticks to her original principles, and Harper is listening.

Sign in to comment.