I admit it; I pretty much ditched y’all yesterday afternoon, virtually speaking — I had every intention of liveblogging Colleague Coyne’s appearance at the Manning Centre Networking Conference, at which he delivered what was, in my admittedly somewhat biased opinion, a brilliant performance as part of a three-way panel discussion on the conservative (note the small-c) response to the economic downturn.
Unfortunately, I forgot to bring the BlackBerry that doesn’t crash randomly in mid-post, and after a few aborted efforts, I just sat back to enjoy the show and cheer on my fellow Macleansian. Luckily, there were twitter-ers in the audience, and thanks to David Akin, you can get a sense of how it went down from the realtime reaction on the #mnce09 channel.
Anyway, I’ll be heading back today — and this time, I’ll be liveblogging my fingers to the bone, including full coverage of this afternoon’s panel on the political implications of social technology, and also random musings and observations from the conference floor.
Well, that was quick – I wasn’t in the exhibit hall for more than seven seconds before being inveigled into a lively if entirely good-natured debate with a guy from the Ontario Libertarian Party over the World’s Smallest Political Quiz, which I summed up thusly: “Oh, the one where it asks if you like a)kittens or b)Hitler, and if you pick a), you’re a libertarian?” Despite that potentially unpreposing start, we actually had a very nice chat about semantics in polling and all that stuff. Having extricated myself from that booth, I’m now I’m going to do my best to check out the rest of the exhibits before the panel gets underway at 1:30.
And then I went on a shooting rampage. Well, a very, very controlled rampage — the nice man from the Canadian Shooting Sports Association had to help me hold the rifle for my first two attempts – but even on the third, which I did while struggling under a rifle sized to emulate the one used in Olympic shooting competitions – I hit the middle of the inner black circle. (I’ll post the target later for posterity.) Anyway, having picked a fight with the Libertarians and fired a fake shotgun, I think it’s time to take my seat at the back of the conference hall and await the arrival of the trio of panelists who will lead the Canadian conservative movement to the promised land. 2.0. I wish there were cookies. Also, that I had an actual media badge that trumpeted the fact that I’m not here under false pretences.
Heard while berryzombie-ing my way to my seat, delivered in a deeply wistful tone: “Where’s Tom Flanagan?” Literally or metaphorically or existentially? Sadly, I didn’t wait to find out. Lunching conservatives tend to get nervous when livebloggers spend too much time tapping frantically in their vicinity.
And – it’s showtime! Well, preshow time, which means a Manning Centre representative reminding all and sundry to fill out the straw ballot on the economic crisis, and what the response should be; I’m not sure if that means from the government, or individual consumers, or the National Post editorial board, or what. I’ll try to get my hands on a copy.
Oh, to encourage everyone to hit the exhibitor circuit during the break, the organizer at the mic – Nick – just announced an impromptu contest: presented a signed copy of Tom Flanagan’s book – Harper’s Team, not an exciting *new* book, much to, I’m sure, the relief of PMO – to the person brandishing the most swag-stuffed (recycleable cotton) bag.
Now they’re running some sort of fundraising contest involving a one minute pitch to the room, a bucket, and a lot of people reaching for their wallets; the person who raises the most cash will be declared the winner.
First up, “Nick” – another one – who is ranting on and on about the coalition. His pitch – and note, I’m pretty sure this is just a pretend campaign: a website that will provide the names of “separatist collaborators” — ie Liberal donors – courtesy of Elections Canada data. Okay, two points:
1. Wow, that’s really kind of creepy, even if it isn’t a serious proposal.
2. Really, the coalition? Still? Although I guess that’s definitely the right triggerword for this audience.
Second up, “Bruce”, who tells a long, marginally incoherent story about being “cheated” out of the presidency of his university after his supporters were accused of breaking the rules, and you know, I don’t think he’s making this up.
And – Deb Grey, of all people, who has a classic Deb Greyesque fauxpitch to give her money to buy a new Honda – for the economy. Whee!
Cue the ABBA – three guesses what song -and the frantic fundraising on the floor.
Apparently, the winner will be announced after this panel, which is finally about to get underway.
Manning Centre Nick introduces the three panelists – Stephen Taylor, Liz Mair and David All. Mair is the former director of online communications for the RNC and now a consultant with New Media Strategies; David All is an online political consultant; Stephen Taylor needs no introduction, although he could probably use a break from Murphy’s Law, since he’s currently struggling with technical difficulties in his attempt to set up his online presentation. “Sorry, I’m not very good with computers,” he jokes.
Okay, there are now three people huddled around Taylor’s laptop; to keep the crowd amused, Nick has the members of the Blogging Tories in the audience stand up and be acknowledged by the crowd.
Taylor finally gives up on the capricious mistress that is PowerPoint and starts delivering his speech sans visuals. It is, it transpires, on his anti-coaliton efforts during last year’s chaos. Trust me, you don’t actually need me to recap his version of what happened last year, I trust – from the parliamentary dysfunction that ostensibly forced the PM to break the fixed election date law – note, he didn’t use the word “break” or “law”; I’m paraphrasing, which led to the reelection of the Conservatives with a “strong minority”, and the rest is history.
Arguably slightly revisionist history in this case, but never mind that — he’s finally gotten to the online campaign, and the twitterwar that broke out over between supports and opponents of the rallyforcanada movement. This, Taylor points out, allowed the spreading of social and political capital through multiple networks, and that was what “drove the message” throughout the country.
ITQ Oh Thank Goodness Someone Said It Point to Taylor, who stresses that as awesome as it may be for rallies and events, twitter has not and will not replace email, particularly for an issue-based campaign like the war against the separatist collaborators of the coalition. Too true. I’m probably coming across as a bit of a twittersceptic – which I am, but mostly for purely technical reasons at the moment; there’s simply no good berryclient that will allow me to monitor only the friends (I hate the word “follower”) that I want to see at any given time. Let me know when Tweetdeck makes it to the RIM o/s, and I may be ready to join the cult.
Back to Taylor, who recalls that the various media outlets that contacted him about the rally were all convinced that the Conservative Party was actually behind it, financially and organizationally, which he stoutly – and, I have to say, believably – denies.
“Simplify the message,” he says, at least far as the website. Ask your readers, “Are you mad?” Assure them: “We are too.” I suppose the substantial debate can’t really be squeezed in under the 140 character limit, but you’d think that the website could be a little less – well, simple.
Oh, and signs. While coalitionista collaborators carried mass-produced, professionally generated signs, the ralliers-for-Canada were encouraged to make their own. Because they, we understand without being told, are Tim Horton’s and those evil Liberal/NDP/Bloc/everyone elses are Starbucks. Did someone say hockey book?
Sorry, I’ll be good. Anyway, Taylor wraps it up and then Nick comes back to announce that the total raised by the fundraising floordance was just under $1,000 – like, a dollar under, so someone kicks in the difference – and to nobody’s surprise, the most successful bucket bagwoman was Deb Grey.
And now, David All, who calls himself a Republican and a conservative – “you guys are doing a little better up here than we are rght now,” he notes – who runs a website and a company, and apparently has better luck with technology than Taylor, because his presentation – PowerPoint, possibly, but I’m not sure – is running perfectly.
All has a lot of metaphors at his disposal – not just the tubes, but a glossy brochure – which is not all your website should be, by gum! – and an aquarium, with fish that need to be fed, and — now he’s on about furniture, and architectural design, and this would probably sound less random if you could see the slide show going on behind him – right now it involves a radical new chair – but it’s not really grabbing the audience, from what I can tell. Even the Blogging Tory table looks unconvinced, although they liked the bit where All went on and on about what a modest genius Stephen Taylor is for pretending that his countercoalition activities were the sort of thing anyone could do.
Is David All actually explaining twitter to us? Uh, we Canadians may not be able to reliably hook a laptop to the overhead projector, but we’re not stuck in 2003. “There are people who may be watching this on TV right now,” he says, eyeing the CPAC camera aimed directly at him, “Who want to say ‘That David All guy is insane!” With twitter, they can do that, he notes. Or with liveblogging, although as far as ITQ can tell, the ‘s’ probably wouldn’t be necessary.
“I’ll never lick a stamp or knock on a door,” All confesses after telling the tale of a McCain-boosting mommyblogger who will now spend the next four years spreading conservative values via her Yahoo! group. He’ll make a Youtube video, though! From the looks on the faces around the table nearest to ITQ, it seems that the tongue and the fist may still, alas, be a more vital resource on the campaign trail.
“A good house will never be built with just good tools,” All advises us owlishly: It requires carpenters! Just like a good online campaign needs trained Youtube videographers. Nine or ten metaphors later – really, I was trying to keep a running tally, but they were nested like Russian dolls; baseball, driving a car, sailors — it’s astonishing – he asks if we’ve ever heard of Ron Paul.
Oh, I believe I’ve heard him mentioned in passing — or, alternately, have been surrounded at another candidate’s event by a swarm of his COMPLETELY INSANE SUPPORTERS while covering the New Hampshire primaries. One or the other. Apparently, he failed to adequately exploit his astonishingly vast pool of online supporters — he “didn’t give them jobs”. Maybe because they were *insane*? Just a thought.
And now, Liz Mair, who sounds a little bit impatient, perhaps because she’s been listening to too many people wax ideologically idealistic about twitter. That, or I’m projecting. Anyway, she notes that her specialty is online media and blogs. There’s a reason why certain people will read, say, Hot Air rather than the New York Times — and it isn’t always a partisan preference.
She then delivers a surprisingly impartial analysis of MyBarackObama – really, her lack of shameless superfluous rah-rahing is a refreshing break – and muses that even if McCain had seized those tools first, he may not have won the election. In other words, substance matters. I think I like the cut of her jib.
Okay, hopefully I won’t be accused of blatant, flagrant sexism here, but as far as I can tell, Mair is kicking both the boys’ asses in terms of actually providing useful information – both practical and philosophical – without just playing to the crowd with shameless laugh/applause lines about those darned L/liberals.
She points out that not everyone is as obsessed with politics as the people in this room – her mom, for instance, would much rather chat about her pets than the alarming rise in the corporate tax rate. She shows off the GOPPlatform2008.com website – and is kind of cutely shocked when two people raise their hands in response to her question over whether anyone here had heard of it. It’s the site that she was involved in putting together last year of which she is probably proudest, she muses, and it also allowed the candidate – McCain, that is – to do something he loved; talk to the people.
Mair talks a bit more about “blogger outreach” – which involved talking not only to natural-ish allies but also ostensibly inveterate left-of-centre online media like Talking Points Memo and the Huffington Post, as well as the ubiquitous “mommy bloggers” via BlogHer and Glamour. “There are more women than men in America,” she notes. “We forget that.” For the record, I should add that while that is also true in Canada, it is manifestly not the case in this particular room; counting Mair and me, I don’t there are more than a dozen females here – out of a crowd of at least a hundred or so.
She also points to the fact that the GOP accredited bloggers of all flavours during its convention – unlike those elitist Democrats who only allowed lefties onto the floor.
Oh, the obligatory twitterdote: mercifully short, at least, about a debate via tweets on tech policy, moderated by the one and only Ana Marie Cox, and that’s it for Liz Mair, who hands the mic back to Taylor.
Time for questions from the audience!
First up, an intense young guy frets over controlling the message, particularly from the point of view of a candidate or a campaign manager. How does one prevent one’s enemies from hijacking the discussion? Taylor predicts that in the future – the near future – the dreaded traditional media will no longer fall for bogus Facebook controversies. But Stephen, I thought in the future, we’d all have been replaced by bloggers! (Joking, joking.)
David All suggests that he’d just Google and twittersearch to prove that people are *already* talking about the candidate in question — he or she just isn’t taking part!
Okay, enough with the Stephen Taylor-focused sycophantry, David All. He’s a genius, a visionary, the leader of the forces of online righteousness in Canada. We get it.
Another question from the audience – what about if you’re a blogger who wants to get into politics as a candidate. Will the party make you delete your blog? Should it? Mair points out that it would be rather pointless, what with Googlecache and archiving, and notes that she was a blogger before she started working for the party, and they knew exactly what she had thought and said about a wide range of issues.
Also, John McCain is not a technophile, y’all. He twitters even now – and his updates are “absoutely fascinating”.
Taylor pops up to close down the session, and questions the notion that a past twittering could end a political career – it’s not an op-ed piece in the Globe and Mail, or even a thoughtful blog post.
And – that’s it, apparently. Aww. I guess it’s back to the exhibit hall with me — there’s a break before the grand finale, so check back at 3:30 for all the Preston Manning goodness you can handle.
Okay, I’m in the back row of the exhibit hall – that faux pistol isn’t going to shoot itself, after all – and I’m tempted — oh so very tempted — to check out what I am reasonably complicated as the world’s most insanely intricate electoral reform proposal, which is known to its friends as the CTESS, and is downright Larouchian in its complexity. There are spreadsheets involved! Also, weighted legislators – MPs with .3 and 1.75 valued votes. It’s awesome. Where’s Colleague Coyne when you need him?
You know, I think this room could use more cookies. More than none, that is.
Okay, back to the media riser for the final session, featuring the one and only Preston Manning and Organizer Nick. It’s not like anyone has told me that I *have* to sit here, but since I’m not otherwise identified as media, it seems like an acceptable way to self-disclose. As far as I can tell, I’m also the only journalist in attendance. All the more exclusive conservative stream of conscious-ing for me, right?
And here’s Preston! Who welcomes us all to the final session, which will also feature the speechifying talents of John Turley-Ewart, the National Post editorialist and Kevin Lacey, former PMO staffer turned Nova Scotia provincial Conservative campaign-runner, as well as Organizer Nick and, of course, the Manning himself.
First up, John Turley-Ewart, who is going to talk to us about the media, and what the current state means for Canadian conservatives. Coming from a Canwestian, this will be especially fascinating – and laced with irony.
He thinks, it seems, that think tanks are poised to fill the gap about to be created by the collapse of the industry – which he refers to as “market segmentation”. Probably because it’s cheaper to get free op-eds from agenda-driving interest groups than to pay actual journalists, I guess.
There is a growing market for researcher/writes who understand how to deal with the media, Turley-Ewart says – people with “credibility” but also the ability to write for the format, which means 750-word columns rather than 2,000 word essays. Also, if they’ll do it for free, that would be swell. (Note: That’s ITQ, not Turley-Ewart, speaking.)
The idea is to get your name and ideas out there, so that when talk-radio hosts are going through the morning paper and seize on an issue, they’ll call you up and invite you to be a guest. That, among other things, will “change the political landscape of the country”.
On to Kevin Lacey, who will deliver a status report on the state of the Conservative Party; he’s here, he explains, as a last-minute replacement for an ailing Doug Finley. As for the state of the party, it’s all good – great, even, maybe! People love the Prime Minister, the “ground game” is getting better in every campaign, and Conservatives are finally cool – even amongst youth! Toronto youth, at that.
“We saw in the last election that Stephen Harper is a great man, with a family,” he says. Also, a “great intellect”, and an all-round great guy.
He makes an offhand, almost oblique reference to the PM’s rapidly becoming infamous speech on Friday, and then segues over to some general, wide-ranging cheerleading about how, in the distant and rapidly retreating past, this was the party of same-sex marriage and abortion – but now, it is “the party of economic management”. That would be the *Conservative* party, in case you wondered.
After touting their as yet peerless GOTV technology, it’s on to the bad news — but not much of it; don’t worry. It pretty much comes down to the economy, and how it isn’t always easy being an incumbent government. He then goes back to the good news: the poll numbers. Did you know Michael Ignatieff hasn’t even replicated the Dion bounce? Well, he hasn’t? Curiously, Lacey only offers one poll to back up his contention that the current polling numbers constitute *good* news – the latest Ipsos, which was 37/32 – and not, say, the even more recent Harris Decima, which had the two parties in a statistical tie. He warns the room that the polls *will* eventually show the Liberals ahead, but advises us not to fret too much — the Liberals just can’t hold their vote.
And now, on to Organizer Nick, otherwise known as Nick Gafuik, who – honestly, maybe it’s just been too long an afternoon for this, but he’s sounding very much like the archetypical student model parliamentarian: Canada is about more than just health care and peacekeeping. A mosaic involves both tiles *and* glue. There is more to the C/conservative movement than economics, and they have to “drill down” to the common core in order to build a coalition. Not the kind that is evil, mind you. Troubled times, train tracks, choosing the right rail. Boo to lefties and their fetish for wealth redistribution.
Oh, he finally hit an applause line: the fact that all humans have the right to life, liberty and the ownership of property. Emphasis on the “life” in his followup line, which gets a slightly less sweeping round of applause, probably because everyone is wondering whether he really means what it *sounds* like he means.
He tells a story about a British boy who drowned in full view of two “community officers” who weren’t trained to rescue children in the water, and to be honest, either he didn’t tell it right or I’m missing the context, because I’m not sure how it was the scathing indictment of statist leftism that he seems to believe. Anyway, he then sails off into familiar conservative territory – independence, helping each other rather than paying taxes and leaving it to government to do the rest, that kind of thing. Eventually, he makes it to elctoral reform, the importance of civic engagement, and how democracy really is pretty awesome, even though it needs the occasional refreshing.
Another “human life”/”dignity” reference – it’s interesting to me that he keeps coming so close to the abortion issue, but then veers away at the last second. Human dignity, and the need to strive for such, also encompasses human suffering abroad, from starvation to human trafficking to tyranny.
Canada *does* have the ability to play a leadership role, he assures the room.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, two of the most beautiful words in the English language are “in conclusion”. Except when followed by “a few remarks”.
And – there we go, and a standing ovation for Nick, who is clearly more than ready to hit the hustings. Manning takes the mic again – for the last time today, I suspect – and thanks him for ending on a high note. He looks like he’s entirely content with how the conference unfolded, and rather than delivering yet another speech on conservatism, he thanks all the people who worked away behind the scenes to make this happen – because he’s just that kind of guy. He reads off the names with the usual advisory to hold the applause until the end, which the crowd does.
Finally, he praises a few of the ideas that came up over the conference, from diversity of views — a good thing — to the work that the movement has to do, as opposed to the party. Building intellectual capital and leadership, teaching the leaders of tomorrow, all that good stuff.
Finally – another word of uncalculable sweetness when heard by a liveblogger with tiring fingers – he has a few words for the current PM, although he confesses first that he thinks Canadians made a dreadful mistake by not giving *somebody* a majority in the last election; this is, as far as he can see, the worst of both worlds. Anyway, his advice, such as it is, is to get out of the rigid, black and white thinking that forces a false choice between government intervention and allowing the market to fluctuate unfettered. The answer is to take a balanced approach – and what Conservatives have to do is find the smartest balance without sacrificing principles and vision. Aw.
And with that, he thanks the crowd and signs off – to another standing ovation, which is richly deserved.
Oh – and remember that straw poll? The hands down winner, as far as where the government should direct its focus, is — tax reductions. Shocker! The big loser? “Increased regulation”. Man, who could have seen that coming?
Anyway, that’s all for ITQ’s special weekend coverage – I hope someone out there enjoyed it!
Looking for more?
Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.