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Tories ask donors to dig deep for 2015 election battle

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 14, 2014.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

The governing Conservatives are asking supporters to dig deep for what they are billing as the most expensive political campaign to date, the 2015 election battle the Tories are trying to frame as a choice between Stephen Harper's economic record and "inexperienced Liberals like Justin Trudeau" or the "leftist ideologues like Thomas Mulcair."

The Conservatives are warning contributors they need to start fighting the next election now, citing the addition of 30 new seats in the Commons, which will expand to 338 MPs from 308, as well as the growth of social media.

"This increase in the number of seats, plus the need to expand Conservative communications and outreach … will require the biggest campaign budget in Conservative Party history to ensure victory next year," the Tories wrote in a recent missive to significant party donors that was obtained by The Globe and Mail.

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Although there are spending caps during campaign periods, parties do not face similar limits on advertising expenditures before the writ drops.

"To compete for these extra new seats in 2015, our outreach and communications budget must expand too – and we must do it now. If we wait until next year, it may be too late," the party says in an accompanying fundraising letter.

Mr. Harper's Tories, who will be asking voters to elect them to government for the fourth time in a row, appear to be unnerved by what they regard as fawning media coverage of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

They blame concentration of ownership in the media for this state of affairs – a complaint that forms a central part of this message to key supporters.

"Despite all his verbal flubs, lack of experience, and his failure to outline any practical economic policy for Canada, Justin Trudeau is still awarded a shining halo by liberal-minded journalists and pundits who are bedazzled by their own hopes of a Liberal second coming," says the letter by Conservative Party director of political operations Fred DeLorey.

The root of the problem, the Tories tell supporters, is that a few corporations control much of Canadian media.

"Over 80 per cent of Canadian media is owned by a cartel of just five corporations – each of which owns dozens of publications and networks under various subsidiaries and affiliates," Mr. DeLorey's letter says.

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"The Canadian newspaper industry today is largely controlled by a small number of individual or corporate owners, which often own the television networks."

This concern about concentration of ownership in Canada's media has not surfaced in the policy-making priorities of the Conservative government since it took power more than eight years ago. Still, the Tories tell supporters it's a significant obstacle.

"Media convergence has greatly complicated our Conservative Party efforts to present the unfiltered facts and foundations behind our policies for economic growth, our faith in family values and our commitment to jobs, free trade and prosperity," Mr. DeLorey wrote.

He noted good economic news such as March, 2014, job growth and asked "how much of that good news has come to you in the press and media?"

"The official campaign for re-election of Stephen Harper and our Conservative majority government won't start until next year – but in the media it seems it has already begun," he said.

Mr. DeLorey said the party has to develop a new digital strategy for advertising and outreach that takes into account the the proliferation of platforms including smart phones, tablets and social media.

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The party is asking key donors to fill out a "National News Media Evaluation Survey" that rates newspapers and TV outlets by their perceived political bias and asks whether supporters believe, for instance, that "the CBC costs taxpayers too much and its operations should be privatized."

In the survey, the Tories test-market campaign messages to see which makes the "strongest case" for re-electing their party: one that plays up Mr. Harper's leadership, another that sticks to his record and a third that savages political rivals such as "inexperienced Liberals like Justin Trudeau or leftist ideologues like Thomas Mulcair."

Mr. DeLorey did not return requests for comment Wednesday.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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