Politics

Globe debate: Spinning as fast as they can in the scrum room

The political communications people behind all three main federal party leaders ensured they put their best foot forward for their bosses following last night's debate in Calgary on the economy.

Political communications staff work hard to correct reporter 'misconceptions' about debate

Susan Ormiston and Adrienne Arsenault fact-check statements made by party leaders at the Globe and Mail leaders debate 4:54

Spare a moment of sympathy for Conservative campaign spokesman Kory Teneycke.

He was really happy with his boss's performance in last night's federal leaders' debate on the economy. So on Thursday evening, he was ready with his answer about Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's role in the debate hosted by the Globe and Mail.

"I think he did extremely well tonight," said Teneycke. "He articulated a positive plan for the next four years to keep taxes low, to keep our budget in balance and to protect the Canadian economy."

But the problem is the buzz among reporters and on Twitter isn't about Harper's overall performance. It's about three words he used in the 90-minute debate: "old stock Canadians."

Teneycke seemed caught off guard when asked about it.

"Sorry, that one sailed by me in terms of hearing it in the debate," he said. "Was this in the immigration section?"

Yes it was.

Harper said he would bring in more refugees, but "we do not offer them a better health-care plan than the ordinary Canadian can receive. I think that's something that new and old stock Canadians can agree with."

So, kind of an unfortunate phrase. Could he have phrased it better?

Teneycke paused.

"I understand what he meant," he said finally. "I  don't think there's any insult or malice in that phrase."

'Yelling'? Or just 'passionate'?

In the world of political communications, maybe not a soaring triumph.

But then, post-debate spin can be a bit hit and miss.

Nonetheless, the three major parties were giving it their best shot in Calgary.

The drill is: hover at the edges of the post-debate reporter scrums with the leaders, and listen to their version of how they think they did.

Then offer reporters your version.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was passionate, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair got off some zingers, and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper articulated his economic plan very well, in the words of their communications staff. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

"It's kind of like going to a play and the actors come out and say, 'I really think I did a good job,'" said one political insider watching the scene from the sidelines.

Another veteran practitioner is the NDP's deputy political adviser, Karl Belanger.

"Obviously you want to highlight your leader's performance, but you also want to suss out from the reporters what they thought happened and correct any 'misconceptions' that they had about what happened," he said.

So, how did NDP Leader Tom Mulcair do?

"I think he delivered a couple of good lines … zingers. He was funny, he was interesting, he was engaged and I think Canadians will respond well to that."

And surprise surprise, Belanger thinks the other guys sucked. Harper was "defensive," and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau "yelled too much."

No, that wasn't yelling say the Liberals. Leader Justin Trudeau is just "passionate," according to Kate Purchase, Liberal campaign director of communications.

Trudeau had to prove he can sell his campaign platform to run deficits to pay for major infrastructure projects. Purchase thinks he nailed it.

"We absolutely believe that this was a crucial debate and he went out there and said, 'This is my plan for the economy and I believe in Canadians,'" she said.

So, debate No. 2 is over. There are three more left to go, giving the parties a bit of breathing room to come up with a new creative way to clear up all those "misconceptions" about how each leader is really doing.

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