Advice from the campaign trail

Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ government relations team has real experts in its ranks with previous experience working as a political staff member in a minister’s cabinet and at the Quebec national assembly. They have also actively taken part in different electoral campaigns. The experiences of three of our colleagues who have been in the heat of the action during a Quebec electoral campaign are presented below.

GÉRALD BELLEY, Vice-President at Hill+Knowlton Strategies

During the provincial electoral campaign of 1994, Gérald was the deputy director to the cabinet of Claude Ryan, then minister of municipal affairs in the Liberal government of Robert Bourassa and Daniel Johnson.

Gérald’s role primarily took place in the offices of the ministry of municipal affairs, to ensure that the cabinet’s ministerial work continued throughout the campaign and that services continued to be offered to the population.

How does one feel on the eve of the beginning of an electoral campaign?

In 1994, the fatigue of being in power was felt after several years of a Liberal government. The population wanted a change and we felt that from the beginning of the campaign. It is a funny state of mind to be in to launch oneself into an electoral campaign with little hope of winning the election, but without letting that lack of hope be seen. But when one begins a campaign, one always manages to convince oneself that it is possible to win!

What is the most important role in a campaign team?

In general, one needs to have a good team, and beyond the candidate, the role of the campaign director is essential, since they lead the team and ensure the link between the party at the national level and the candidate at the regional level.

Campaign teams are structured, with strategic positions such as the campaign director, the communications manager, a person in charge of the schedule and a social media manager. There is also someone responsible for volunteers who finds the right role for all the volunteers. And lastly, there is what we call the official agent, who is the person responsible for ensuring that policies and rules of the direction general des éléctions (DGE) are followed.

There are an incredible number of rules to respect during a campaign, regarding finances, people who have the right to vote, people who can be hired during the campaign, etc. The official agent manages this aspect and is also the person responsible for finances, which must be very closely followed.

In short, a campaign team is like starting a small business for 30 days and then dismantling it!

What does a campaign team do on the day of the election?

Starting in the morning, we take our telephone lists and we identify our supporters in order to, as we say in our jargon, “get out the vote,” that means to make sure that our people will go vote for our candidate. We also plan the appearances that our candidate will make during the day, by planning the path necessary to visit the strategic parts of the riding.

Throughout the day, we do a “scoring” exercise. We receive information from the voting offices regarding people who have already voted (without knowing for whom they voted), and that allows us to identify people who have not yet presented themselves at a polling station. We call these people, to get out the vote and make sure that they go vote. This operation happens every hour throughout the day of the election.

In one word, how would you describe an electoral campaign?

Excitement, emotions. Those who work on an electoral campaign put so much heart into it. After 30 days, everyone is exhausted, and emotions are running very high.

Gerald’s campaign experiences :

  • Charlottetown Referendum (1992), QLP volunteer
  • Provincial electoral campaign of 1994, Deputy Cabinet Director for Claude Ryan
  • Provincial electoral campaigns of 1998, 2008 and 2012, volunteer
  • Federal electoral campaign of 2011, official agent
JOSIANE HÉBERT, Deputy General Manager for Quebec at Hill+Knowlton Strategies

During the provincial electoral campaign of 1994, Josiane was the press secretary for the minister of transports, the Liberal Normand Cherry, and was also deputy director of the minster’s cabinet. She held these same functions in Mr. Cherry’s cabinet when he was minister of labour and minister delegated to cultural communities.

As a press secretary, Josiane accompanied the minister during the campaign, both during his visits to his riding in the region of Montreal as well as during the visits he made to other regions of Quebec to support other candidates.

How does one feel on the eve of the beginning of an electoral campaign?

The campaign team cannot wait to start, but at the same time, we know that we are embarking on a very intense period. It is a necessary exercise for our democracy, but when you are a political staff member or an elected official, it is also a source of insecurity since the results of the elections will determine if you keep your job or not. It is not in every field that your job is up for grabs every four years!

For you, what was the highlight of this electoral campaign?

For me, it was the outcome of the campaign that was significant. In 1994, the QLP lost power to the Parti Québecois (PQ). The riding of Saint-Laurent, for which Mr. Cherry was running at the time, was considered a sure win for the Liberals. To find myself the night of the election in a victorious riding, since Mr. Cherry had won the election, but to have to shoulder the loss of the party, was a big mix of emotions. We were happy to have won the election for Mr. Cherry, but this joy was mixed with a deep disappointment, in addition to a great incertitude since it represented for me the loss of my job at the ministerial cabinet. I had the opportunity to conserve a place in the team of the parliamentary wing of the Quebec national assembly after the election, but several of my colleagues had a difficult period following the loss of 1994.

What position or role is the most important in a campaign team according to you?

For me it is really the volunteers who are the most important people. You cannot run a campaign by yourself. There is, of course, the political staff around the candidate and their riding association who play an important role, but without volunteers of all ages, of all backgrounds and who come from the four corners of the riding to support us and help us mobilize the population, we would not go far!

In one word, how would you describe an electoral campaign?

An obstacle course. Some obstacles are successfully overcome, but there are others you trip over.  The days are long and intense, and you literally have to buy new running shoes along the way!

Josiane’s campaign experiences:

  • Charlottetown referendum (1992), political staff member
  • Referendum on Quebec sovereignty (1995), political staff member
  • Provincial campaigns of 1998, 2003, 2007 and 2008, volunteer
  • Federal campaigns of 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2011, volunteer
  • Jean Charest’s campaign for leadership (1998), copresident of the campaign
NADINE CAUX, Conseillère principale chez Hill+Knowlton Stratégies

Nadine has been a volunteer and supporter, first in the executive committee of the youth commission of the QLP for the Quebec City region during the 2003 campaign, then as coordinator of communications for the candidate of the La Peltrie riding during the 2014 campaign.

What role did you play exactly during these electoral campaigns?

In 2003, the national executive of the youth commission had the role of being present during the different rallies throughout the province, to ensure the presence and representation of the youth for the party. We also played a role in mobilizing youth to accompany us to these events.

In 2014, as a communications coordinator, I was responsible for the candidate of the riding’s communications. I did this work primarily in the evening and on the weekend since I already had a full-time job. Fortunately, at the time I worked for a former minister who was very understanding of the situation and of the fact that I sometimes had to manage issues during the day.

What was the highlight of the campaign for you?

The evening of the election is an important moment. The only thing you can do is wait for the results and you do not know what is going to happen even if all you want is to win.

What is the most important position or role in a campaign team in your opinion? 

There is not one role that is more important since it is a team effort. However, the candidate has an important role to play in mobilizing the team. If the candidate does not bring people together, or on the contrary if the candidate is ready to go and willing to give everything to win, that can really make a difference on the team and the way the campaign is run in the riding. The campaign director can have the same effect.

Is there a role in a campaign team that people do not really know about?  

I think that most people primarily see the candidate, but do not think about the people who work to support the candidate, who make their schedule, who make phone calls to supporters, who prepare the candidate for their activities in the riding, who write their messages, etc. In general, there are 4 or 5 people who work closely with the candidate, but on the weekends, there are many volunteers as well who help with different activities.

On the day and evening of the election, what does the election team do?

The most important thing is really to get the vote out on election day! People need to go vote. In our riding in 2014 we even offered to go pick up the elderly or those with limited mobility, so they could get to the polling booth.

In one word, how would you describe an electoral campaign?

A whirlwind!

Nadine’s experiences as a political staff member (outside of campaigns):

  • Assistant to the Chief of Staff, Cabinet of the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Regions and Urban Planning (2009)
  • Political attaché, Cabinet of the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Regions and Urban planning (2009-2011)
  • Political attaché and Deputy Press Secretary, Cabinet of the Minister of Tourism (2011-2012)