Advice from the campaign trail from ex-candidates

Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ (H+K) government relations team includes experts who have worked as political staff in a ministerial cabinet and at the Quebec national assembly. We present here the experience of two of our colleagues who have field experience as candidates during an electoral campaign.

Pascal Chouinard, Account Director at Hill+Knowlton Stratégies

Pascal has an impressive résumé, including seven years spent in politics, including as a candidate in the general election of 2012, during which he ran for the Quebec Liberal Party in the René-Lévesque riding in the Côte-Nord.

What motivated you to run as a candidate?

I am from Pointe-Lebel, near Baie-Comeau, in the heart of the René-Lévesque riding. In 2012, I was working in the cabinet of the Liberal government of Jean Charest and the party approached me, knowing I was from the Côte-Nord region, to run in this region. I knew that by running in René-Lévesque for the Quebec Liberal Party it would not be an easy campaign, but above all I saw the opportunity to live an enriching personal experience and to meet with people in the field.

How did the electoral campaign unfold?

In 2012, the QLP was in the middle of promoting the ‘plan nord,’ which I was always very interested in since I come from the Côte-Nord. I had the chance to travel across the riding and speak about the project, but above all, to see how people perceived it in the field. In the Côte-Nord, the neighbouring riding of Duplessis (which includes the cities of Port-Cartier, Sept-Îles and Fermont) was primarily going to profit from the plan in the short term. The citizens of my riding thus felt a little abandoned.

For this campaign, voting day was on September 4, 2012. We thus campaigned during the summer, a very touristic period for the region. I had the opportunity to participate in many activities and festivals throughout the riding, which allowed me to meet people in a festive atmosphere.

A typical campaign day differs depending on the riding and the sectors of the riding whether in urban or rural areas. My riding was over 300 km long, which meant more time was needed to visit it and also more organization. Since this riding did not typically lean Liberal, I had a very small campaign team, meaning just me and my official agent!

This meant that I had to do everything myself, although the same tasks in some campaign teams can be divided between three or four people. I made my own itineraries, my schedule, put up my own signs, managed my communications, etc. I also lived many firsts: my first time speaking before a chamber of commerce, my first media interviews, my first debates with the other local candidates. I even represented the QLP during a debate on Radio-Canada Est-du-Québec!

I spent election night with people I knew, those who supported me during the campaign. I remember that it was a beautiful evening. Although some people predicated a crushing defeat of the QLP across Quebec, in the end the party was elected as first opposition party.

What would your advice be for leading a good electoral campaign?

The important thing is learning to manage your energy. Campaigns are long. It is important to have as much energy on the first day of the campaign as on voting day. In the middle of the campaign, it is important to take a day or two for yourself, to regain strength and try to finish the campaign with all the energy necessary.

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




Pascal’s political experience:

·      2010-2012: Political attaché, Cabinet of the Minister of Health and Social services

·      2014-2015: Political attaché, Cabinet of the Minister of Higher Education, Research and Science

·      2015-2017: Special advisor, Cabinet of the Minister of Health and Social services



Martin Briand, Principal Director, Public and Government Affairs at Hill+Knowlton Stratégies

Backed by his six years of experience in politics in health and social services, Martin tells us about his two campaign experiences as a candidate for the Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ) in Jean-Talon, during the partial election in September 2008 and the general election in December 2008, during which he faced off against the former minister of health, Yves Bolduc.

What motivated you to run as a candidate?

I was a candidate in two elections for the ADQ, and the two campaigns took place within a period of three months. Yves Bolduc had been named the non-elected minister of health in June 2008. To serve in this role, he had to be elected and this was the reason for a partial election in the Jean-Talon riding in the month of September. Since I was health advisor for the ADQ at the time, the party wanted me to be candidate so that I could challenge Mr. Bolduc on the different health files. The partial election in September 2008 was the only election happening in Quebec at the time, and it was closely followed by the media.

For me, having faced off against the minister of health during an electoral campaign in two elections, not just one, is an unforgettable memory. It was a riding where the chance of an ADQ victory was weak and so I didn’t have any particular expectations. So I did it to live the experience, which, by the way, I loved.

How did your campaign unfold?

Having experienced two campaigns, the context of the partial election in September 2008 was very different than that of the general election in the following December. During a partial, since you are the only party candidate campaigning, the whole party team is behind you. During the general election, the personnel is primarily mobilized in the ridings with the best chances of winning, while candidates in the other ridings are less surrounded. For example, during the partial, I had a campaign director, a press secretary, someone responsible for my schedule… which was not the case during the general election.

Being a candidate in an electoral campaign is an enriching experience, but not always an obvious one. For example, going door to door and knocking on people’s doors to talk to them brings its fair share of surprises. I was often agreeably surprised by the welcome I received as people appreciate that a candidate came to come meet them. Other times, the welcome is less warm, especially when a citizen discovers that the person at the door is from a party that they do not like as much, and you can quickly understand that you are not welcome!

A memorable experience that I have of the partial election of 2008 is during election night. We were listening to Radio-Canada and Bernard Derome was hosting. He said, speaking of me: “He is a young father and they say he has lots of talent.” It is impressive and very flattering when it comes from Bernard Derome!

What would your advice be for leading a good electoral campaign?

Instead I will share a good anecdote, which shows that one never knows where an electoral campaign can lead. In March 2010, two years after the general election, only four of the seven MNAs of the ADQ who were elected in December 2008 remained. I had returned to my position as advisor on health files. Gérard Deltell, then the leader of the ADQ, came to let me know that the party no longer had the funds to pay me. He was sad to have to let go a member of the political staff, but even more so knowing that I was a father of a family with four children. So, he made some calls and found himself talking with the minister of health at the time, Yves Bolduc, to find out if he would be interested in having me in his team. I had always had a cordial and respectful relationship with my former campaign adversary, and that is how we found ourselves working together, two years after our first electoral face off! Yves and I still work together today, since he joined the H+K team in 2015 as a special advisor.

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




Martin’s political experience :

·      2007-2008 – Researcher, health and social services files

·      2009-2010 – Advisor, health files

·      2010-2012 – Special advisor, Cabinet of the Minister of Health and Social Services