Not planning to vote Conservative? The Tories still want to know all about you

In the wake of the robo-call scandal, John Fryer penned a letter to major newspapers describing his experience attending at the Conservative-aligned Manning Centre for Democracy Campaign School. Here's a deeper look at the key players at his training.

In 2010, John Fryer, a member of the Order of Canada and an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria, attended a campaign school training offered by the Conservative-aligned Manning Centre for Democracy. Last week, as news of the robo-call scandal spread across Canada, he was driven to pen a letter to the editor of major Canadian newspapers about the nature of this training.

The $249 two-day intensive training program took place from January 22-24, 2010, at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort. The event description on the Manning Centre's website read: "With the potential of an election this spring, the skills you learn at this school can make the difference between winning and losing".

The training was dubbed "the most comprehensive campaign manager training ever delivered in Canada" by its organizers, and promised to deliver "the knowledge and skills it takes to win" from "some of the most experienced campaign managers in the country".

Roughly 35 people attended the Manning training. According to Fryer, many of the attendees were attracted to the training to help defeat Liberal incumbent MP Keith Martin in Esquimalt Juan De Fuca. The event’s star-studded slate of speakers included former Press Secretary to Stephen Harper (and current President of Sun Media) Kory Teneycke and David Akin, the National Bureau Chief for Sun Media.

Other headliners were Stephen Taylor, founder of the Blogging Tories, and Dimitri Pantazopoulos, a former pollster for the federal Conservatives, the Canadian Alliance and the Reform Party who is now the Principal Secretary to Premier Christy Clark.

The school was organized by Fraser McDonald of the Manning Centre in addition to Richard Ciano and Nick Kouvalis. Both are founding members of Campaign Research, established in 2003.  

What is Campaign Research?

Campaign Research does voter identification and market research for the Conservative Party of Canada. The agency made news in December when they placed misleading phone calls to Liberal MP Irwin Cotler’s constituents in an apparent attempt to identify likely Conservative and non-Conservative voters in that riding. The calls falsely claimed that he would resign his seat and then asked the constituents who they would support in the by-election that would follow.

When Colter then raised concerns about the ethics of the misleading phone calls in the House of Commons, Conservative MPs dismissed his concerns by claiming that the misleading phone calls were a protected form of free speech.

Ciano and Kouvalis have been key figures in the rise of Canada’s right-wing campaigning machinery.

Ciano became the national vice-president of the Conservative Party of Canada from its founding convention in 2005 until 2008.

His profile on the Campaign Research website, a profile that has since been deleted, states that he was a successful campaign manager for a Conservative MP Peter Van Loan in the 2004 federal general election. He's currently running for election as president of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. Ciano was also a member of the national Conservative Party’s governing council, serving Prime Minister Stephen Harper as the party was in transition from Official Opposition to government following the 2006 federal election .

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