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06-2022

The strategists behind the curtain for Ontario’s election heavyweights

The strategists behind the curtain for Ontario's election heavyweights

Kory Teneycke in Markham, Ont., on March 10, 2018. Teneycke is returning as campaign manager for Doug Ford after masterminding the 2018 campaign.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

The strategists behind the three main parties in Ontario’s election campaign draw on some of the top political talent in the country and are a mix of veterans and newer faces.

Progressive Conservatives

Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford’s handlers have been running a campaign on themes of optimization, pledges to build highways and hospitals and attracting new jobs in the auto sector. But with polls showing them in the lead, they have so far taken a classic front-runners’ approach, offering few new promises beyond those already rolled out in recent months.

Returning as campaign manager for Mr. Ford is Kory Teneycke, who masterminded the 2018 campaign. Mr. Teneycke, who escaped serious injury when he crashed his vintage Ferrari in Ottawa last month, hopes to face fewer bumps as the end of the campaign draws closer.

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Mr. Teneycke, a former director of communications for Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper and senior executive at the short-lived Sun News TV, has said he has taken a leave from his lobbying firm, Rubicon Strategies.

Mr. Teneycke took on the helm of the re-election campaign last spring, and was credited for giving the government new direction – and discipline – as it changed tack in the face of its chaotic decision-making during COVID-19′s third wave last April .

Also offering polling and advice is Nick Kouvalis, who steered the 2010 underdog campaign of Rob Ford, Doug Ford’s late brother, for mayor of Toronto. However, Mr. Kouvalis has clashed with Doug in the past, even working against him on John Tory’s successful mayoral campaign in 2014. In 2017, Mr. Kouvalis resigned from his role on the federal Conservative leadership campaign of Kellie Leitch after using the far-right term “cuck” in an exchange on Twitter.

The PC campaign chair is Amin Massoudi, a long-time Ford confidant and adviser who until the campaign launched was principal secretary in the Premier’s Office. Mr. Massoudi served as communications director for Rob Ford during the height of the scandals over his erratic behavior and alcohol and drug abuse. He also served as an aide to Doug Ford when the PC Leader was a Toronto city councillor from 2010 to 2014.

The deputy campaign manager is Michael Casewho took on the role of executive director of the Ontario PC Party in 2018. Cody Weltonwho was deputy chief of staff in the Premier’s Office, is in charge of the PC war room, a standard feature of campaigns that offers rapid responses to charges from other parties.

NDP

In charge of the NDP’s forces once again is Michael Balagus, He ran leader Andrea Horwath’s 2018 campaign, which won the party a record 40 seats but came with the sting of just missing what was its best chance at power, in the face of Liberal collapse.

He has since served as Ms. Horwath’s chief of staff as opposition leader. Noting that the NDP, for the first time, can afford to spend the maximum amount in this campaign – $8.9-million – he said last month that the party is finally able to give Ms. Horwath “the campaign she deserves.”

A long-time NDP backroom adviser who worked for two Manitoba premiers, Mr. Balalagus is a former strategic adviser and interim chief of staff to federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh – himself a former NDP MPP who has been campaigning for his old boss. Mr. Balagus led the federal party’s war room in 2019.

The NDP team also includes campaign co-director Karla Webber-Gallagher, Ms. Horwath’s principal secretary. She is a long-time Ontario NDP official with a decade of election experience and who served as deputy campaign director in 2018. Lucy Watson, the party’s provincial executive director and a former senior aid to Mr. Singh, is deputy campaign director. Erin Morrison, Ms. Horwath’s director of communications, has the same role on the campaign.

Liberals

Christine McMillanOntario Liberal Leader Steve Del Duca’s rookie campaign director, has taken on this top role for the first time, steering the electoral battle for a party that had to be rebuilt from the ground up after it was nearly wiped out four years ago under Kathleen Wynne .

Ms. McMillan, a former aide to premier Dalton McGuinty who co-ran his war room in 2007, has been around Ontario Liberal politics ever since volunteering in high school in her hometown of Woodstock, Ont., in 1995.

The 44-year-old partner at Crestview Strategy, a lobbying and public-affairs firm, has a number of young new faces working on this campaign. But there is no shortage of Grit veterans, including from her days with Mr. McGuinty.

Don Guy, the political strategist behind Mr. McGuinty’s wins in 2003, 2007 and 2011 – but not the Kathleen Wynne collapse in 2018 – is a key volunteer adviser to Mr. Del Duca this time round. Brian Johns, a grocery industry entrepreneur who has been party president since 2017, is the campaign chair. Former leadership candidate and the party’s flag bearer in London North Centre, Kate Grahamis a vice-chair. Bob Lopinski, who held senior roles in the 2011, 2014 and 2018 campaigns and served as Mr. McGuinty’s director of issues management and legislative affairs from 2003 to 2005, is this campaign’s “chair of message.”

Jonathan Espie, a former senior adviser to Mr. McGuinty and chief of staff to several Liberal cabinet ministers, is the operations director. Omar Khanformer senior aide to McGuinty-era cabinet ministers and who is now vice-president of public affairs for a cannabis retailer, heads the war room. Dan Moultona vice-president with Crestview and a former senior adviser to the McGuinty and Wynne governments, is director of communications.

Greens

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner’s former chief of staff, Becky Smitis the chair of the campaign. Jaymini Bhikhawho has worked for BC’s Green Party and held various positions with the Ontario and federal Greens, is the Ontario party’s executive director and its deputy campaign manager.

Bianca Bell, a lawyer and Mr. Schreiner’s chief of staff, is in charge of the leader’s office and “target ridings” for the party, which at dissolution held only one seat in Ontario’s legislature: Mr. Schreiner’s in Guelph. Samantha Bird, a senior policy adviser in Mr. Schreiner’s office who has held various positions with the party but is also a former research assistant with the Royal Ontario Museum, is policy director.

Former CBC radio and television personality Ralph Benmergui is in charge of “issues and strategic planning” for the campaign. Mr. Benmergui hosted CBC TV’s midday program in the late 1980s and early 1990s, before moving to his own short-lived talk and variety shows. He first got involved with the federal Green Party more than a decade ago, and was involved in Mr. Schreiner’s breakthrough 2018 campaign.

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