A former Conservative candidate said Sunday that the party muzzled him and kept him from freely engaging in public discourse.
Gary Caldwell, who will now run for the Green Party in the Quebec riding of Compton-Stanstead, claimed he had to ignore Tory rules to speak openly with reporters.
"If one wanted to communicate with the local media, one had to take it upon oneself to override instructions that we had," Caldwell told CTV's Question Period on Sunday.
He said candidates "were told that we could not speak to the local media and this meant that I couldn't continue the public debate in my area."
Caldwell described himself as a "Red Tory" in the tradition of political thinker George Grant, who was concerned with social issues and the common good.
But he said he wasn't able to express those ideas in open public debate, and said Parliament is now being run by political parties rather than individual MPs who represent their constituents.
Canadians are less and less receptive to the "hidden agenda" theme, and Liberals can't expect to get much mileage out of that frame. However, there is a very open agenda at play, with plenty of anecedotal evidence, which accurately paints the Conservative Party as singular entity, obsessed with message control, stifling honest debate. The Conservatives freely admit the approach:
In an indication the Conservative campaign will be as centrally managed as the last election, candidates will be able to call upon the war room for even the most minute of details, such as drafting a local press release.
''We have a support team in Ottawa and they're just a phone call away,'' the official said.
The party started showing off its state-of-the-art 1,500 square metre campaign headquarters last May -- a suburban Ottawa building dubbed ''the fear factory'' by the Liberals.
In the last election, colorful candidates were silenced, press exposure was limited and Canadians were presented with a slick marketing campaign. All indications point to the next campaign being an exercise in puppeteering, candidates merely conduits for the head office propaganda. This reality presents an opportunity for the opposition parties, because people want to feel that their local riding candidates speak for them, the indication of message control and resistence to accountability glaring negatives.
The Liberals should make a concerted effort to contrast their approach in an election, with the Conservatives. Local candidates should seek out media, call out the Conservative candidates, give candidates the latitude to freelance and challenge voters to see the manipulations. If you frame the debate as an insult to Canadians intelligence, the Conservatives operating as though they are advertising, rather than articulating, then that can erode the effectiveness of the "war room". The Conservatives are operating in a very transparent way, almost arrogant, which presents an opportunity that should be exploited.