Behind the scenes of the NDP government's Ford-Kenney offensive

A Doug Ford visit to Calgary last fall kicked off a propaganda campaign inside the Alberta government, as staffers saw the chance to exploit the Ontario premier's close ties to United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney, according to documents obtained by CBC through an access to information request.

The messaging campaign, developed behind closed doors by NDP staffers, was focused in part on linking Kenney to the education policies of Ford's Conservative government in Ontario.

"Ford has made his intentions for education clear: gut the classrooms, cut $100 million for much-needed school repairs and punish teachers for teaching a modern day sex-ed curriculum," read one talking point forwarded to staffers by Jeremy Nolais, who works as issues director in Premier Rachel Notley's office.

Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press, Chris Young/Canadian Press

"We can see clearly that a Premier Jason Kenney would follow Doug Ford's lead on education," read another talking point.

The messaging twice made reference to the "bromance" between the two conservative politicians, a term Kenney himself had previously used to describe his relationship with Ford.

In one note, Nolais asked other staffers to spread the word.

"[Issue managers], if you and your [press secretaries] can find places for your ministers to sprinkle this into their social media throughout the weekend, that would be great," he wrote. "You can also post these to your own social (Calgary team you too)."

Nolais also asked a colleague for "prep time" with Education Minister David Eggen, who had been chosen as the government's point person on the issue.

CBC

"Plan to have Eggen do a rotunda avail[ability] Friday early afternoon," Nolais wrote.

Speaking to the media on the day of Ford's visit, Eggen used the talking points.

"In the three months that Doug Ford has been the premier of Ontario, he has unleashed mayhem into the education system: attacking teachers, taking $100 million out of maintenance, attacking curriculum," Eggen said that day.

"And I just want to remind people and warn people that Jason Kenney looks enviously at Doug Ford and actively says he wants to emulate the Doug Ford model here in our province."

Ford visited Calgary on Oct. 5, 2018, where he attended a highly publicized anti-carbon tax rally with Kenney.

The documents show a high level of strategizing and media savvy by the NDP and Notley's office, said Lori Williams, an assistant professor of political science at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

"She was very good in opposition at this sort of thing, and she continues to do that, or at least her government does, as premier."

However, she said, there could be some questions asked to NDP staffers who retweeted some of the same talking points, or ones with similar sentiments, without disclosing they actually worked for the government.

Sam Dinicol, an issues manager in the premier's office, wrote an email massaging the talking points into potential posts on Eggen's Facebook and Twitter accounts, the documents obtained by CBC show.

On Twitter, Dinicol identified himself as a New Democrat but did not say he worked for Notley. Between Oct. 5 and Oct. 11, he tweeted or retweeted about the Ford-Kenney connection five times.

Another staffer who received the talking points, Kate Pundyk, a researcher in issues management, tweeted or retweeted three times about Ford and Kenney between Oct. 5 and Oct. 12. She presented herself as "progressive" and a "policy researcher" on her profile, but also did not mention she worked for the government.

Documents show campaign's been "on for a long time"

Kenney has repeatedly urged Notley to call the spring election and officially launch the campaign.

The internal NDP documents obtained by CBC show that, unofficially, the campaign has been going on already for "a very long time," Williams said.

Normally, when premiers travel to another province they meet their counterparts. But Notley and Ford did not see each other during his time in Alberta last fall.

"I think what is fairly clear is, that wasn't the priority when Doug Ford came out," Williams said. "His primary purpose in coming to Alberta ... was to join together with those who oppose the carbon tax."

The UCP advertised Ford's visit to Calgary on its website a week before the rally.

The day before he joined Kenney in Calgary, Ford met with Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, also a carbon tax opponent, in Saskatoon. 

In an email, Notley's communications director told CBC that Ford did reach out about a potential meeting with Alberta's premier.

"Nothing was scheduled because their schedules did not align," Cheryl Oates said.