AS THE STORY GOES, Patrick Muttart was in Australia this fall to observe the campaign of prime minister John Howard, a conservative from whom the Harper brain trust drew many lessons for its own 2006 election run. When Howard lost, after 11 years in office, Muttart found himself surrounded by the vanquished. “Patrick was taken aback by the fact that here were all these people who suddenly lost their jobs and were feeling rather despondent,” a Conservative insider says. “And his reaction was that he never wanted to feel that way.”
Muttart, a deputy chief of staff responsible for “strategic planning,” is essentially charged with just that—ensuring this government never knows defeat. Where others deal with the day-to-day news cycles and controversies, Muttart is responsible for building a sustainable and successful Conservative brand. It’s no small responsibility. Muttart is one of three
advisers—along with director of communications Sandra Buckler and chief of staff Ian Brodie—whom the Prime Minister is known to call any time of the day or night.
When he arrived in Ottawa, he was hailed as a boy wonder.
He is now, seemingly, connected with everything—from the Conservative party website (used, as it is, to endlessly mock Stéphane Dion’s poor posture) to the fact the stage on Parliament Hill for Canada Day was blue. “One of the things that analyses of the past have shown to Team Harper is that the Liberals appropriated key symbols and brands—they would argue the flag, they would argue the Canada watermark,” the Tory insider explains. “The more of a brand imprint you can make, the more significant the impact can be. And this is what Patrick is there to do.”
As Tom Flanagan explains in Harper’s Team, the University of Calgary professor’s account of the last Conservative campaign, Muttart is well-suited to the job. “We had never had someone like Patrick on the campaign team—a high-level strategist with an ability to think in visual terms and dramatize policy,” Flanagan writes. “[He] has an eye for colour schemes, photo ops, sound bites, advertising and all the other things that bring political communications to life.” Muttart is said, for instance, to have influenced the government’s mini-budget, determining which voters the government needed to reach and how specific tax cuts might best be sold.
He is also, by all accounts, a voracious student of politics. For the 2006 election, he drew on the campaigns of Richard Nixon in 1968, Margaret Thatcher in 1979, Newt Gingrich in 1994 and the aforementioned Howard in 1996. But he doesn’t just study the winners. After the Conservatives lost in 2004, it was Muttart who co-authored what’s been described as a “brutal” memo to party leadership, including Harper, that helped shape the successful run in 2006. “Patrick deserves credit for many things, but one of the things I think he deserves credit for that he doesn’t often get is understanding why people have lost and addressing, constructively, mistakes that have been made,” says the Conservative. “That’s rare in political people. People like to look past mistakes.”
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