“Kudos to her,” Fred DeLorey, O’Toole’s nationwide marketing campaign director in 2021, tells POLITICO. “You’ll be able to’t deny her talents when she takes out leaders after which helps put within the one she desires. I don’t know anybody else who might accomplish that.”

Enemies take into account Byrne a ruthless, no-holds-barred politico keen to activate allies the second she’s crossed. However she’s additionally a compassionate conservative — abandoning a marketing campaign at a pivotal second to fly throughout the nation for the funeral of a colleague’s mom.

“Nobody has higher instincts or understanding of Canadian politics,” provides DeLorey, who has labored alongside and extra lately in opposition to Byrne, since 2004. “It sounds so clichéd — however the actuality is she’s a fucking power of nature.”

Others worry her combative type — fellow Conservatives aren’t spared — dangers alienating supporters and poses a risk to the motion.

Considered one of Byrne’s colleagues from the Harper years referred to as her “a scorched-earth tactician,” noting the draw back that may overshadow her intelligence and expertise. “That’s one thing that may be harmful,” the individual, who helps Poilievre, mentioned in an interview. “We’ve got to, as a celebration, stay united after the management marketing campaign if we’re to have an opportunity of profitable.”

Earlier this yr, when POLITICO’s Ottawa Playbook requested Byrne who was behind the scenes on Poilievre’s marketing campaign, she decreased herself to “adviser.” However everybody is aware of she’s working the present.

POLITICO talked to dozens of key Conservative gamers, together with seasoned operatives and senior politicians who’ve seen Byrne up shut on the job. Many — particularly her detractors — had been unwilling to go on the file. Byrne didn’t reply to interview requests, however lots of her associates and antagonists had been keen to debate her sway on Canadian politics.

If, as anticipated, Poilievre is victorious when the race ends Saturday, he’ll have a respectable shot to take down Justin Trudeau within the subsequent election.

The Conservatives suffered two losses to the Liberals in 2019 and 2021 — campaigns the place Byrne was on the sidelines, generally mocking her personal occasion. With Poilievre as her chosen candidate, Byrne is again.

The prospect of her return to the Prime Minister’s Workplace is a “horrifying thought,” a senior Conservative tells POLITICO.

“There’s a variety of venom and vindictiveness that comes from her,” they mentioned. “She made a variety of enemies and stepped over a variety of toes.”

What she does subsequent will mark — and a few warn scar — the Conservative Social gathering and Canadian politics as an entire.

All about floor recreation

Byrne has been a consequential participant behind the scenes of Canadian conservatism for the reason that mid-2000s, and first lower her enamel as an organizer with the Reform Social gathering within the Nineties.

She was grasp of the darkish arts in former prime minister Stephen Harper’s issues-management store, grew to become the primary lady to steer a nationwide marketing campaign to majority victory, crossed swords with Conservative lawmakers, accelerated the demise of weak leaders, and performed a key position in Doug Ford’s unlikely rise to the premier’s workplace in Ontario.

Former colleagues marvel at what they are saying is a uncommon, deep understanding of what on a regular basis voters, particularly conservative-minded of us, care about.

Ken Boessenkool, an architect of Harper marketing campaign coverage, watched Byrne develop within the former chief’s early warfare rooms.

She wasn’t centered on coverage design. She cared most about promoting it to actual individuals.

“We might develop a broad marketing campaign narrative. She can be within the room for that, however that wasn’t her factor,” he tells POLITICO. “She would say issues like, ‘That’s not going to work on the bottom,’ which wasn’t her saying don’t do X or Y situation. She was simply saying, ‘I would like one thing I can use on the bottom.’”

Throughout her years within the PMO, DeLorey mentioned Byrne would remind Conservatives round her to always remember their bedrock of assist in small-town Canada.

In a single instance of Byrne driving residence the purpose, DeLorey remembers her bringing a photograph of herself and her dad — in looking gear and, within the backdrop, a deer slumped excessive of a pickup truck — to at the very least one PMO assembly.

“A whole lot of instances, governments and other people in Ottawa overlook who it’s that they’re representing and who they’re preventing for,” DeLorey mentioned of Byrne, who has shut ties to her Ontario hometown Fenelon Falls, a neighborhood of two,500. “She’s very, superb at reminding individuals.”

In relation to politics, those self same colleagues say she loves you or hates you — there’s no center floor.

“She’s anyone who’s a really constructive individual by nature and a really glad individual by nature,” Conservative strategist Kory Teneycke, who has been a very good pal and colleague of Byrne’s for almost 25 years, tells POLITICO.

“However if you happen to’re within the enviornment together with her, you don’t need to be on her dangerous aspect — as a result of she’ll kick your ass.”

‘Grasp of the bottom recreation’

Social gathering insiders say the success of Poilievre’s management campaign — together with how he’s recurrently drawn swarms of individuals to rallies — is a first-rate instance of Byrne’s energy: “profitable the bottom recreation.” In political shorthand, it’s the artwork of figuring out voters, sharpening the message, chopping down opponents, funneling assets to the correct locations, mobilizing volunteers and getting out the vote.

From the primary second, Poilievre’s marketing campaign tossed out the standard playbook. The opposite candidates hosted in-person launches. He blasted out a video on social media.

Poilievre has largely prevented mainstream media, save for providing an interview for a Maclean’s profile in his management bid’s early days. However he spoke at size to Jordan Peterson, a controversial psychologist whose world YouTube following runs into the hundreds of thousands.

He went adverse the second he declared his candidacy, dismissing rival Jean Charest as a tax-loving Liberal and contender Patrick Brown as a liar who’d say something to win. Byrne herself tweeted searing attacks, a marked departure from her desire for the backroom throughout earlier campaigns.

When the Conservative Social gathering introduced 678,000 eligible voters within the management contest, Poilievre claimed to have signed up greater than 300,000. The marketing campaign’s many critics cost that feat was solely achieved by courting conspiracy theorists and whipping up the trucker convoy crowd. Some name him Trump-lite.

Poilievre hasn’t instantly endorsed the conspiracy idea that holds the World Financial Discussion board is bent on eroding Canadian sovereignty and exerting management over Canadians’ lives. However he has gleefully promised by no means to ship a Cupboard minister to the WEF’s annual summit in Davos if he leads to the Prime Minister’s Workplace.

It’s all a play to a brand new base of potential voters who’re skeptical of politicians and the establishments that underpin Canada’s democratic system.

Poilievre shocked observers on the occasion’s first English-language debate by promising to fireside Financial institution of Canada governor Tiff Macklem for pandemic financial coverage. He additionally made headlines when he instructed cryptocurrencies might “permit individuals to take management of their cash from bankers and politicians.”

However the guarantees had their supposed impact.

Proper from the get-go, the Poilievre-Byrne effort attracted file numbers of latest members to the Conservative Social gathering. Giant rallies are uncommon in Canadian management campaigns — however they stuffed banquet halls and hockey arenas from Nanaimo, B.C., to Halifax and dozens of stops in between.

“This was a marketing campaign that got here out of the gate immediately on fireplace — and I imply that in a great way,” mentioned DeLorey, who, as govt chair for Poilievre’s management rival Brown, had a front-row seat.

“They had been simply very nicely polished. They knew what they had been doing and in addition the crowds they had been getting — they had been one thing.”

Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman says you may ask Byrne a few neighborhood in any using — and she’s going to let you know what’s occurring, ballot by ballot.

“She’s obtained an unbelievable capability to see what’s coming, transfer assets sooner and forward of the sport — and have the ability to put these votes in a field,” mentioned Lantsman, who has identified Byrne since their days within the occasion’s 2006 marketing campaign warfare room.

Teneycke referred to as Byrne an ace in “the currencies of politics.”

“Jenni is … a grasp of the logistics and the tactile type of campaigning the place you’ve obtained to get individuals to knock on doorways or ID vote or promote memberships,” he mentioned. “She’s extensively regarded on floor group as one of the best individual within the conservative motion in Canada.”

Teneycke has adopted her progress from the beginning. He remembers his first dialog with Byrne in 1996 after she had left a message with the Reform Social gathering youth recruitment internet portal.

“I referred to as her again and she or he was working on the IGA [grocery store] in Fenelon Falls,” he mentioned.

Byrne signed up for the occasion.

Her first style of politics got here as an operative with the Reform Social gathering, which advanced into the Canadian Alliance. Doug Finley, a legend in conservative circles within the artwork of organizing profitable campaigns, took her beneath his wing.

They labored collectively on the Canadian Alliance, after which Harper’s run for the management of the brand new Conservative Social gathering. When Finley ran the 2006 and 2008 Conservative campaigns, Byrne served as his deputy.

Byrne sharpened these expertise continually. Between basic campaigns, she at all times discovered methods to collect intel from native occasion activists and knock on doorways to listen to instantly from voters.

“Every time there was a byelection to be run, she’d be like, zippity doo dah,” mentioned Boessenkool.

Loyalty above all else

Byrne has the belief of a few of Canada’s most-senior Conservatives — from her outdated boss Harper to Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

However her relationship with Poilievre has a special dynamic.

Their background features a long-term romantic relationship, a bond as soon as described on Poilievre’s Wikipedia web page as “widespread regulation” — a suggestion that issues had been critical.

Byrne has acknowledged their previous on The Curse of Politics, the must-listen podcast for politics junkies in Canada.

They obtained collectively earlier than he was first elected as an MP in 2004, then parted months earlier than Byrne steered Harper’s workforce to a majority win in 2011. On Jan. 29 that yr, the identical consumer scrubbed the connection from each of their Wikipedia pages.

“That’s clearly lengthy within the rearview mirror,” DeLorey mentioned. “Now they’ve an excellent skilled relationship.”

A Conservative who labored with Byrne within the Harper authorities mentioned: “Pierre isn’t the sort of man who trusts individuals simply, neither was the previous PM. And so it takes a very long time for him to get comfy with somebody…. The truth that it exists between him and Jenni already is extraordinarily useful.”

The insider described Byrne as “Pierre’s most-effective weapon.”

A goal on the chief

The factor about weapons, although, is that they blow issues up. And Byrne didn’t hesitate to destroy a former pal for Poilievre’s benefit.

Byrne and then-Cupboard minister Erin O’Toole had been shut on the finish of the Harper period. She had helped elect him to Parliament in a 2012 byelection, and for a time lived at a house O’Toole owned in Ottawa.

A number of months after the devastating defeat, Byrne landed on Bay Road on the monetary communications agency Bayfield Technique. O’Toole made the introduction.

Over time, their relationship frayed, although even insiders near O’Toole have hassle explaining the supply of the rift.

Six years later, as O’Toole fought his first basic election as Tory chief, Byrne undermined him publicly on the Curse of Politics pod. He was a pretend Conservative, she mentioned, who didn’t characterize the occasion’s founding values.

Poilievre veered away from the official Tory marketing campaign, launching his personal advertisements that road-tested a tagline he would later use in his management marketing campaign: “Make extra, price much less. Paychecks, not debt.”

As O’Toole tried to rebound after a troublesome loss to Trudeau, Byrne labored behind the scenes — and out entrance — to oust him from the occasion management.

The Conservative caucus booted O’Toole from the leader’s office in early February as a dramatic trucker convoy occupation of downtown Ottawa was settling in for the lengthy haul.

The stage was set for a Poilievre management run, which some say Byrne had been plotting ever for the reason that Ottawa-area MP declined to make the leap in 2020.

Not a hyphenated Conservative

Of the handfuls of individuals POLITICO reached out to — lots of them who’ve identified Byrne for many years — only a few might put their finger on what drives her in politics.

That’s, aside from her want to win — and to crush Liberals.

“It’s exhausting to understate how single-mindedly Jenni thinks about politics,” mentioned one former colleague from the Harper days. “She cares about it very deeply and so she is kind of aggressive in pursuing what she thinks is the correct course.”

The identical colleague additionally argued the aggressiveness label is problematic — not least as a result of it’s unfairly given to girls in positions of energy.

Byrne additionally gained a fame for mentoring younger girls on Parliament Hill, a mission she cared about deeply.

Jamie Mozeson, whose first gig after a Hill internship in 2008 was in Byrne’s points administration workplace, informed POLITICO many ladies mentored by Byrne are on the Poilievre marketing campaign — together with in senior positions.

Ask why they’re there, they usually’ll level to Byrne. “She’s very loyal to us. If she wants one thing performed, she’ll ask,” mentioned Mozesun. “We at all times say sure.”

However there’ll by no means be a common view of Byrne amongst her many former colleagues.

“She’s mentored lots of people. One can find totally paid-up members of the cult of Jenni,” mentioned Andrew MacDougall, Harper’s former director of communications. “By the identical token, you’ll discover individuals which have been informed they’ve had a Jenni drawback in authorities. And that normally meant you weren’t lengthy for no matter position you had in that authorities.”

One senior Conservative who labored with Byrne within the Harper authorities mentioned she had a little bit of a chip on her shoulder as a result of she was by no means the one studying Friedrich Hayek and Edmund Burke.

“I don’t know what exactly motivates her,” the insider mentioned. “Her conservatism is instinctual. It’s not cerebral. It doesn’t actually strike me as very ideological, it’s primarily partisan.”

The supply mentioned she has by no means appeared to fall into the class of somebody animated by a selected worldview, private ambition or any single situation.

“She’s not there as a result of she has a transparent set of coverage objectives,” the insider mentioned.She desires to beat Liberals and she or he desires to win, and she or he leaves it to different individuals to determine what you would possibly do after you win.”

On this sense, Byrne may very well be a very good match with the zeitgeist-savvy Poilievre, who appears to have lengthy had a very good sense of what he would do with the political energy of the Prime Minister’s Workplace.

Constructing the juggernaut

If Poilievre secures the Tory management, insiders say Byrne is unlikely to spend her time within the Workplace of the Chief of the Opposition the place he’ll be working to determine himself with Canadians as a governing different.

As an alternative, she’s anticipated to deal with an even bigger goal: Successful the following federal election.

One senior Conservative thinks Byrne is more likely to pour her power into readying the Conservative equipment for an additional crack on the Liberals.

“The CPC has fallen nicely behind the Liberal Social gathering when it comes to digital campaigning and voter ID,” the Conservative supply mentioned. “These are all issues that Jenni want to be concerned in enhancing. So, I believe that shall be her actual curiosity if Pierre is victorious.”

Byrne might go for a part-time position in politics. She’s grown her personal consulting agency, Jenni Byrne + Associates, for the previous three years — and her proximity to Poilievre shall be nice for enterprise.

All people in her orbit agrees she has choices — and she or he’s not performed but.

“You must be robust, actually fucking robust, if you wish to work on this enterprise — interval,” mentioned Teneycke, who additionally described Byrne as a pioneer in Canadian politics.

“To blaze that path, Jenni needed to be more durable than lots of people with a view to achieve success. It’s a testomony to her character, her perseverance, that she’s gone so far as she has.”

DeLorey says he hasn’t spoken with Byrne about her subsequent steps. He’s sure about one factor.

“She ain’t going wherever — she’s going to be within the heart of all of this in come what may.”

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