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BC Election 2020

Behind the Curtain: Here’s Who’s Running the Parties’ Campaigns

Meet the strategists and managers navigating political waters in BC’s pandemic election.

Andrew MacLeod 22 Oct 2020 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of All Together Healthy (Douglas & McIntyre, 2018). Find him on Twitter or reach him at .

For four weeks on the campaign trail in British Columbia, party leaders and candidates have been front and centre, but behind them are teams putting in long hours to help them look and sound as good as they can.

Aside from keeping everything organized, a good team of strategists and communicators is nimble enough to respond to opportunities and issues as they arise. And they provide the stability and support that a leader needs to feel prepared and confident.

In a short race, especially one where everyone’s learning how to run a campaign and get out the vote during a pandemic, they can make all the difference.

With that in mind, The Tyee offers a short guide to who’s who on the NDP, BC Liberal and Green teams.

BC NDP

At the head is campaign director Bob Dewar, reviving the role he played in 2017. He’s credited with being the person during that race who said that if the Liberals were promising to reduce bridge tolls in the Lower Mainland, the NDP would go a step further and eliminate them, a policy many saw as decisive in the election outcome.

The party imported Dewar ahead of that race from Manitoba, where he’d been a key New Democrat having served as chief of staff and campaign director for former premier Gary Doer. One of his siblings was the late Paul Dewar, an NDP member of Parliament. Their mother Marion Dewar had also been an MP and mayor of Ottawa.

Also in a key role at NDP campaign headquarters is Heather Stoutenburg, the party’s acting provincial director, filling in for Raj Sihota. She had been the deputy director for the last three years. Sihota stepped down temporarily when she launched an unsuccessful bid for the party’s nomination in Vancouver Hastings and is helping with NDP campaigns on Vancouver Island.

Sage Aaron, who has been the director of communications in Premier John Horgan’s office, is the communications director for the campaign. Amber Hockin, a former party treasurer who has been the deputy chief of staff to Horgan, is in charge of COVID-19 compliance.

Special advisor and “Horgan whisperer” Marie Della Mattia, press secretary Jen Holmwood, and wagonmaster Laura Ziemba are travelling with the leader.

BC Liberals

Managing the campaign for the BC Liberals this time around is Emile Scheffel, a Kamloops native who has been the party’s executive director since 2017, with the exception of a five-month stint where he worked in communications for the construction firm Kiewit.

Scheffel had previously been a communications co-ordinator in former premier Christy Clark’s office and served as a ministerial aide in the Health Ministry before working for 11 months at CN Rail in 2016 where he was the regional lead of community affairs.

Sarah Weddell, who became BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson’s chief of staff in March, also has a senior role on the campaign. Before joining Wilkinson’s staff, Weddell was a vice-president with Hill+Knowlton Strategies, the large communications and government relations firm, and previously worked at National Public Relations. She completed an MBA in Indigenous business and leadership at Simon Fraser University in 2019 and two decades ago was a field director for the BC Liberals.

Others working at headquarters include Shane Mills, a longtime BC Liberal caucus official who was director of issues management ahead of the election, and Carlie Pochynok, the director of communications for the caucus. Jennifer Chalmers, Wilkinson’s deputy chief of staff and a premier’s office official in the former government, is travelling with the leader.

BC Greens

Rather than have one campaign manager with overall responsibility, the BC Green Party has a three-person leadership team sharing the load: Jillian Oliver, Evan Pivnick and Jonina Campbell.

Oliver, who worked on BC Green Leader Sonia Furstenau’s leadership campaign, was a key part of the 2017 breakthrough that saw three Greens elected. She travelled on the bus with then-leader Andrew Weaver and stayed as press secretary for the Green caucus in the legislature for the first year or so after the election. In 2019, she was the communications director on Paul Manly’s successful federal byelection campaign in Nanaimo.

Pivnick was involved as a volunteer in the 2013 campaign in Oak Bay-Gordon Head that saw Weaver become the first Green elected to the B.C. legislature. He worked in Weaver’s office between elections, then after the 2017 election became chief of staff for the Green caucus.

Campbell was herself at one point touted as a potential leadership candidate to replace Weaver, but in the end opted out. A teacher and former school trustee, she ran for the Greens in New Westminster in 2017 and received more than 25 per cent of the votes. She has since served as the party’s deputy leader.

Furstenau’s adult son Nicholas is travelling with her to events, as is her friend and former North Cowichan councillor Maeve Maguire, who ahead of the election was her constituency assistant.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Election 2020

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