Tories show off 'war room' while talking peace
OTTAWA - The federal Conservatives rolled out an election war machine Monday designed to shock and awe the opposition, all the while insisting they want electoral peace.
The Tories showed off a new state-of-the-art campaign headquarters and declared themselves ready to do battle -- but only if the opposition forces their hand.
The Liberals dismissed the massive 1,500-square-metre facility as a "fear factory,'' saying it proves the minority Conservative government wants to engineer its own defeat and blame its opponents.
Journalists were invited to a suburban industrial park for a rare peek into the inner sanctum of a party which is famously tight-lipped about its political operations.
Suspicions about why the party would suddenly fling open its doors and allow reporters to poke around the premises were quickly addressed.
"We're trying to demonstrate that we'll be ready (for an election),'' said Environment Minister John Baird.
"(Stephane Dion's) got to know the Conservative party will be ready.''
With the Tories leading in the polls, but not by enough to guarantee a majority government, neither they nor their opponents are necessarily clamouring for a campaign.
It's unclear if the tour Monday was designed to leave their foes cowering on the opposition benches. But there were enough flashing lights for a political campaign -- starting with the TV studio.
It's the centrepiece of a larger facility which is about the same size of an NHL rink.
The Tories will be able to flood the airwaves during the next election without ever moving from the friendly confines and flattering lights of their own studio.
Campaigning Tories can read their lines from a teleprompter, while standing under the gentle glow of soft, Hollywood-worthy lighting. Behind them is an electric-blue projection screen that flashes with additional sparkling lights, along with the Conservative party logo and the word "Leadership.''
They inaugurated the facility Monday while releasing another pre-election attack ad -- their third one -- against Liberal Leader Stephane Dion.
A pair of Conservative cabinet ministers -- reading from teleprompters in both official languages -- took turns pointing out that the facility cost a bundle to operate. But the party did not release a figure.
"We have opened these large, expensive headquarters because Mr. Dion has threatened to trigger a snap election,'' said Industry Minister Maxime Bernier.
But the Liberals said Monday's open house session is further indication of a government that secretly yearns for an election.
"By conduct now, most Canadians are seeing that this government wants to defeat itself,'' said Liberal MP David McGuinty.
"First (the government says) it doesn't want an election but it runs millions of dollars of attack ads, then secondly it opens up a 17,000-square-foot fear factory.''
"Ultimately, whenever an election comes, my prediction is they will run a campaign based on fear.''
There were no employees toiling in the headquarters during Monday's visit -- but in a main room that holds about 100 brand-new desks, the computers were plugged in and running.
The desks are split into different divisions under hanging signs marked: Communications, Creative/Advertising/Polling/Candidate Support/Direct Voter Contact.
A separate board room with electronic conference-call equipment has been set up.
Even the decorations are in, with the walls already plastered with a handful of posters of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
One Liberal who worked in her party's war room in the 2004 campaign said there's nothing extraordinary about the Tory election setup _ except for the TV studio. And the number of desks.
"That sounds like a lot,'' she said.
It's not clear if and when the Tories will use the facility. The only sign outside the low-rise industrial complex does make it clear they haven't booked the place for long: "Whole 2nd floor. Approximately 18,000 square feet. Available January 2008.''