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

Enemies contemplate Byrne a ruthless, no-holds-barred politico prepared 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 just lately in opposition to Byrne, since 2004. “It sounds so clichéd — however the actuality is she’s a fucking pressure of nature.”

Others concern her combative model — fellow Conservatives aren’t spared — dangers alienating supporters and poses a menace to the motion.

One among Byrne’s colleagues from the Harper years known 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 now have to, as a celebration, stay united after the management marketing campaign if we’re to have an opportunity of profitable.”

Earlier this 12 months, when POLITICO’s Ottawa Playbook requested Byrne who was behind the scenes on Poilievre’s marketing campaign, she diminished 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 — have been unwilling to go on the file. Byrne didn’t reply to interview requests, however a lot of her mates and antagonists have been prepared to debate her sway on Canadian politics.

If, as anticipated, Poilievre is victorious when the race ends Saturday, he’ll have a reliable 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, typically 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 “scary thought,” a senior Conservative tells POLITICO.

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

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

All about floor sport

Byrne has been a consequential participant behind the scenes of Canadian conservatism for the reason that mid-2000s, and first reduce her tooth as an organizer with the Reform Celebration within the Nineteen Nineties.

She was grasp of the darkish arts in former prime minister Stephen Harper’s issues-management store, turned 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 function 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 struggle rooms.

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

“We’d develop a broad marketing campaign narrative. She could 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 help 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 not less than one PMO assembly.

“A whole lot of occasions, governments and folks in Ottawa neglect 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 folks.”

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

“She’s someone who’s a really optimistic individual by nature and a really pleased individual by nature,” Conservative strategist Kory Teneycke, who has been a great pal and colleague of Byrne’s for almost 25 years, tells POLITICO.

“However should you’re within the enviornment along with her, you don’t wish to be on her dangerous facet — as a result of she’ll kick your ass.”

‘Grasp of the bottom sport’

Celebration insiders say the success of Poilievre’s management campaign — together with how he’s commonly drawn swarms of individuals to rallies — is a main instance of Byrne’s power: “profitable the bottom sport.” In political shorthand, it’s the artwork of figuring out voters, sharpening the message, slicing down opponents, funneling sources to the correct locations, mobilizing volunteers and getting out the vote.

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

Poilievre has largely averted 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 international 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 choice for the backroom throughout earlier campaigns.

When the Conservative Celebration 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 concept 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 results in 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 fireplace Financial institution of Canada governor Tiff Macklem for pandemic financial coverage. He additionally made headlines when he instructed cryptocurrencies may “enable folks 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 Celebration. Massive 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 government chair for Poilievre’s management rival Brown, had a front-row seat.

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

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

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

Teneycke known 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 folks 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 development from the beginning. He remembers his first dialog with Byrne in 1996 after she had left a message with the Reform Celebration youth recruitment internet portal.

“I known as her again and he or she 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 Celebration, which advanced into the Canadian Alliance. Doug Finley, a legend in conservative circles within the artwork of organizing profitable campaigns, took her below his wing.

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

Byrne sharpened these expertise continually. Between common campaigns, she at all times discovered methods to assemble 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 unique dynamic.

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

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 group to a majority win in 2011. On Jan. 29 that 12 months, 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 is just not the sort of man who trusts folks simply, neither was the previous PM. And so it takes a very long time for him to get snug 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 have 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.

Just a few 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 common 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 tricky 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 — a lot of them who’ve identified Byrne for many years — only a few may put their finger on what drives her in politics.

That’s, apart from her need to win — and to crush Liberals.

“It’s arduous 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 status 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, advised 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 completed, 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. You can see absolutely paid-up members of the cult of Jenni,” mentioned Andrew MacDougall, Harper’s former director of communications. “By the identical token, you’ll discover folks which were advised they’ve had a Jenni drawback in authorities. And that often meant you weren’t lengthy for no matter function 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 specific 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 he or she desires to win, and he or she leaves it to different folks to determine what you may do after you win.”

On this sense, Byrne may very well be a great match with the zeitgeist-savvy Poilievre, who appears to have lengthy had a great 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 ascertain himself with Canadians as a governing different.

As a substitute, she’s anticipated to give attention to an even bigger goal: Successful the subsequent federal election.

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

“The CPC has fallen properly behind the Liberal Celebration 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 feel that will probably be her actual curiosity if Pierre is victorious.”

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

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

“It’s important to 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 middle of all of this in come what may.”

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