The Sparrow may be gone, but his legend lives on …

Including in the riding of London-North Fanshawe Centre … where, coincidentally, the PM will be heading off later today. Local columnist Chip Martin remembers all too well Ryan Sparow’s antics during the ill-fated 2007 2006 byelection, when he turned up “driving a gus-guzzling SUV with Alberta plates” to tank local Tory hopeful Diane Haskett’s campaign with his big-city brand of politicking:

Sparrow was picked to oversee Haskett and ensure the former mayor, who made a hasty return from Washington to contest the race, didn’t get out of line.

This was a tall order because Haskett, a bright and rather spontaneous individual, had been known to speak her mind, a trait that endeared her to supporters but could enrage her opponents.

Sparrow arrived to ensure the orderly transition of London-North-Centre from the Liberal camp to the Conservatives.

Driving a gus-guzzling SUV with Alberta plates, Sparrow went about his London assignment with vigour. He inserted himself between Haskett and reporters with whom she’d had an easy rapport during her time as mayor. He wanted to vet questions, brief the candidate and help craft her answers.

It was obvious Haskett chafed at the level of control that was placed on her. And it’s doubtful she ever knew of Sparrow’s highly partisan e-mails that went out to reporters behind the scenes slagging her rivals and their campaign teams. Haskett would never have approved of Sparrow’s bag of dirty tricks and smear tactics.

Despite prime conditions for vote-splitting – Elizabeth May ran for the Greens and came in second after picking up an additional 20% share of the vote – Haskett placed third. Afterwards, Martin reports:

Sparrow packed up and headed back to Ottawa to take on any assignment that might come his way. The loyal Tory attack dog just kept climbing up the party ladder. The incident last week tells much about Ryan Sparrow. But also about the people who gave him increasingly important responsibilities.

Which is something that seems to have been largely overlooked during the pundit post-mortem of the PM’s swift response to last week’s transgression. A Globe and Mail profile that ran last spring following the now infamous secret Sunday briefing, calls Sparrow the party’s “most frequent communicator-in-chief” on the election financing controversy willing to “literally … take a bullet” for the Prime Minister, according to an unnamed senior Tory:

Tories privately say Mr. Sparrow should not be held responsible for communications strategies at party headquarters, saying the Prime Minister’s Office is calling the shots for this hardball approach to the media.

“If they told him [instead] to go out and buy [reporters] beers every night, he’d do that,” a second senior Tory said.

The Harper government appears happy with Mr. Sparrow, with the first senior Tory describing him as a jovial personality who is not obsessed with status and title like many political staffers in Ottawa.

“This level of media relations in the private sector would be conducted by someone who was much older, so it’s been trial by fire for him and … a good learning experience.” […]

A third Tory said Mr. Sparrow’s stock isn’t hurt if journalists grow
frustrated with communications at Conservative Party headquarters.

“There is a sense in certain quarters … of the leadership of the party
that you earn your stripes when you [tick] off the media, when you hold
the line and you go to the wall for the party.”

Given the maniacal message micromanagement that has become the signature style of the Conservative Party, it’s hard to envision any scenario in which Sparrow wasn’t simply carrying out orders from above – in London last year, and – up until last week – out on Lancaster Road. Rapid-fire response to reporters was his standard operating procedure.

According to the Globe’s Jane Taber, the same day that he opened fire via berry on the motivations of the father of a fallen Canadian soldier, he “e-mailed one reporter at least 16 times as he tried to point out discrepancies in a Liberal press release” – and despite making what he admits was a “dumb mistake”, expects to be back on the job after the campaign. In other words, he’s earned his stripes, held the line and gone to the wall for the party” – and as far as he knows, the party still has his back.

Meanwhile, the War Room field commanders – Doug Finley, Patrick Muttart, Jason Kenney – in charge of operational strategy were conspicuously absent during last week’s outburst of friendly fire. In fact, I don’t think we’ve seen Kenney since Monday’s edition of the now-scotched newsomatic 6am press briefing – despite the fact that the party has designated him as official campaign go-to guy for short-order media hits, and he was virtually unescapable during the lead-up to the writ.

Muttart – the much-feared Dark Lord of Demographic Profiling – was apparently too busy populating the NarrowCaster 2008 database with whimsically named imaginary voters like Zoe and Dougie (a sitcom pilot waiting to happen, incidentally). Speaking of which, how does someone with such fabled understanding of the deepest recesses of the psyche of the swing voter manage to not notice any of the potential problems – puffin or otherwise – on the website his party is about to unveil?

Oh, and Doug Finley? I’m sure he was just too busy not running a candidate against Andre Arthur to comment on the chaos into which his party’s communications director plunged the campaign, albeit briefly, with an overenthusiastic attack. Instead, a scapebird was sacrificed on the alter of political optics, and everyone else – especially those who outranked him – breathed a sigh of relief, and the war room went back to business as usual.