A Strong Canada’s Story So Far (Part 1) – The Conservative Leadership Race

A Strong Canada’s Story So Far (Part 1) – The Conservative Leadership Race

The Story of A Strong Canada
Part 1: Two Idiots, One Idea, and Some Pretty Insane Work Ethic

“Hey Nick, you know if we actually do this we’re not sleeping for the next 3 months, right?”

“Yeah Aaron. But if we don’t do this, who will?”

Thus begins the story of A Strong Canada.

When we launched there was no blueprint for what came next. Our goal to get as many non-traditional Conservative voters into the party in just under a month seemed impossible, and many people told us it was.

At the start, our mission was two-fold:

1) Get as many progressives as possible to join the Conservative party to prevent Kellie Leitch or Kevin O’Leary from winning the leadership

2) Encourage positive political discussion between *all* Canadians

To do this we had to help create a movement of people that could mobilize into a reckoning electoral force and that’s exactly what some of you reading this helped us help you do. Below we’ve detailed our month-to-month activities to give you a better picture of what we at ASC-HQ have done since our launch in February 2017, why it’s mattered, and where we’re going next.

For everyone that has helped two political junkies go clean and actually launch a positive political institution, thank you.

Aaron Binder, Kasey Dunn and Nicholas Tsergas at the 2017 Conservative Leadership Convention - about to go on CPAC!
Aaron Binder, Kasey Dunn and Nick Tsergas at the 2017 Conservative Leadership Convention

The following is a month-by-month account of where we started, what we did and our future goals for 2018 broken into 3 parts.

January: An Idea of Trumpian Proportions

Sonic Cafe, Chinatown, Toronto.  Nick and Aaron sat down for drinks in their favourite dive while the pall of a just-inaugurated President Trump (whose public antics we became intimately acquainted with during the era of “Trump Googles”) hung over a subdued and solemn room.  As we discussed the state of affairs with friends and strangers, drowning our sorrows in downtown elitist craft beer and indie-punk, someone spoke up:

“You know, the Conservative Party of Canada is holding their leadership race right now and Kellie Leitch – basically our Trump – looks like she’s in the lead.”

This sparked a conversation about Canadian politics, whether or not “Trump could ever happen in Canada” and why we should all join the Conservative Party to vote for reasonable candidates, principled candidates, basically anyone not-terrible.  A week later the group reconvened and as it turns out, only Nick and Aaron followed through with the plan.

After high fives and jibes were exchanged (“our grandparents would be so proud..”) a sobering thought set in:

“But we’re just two idiot hipsters in a downtown Toronto bar… this is pretty funny, but is it really going to change anything?”

This was followed by several increasingly interesting thoughts:

“Man this sucks. I mean… what if every Bernie Sanders supporter joined the Republican Party instead of the Democrats? Where would we be today? Here? Nope.”

And..

“Two idiots, yes. But what if we were more than two idiots? What if we were two-thousand idiots? Or 20-thousand!?”

And this is how the idea of an organization to get people involved in politics in new and exciting ways was born.

Task 1, enter the Conservative Leadership Race.

February: Crashing the Party

Between January 30th and February 21st, Nick and Aaron spent almost every waking moment creating the brand, message and tools to get people involved. With just over a month to go before the sign-up deadline, the message needed to connect immediately. On February 21st, Canadians got their first look at what “encouraging positive political discussion in all Canadians” looked like.

For some people, the idea of engaging meaningfully with a new political ideology seems challenging, unappealing and even scary. For Nick this definitely rang true in approaching the Conservative party – having sharpened his political teeth at Occupy Toronto and other various left-leaning organizations. For Aaron it meant a return to Conservative roots in Essex County, launching his first business at 16 throwing punk concerts, writing angry zine screeds and eventually morphing into a disruptive entrepreneur.

Regardless of where both of us came from, we wanted to engage and cover the leadership in a respectful and fresh way that Conservative politics in Canada wasn’t used to.  With thousands of young idealists joining the party – reminiscent of the Brian Mulroney days – the door was wide open for vibrant conversations to replace the stale image of the prior decade’s dominant party.  Disrupting this process meant doing so positively while maintaining the integrity of the election.

For us and our thousands of followers, our entry into the national conversation as a voting bloc started here:

March: The Deadline Looms

March was the crunch month, our goal was to sign up as many people as possible to the Conservative party and make sure that regular Canadians’ voices were heard in this highly influential race. With the sign-up deadline of March 28th looming, candidates, special interest groups and a bunch of dairy farmers were all trying to sign up as many new members as possible – it was an absolute bonanza.  It was also one of the best expressions of democracy seen in party politics in decades.

At the beginning of the month, Kasey Dunn got in touch with A Strong Canada and became an integral member of the team as an interviewer, space provider (she runs Brick and Mortar), and brilliant strategic mind. With her on board we pushed even harder for new members as the media began to take notice of our campaign.

The famous A Strong Canada NOPE poster featuring Kevin O'Leary.
The infamous NOPE poster featuring Kevin O’Leary.

With the days ticking down in late March we began reaching out to all 14 candidates (even the ones we disagreed with, such is our mission statement) and turned up the heat with our NOPE poster featuring Kevin O’Leary.

April: Candidate Interviews and the 10,000

From here, we secured a number of interviews with candidates to shed light on the ideas being championed.  At this time we were paying out of pocket, enduring sleepless nights and working with audio equipment that could only be described as frustrating… or comedic.

Over the course of their leadership race between 40,000-60,000 new members joined from across the political spectrum.  It was important to talk to as many candidates as possible while the mainstream media airwaves were dominated by Kellie Leitch and Kevin O’Leary.

In early April, about 10,000 voters had amalgamated behind A Strong Canada and two allies – EndBigotry and Tolerable Opposition.  Our 3 organizations forwarded a recommended ballot to be released once our candidate interviews were completed, leaving people enough time to think about everything, review, and make their own informed decisions.

April was spent in the trenches with our core team and close friends writing interview questions, figuring out how to set up cameras and copious hours editing – all done by complete amateurs – us.  The results sometimes reflected that but sometimes it turned out pretty great.

ASC Interview Series: Wokest Candidate?

We ask Michael Chong a question even we're too old to answer.

Posted by A Strong Canada on Thursday, May 11, 2017

Over the course of April we got to know 7 of the candidates via our interview series and they all had some interesting ideas – especially Andrew Saxton and Chris Alexander.  What was becoming quite apparent through this whole process was that the Conservative party is much more robust than how it is often portrayed. All who engaged in this disruptive political experiment realized that *all-right wingers* are in fact, not racists, bigots, sexists, transphobes, or whatever, and we could no longer sit by while others said they were.

people say we infiltrated the Conservative Party. They’re right. But the Party, well, it infiltrated our hearts…”

– Nick

May: Preferred Ballot, Climax, and Many Sleepless Nights

It would all be over on May 27th.  Kevin O’Leary had dropped out, Kellie Leitch had successfully discredited herself and all signs pointed to either an Andrew Scheer or Maxime Bernier win.  Regardless, every campaign was fighting for every last vote and the race had broken into mainstream consciousness – would Canada’s next potential PM be a self-described Libertarian or “Stephen Harper With a Smile?”

Each day brought explosive new developments to the race, would Kevin O’Leary dropping out help or hinder Bernier?  Could Erin O’Toole run up the middle?  Would Rebel Media implode before or after the May 26/27th convention?

By this point, our videos had been seen over 400,000 times across our 3 month old platform and we developed a powerful voice for our 10,000+ members and the (estimated) 60,000 outsider-progressives who joined the Conservative Party.  There was a truly palpable excitement at the possibility that the Conservative party could shake away its image as a decrepit party of racists, bigots and phobes of varying types.  Then Convention weekend came.

Conservative Convention, May 26/27 – A Bigly Affair

In many ways, May 26th/27th would become the most pivotal weekend in Canadian Conservative politics since Stephen Harper’s ascendancy to the newly-merged Reform/Progressive Conservative Party – the start of his reign until his dethronement in 2015.

Before the convention, CPAC, the Cable Public Affairs Channel, contacted us after a chance meeting between Aaron and one of their producers (who immediately bonded over their Don Cherry-esque wardrobes). CPAC offered the ASC trio a slot to talk about how their voting bloc may impact the election and just what A Strong Canada was all about.

2017 Conservative Leadership — Young Political Activists on Ci…

Three young political activists and founding members of A Strong Canada — Nicholas Tsergas, Kasey Dunn and Aaron Binder — speak to CPAC’s Peter Van Dusen at the Conservative Party leadership convention in Toronto about Canada’s democratic deficit and the need for people to be more engaged in politics. Follow our live coverage May 26-27 on CPAC, www.cpac.ca/convention and via the CPAC TV 2 Go Mobile app.

Posted by CPAC – Cable Public Affairs Channel on Friday, May 26, 2017

In the interim, the three of us were running around day one of the convention interviewing party members and candidates and snagging as many drinks as possible from Andrew “making-it-rain-drink-tickets” Scheer’s hospitality suite.  Don’t worry, those tix didn’t compromise our end decision and coverage but his eventual win left many questioning whether the status quo would be good enough going into 2019.

By day two of the convention the tone had changed from one of celebration to a stressful culmination of endless months of campaigning.  We were feeling it too and being right beside the most dedicated and passionate people from the party was an eye-opening experience that invigorated our resolve to further A Strong Canada’s mission.

Courtesy CBC
Courtesy CBC

Regardless of the differences one camp may have had from another, each candidate stood tall to present a smiling face even while being torn to shreds behind polite eyes.

That is a cost of such a high-stakes endeavour few people will ever understand.  Your personhood, your very essence, every inch of being goes into running a campaign.  What the outside world doesn’t see is the 17-21 hour days, the loss of family, being riddled with questions of trust and paranoid thoughts.  Anyone who says all politicians are lazy simply doesn’t understand that the lifestyle is one of sleepless nights, constant attacks, isolation and alienation from your fellow humans.

Promoting Better Political Discussion 

That’s the most important lesson we learned and lived during the Conservative Leadership Race.  We had great success but sacrificed so much in finding it.  When we started A Strong Canada we knew the learning curve would be high, the cost of our time great, the loss of friends likely.

When we started this, we had the dream of political junkies everywhere: start something that grows and builds into a movement.  Our blend of skills, timing and a lot of luck had us mixing around in the perfect political storm.  We’re so incredibly thankful for everyone that helped us along the way and apologetic to anyone we may have hurt. We made mistakes during our quick rise and were a bit clumsy at times, but are lucky enough to still have a solid base behind us and many interesting, ideologically diverse people we call friends.

In November 2017 we bumped into Andrew Scheer who we were not always friendly with during the leadership race.  “Water under the bridge, that was during the campaign.” he told us.  Our mission to Promote Better Political Discussion in ALL Canadians extends to him, to Jagmeet Singh, Elizabeth May, Justin Trudeau and everyone else that cares about this country.  We’re all patriots, we’re all trying to make this country a better place and we’re all going to continually disagree on how to do that.  So let’s do it with better discussions – let’s build A Strong Canada, together.

Stay tuned next week for part 2. 

Want to help us create more content like this?  Toss us some bucks on Patreon here and we’ll get on the phone to talk about your version of Canada.

We’ve had some people ask us – what did you do this year? Here are some quick stats:

  1. Launched on February 21st
  2. Had over 500,000 video views
  3. Helped thousands join the Conservative Party and NDP
  4. Interviewed 7 Conservative leadership candidates and 2 NDP candidates
  5. Published articles in The Huffington Post, our website and DisInfo
  6. Launched a Patreon to allow production of more balanced, easy to understand content
  7. Partnered with The Post Millenial to develop two flagship shows highlighting political opinions across the spectrum

In 12 months we’ve turned a wild dream into an incredible platform for discussion, disagreement and new ideas.  Our slogan “Encouraging positive political discussion in ALL Canadians” has helped foster the kind of debate that allows for us to be better together.  Thank you to everyone that has participated so far!



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