By Andrew Macdonald
Halifax Tory stalwart David Henderson says he is saddened that Tim Houston, the new leader of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative party, has moved to fire Chad Bowie.
Bowie’s incredible political skill set and talents as party strategist have been commented on in past editions of The Notebook. A millennial—the term for a 20-something—Bowie is perhaps the most knowledgeable politico strategist among any of Nova Scotia’s political parties when it comes to campaigning.
Question to new NS PC leader Tim Houston: Why was Chad Bowie let go from the PC caucus office?
Houston’s written response: “As per usual, we do not speak to personnel matters”.
The new Houston PC caucus office won’t include Bowie, seemingly because he was the campaign manager and worked tirelessly to help second-place leadership contender Cecil Clarke.
If Houston wants to smooth over bitter campaign feelings from the other leadership candidates, he has to extend an olive branch to Clarke supporters, suggests Henderson, who was the financial bagman for Clarke’s Tory leadership candidacy.
Houston won a strong 50 per cent of the leadership vote, with the other four opponents splitting the other 50 per cent.
The new party leader has now shown the door to Bowie, as well as Leah Batstone and the party’s caucus spokesperson, Angie Zinck. All three had endorsed Clarke in significant campaign roles.
Henderson, a long time Tory warrior, tells The Notebook that Houston ought to have kept either Bowie or Batstone as part of extending an olive branch to his main leadership opponent.
“I am upset,” Henderson tells The Notebook. “Chad and Leah were the two top people in Cecil’s campaign. Maybe not both of them staying on, but keep one of them on.
“Even Angie Zinck was let go. She came on Cecil’s campaign a little bit later,” he adds. “I feel quite bad for the three of them. They are three smart and up-and-coming Tories – and for Houston to do that (is questionable),” he says.
“Cecil did the right thing at the convention by endorsing Houston for party unity and it certainly does not look good out of the gate for party unity by what Houston is doing.”
Henderson said he reached out to Houston after the victory but did not hear back from the new leader. He says he is not sure if he’ll work for the party in the next provincial election.
“I reached out to Tim after last weekend, and I have never heard a peep. And if he is not coming to people like me, there is something not right,” says Henderson, a former chair of the Halifax Port Authority.
Are you going to work for Houston in the next provincial election campaign?
“I don’t know. Honestly, he is not going about it in a very good way out of the gate. This may change, but I am not happy with what I have seen so far,” declared Henderson.
In fairness, Houston did tell The Notebook that he has been inundated with messages following his strong win and that he has not yet been able to get back in touch with everyone who sent congratulatory messages.
Tensions at the leadership convention were illustrated when Clarke went over to endorse Houston following the first ballot in which Houston fell just 54 votes of a first-place finish.
As you can see from my picture here, Clarke raised Houston’s arm in victory, but moments later, Clarke left the convention floor and did not get on the victory stage with Houston.
That prompted Houston to give out the political quote of the week, saying in effect, “I hope he hasn’t changed his mind.”
Henderson says he doesn’t know about that. “I did speak to Cecil that evening at a reception he had, but I didn’t discuss that with him.”
While Clarke has said he would run for a seat as MLA if he lost the leadership bid, Henderson now believes Clarke will instead gun for a third term as mayor of Cape Breton Regional Municipality, something he said he would not do following his second term win a few years back.
“I doubt if you’ll see him run for MLA, but he says he is all in to run for mayor again,” confides Henderson.
Back to his view on Chad Bowie: “I worked with Chad over this campaign and no one was more on top of what was going on. He is a political strategist and knows every angle of the political game inside out,” Henderson tells The Notebook.
Bowie was manager of the 2016 provincial campaign that former Tory leader Jamie Baillie nearly won, losing only after three advance polls were counted and which tipped the election to Stephen McNeil’s Liberals.
Bowie also served in the 2015 national Tory war room for the Harper re-election bid.
Last January I filed this news article when Bowie had freshly joined the Cecil Clarke campaign. The article offers insights into why Bowie is considered the top Tory strategist in Atlantic Canada.
Cecil Clarke’s widely expected entry into the Progressive Conservative leadership race will benefit with the addition to his campaign team of Chad Bowie.
Bowie, a native of Monastery and now a Haligonian resident, is going to run the Clarke campaign, The Macdonald Notebook understands.
Not yet 30, Bowie was the campaign manager for the Jamie Baillie Tories in the last election when Bowie’s campaign strategies helped to nearly defeat the Liberal government of Stephen McNeil, which took only a two-seat majority last spring.
Bowie did not make himself available for a Macdonald Notebook chat, but his work to organize the Clarke campaign could help give the Cape Breton Regional Municipality mayor an advantage, because millennial Bowie is a skilled election strategist.
Don’t get fooled by his age — he is a fresh-faced 28-year-old who has studied election strategy for years and closely follows American politics, where electioneering is practiced as an art.
A self-described political junkie, Bowie is a modern day version of Keith Davey, the Liberal rainmaker who ensured Pierre Trudeau won many election outings in the 1970s and early ’80s.
Typical of a backroom stalwart, Bowie rarely talks to the media and would rather see his chosen candidates get ink in the newspapers.
“It stems from my belief that it is the candidate and not the backroom operator that should be featured during the campaign,” he once explained to The Macdonald Notebook.
To understand Bowie’s skill set, I refer to a former interview I did last spring with former John Hamm aide Chris Lydon, and who comes from a top Halifax south end pedigree. His late dad was noted architect Bill Lydon, who designed many iconic downtown Halifax office buildings, including Marriott Harbourside near Purdy’s Wharf.
Lydon, now in his mid-40s, paints a story of Bowie being one of the Tory party’s leading strategists in Canada, someone who lives and breathes all things political.
Bowie grew up in tiny Monastery close to the Canso Causeway, in a county where politics is a blood sport.
His father is a welder and his mother operated a corner store in the community, which Bowie often visits. During his weekend sojourns to visit his folks, he goes to pray at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in nearby Tracadie, where Father John Barry gives colourful Sunday homilies.
Bowie knocked on doors in junior high school for former deputy premier and Antigonish MLA Angus ‘Tando’ MacIsaac, one of the more active MLAs Antigonish has seen in generations. He paved a lot of roads, including routes into cottage country.
“Chad is in the top tier of political organizers, election readiness organizers in the country. He has cut his chops in virtually every province,” says Lydon, a former chief of staff to Stephen Harper minister Kellie Leitch, and now a senior VP with M-5, a PR, ad agency and government lobby firm based on the Halifax waterfront.
“He has been sent as a top-level mercenary for virtually every Tory organization across the nation for provincial elections and by-elections,” Lydon previously told The Macdonald Notebook.
“For a younger guy, he is quite experienced, level-headed, and really good at political strategy.”
Aside from political acumen, Lydon says Bowie “is very funny, and renowned in the Tory party for his sense of humour.”
One of Bowie’s talents is studying election voting data and understanding voter research, something that the Tory party is renowned for during elections.
“He certainly loves what he does,” says Lydon, adding Bowie’s prolific electioneering has created a seasoned and calm 28-year-old. “He is seasoned enough now that his temperament is quite mature.”
Bowie, now a Haligonian, was drafted by the Harper re-election committee in Ottawa in the 2015 federal vote.
In the Harper war room, he worked on files in the Atlantic area, a posting that was a big deal, and illustrates Bowie’s political skills resonate among top Tory brass.
For the Harper job, he was personally asked to join the national Tory effort in 2015, during the federal vote by the party’s then-national campaign manager Jenni Byrne.
It was the second time Byrne, possibly the most powerful woman in Tory Canadian politics recruited him to the nation’s capital.
Back when Bowie was 24, he joined Byrne, then running the Conservative party HQ.
Ginny Movat, a government lobbyist in Ottawa has been a friend of Bowie’s since the days they were political science classmates at university in Halifax.
Movat graduated from Dalhousie and Bowie graduated from University of Kings College.
“We developed together in the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative world as we were friends. He had already been involved and he was a great person to get me connected to all the players,” says Movat.
The two were also pages at the Nova Scotia legislature at the same time, when Tory premier Rodney MacDonald-led government.
Movat is a big Bowie fan.
“His expertise in Atlantic Canada is very much valued (in Ottawa),” she says. “Chad is considered in Ottawa as one of the foremost experts on the Atlantic region, specifically Nova Scotia. He knows the people on the ground.”
Movat says Bowie approaches his daytime job in politics as a passion, not simply a chore to collect a salary.
“At a very young age, as a pre-teen he was exerting himself going to the offices of the local MLA, trying to volunteer, trying to get involved,” she says.
“So to be able to find a pretty impressive career around something you were interested in as a kid, that is pretty lucky. His favourite hobby is his job.”
As a youngster, Bowie began reading daily newspapers about public affairs, and then took journalism at Kings.
Bowie’s focus is always on the voter, Movat says. “It’s very valuable for someone like Chad, who is constantly thinking about the voter, the average Canadian, the average Nova Scotian.”
“Chad has a great attitude which makes him invaluable in a campaign war room. He has a great mind and maturity for such a young guy, he’s going places.”
But as Bowie tells close friends, “I’m solely focused on electing Conservatives.”
Possessed with an affable personality still, he is known for having a no-nonsense approach to politics, developing hard-hitting messages that drive a stark contrast between Tory contenders and their opponents.
He is known to get moody or even cranky during a campaign, with his single focus on getting his candidates elected. A hard-hitting approach to winning means leaving it all on the ice and not shying away from a dogfight.
“Elections are wars fought on a battlefield and the outcomes are very important,” he reportedly has told his peers.
As a fierce partisan, he likes to take calculated risks —a big risk for big rewards.
He is direct with his candidates, not sugar-coating the message or being a yes guy, instead telling candidates they are losing because they are not knocking on enough doors, or not taking a stand on tough issues.
His philosophy can be summed up as: “At the end of the day, it’s always about getting the votes in the ballot box.”
During his leave of absence from the Nova Scotia Tory caucus office, while running the Clarke campaign, Bowie also established his own political consulting company.
“Chad can write his own ticket—honestly. He has a communications company now up and running and he is doing and has been doing political work on campaigns across the country,” says Henderson.
“He’ll do all right, he’ll do fine.”