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Tony Clement launches bid for Tory leader - with social media as a focus

Clement was an early adopter in Tory circles of social media platforms, earning the nickname ‘the minister for Twitter.’
July 12, 2016
By The Canadian Press

Former Conservative cabinet minister Tony Clement declared Tuesday that he’s running for the leadership of his party - but it’s not the first time he has pursued the job.

Clement tried in 2004 when the Canadian Alliance merged with the Progressive Conservatives to form the current Conservative party, but he finished third to Stephen Harper, who led the party until last fall.

This time, he’s already leading in one area that will be key to the party’s efforts to revitalize itself after last year’s election defeat: social media.

Clement was an early adopter in Tory circles of social media platforms and went on to shape and encourage the former Conservative government’s usage of such cutting-edge communications tools, earning the nickname “the minister for Twitter.”

In launching his campaign Tuesday, he turned to those tools again to stress what will be a key theme in his campaign - the need to reach out and empower the party’s grassroots and bring in new voters.

In addition to choosing a battleground Toronto-area riding to make his inaugural campaign address, he also livestreamed it on Facebook.

An advance copy of his remarks provided to The Canadian Press was replete with references to social media.

“My first draft of this speech was less than 140 characters long,” he joked, a nod to the message limit length on Twitter. That draft? A tweet to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, warning him his days in the job are numbered.

There’s no question Clement led the political pack in taking up social media, said Mark Blevis, a digital public affairs strategist with Full Duplex who has been observing politicians’ use of social media for years.

It has earned the 55-year-old a strong following, but could also provide a glimpse into his approach to political leadership, Blevis said.

Most politicians just push out messages, but Clement takes his followers into his living room and his jam sessions, posting pictures not only of himself, but also those taken from his point of view.

“When you look at Tony Clement’s social media activity, you have a sense of him, a sense of his style by his style of usage,” Blevis said.

“He does talk, absolutely, but he replies. He responds to people’s comments.”

A challenge for Clement will be transforming that social media support into financial and membership support when the Conservatives gather next May to choose their new leader.

He’s up against three others for now - Kellie Leitch, Maxime Bernier and Michael Chong - but others are still considering a run.

Clement’s speech Tuesday night hit conservative policy buttons like aggressive foreign policy and lower taxes.

He also spoke of his arrival in Canada as a child, and his time in government as president of the Treasury Board, which overseas the day-to-day operations of government.

While in that job he shaved billions off the government’s bottom line, but he’s also been accused of using the public purse for his own political ambition getting millions in infrastructure funding for his Muskoka riding around the G8 summit there in 2010. He was industry minister at the time.

Clement made no mention of that in his remarks.

He said his social media savvy, his personal history and his political CV make him a potential leader who represents experience and innovation.

“Tested, and ready today, to earn back the confidence of families, of millennials, and moms and dads, of urban and rural Canadians, and of small business leaders, and seniors, who want government to be an empowering force for good,” he said.

“...I am your leader.”