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For bc-dispatch by David Parkins

The new public-affairs consulting agency, Kool Topp & Guy, has set its sights on the Ottawa market but its partners can't escape battleground B.C.

Partner No. 1 is Ken Boessenkool, who departed from Premier Christy Clark's office as her top political aide last fall. Partner No. 2, Brian Topp, is running the campaign for the Premier's main opponent, NDP Leader Adrian Dix. And partner No. 3 is Don Guy, recently parachuted in to handle communications and research for Ms. Clark's election campaign.

The agency boasts about its partners' "proven track records in designing and managing winning campaigns," but on the night of May 14, only one side in this fight will have won the pull. Beyond that quirky coincidence of the Topp & Guy show, however, the NDP and Liberal campaign teams are shaping up differently.

Mr. Topp was a key organizer for the federal NDP campaigns since 1997. His team of recruits includes veterans who have worked campaigns together over 20 years. Brad Lavigne was a key adviser to Jack Layton. Jim Rutkowski was a top adviser to former B.C. NDP leader Carole James and was senior aide to Mr. Topp in his recent federal NDP leadership bid. Marcella Munro is a communications strategist in both federal and provincial NDP war rooms.

The B.C. Liberals have done a more dramatic makeover since the 2009 election.

Gordon Campbell's thrice-victorious campaign machine – a team patched together from the ranks of federal Conservative and federal Liberals – is dismantled. The Christy Clark team is drawn from her long-time loyalists, leaning to the federal Liberal side of the political spectrum. Her long-time strategist Mike McDonald is campaign director. Michele Cadario, a top Paul Martin Liberal adviser, is deputy campaign director.

The federal Conservatives would still rather see Ms. Clark in power than Mr. Dix, and are at least notionally behind the B.C. Liberals. But the war room isn't getting much help from the Harper team. The key Conservative in the room is pollster Dimitri Pantazopoulos. B.C. Liberal MLA Rich Coleman, the campaign chair, is the most public face of the Conservative brand.

Beyond that, there are key advisers including the Premier's brother, Bruce Clark; her ex-husband Mark Marissen, who also has deep federal Liberal roots. But many federal Liberal campaign warriors are wrapped up in the national leadership race.

Luring Don Guy is something of a coup – he is credited with Dalton McGuinty's victories in Ontario. In fact that is his task, to pull off another heroic turnaround. But even Mr. Guy didn't pull off those Ontario victories overnight and this is the NDP advantage. Putting together a team – especially one that requires federal adversaries to play nicely together in the provincial sandbox – is not an easy task.

And there is a telling omission from the B.C. Liberal roster: The folks who ran Kevin Falcon's campaigns. Mr. Falcon was the runnerup in the Liberal leadership contest that Ms. Clark won two years ago, and he was most closely aligned with the federal Conservatives. He isn't running in this election and his strategists are popping up in local campaigns – for Mary Polak and Stephanie Cadieux.

What that means is the coalition that served Mr. Campbell through three successful election campaigns is not back together. It also means those strategists who are working outside the central campaign have an alibi, if the Liberals' central campaign ends in the mud. Martyn Brown, a key figure in the Campbell campaigns, is now watching from the outside. "When there is such a wide expectation that they are going to lose, and lose badly, it's harder to get people to expend much energy."

He said Ms. Clark has been more successful than expected in maintaining the optics of federal Conservative support over the past two years since she took over the party. But the real test is coming up in this election campaign. "All bets are off when the bell sounds," he said. "People tend to run for the hills when they know the room is burning."

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