For about the past eight months, some of the most influential people in Ottawa have been writers.
Not writers of flowery prose, but staffers holding the pens for party platforms. These are powerful gatekeepers helping to decide a party's campaign promises.
The platforms can publicize big policy announcements and bolster a party's credibility with opinion shapers. For industry associations and interest groups, political promises in platforms can be the first step toward enactment of a policy.
In this year's volatile political environment, lobbyists have been spending almost as much time with people who could be in government as those in government. That makes the platform writers targets, as businesses and interest groups talk to the parties about their campaign promises.
"It's a lot like trying to get into a budget," said Don Moors, senior vice-president at government-relations firm Temple Scott Associates. "You have to start early and maintain your engagement with them right up until the platform is released."
Sean Speer, a former senior adviser in Stephen Harper's PMO, returned to Ottawa last year as special adviser in the Prime Minister's Office and was developing the Tory platform with Rachel Curran, director of policy in the PMO. They were working on the platform in consultation with senior Conservatives, including cabinet ministers, said people with knowledge of the process.
Neither Mr. Speer nor Ms. Curran are currently listed in the federal government employee directory, indicating they could already be working on the campaign.
Mr. Speer's meetings within the past six months, according to the federal lobbyist registry, included several with the Alliance of Manufacturers & Exporters Canada, an industry group lobbying on trade measures, tax issues and other matters.
Mr. Speer also had discussions with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), a group that's lobbied all parties for dedicated, increased infrastructure funding for cities. Mr. Speer's other lobbying communications included those with Bombardier Inc., the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association and the Canadian Real Estate Association, according to the registry.
Lobbyists have been rightfully paying more attention to the NDP, the unexpected challengers to the Tories in public-opinion polling.
In Ottawa, the NDP platform-writing team has included Emily Watkins, director of outreach and stakeholder relations in Leader Thomas Mulcair's office. She's been working with party official Elliott Anderson, a former Queen's Park staffer and previous aide to Ontario provincial leader Howard Hampton.
Ms. Watkins and Mr. Anderson have been having regular conversations with deputy chief of staff Steve Moran, who has talks with Mr. Mulcair about the platform. Also liaising with the platform team are the New Democratic Party's campaign co-chairs: MPs Jean Crowder and Alexandre Boulerice.
According to the federal lobbyist registry, meetings with Ms. Watkins over the past six months have included discussions with the Alzheimer Society of Canada, public broadcasting watchdog the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, the Canadian Cancer Society, 3M Co., Alliance of Manufacturers & Exporters Canada and the FCM.
The Liberal platform leads have been Trudeau adviser Gerald Butts and national campaign manger Katie Telford, as well as policy director Michael McNair. They have been consulting with caucus liaison and MP Ralph Goodale, as well as economic advisers and MPs Scott Brison and Chrystia Freeland.
Mr. McNair's lobbying meetings in the past six months included discussions with Telus Corp., genomics research group Genome Canada and the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting. Mr. Butts has had discussions with Shaw Communications Inc., the Canadian Nurses Association, Consumer Health Products Canada, and others, according to the registry.
Mr. Brison's meetings included talks with FCM, In Situ Oil Sands Alliance, Visa Inc., Honda Motor Co. Ltd. and Genworth Financial.
Due to the fixed election date of Oct. 19, the parties have had more certainty about election timing and have already rolled out major platform planks.
Still, the platform writers are finalizing their documents for release, and getting them reviewed to ensure there are no holes in revenue and spending estimates.
The Conservatives, Liberals and NDP are all proposing balanced budgets.
David Coletto, head of Ottawa polling and research for Abacus Data, has been analyzing the parties' language and promises and said he's expecting an NDP platform theme along the lines of "reassurance."
The platform will be part of the NDP's effort to reassure voters that it's capable of governing: that it won't raise income taxes or say no to all resource development, Mr. Coletto said.
The Conservative platform theme appears to be shaping up as "security," both personal and economic, Mr. Coletto said. The Conservatives will be emphasizing the government's economic record through the recession and its policies on fighting crime and terrorism, Mr. Coletto said.
He sees the Liberal platform theme as "fairness" – on taxes, in the electoral system and for the middle class.