Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Blowing The News Cycle - Stairs gets the boot

The dismissal of William Stairs as Harper's communications director speaks volumes about how out of touch with reality the new Conservative government really is.

Stairs may have had an impossible job, that of controlling the media fallout from the Emerson defection and the Fortier appointment, but clearly Harper and his sycophants believed there would be an initial uproar and then the usual waning of interest. They were wrong and the Prime Minister's Office is blaming Stairs.

The Fortier issue has faded, unfortunately, because if there is anything which flies in the face of Harper's announced "reforms" appointing an unelected individual to a cabinet position should be right at the top of the list.

The Emerson defection won't go away. Everyone jumped on the story and within minutes they jumped on Harper. The demands for Emerson's resignation have not diminished and the requirement for Harper to clearly explain events remains alive.

Appointing a new communications director won't change much. The media, whether Harper and the Conservatives like it or not, are a proxy for the electorate. Since the Emerson treachery, Harper has done what he always does when things get too tough in the public arena; he went into hiding.

With the exception of a public appearance on Flag Day and the announcement that the next Supreme Court justice would face a parliamentary committee, Harper has been absent from the front. Given the fact that the first 60 days after taking office are important in determining the direction of a new government, Harper has wasted the first fifteen.

The announcement of a new process for selecting Supreme Court justices was supposed to have been a major story. It fizzled. Harper's new process doesn't change the fact that it is the same as the old process with three hours of Harperite theatrics involved. The parliamentary committee, which will likely be loaded disproportionately, will have no power to reject the nomination and any recommendation against the nominee can be ignored by the Prime Minister. It is smoke and mirrors, which the media saw through, and immediately tossed on the floor.

The Conservative spin machine isn't working. It's likely that it never will. Harper and his neophytes in the PMO have still failed to grasp how it is they came to power.

Canadians did not elect the Conservative Party of Canada because they wanted a Harper government. They reluctantly removed the Liberals from office. What they did not do was give Harper a mandate to effect change. Canadians were generally satisfied with Martin's policies. It was the Liberal corruption of the previous regime which angered them and there was a feeling that they had to be removed from the comfort of office.

Harper, who was given a chance to respond to the hesitant faith placed in him by the electorate through a demonstration of "stand up" politics, blew it on day one, when his newly appointed cabinet had to sneak out the back doors of Rideau Hall in order to avoid an enraged press corps.

If the appointment of Sandra Buckler is expected to change how the media and the public now view Harper, the PMO may be sorely disappointed. Buckler, who had a hand in the strictly scripted CPC election campaign, will be expected to find the honeymoon Harper never got. What they don't seem to understand is that no amount of media spin would have prevented the outrage of Canadians. Engaging in internal blood-letting within 14 days of taking office will only serve to raise more questions in the media, and rightly so. If the Conservatives continue to fail to answer questions, Canadians will make assumptions and they will not assume that they are employing an honest government.

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