Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Harper Declares War On The Media (and his general is a lobbyist)

Stephen Harper and the clowns in his office have stepped over the line. They have also proved that they have no idea how Canadians view politics. This British reporter from the Guardian noted this about Canadians on a tour through the U.S. and Canada:

Canadians are obsessed by two things - politics and national identity. I am on a book tour here and have been amazed how knowledgeably and intensely these things are discussed in ordinary conversation. Canadians are engaged in their politics in way that Americans aren't, and they read obsessively.
Except, if Harper and his sycophants get their way, there will be nothing to read. Steve at Far and Wide details how Harper's "message control" is being implemented so stringently that the media is now being barred from harmless photo ops.

CFSR picked-up on this from HarperBizzaro. The Parliamentary Press Gallery executive met with PMO staff to discuss the fact that reporters are now being barred from traditionally open events. What they came out with was this:

In the course of our short meeting, the PMO indicated that:
* They are considering no longer announcing Cabinet meetings to Canadians ahead of time in order to circumvent the Gallery's right to post cameras and reporters on the third floor of the Parliament's Centre Block (as per our understanding with the House);
* They reserve the right not to inform Canadians of the visit of foreign heads of state;
* They will no longer systematically grant access to a pool reporter at photo opportunities between the Prime Ministers and his guests.
In short: Harper's government will operate in complete secrecy and the only information we will get will be PMO spin-dried, sanitized and safe... for Harper.

Harper's communications director, Sandra Buckler, spewed out this bit of arrogance in response to questions about lack of access and information:

"I don't think the average Canadian cares as long as they know their government is being well run."
I would refer her back to Henry Porter's Guardian article and then point out to Buckler that what I care about is not within the purview of some self-inflated political hack to decide. And, in any case, how the hell would we know? She's clamped down the lid on information. All of it.

Of course, Sanda Buckler isn't what can be described as squeeky clean either. In fact, she's pretty dirty in terms of ethics and integrity. Harper, who made a point during the election campaign of spouting ethics as the centre of his push for power and then issued an "ethics package", made sure that senior civil servants, government officials and politicians could not leave government and become lobbyists. One could be excused for believing that his "ethics" went both ways in providing a reasonable time period before a lobbyist could hold high office in government. No such luck. Not only is the Minister of National Defence a recent former lobbyist but so is Harper's communications director.

Sandra Buckler de-registered as a lobbyist just four days before the last election was called. Some of her clients included the Canadian Payday Loan Association, Coca-Cola Canada, Canadian National Railway (CSX in the US), De Beers Canada, Rogers Wireless and Power Financial Corp. Buckler was also the Associate Vice-President of GPC-Canada Inc. which has a standing offer and supply arrangement with Public Works and Government Services Canada.

This individual, a recent lobbyist and government contract holder, is now sitting in the Prime Minister's Office. And she's telling us what we're allowed to know.

A quick analysis would suggest that she's not very good at her job. Harper's recent trip to Afghanistan, as scripted as everything was, presented an amateur performance as a communications director. Lines like "Canadians don't cut and run" and "Canadians died in the World Trade Center too" were enough to make peoples' heads explode. Far from defining the Canadian role and raison d'etre in Afghanistan, what spilled out of Harper's mouth were worn-out Bushisms and neo-con tripe.

Buckler's communications strategy is simple. Say nothing and the media reports nothing. Democratic process and government transparency be damned. Everyone keep their mouths shut and do not answer questions. The same advice an attorney gives a client who has committed a crime.

What reason could Harper and his communications director have for shutting down public access to government unless he is hiding something? Why doesn't he want Canadians to know what he and his government are doing?

And that is the answer. Harper is hiding something. The hidden agenda is real and he knows it won't be popular. He knows what he has to offer the majority of Canadians goes against the public will. So, he just won't tell us.

It's time the media got off their collective duffs and started dealing with this bunch. The media gave Harper a pillow ride during the election campaign. Now it's time to get hard-nosed with him. A reminder that he might not survive his first budget will be a good start.

End this crap and dispatch the scum-sucking lobbyist while your at it.

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