March 17, 2006


Harper restricts ministers' message
: Officials urged to stick to five key priorities; PMO wants to vet all other public comment (CAMPBELL CLARK, 3/17/06, Globe and Mail)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has imposed central control over all information and comments to the public issued by government officials and even cabinet ministers, directing them to have everything cleared by the Prime Minister's Office, according to an internal e-mail and government sources.

The orders, described in an e-mail to bureaucrats, indicate that ministers have been told to avoid talking about the direction of the government, and that the government wants them to be less accessible to the news media. And all government officials are instructed to avoid speaking about anything other than the five priorities outlined in the Conservative campaign.

"Maintain a relentless focus on the five priorities from the campaign. Reduce the amount of ministerial/public events that distract from the five priority areas [--"a Federal Accountability Act, a GST cut, a child-care allowance, tougher criminal sentences, and a patient waiting-times guarantee"--] identified in the campaign," the e-mail states.

Such sharp focus on a few achievable goals is right out of the Bush/Rove playbook.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 17, 2006 8:43 AM

We'll see if the Australian left figures this out any better than Ann Richards did in 1994.

Posted by: John at March 17, 2006 10:10 AM

Harper’s "famous five" as indicators of a snap election?

The pieces seem to be falling into place. The last piece was Harper’s muzzling of his ministers, and the instructions to all and sundry to talk just about his Five Points.

The evidence points towards Harper preparing to call a snap election, before the Liberals have a chance to select their leader and raise funds to pay off their election debt:

• The recent changes to the laws have put the Liberals in a relatively worse position than the New Tories, who rely on many small donations from thousands of members, as compared to the Liberal fat-cat financing of the past.

• The Liberals are leaderless, and are dragging their feet in selecting a leader; having many contenders would allow the Tories to decide to run against the weakest ones as and when they choose to.

Why call an election within a few months? Because the Liberals are in disarray. Because the wheels might come off the New Tories if they start trying to implement their full platform. Because their honeymoon might end. Because the longer it takes before the next election, the more distance the Liberals can put between themselves and the corruption charges of the recent past.

But what is the key indicator of Harper preparing for a snap election? Quoting the heading of Jeffrey Simpson's column in Saturday March 18 Globe & Mail, it is because of the "unbearable lightness of Harper's five vows".

Simpson does a superb job of analysing these five points which Harper wants his ministers to talk about, and concludes: Harper's famous five are "political winners and policy busts", and are on the table because they are "what the Conservatives think they need to win the next election."

Simpson tears strips off the famous five:

• the GST cut "represents a $5-billion political bribe".
• The Accountability Act outlined in the Tories platform "will be a mishmash of non-solutions to exaggerated problems".
• The daycare promise is a wash (his assumption) as politics and as social policy, slightly negative.
• The tough-on-crime stuff "flies in the face of the evidence" and an overblown response.
• The patient wait-time guarantees "reflects the shavings on the iceberg of the health-care system".

So why the muzzle on his ministers, and his insistence on the famous five being talked about and nothing else?

My bet? Because he is preparing for a snap election once his famous five are implemented, based on "I honoured my promises, so re-elect me to a majority government". Run against a disorganized Liberal Party. Throw some bones to Quebecers through the francophone step and some tax rights, to buy more Quebec votes. Choose two or three of the Liberal candidates and slam each one in succession (Stronach: no substance; Brison: Mr Emailer; Rae: really a socialist ... you fill in the blanks).

Manufacture a false crisis, and call the election based on it. Then appeal to Canadians to be fair and give his government, which delivered on the famous five, a chance to provide honest government as a majority government. During this election, avoid detailed discussion of the real policies of the New Tories at all costs.

Then, should he win a majority government, implement his neocon policies in the first four years...

Cunning fellow, that policy wonk. But I wonder how much of this strategy came from Brian Mulroney?

Posted by: CurisotyKilledTheCat at March 18, 2006 8:17 PM