Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Your tax dollars at work...just not here

As Teneycke says,"Telling people what you're doing is as important as what you're actually doing." So tonight we read this news, applying that very mantra of the Harper communications team: "PMO hires former White House spokesmen to plug Canada." Ari Fleischer and Mike McCurry, former White House spokesmen are being hired to help Teneycke arrange TV interviews for Harper. Bookers, if you will. The PM is apparently going to be spending more time becoming a talking head on U.S. network television and is hiring people to help. No word on how much this is costing we the taxpayer, of course. Why would we the Canadian taxpayer be entitled to know that, after all? Once more, with gusto, you've got to be kidding me...
The Conservative government has hired two former White House communications strategists as part of a "sustained" effort to raise Canada's profile in the U.S. media - with Prime Minister Stephen Harper acting as salesman-in-chief, Canwest News Service has learned.

The Prime Minister's Office on Wednesday said it had retained Mike McCurry, a former press secretary to Bill Clinton, and Ari Fleischer, who held the same job during George W. Bush's first term, on temporary contracts to help Harper land interviews with leading American television networks and newspapers.

"Canada has a very good story to tell, and it won't tell itself," said Kory Teneycke, Mr. Harper's spokesman.

"The person best-positioned to tell that story in the [American] media is the prime minister."
Maybe he should be rolling up his sleeves and getting to work in Canada and on behalf of Canadians losing jobs at a record pace. That's a thought. And let's not even mention the CBC twisting in the wind in the background here because that would just be too obvious a point to make, wouldn't it? Would that our own PM would give Canadian media the same courtesies that he extends to the American.
Ottawa's communications plan envisions the prime minister doing extensive and ongoing media outreach in the United States, with the interviews timed to coincide with international summits, and highlighting areas where Canada is "broadly supportive of U.S. leadership," Mr. Teneycke said.
Mr. Harper's office has come to the conclusion that Canada has often been too "passive" in promoting its long-standing ties to the U.S. Mr. Harper's aim is to build goodwill on a wide range of issues the government considers vital to the Canada-U.S. relationship - including bilateral trade, the auto industry and energy security - in the belief it will help Ottawa avoid major problems when tensions erupt due to specific conflicts, Mr. Teneycke said.

"It's an opportunity for the prime minister to blaze the trail and set overall narrative for Canada," he said. "If you get the macro-relationship right, small problems take care of themselves."
The presumption being, of course, that it's the role of a PM to tell the Canadian story effectively on TV in the U.S. as a key component of the American relationship. Governance by photo op taken to a whole new level. Makes you wonder whether something is wrong with the normal diplomatic channels and departmental relationships these days that the communications effort must go outside those channels to get heard. The Harper/Obama relationship? Not working so well? Makes you wonder. Or just more of the effort to coat tail on the Obama magic?

Having a Prime Minister so overtly seeking out the American network limelight? There's something a little unseemly about this spectacle that's now shifting into high gear.

Update (Thursday 1:20 a.m.): Video of new Harper employee Ari Fleischer in March: