Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The case of the missing mug shots

(Screen shot of actionplan.gc.ca in its former idolatrous iteration)

CP like a dog with a bone on this story. Must say, I like the "mug shot" terminology. Fun, fun, fun with the PMO who ridiculously maintained the position that no changes had been made to the actionplan.gc.ca website but who have now gone silent in the face of evidence to the contrary having been presented to them:
Call it the case of the missing mug shots.

Despite adamant government claims to the contrary, dozens of photos of Prime Minister Stephen Harper have vanished from the taxpayer-funded website that promotes the Conservative economic plan.

The photos disappeared after The Canadian Press questioned the government about complaints of partisanship in federal advertising, including a website plastered with Harper photos.

"We have not removed any pictures of the PM," a Privy Council Office spokeswoman insisted late Monday.

A spokesman for the prime minister made the same assertion.

After being presented with a cached image of the www.actionplan.gc.ca site from last week which featured over 40 photos of Harper, the government did not respond to further inquiries on the matter Tuesday.

The website currently features about seven different Harper photos.
Anyone who has seen the action plan websites in the last few months (there have been two versions, the old one above and the newer one being Conservative bold blue) has been given the overwhelming impression that it's all about Stephen Harper. The 40 photos emphasized him to such an extent it was hard to view it as anything but a promotional site for the Harper Conservatives. Minimizing the story by framing it as a natural change that all websites go through by referring us to the September 16th version of the site is not a relevant response to the main point. As Conservatives well know, CP was poking around on the story early last week and had submitted written questions to the Privy Council Office. "Repeated inquiries over more than a week to the Privy Council Office,"writes CP. Do we suppose the PCO tipped off the site masters that media were asking about the 40 photos of Mr. Harper? Pretty good bet. And down the photos came in embarrassment. The pictures would still be there had CP not started asking questions and framing it in contrast to the H1N1 spending.

As for the point that spending $$ on television ads on H1N1 public health education is liable to "fuel hysteria" and therefore the government's approach has been correct...take a look at this Globe editorial today where it is pointed out that "The British have been bombarded since the spring with a highly effective "Catch it, Bin it, Kill it" mass advertising campaign by their Department of Health." It has been quite successful. In fact, the editorial notes, "Britain has just announced a dramatic decline in swine-flu cases, leaving the country "tantalizingly close" to winning its battle against the pandemic, according to its chief medical officer." Now we'll have to see what happens here and whether the lack of a similar campaign will prove to have been the correct judgment. The Conservatives made their choice and they are late with the H1N1 ads. They chose politics over public health.

Even Conservative supporters are critical of the self-interested Conservative spending on the action plan ads.

"People see it as an abuse of tax dollars," Gerry Nicholls, a right-wing commentator and former Harper colleague at the National Citizens' Coalition, said Tuesday.

"Governments should not be using Canadian tax dollars to basically run partisan advertising, and I don't think anybody looking at those ads could mistake them for anything else. They were clearly partisan, clearly Conservative propaganda."

Listen to the radio interview:

What should be done? If the government had any sense of propriety, they'd re-orient their priorities now that they've been caught so publicly in choosing partisan self-interest over public health eduction:
Liberals, meanwhile, called on the government to replace the economic ads with swine flu prevention ads.

"They've now had their wrists slapped, but taking a few photos off the web doesn't cut it," said Liberal MP Martha Hall-Findlay.
Keep pushing, media and politicians alike.