An MP’s Sunday afternoon visit to a seniors’ home. The federal purchase of powerful new military aircraft. A journalism student’s innocuous query about Africa.Yes, it's the one-man show exposed again. Who needs departments, ministers and the public service thinking for themselves anyway? This issue is one more demonstration of how susceptible our system of government is to a leader with controlling tendencies and a cabinet and caucus too weak to stand up to him. It's not helping our democratic quotient.
One thing connects them all — the Conservative government scripted each event using a potent but little-known communication tool called the Message Event Proposal.
The Canadian Press has obtained almost 1,000 pages of MEPs from several government departments, including the Privy Council Office, under the Access to Information Act. The PCO, the bureaucratic nerve centre of Ottawa, has been conscripted by an increasingly powerful Prime Minister’s Office to vet requests for public events across the federal government.
Read through some of the MEP documents provided in the Star, they demonstrate thoroughly that this is government by public relations to the nth degree. Clearly it's a very large part of what the Harper government spends its time doing. It's not to say that governments shouldn't educate citizens on what programmes exist, what's going on in their communities, etc. But there are clearly questions of degree and control that are raised here that are legitimate to question.
This news of Prime Ministerial controlled event planning, to an extent previously unknown in the federal government, is of the same species as the partisan advertising we've seen on our TV screens, through last fall, the Olympics and at various other times, to the tune of millions of dollars. Recall those ads in the fall in support of the Economic Action Plan. We have to stay the course, the nation was told, no elections! A partisan message paid for on the taxpayer dime. Government resources are being shown here to be deployed in a very partisan manner, once again. Yet the levers of government don't exist to serve the governing party's image and political fortunes. We're not there - yet - in the scheme of banana republics. Or are we?
People wonder why the Conservatives still lead in the polls, despite the missteps and incompetence we see on a regular basis. This constant drum beat of government programmed messaging, rolled out every day all over the country has an effect. It's not just that the Conservatives are the best financed in terms of private donations. They are putting the entire apparatus of government to work for their self-promotional purposes. And it works. The opposition can only dream of such resources.
The only upside...with all these resources at their disposal, they're still not in majority territory. Thankfully, it takes a lot for people to like Stephen Harper.