Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Trust and the perimeter deal

As Aaron Wherry pointed out in his take on yesterday's Question Period, in which a number of questions focussed on the Harper government's proposed perimeter deal with the U.S., a number of Harper ministers and Harper himself were quite recently publicly downplaying that a deal was in the works:
Two months ago, when details were first reported of dealings between the Canadian and American administration, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews demurred that he couldn’t possibly be expected to comment on “media speculation and hearsay.” The next day, Mr. Cannon dismissed it all as “mere rumours and speculation.” “Mr. Speaker,” Peter Kent pleaded a few days later, “I know my honourable colleague does not expect me to answer a question based on media speculation.”

A few days before the House departed for Christmas, the leader of the opposition took the matter directly to the Prime Minister. “Mr. Speaker,” Mr. Harper assured all within earshot, “there is no secret deal.”
Well, we know now that yes, there was. The beginnings of a deal were well underway, leading up to the meeting last week in Washington. Last night, the Toronto Star reported on the confidential communications strategy that was in place, designed to keep public information at a minimum and behind the scenes, public relations preparation at a maximum:
The federal government deliberately kept negotiations on a border deal with Washington secret while it planned ways to massage public opinion in favour of the pact, according to a confidential communications strategy.

The 14-page public relations document recommended that talks keep a “low public profile” in the months leading up to the announcement by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama. At the same time, the government would secretly engage “stakeholders” — interested parties such as big business groups and others — in a way that respected “the confidentiality of the announcement.”

In advance, the government departments involved — including industry, foreign affairs, international trade and citizenship and immigration — were to “align supportive stakeholders to speak positively about the announcement,” according to the strategy prepared by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ officials.
When Canadians are kept in the dark and their elected MPs are too, blatantly misled even while the machinations are turning in the background...these are the reasons why trust is an issue with Mr. Harper on such major, nation-altering negotiations.