Saturday, April 15, 2006

Shoot The Off Messenger

Order and discipline make such a refreshing change in Ottawa these days, don't they? When was the last time you saw a government actually attempt to stick to its declared priorities instead of just muddling through crises or changing its top priorities every single week?

Too bad that the press can only focus on the downside of all this, because it forces them to work for their stories instead of recycling whatever pap used to come out of past Liberal PMOs:

Ministers in the new Conservative government have been warned they could be banned from travelling, publicly humiliated or even fired for verbal gaffes.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is determined not to have his agenda derailed and his ministers have been made aware they will face punishment for loose-lipped indiscretions.

Harper's chief of staff, Ian Brodie, has given colleagues in ministers' offices stark warnings about sanctions for cabinet members who either embarrass or contradict the government in public, sources say.

The worst of those penalties — being dumped from cabinet, shuffled to another portfolio, or barred from official trips — have not been imposed yet.

But the lesser punishment of public embarrassment has been swiftly levelled on at least two cabinet ministers and one British Columbia MP.

All have been forced to publicly swallow their words in pride-pummelling mea culpas within hours of causing unwanted headlines.

"It's constant," one government official said of the pressure on ministers. "The message comes from the top: If you (mess) up you will publicly and embarrassingly retract — no ifs, ands or buts.

"So stick to the party line, or you'll go out there and tell the whole world that you're a dumb (jerk) who screwed up."

Industry Minister Maxime Bernier became the latest victim this week. He told a radio interviewer that Canada could lose its legal battle against the U.S. over lumber tariffs, and that taxpayers shouldn't be left covering loan guarantees for the softwood industry.

At the urging of the Prime Minister's Office, he issued a press release to declare that his remarks on lumber did not reflect the views of either his government or even his own department.

"Mr. Bernier clarified his position," was all Harper said about his minister's comments.

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay has been on the job for just two months but has already been compelled to hold a news conference and issue a press release to clarify a pair of statements — one about hostages in Iraq and another about aid for the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

B.C. MP Colin Mayes (Okanagan-Shuswap) quickly issued a press release to "retract without reservation" his suggestion that journalists should be jailed if they write misleading stories.

The media is very unhappy to see its chance to play its favourite sport much reduced. Gaffes that once produced days of stories and commentary now disappear early in the news cycle because the communications team and PMO smack down the offenders--hard, with public humiliation for their carelessness.

If this makes the press cranky, so be it. If it makes the mavericks in the opposition caucus even crankier, so be it as well. Government imposes greater responsibilities than opposition. Opposition MPs can shoot their mouths off all they like because their comments don't really change anything. Government MPs' comments can knock policy off the rails.

(PS: Are you reading this, Garth? You're next!)

Source: Toronto Star


doug said...

"It's constant," one government official said of the pressure on ministers. "The message comes from the top: If you (mess) up you will publicly and embarrassingly retract — no ifs, ands or buts."

And the problem is ?

If you get paid to do a job and part of that job is creating 'confidence' in the process among the likely to be ill-informed, then if you don't know enough to simply not MUSE in public, then you should be publicly embarrassed.

As often as is required for you to understand what your role really is, and the probable repercussions of your intellectual 'entertainment'.

Which if you are worthy of the position you hold should be exactly ONCE.

Anonymous said...

Ha, ha! Good sarcasm! That article must be made up by the liberal media, right? Who else would claim that Harper is muzzling the conservative MP's who told their constituents they would be representing them in Ottawa, and would stand up proud and free to speak their convictions, like any true, strong, Conservative??!!