02 May 2006

Great minds think alike

Former Mulroney chief of staff Norman Spector's column in Monday's Globe and Mail tackled the issue of the Harper administration's efforts to control media access to cabinet ministers.
Limiting reporting of the return of fallen soldiers, on the other hand, smacks of a government that is nervous about public opinion. While the decision not to fly the flag at half-mast on Parliament Hill is defensible in light of precedent, restricting access to military bases will increase the anxiety of Canadians, many of whom feel we slipped into the Afghanistan war without adequate parliamentary debate or media coverage.

The opposition parties and political cartoonists were licking their chops last week at the prospect of being able to portray Mr. Harper as George Bush-lite. The greater risk for Mr. Harper is that he will re-awaken fears that he harbours a hidden agenda. Heading into an election in which the ballot question will be whether he can be trusted with a majority government, that's a perception that Stephen Harper would be wise not to encourage.
The Bond Papers came to a similar conclusion some time ago:
In the short term, though, the gag order also sends a powerfully negative message about the Harper government. Gagging your own team tells the world that you are not in control, that you are afraid. If Stephen Harper and his ministers can't deal with a few scraggly reporters, how in the name of heavens will they cope with the real challenges every prime minister will face?
Spector is right about the issue of Afghanistan, but his conclusion applies in a broader sense to the entire Harper ministry. Gag orders and media control smack of insecurity. They speak to a level of nervousness about public opinion, not just on dead soldiers but on virtually every file, that ultimately is a perception of Stephen Harper that the prime minister would not wish to encourage.

Unfortunately for him, the reaction to the recent case of soldiers killed in Afghanistan was enhanced because of all the other gag orders and control issues out there. Spector's warning might be a bit too late.