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There's just no polishing up partisan cabinet

Not only did Stephen Harper’s cabinet shuffle do nothing to shore up a group of inconsequential partisans, the desired boost to its tired image quickly morphed into another public relations disaster courtesy of revelations of an enemies list.

Leaked documents show the Conservatives were looking to compile a list of loyalists and enemies, among other factoids to be offered up to incoming cabinet ministers assuming their new portfolios. Briefing papers are commonplace. An actual enemies list, referred to in such terms, is a first, courtesy of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, also known as the PMO.

Comparisons to disgraced U.S. president Richard Nixon came early and often. The secretive, paranoid and controlling natures of both Harper and Nixon, who also kept an enemies list, made the association a given.

The shuffle itself did the government no favours. The Conservatives trumpeted the inclusion of a few more women and younger members. The public quickly realized, however, that the bloated size of the cabinet – 39 members, tied for most-ever since the “glory” days of Brian Mulroney – simply meant a few new puppets and partisan mouthpieces to replace some departing ones, along with some new additions. Do we really need a minister of state for consular services? No, but said minister and each of the others does get a $76,700 pay raise, an office staff and budget, and a car allowance.

No one can argue that skill and service to Canadians is what got most of these ministers – new or shuffled – to the table. Partisan loyalty and sticking to the PMO talking points are what earn the keys to the executive washroom.

That the much-reviled Peter Van Loan remains government house leader and uber-partisan Pierre Poilievre becomes minister of something called “democratic reform” indicate nothing has changed.

The retention of Jim Flaherty, John Baird and Tony Clement – three stalwarts in a Mike Harris government that continues to so haunt the Tory brand in Ontario that the latter day Dalton McGuinty was a better choice (Tim Hudak was also part of that crew) – in finance, foreign affairs and Treasury Board respectively means the real inner circle remains the same. Harper is still the puppet master, though we’re increasingly aware that he’s not very good at that, either.

A bad public relations week was rounded out by increasing dissatisfaction with government’s handling of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy.

Right off the bat, the Conservatives took the heat for easing safety regulations in the railroad industry, cutting inspectors and allowing the industry to police more of its own operations. Whereas local government, provincial officials and a host of aid organizations were quick to respond, pledging aid and support, the federal government has been notably absent. It had not even promised basic assistance. Its image in the area is fast sinking to levels reserved for the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA), owners of the runaway train that exploded July 6 in the picturesque downtown of the lakeside town, killing at least 50 people.

Newly minted Transport Minister Lisa Raitt showed up on Wednesday, but when it appeared to be more of a photo op than an announcement of support, the townspeople were less than impressed. With news that MMA was laying off 75 workers, 19 in Quebec, due to the rail line being closed, residents were not in a welcoming mood.

There’s never been anything but spin coming out of the PMO, and Canadians finally seem to be catching on.

Not only did Stephen Harper’s cabinet shuffle do nothing to shore up a group of inconsequential partisans, the desired boost to its tired image quickly morphed into another public relations disaster courtesy of revelations of an enemies list.

Leaked documents show the Conservatives were looking to compile a list of loyalists and enemies, among other factoids to be offered up to incoming cabinet ministers assuming their new portfolios. Briefing papers are commonplace. An actual enemies list, referred to in such terms, is a first, courtesy of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, also known as the PMO.

Comparisons to disgraced U.S. president Richard Nixon came early and often. The secretive, paranoid and controlling natures of both Harper and Nixon, who also kept an enemies list, made the association a given.

The shuffle itself did the government no favours. The Conservatives trumpeted the inclusion of a few more women and younger members. The public quickly realized, however, that the bloated size of the cabinet – 39 members, tied for most-ever since the “glory” days of Brian Mulroney – simply meant a few new puppets and partisan mouthpieces to replace some departing ones, along with some new additions. Do we really need a minister of state for consular services? No, but said minister and each of the others does get a $76,700 pay raise, an office staff and budget, and a car allowance.

No one can argue that skill and service to Canadians is what got most of these ministers – new or shuffled – to the table. Partisan loyalty and sticking to the PMO talking points are what earn the keys to the executive washroom.

That the much-reviled Peter Van Loan remains government house leader and uber-partisan Pierre Poilievre becomes minister of something called “democratic reform” indicate nothing has changed.

The retention of Jim Flaherty, John Baird and Tony Clement – three stalwarts in a Mike Harris government that continues to so haunt the Tory brand in Ontario that the latter day Dalton McGuinty was a better choice (Tim Hudak was also part of that crew) – in finance, foreign affairs and Treasury Board respectively means the real inner circle remains the same. Harper is still the puppet master, though we’re increasingly aware that he’s not very good at that, either.

A bad public relations week was rounded out by increasing dissatisfaction with government’s handling of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy.

Right off the bat, the Conservatives took the heat for easing safety regulations in the railroad industry, cutting inspectors and allowing the industry to police more of its own operations. Whereas local government, provincial officials and a host of aid organizations were quick to respond, pledging aid and support, the federal government has been notably absent. It had not even promised basic assistance. Its image in the area is fast sinking to levels reserved for the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MMA), owners of the runaway train that exploded July 6 in the picturesque downtown of the lakeside town, killing at least 50 people.

Newly minted Transport Minister Lisa Raitt showed up on Wednesday, but when it appeared to be more of a photo op than an announcement of support, the townspeople were less than impressed. With news that MMA was laying off 75 workers, 19 in Quebec, due to the rail line being closed, residents were not in a welcoming mood.

There’s never been anything but spin coming out of the PMO, and Canadians finally seem to be catching on.

 

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