Friday, May 26, 2006

PMO gag order over Mountie wedding

I haven't been blogging much lately, because the latest spat between Harper and the Parliamentary press gallery has ensured that Harper looks like a jerk every day in the mainstream press. I can't quite believe that he's accusing the media outlets that crowned him King of being biased against him. Unbelievable.

Anyway, this article says it all ...

PMO gag order over Mountie wedding; Tory MPs have been told to zip their lips if asked about constables' same-sex marriage next month

By Bruce Cheadle, The Canadian Press

The Prime Minister's Office has warned Conservative MPs not to comment on the marriage next month of two gay RCMP constables. The gag order went to all MPs but was aimed at "the small minority who might say something stupid," said one caucus member.

It's just the latest in a concerted effort by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to control and limit his new government's public message track. And it follows party strategists' successful suppression during the election campaign of outspoken social conservatives whose opinions might have harmed the party's climb to power.

Now the marriage of RCMP constables Jason Tree and David Connors in Yarmouth, N.S., appears to be causing some unease in the PMO. Sandra Buckler, Harper's director of communications, was not available for comment yesterday. But several Conservative MPs quietly confirmed they had received the PMO gag order about the Mountie wedding.

Conservatives will likely insist this is simply a matter of sticking to the government's core priorities."It's always the role of a government to communicate its own message," said Harper in Vancouver, responding in French to a question about his picayune standoff with the parliamentary press gallery over who gets to decide who asks questions at news conferences.

"It is the government that has the right to communicate with the population." Ian Brodie, Harper's chief of staff, has warned cabinet ministers that if they stray off message they face an escalating scale of sanctions, ranging from public humiliation to removal from cabinet. Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay and Industry Minister Maxime Bernier have already felt the sting.

But Harper's preoccupation with message control extends far beyond his frontbench. Maverick MP Garth Turner went public early in February with accounts of being sternly dressed down by Harper for speaking out on David Emerson's Liberal defection. Saskatchewan MP Garry Breitkreuz, a party stalwart and longtime leading advocate of scrapping the federal long-gun registry, was ordered not to talk with reporters about federal gun legislation in advance of last week's amnesty announcement by Public Security Minister Stockwell Day.

General Rick Hillier, the Chief of Defence Staff, went so far as to publicly deny published reports last month that he'd been muzzled, although the blunt-spoken Newfoundlander has avoided public comment ever since.

On Wednesday night in Calgary, Justice Minister Vic Toews insisted all questions be screened in advance during a town hall discussion on the government's get-tough-on-crime bill.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Big Daddy Harper

I love Ian Brown from the Globe & Mail. He manages to write these long feature articles that are actually quite subversive. A couple of years ago, he travelled through the U.S. and documented the rise of evangelical fundamentalism. He took a special trip to Colorado, where he interviewed James Dobson, the King Poobah of Focus on the Family, a multi-billion dollar a year industry/religious movement (that has declared "war" on same sex marriage, abortion, etc. -- the usual suspects).

Anyway, his latest feature for the Globe sounds like it was taken straight from the words of George Lakoff, a communications guru in the U.S. who has studied the way that Republicans communicate. (Those who know me are aware of my current obsession with Lakoff's book Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate). Brown argues that if Stephen Harper should have any nickname, it should be Big Daddy -- referring to the obsessive control he has over government communications and policy planning.

I make a similar point about Harper's communications strategy in my latest column for Capital Xtra. I love George Lakoff. 'Nuff said.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Don't boycott the census, or spill coffee on it ...

Hi everyone,

So sorry to have been absent for the last few weeks. I promise that I'm back on the blog wagon. It's been a busy time, and the sunshine has been way more appealing than the glow of the computer screen. But a few recent events have brought me out of blog hibernation, and I'm back now. I promise. This entry's going to be a bit long, so bear with me .....

The Census

Okay, I have spent most of this week responding to people who have been forwarding me emails about the census from Vivelecanada.ca and Countmeout.ca. Now I've linked to them, so you can read what they have to say, and decide for yourselves. But I maintain that boycotting or sabotaging the Canadian census is a stupid idea. I won't go into all of the reasons, because Ed Finn and Murray Dobbin have already done such a good job. But the gist of it is that Lockheed Martin (evil weapons manufacturer that it is) will have no access to census data. They just designed the software that the government will be using -- just like evil Microsoft designed the software that most of us use on our computers.

Am I happy that the Canadian government gave a big cheque to Lockheed? No. But as Dobbin points out, there is actually an activist VICTORY embedded in this story. When Stats Can originally contracted with Lockheed, the company would have had access to the data. Civil society groups complained, and Stats Can changed the contract, bringing ALL of the data collection in-house.

As many anti-poverty and social programs advocates will tell you, the census is one of the only ways that we can gain unbiased data about all sorts of social issues -- including poverty, wealth and demographics in Canada. Encouraging people to corrupt the census data is a waste of time, and all it will do is harm our efforts to fight inequality.

Now, if you really want to fight deep integration with the U.S., there are lots of more productive things you can do.

Here are three examples:

1. Join citizens' advocacy groups that are working on this issue, and get involved with their campaigns. Groups like the Council of Canadians (and yes, I work for them, but I'm also lucky enough to have a day job at an organization that I really believe in).

2. Visit ceasefire.ca, and find out how you can work toward peace and disarmament. Ceasefire is currently providing much-needed criticism of the war in Afghanistan, and this is the group that led the successful campaign against ballistic missile defence.

3. Support the Secret Trial Five (who are being held in jail with no access to the charges against them), and fight draconian security measures like Security Certificates.

Conspiracy theories sap our movement of much-needed energy and credibility. Fill out your census form, pop it in the mail, and then roll up your sleeves and get down to the real work of creating social and political change.