Not any more

Harper book has PMO seeing red

In Canada on September 30, 2010 at 23:39

OTTAWA — The Prime Minister’s Office has lashed out at the author of a new book on Stephen Harper, accusing the veteran journalist of being a “big-L Liberal sympathizer.”

The book, by Lawrence Martin, paints a picture of how Mr. Harper has imposed “an ironclad system of control” during his four years in power and has proven to be a “Conservative success story.”

Entitled “Harperland: The Politics of Control,” it is the first major book which reviews in detail how Mr. Harper has taken such a tight grip of the federal political landscape since becoming prime minister.

Among the book’s revelations are that Mr. Harper considered going straight to the Queen if the Governor General refused his request in 2008 for prorogation to avert his government from being toppled in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister’s Office said Thursday that segment of the book, based on an interview with a former senior Harper aide, is false.

Dimitri Soudas, director of communications to Mr. Harper, said he had not read the book but added that Mr. Martin is a “known biographer for previous Liberal prime ministers.”

“The bottom line is that whether it’s through his columns or his opinions, it’s a well-known fact that he’s a big-L Liberal sympathizer.”

Mr. Soudas brushed aside the charge that Mr. Harper is overly controlling, saying that the prime minister has had the responsibility to ensure the government implements the “right decisions” in response to the global economic recession.

“I have no idea what he’s referring to,” Mr. Soudas said. “If competence is a synonym for controlling, then we’re competent.”

Mr. Martin responded Thursday with a defence of his journalistic credibility.

“I find the shoot-the-messenger stuff amusing. These are the same Conservatives who were cheering me on when I was one of the journalists leading the charge against the Chretien Liberals on Shawinigate and their dictatorial style of governance.”

Mr. Martin has a long history in journalism. He served as the Globe and Mail’s bureau chief in Washington, D.C. from 1978 to 1981 and then worked as the paper’s Moscow correspondent from 1985 to 1988. He was a national columnist for Southam and Canwest newspapers from 1998 to 2001, the period during which he wrote critically of then-prime minister Jean Chretien’s involvement in a political scandal — known as Shawinigate — in which the prime minister was accused of profiting from real estate deals in his hometown.

He is the author of 10 books, including books on relationships between U.S. presidents and Canadian prime ministers, the breakup of the Soviet Union, former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard, and two biographical volumes on Mr. Chretien. He is currently a national columnist for the Globe and Mail.

In his new book on the prime minister, Mr. Martin quotes former senior Mr. Harper aides. The book spans all of the key junctures of Mr. Harper’s government — including the early days of sharp internal discipline following the 2006 election, the 2008 election campaign, the near-defeat at the hands of the Liberal-NDP coalition, the economic recession, and this year’s “Padlocking of Parliament” to allegedly prevent scrutiny on military treatment of Afghan detainees.

A recurring theme throughout the book is Harper’s extraordinary focus on control.

“Given the nature of his governance, many would find it strange that the gods of fortune kept smiling on Stephen Harper,” the book concludes. “He amassed executive power on an unprecedented scale and often uses it in a manner more befitting a despot than a democrat. ‘Gangster politics’ someone called it. Or peace, order, and hood government.”

Mr. Martin writes of how Mr. Harper campaigned on a promise of “accountability” in the 2006 election that produced a Conservative victory.

“But those who knew him realized that openness was not in his DNA. Driven by the insecurities of a minority, the constraints of a town painted Liberal for thirteen years, and his own inordinate craving for power, Harper imposed an ironclad system of control aimed at bringing the nation’s capital to heel. Showing no respect for the conventions or the checks and balances of the system, he let his thirst for control get out of control.”

Mr. Martin cites a long list of examples of how Mr. Harper turned his back on his accountability promise: creating a system to vet the government’s public communications; defying Parliament by refusing to produce certain documents; “padlocking” Parliament twice for selfish political purposes; impeding public access-to-information; restricting media access to government; trying to make parliamentary committees dysfunctional; and trying to strip opposition parties of public financing.

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