Not any more

Harper book shows Ottawa ‘puts too much on confidentiality’

In Canada on October 6, 2010 at 08:55

1. Escaping the cone of silence. Tom Flanagan, once the enforcer in Stephen Harper’s office, is now rethinking the command and control structure of the PMO.

“I think Canadian politics puts too much on confidentiality,” he told The Globe in an interview. “But I don’t claim any moral high ground. I enforced rigid confidentiality when I was Stephen’s chief of staff. I guess I try to do the job I’m being paid to do.”

More related to this story

Mr. Flanagan served as chief of staff in 2002 and 2003 when Mr. Harper was opposition leader; he also managed his election campaigns and advised on his winning effort in 2006. Now a political science professor at the University of Calgary, Mr. Flanagan is looking at politics through a different lens.

He recently reflected on the new book Harperland by Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin. Its thesis is that Mr. Harper is a control freak, that he is the real enforcer and allows little dissent.

And it contains a passage – again to illustrate Mr. Harper’s control – about how the Prime Minister and his then-chief of staff, Ian Brodie, tried to block the publication of Mr. Flanagan’s 2007 book, Harper’s Team. It’s a very candid book, going behind the scenes on the rise of Mr. Harper from opposition to government. A second edition was published in 2009.

But what Mr. Martin describes is not exactly what happened. “No attempt was made to ‘block publication’,” Mr. Flanagan said. Rather, he informed both Mr. Brodie and Mr. Harper “in person at different times” that he was writing a book.

“Neither made any objection at the time,” he recalled. “Then Ian called me some months later and asked me not to publish it. I said it was too late for that.”

But Mr. Flanagan did offer to entertain changes and edits to the manuscript, which he did. “It’s a better book because of the advice I received,” he said.

However, Mr. Flanagan notes that he has not had any contact with the Harper PMO since the second edition of his book was released – which is interesting given how close he was to Mr. Harper and how instrumental in his rise to power. “I remain a supporter of the Conservative government, though critical in a friendly way when it makes what appear to me to be mistakes.”

He added that as a university professor it’s not his job to repeat “government talking points” although, “of course, I used to write them when I was part of Team Harper.”

In the United States, Mr. Flanagan noted that it’s “taken for granted” that Barack Obama’s campaign manager, David Axelrod, could write about his adventures running an Obama campaign. Ditto for David Frum, who wrote about working for George W. Bush.

“Indeed, Bob Woodward conducts high-level interviews about government policy-making almost as soon as the decisions are made,” Mr. Flanagan said. “Maybe the Americans take openness too far, but I think Canada would profit from moving in that direction.”

2. Will helping ailing parents win votes? Healthcare is now the top issue for Canadians usurping concern over jobs and the economy, according to a new Nanos Research poll.

And this is only good news for Michael Ignatieff’, who announced a new $1 billion a year family care program he plans to launch if the Liberals form government. This program is to frame a pillar of the party’s election platform.

“Healthcare is a significant growth issue for any of the parties,” Mr. Nanos told CTV’s Power Play Tuesday. “We also know from our polling that committed Liberal voters are much more likely to be focused and concerned about healthcare than other voters. So what we see from the Liberals is a platform that is aligning with what Canadians want to see managed.”

The pollster said the Liberals have taken a page from the Conservative playbook. “They’ve taken very focused, niche issues and the Liberals have been able to roll up family care and health care all in one little package.”

The Nanos poll shows that 35 per cent of Canadians believe healthcare – an increase of 12 points in the last quarter – is the most important national issue compared to 19 per cent for jobs and the economy. Other top of mind issues were the environment at 6.6 per cent; high taxes at 5 per cent and education at 3.7 per cent.

The poll of 1,014 Canadians, which was released Tuesday, was conducted between Aug. 28 and Sept. 3; it has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.


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