Over the last year and a half the Liberals and the media have parroted the mantra “Prime Minister Harper is controlling…” almost ad nauseum. They have in fact gotten so used to exploiting that untruth that they have now stumbled onto a plateau where they are being critical of the Government’s exceptional handling of a crisis situation.
Recently, Omar el Akkad wrote an article in The Globe and Mail with this opening salvo: “The Prime Minister’s central team of bureaucrats was determined to control every aspect of the government’s response to Canada’s biggest ever anti-terrorism raids, according to documents obtained by The Globe and Mail.” The implication is clearly meant to capitalize on the portrayal of PM Harper as “controlling.”
The problem is that most previous criticism has focused on the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) while this story is reporting on the function of the PCO (Privy Council Office). That is a problem because the author either did not know the difference, or assumed that uninitiated readers would not!
The PMO is made up of the Prime Minister and his top political staff. The PMO is wholly political with staffers appointed by the Prime Minister. It is also the PMO’s job to keep the Prime Minister informed about events that take place in the government and the country. It acts as a link between the political party organization and the government.
The PCO however, provides non-partisan advice and support to the Prime Minister and leadership, coordination and support to the departments and agencies of the government.
Apparently Omar overlooked the fact that it is the PCO’s job to coordinate and support government departments. He goes on to write, “the Privy Council Offices’ micromanagment got to the point where bureaucrats began to chafe under the pressure.” The PCO ARE bureaucrats! He then calls the PCO “the public-service arm of the Prime Minister’s Office.”
“Documents show that Privy Council Office staff approved or rejected, among other details, talking points for various department spokespeople about the arrests” Omar writes.
So let’s get this straight: The Government’s non-partisan bureaucrats (who are closest to the Prime Minister and Cabinet) coordinate a response to a major crisis in Canadian security. They facilitate the flow of information between a multitude of government departments that are called on to respond, and provide consistent messaging to the public via media outlets. They avoid widespread panic by keeping the message clean and making sure that the public knows they are on top of it.
What other nefarious deeds did the Government’s top-level bureaucrats perform? (Here we quote from Omar’s article):
- “[They] wanted to know what kind of outreach activities the RCMP and CSIS were doing with Muslim groups”
- “…on June 8, 2006, when the anti-terror sweep was big news in Canada and around the world. On the same day, PCO staff also asked that a paragraph highlighting the arrests be added to an outgoing government press release”
- “a small army of communications officers crafting talking points, hurriedly updating speeches and correcting their bosses’ miscues.”
- “meticulous government monitoring of virtually every media account of the arrests… a consistent focus on getting all key players in Ottawa to echo the same talking points”
- “approving virtually every major decision along the way was the PCO, [they] kept a tight grip on the message being delivered”
- “Public Safety communications staff saw their workload spike”
- “Natural Resources Canada were wondering what to say to the flood of reporters”
- “crafting …talking points for just about everyone… and monitoring all news media stories about the arrests.”
- “final direction constantly came from higher up”
- Sent out an email directive: “Just so we’re all clear…in particular on issues of this nature with many depts involved, ALL electronic media interviews must be coordinated + OK’d by pco.”
- “at one point, staff had to figure out how to handle the possibility that government employees might be afraid of coming in to work in case their office building was an alleged terrorist target.”
- “the PCO continued to keep a tight lid on how much information was made public.”
- “…when allegations surfaced that some of the suspects had been tortured while in custody. The PCO immediately asked for …responses to potential questions on the issue. The media relations director for Correctional Services Canada was also contacted”
Was there widespread panic and attacks against Muslim targets? NO. Were Muslim groups appropriately consulted and reassured? YES. Was the message conveyed to the public consistent and accurate? YES. Did a plethora of government departments, responding for the first time to an issue of such magnitude, work seamlessly together? YES. Did the world applaud the great work of law enforcement and public servants? YES.
So what is the criticism? That the man who is ultimately responsible (PM Harper) had a crack team who did a fantastic job. That they handled a potentially tragic terror event and safeguarded the public interest with great efficiency.
They did so well in fact that some of the media doubted there was ever a serious threat! We salute the men and women of the PCO for an awesome job, and all of Canada should be proud of the man who led our government through this crisis. (Even if Omar doesn’t understand what took place).