Here's a riddle: What's worse than being a lobbyist in Stephen Harper's Ottawa?
Answer: Being a member of the parliamentary press gallery.
We know this to be true because of a strange development on Wednesday, after Harper pitched a fit and refused to hold a press conference with Ottawa reporters because they wouldn't agree to have the PMO decide who got to ask questions.
This was at noon. The problem, however, was that the Prime Minister's Office actually had a message it wanted to transmit to the media for the midday news cycle about why Harper was holding a vote on Afghanistan in the Commons later that day and why it would be a mistake for MPs to vote against extending the mission to 2009.
So, at 1:30, the PMO got on a conference call with some Tory lobbyists around town (yes, contrary to popular myth, they have not been reassigned to the Arctic under Harper's acccountability crackdown.) Without saying why they couldn't phone reporters themselves, the PMO issued a request for lobbyists to step in and feed some lines to selected political reporters at major news bureaus. Dutifully, several of them stepped up to the plate and made the calls as requested. They were friendly, courteous, informative, even funny -- everything the PMO communications staff can't seem to be these days.
But it does raise the question: just what is Harper paying his communications people to do, if they have to "contract out" civility to lobbyists? That's a whole larger riddle.