All this week, the Star has been running a series called Secret Capital. The purpose of this series was to give Star readers a multi-faceted, close-up view of the way in which an unprecedented degree of control is being exerted over communication in Ottawa these days. My contribution to this series ran yesterday.
Allan has given us a closer glimpse into the communications shop of the Harper PMO when it's on the road.
The Woods' piece raises a question that all of us who have travelled with the PM have asked -- why bring along so many media handlers when you have a practice of not dealing with the media? Why is the Canadian taxpayer footing bills running to the tens of thousands to ferry these folks around the world, when, from Woods' reports, they seem to be little more than political tourists, rushing into elevators, for instance, to have their photos taken with President Bush?
I was on the first two foreign trips with Harper in early 2006, and like the rest of the pack, I simply was at a loss to understand what the communications folks were doing all the time we were in Afghanistan and Cancun. We rarely saw them and when we did, they had nothing to say. They seemed to function more as junior security officers. (In Afghanistan, I'm not sure additional security was needed, since Harper appeared to be well protected by the formidable, and scary, JTF2 guys.)
Subsequent foreign trips have just sealed and reinforced the pattern of virtual absence by the PMO communications team. Now reporters know to go to foreign governments for information about what Harper has been saying and doing on the road.
At any rate, it's worth reading the whole series if you have the time. It may help answer the question, often asked by supporters of the Harper government, about why we don't tell the government's side of the story often enough in our reportage. Here's the simple answer -- we can't tell the story if we don't know it.
Harper, it's said, is a long-term planner; his genius lies in his ability to identify the goal at the end of the road, and let the skirmishes and tactics sort themselves out along the way. So we've seen the skirmishes and tactics. The bigger question is: to what end?