Drive on, nothing to see here
Wondering where the dirty-tricks controversy will go, now that the Commons Speaker has declared it reprehensible? Chances are it will dissipate, through what's become a tried-and-true method for getting past political trouble.
Macleans' columnist Paul Wells has recently given us a little glimpse into the PMO's media-management techniques, telling us the existence of a "media barometer."
"The Prime Minister’s Office distributes a daily “media barometer” that lists the stories getting the widest coverage and generating the most buzz on blogs and talk radio....Standard PMO procedure is to do what it takes to get a story off the top of the barometer."
How do you lower the barometer reading? Allow me, as a public service, to set out the five steps (and thus save someone from spending a lot of money on fancy advice.)
It is this simple:
1. Acknowledge the error in as vague, general a fashion as you can:
"I would, Mr. Speaker, indicate to you that the way in which this case has been handled, including by myself, has been unfortunate." -- Bev Oda (doctored-document controversy)
2. Thank the error finder for good work.
"We thank the Auditor General for her recommendations. We are working on and streamlining the processes for procurement. In fact, we have, as a result of our current efforts, on average been able to reduce the time to get a contract award from 107 months to 48 months." -- Peter MacKay (cost overruns on Chinook helicopters.)
3. You know how parenting experts talk about distinguishing between bad child and bad behaviour? When you are a politico trying to get out of a jam, you don't talk about specific behaviour -- you talk instead, tangentially, about what a good person you are.
"It's the government's policy that departments are to respond in the timeframes contained in the act or extend time in accordance with the act, subject to the right of a requester to go to the information commissioner and ultimately to the Federal Court." -- former PMO chief of staff Guy Giorno, testifying about political interference in access-to-information requests.
(Actually, the entire testimony is a textbook case of how to answer a specific question in the abstract. Read it if you have the time/interest.)
4. Say it of course won't happen again.
“I don’t think there will be any more use of suggestions that a byelection might happen." John Williamson, re: Cotler calls.
5. When further questions arise, say it's old news. Time has marched on. Insinuate that the person who keeps bringing it up is holding a grudge or has an axe to grind.
The Auditor General came forward with her report and we thank her for her work. She came forward with specific recommendations on how we could be even more transparent to Parliament, specific recommendations on improving program administration. (John Baird: G8/G20 spending.)
And that's it! As they say on the shampoo bottles: lather, rinse, repeat. Or, in this case: Admit, Thank, Boast, Repent, Move On.
The current government did not invent this. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the current Prime Minister watched Jean Chretien employ this technique over and over again through his tenure, and learned something. In politics, it's better to bury a controversy than to give it a full airing. (The Gomery commission, into the Liberal sponsorship scandal, is now seen as Paul Martin's greatest PR error, for instance.)
As you've noticed, we're at Stage Four in the Cotler-call controversy. Error admitted, Speaker thanked, principles stated, never-again vow has been made. By the end of the week, it'll be called old news.