By Paul Wells - Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - 0 Comments
Prime Minister Stephen Harper surprised his nearly 300,000 Twitter followers on Monday by tweeting photos and video from a typical day at home and on Parliament Hill.
One of the most striking posts was a short video showing him entering his daily senior staff meeting. It was a rare look at the advisers who are on hand to brief the PM as he begins his work day.
Many of these people are barely known outside Harper’s office. Their hiring and departure is almost never announced in a news release. This isn’t the only power group in Harper’s Ottawa — cabinet ministers and their staffs have important responsibilities; top bureaucrats manage departments numbering in the thousands — but in a city where it sometimes seems that clout increases with proximity to Stephen Harper, this is literally the inner circle.
Click on each individual to find out who they are and what they do:
Related reading: The Maclean’s Power List
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 11:50 AM - 0 Comments
After seeming not particularly concerned five months ago about Huawei’s dealing with Canadian firms, the Prime Minister is now maybe concerned about the possibility of the Chinese telecommunications company dealing with the federal government.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke cautiously when asked about the government’s plans to upgrade its communications network. “The government is going to be choosing carefully in the construction of this network and it has invoked the national security exception for the building of this network,” said Andrew MacDougall, Harper’s director of communications…
MacDougall did not say Tuesday whether this policy will exclude Huawei from winning bids for federal contracts. “I’m not going to comment on any one company in particular,” he told a news conference. “I’ll leave it to you if you think Huawei should be a part of the Canadian government security system.”
The latest questions were raised by Greg Weston’s report for the CBC. The NDP is pointing to Huawei as a reason to be concerned about the Nexen deal. The Wall Street Journal compares Huawei’s receptions in the United States and Canada.
By macleans.ca - Friday, October 5, 2012 at 2:18 PM - 0 Comments
Aaron Wherry, Paul Wells and John Geddes discuss the first three weeks of the fall session on Parliament Hill:
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has said Barrick, which has mining operations in Argentina, called Wright to discuss Harper’s performance at the Summit of the Americas in April. The prime minister infuriated the Argentine government by blocking a declaration on its claim to the Falkland Islands.
Baird has insisted Wright did nothing wrong; he merely listened to Barrick’s concerns, said nothing, passed the matter over to others responsible for the file and was not involved in any decision relating to the company. Baird has not explained why Wright would have felt it necessary to participate in three separate calls — on May 14, 25 and 29 — if he had nothing to say and no responsibility for the matter.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, July 27, 2012 at 12:09 PM - 0 Comments
The RCMP has charged the former PMO advisor with influence peddling.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police “A” Division Commercial Crime Section has charged Bruce Carson, age 66, of Ottawa, with one count of Fraud on the Government, also known as influence peddling, contrary to Section 121(1)(d) of the Criminal Code. Carson is alleged to have accepted a commission for a third party in connection with a business matter relating to the government.
To today’s charge, the PMO responds as follows.
Immediately after being informed of these allegations last year, our government referred the matter to the RCMP Commissioner, the Ethics Commissioner and the Lobbying Commissioner. Any individual who doesn’t respect our laws must face their full force as well as the consequences that come with them.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, July 23, 2012 at 1:54 PM - 0 Comments
The Prime Minister will meet with the mayor of Toronto tomorrow afternoon in Scarborough. The Star has comment from the Prime Minister’s Office.
“We’re obviously concerned about gun crime,” MacDougall said when asked about expectations for the meeting. “That’s why we’re trying to crack down on it by passing new laws with stiffer sentences. The mayor expressed an interest in hearing what exactly the federal government was doing, both on the crime front and the stuff that (Immigration Minister Jason) Kenney was talking about last week,” MacDougall said.
“The Prime Minister is always happy to meet with elected officials to talk about what the government is doing, so we’ll run through some of the stuff that we’ve passed, some of the stuff that is still before the House and answer any questions he has,” MacDougall said.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, July 20, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Courtesy of Newstalk 1010′s John Downs, here is audio of Rob Ford attempting to explain his comments about wanting to sit down with the Prime Minister to discuss immigration law. Apparently it has “nothing to do particularly with immigration or where you come from.” Rather, the Toronto mayor wants to know whether it is possible to bar anyone convicted of a gun-related crime, regardless of their citizenship status, from living in Toronto.
I don’t care if you’re Canadian born, I don’t care if you’re a Canadian citizen, I don’t care if you’re an immigrant and I don’t care if you’re a refugee. It doesn’t matter to me. If you’re convicted of a gun crime, I do not want you living in the city. And the only way I can find out whether that’s legal or not or whether we can enforce that is through the PMO. And that’s what I’m doing.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 12:53 PM - 0 Comments
I asked Megan Leslie for an NDP response to the general issue of wind turbines and the recent announcement of a Health Canada study. Here is what she wrote in reply.
The NDP is very supportive of renewable energy technologies. However, as with any project, there needs to be true community consultation. There is tremendous insight and expertise at the community level, and we need to tap into this resource.
As we have said with the oil sands, all energy sources in Canada should be developed in a way that is safe for Canadians and for our environment. This study is a good example of how proper scientific evidence, led by public research, can help people understands the impact of these systems. More of these studies should be conducted to better understand the impact of other sources that have raised public concern, like cellphone towers. The NDP supports the use of science and evidence in decision making, which is in stark contrast to the way Conservatives have been making their decisions lately.
Speaking of evidence, it’s odd to see the Conservatives funding studies on green energy technology while at the same time they’re killing environmental assessments for fossil fuel projects. Why the double standard? While the health and environmental concerns of large wind turbines merit study, the huge problems of smog and the thousands of deaths directly attributed to air quality, mercury contamination, and climate change, all deserve immediate and decisive action, and this government has provided neither. And where are the long-promised studies of oil sands development on the First Nations downstream of the oil sands?
When the PMO directly calls the group lobbying for this delay, I can’t help but think that this is a crass political move to undermine the development of renewables. I don’t remember the PMO calling anyone in Ft Chipewan about their health concerns living downstream, or any of my constituents with concerns about cell towers in their neighbourhoods.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq’s office explains that the minister requested the study after hearing from MPs—primarily from Ontario—that constituents had concerns about the health impacts of wind turbines. The department had apparently been working with the provinces and territories to establish voluntary guidelines for “set backs,” but that process concluded without firm decisions.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 2:54 PM - 0 Comments
In this week’s print edition, I write about Brad Trost, Stephen Woodworth, abortion and the Prime Minister. For that I sat down with Mr. Trost a couple weeks ago in his office. Here is a slightly abridged transcript of that conversation.
Q: I wanted to start with Mr. Woodworth today. What did you make of that?
A: Everyone, I think, in Ottawa, knows I’m a pro-life Member of Parliament. I don’t see how scientifically there’s any question about when human life begins. And politically I don’t understand why Canada is the only democracy that really has no legislation whatsoever. I mean, let’s face it, we’re more socially conservative than France and France has abortion legislation after 14 weeks. Sweden does, we’re more socially conservative than Sweden. I don’t get where the disconnect is on this one. People can agree to disagree. My board of directors, Conservatives in Saskatoon-Humboldt, they’re all over the board on this. By and large they’re mostly like-mind because my riding has a huge devout Catholic proportion. It’s like 42% Roman Catholic, and not like Quebec, they’re a fairly observant lot. So that’s reflected in the nature of my constituency and my voters, but my board of directors includes a couple pro-choice people and they respect and some of them tell me I’m doing a great job on a whole range of issues. So I think we can have a good dialogue on this and it wouldn’t be what I’d like, but I still can’t figure out why Canada can’t have some legislation like Sweden or France or Germany has. This puzzles me.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, February 9, 2012 at 12:58 PM - 0 Comments
The McGuinty and Harper governments blame each other for the situation at Electro-Motive in London.
Ottawa could have prevented the loss of hundreds of jobs at an Ontario locomotive plant if it had acted to modernize Canada’s “outdated” foreign investment laws, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Monday … However, the federal government said a month ago that the takeover was never looked at by Investment Canada because it fell under the $300-million threshold. A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister’s Office said the government sympathizes with the workers, but there was nothing Ottawa could do. ”This issue fell entirely within the powers of the McGuinty government, there was no ability for the federal government to intervene,” spokeswoman Sara MacIntyre wrote in an email. That’s not true, McGuinty said. What happened at Electro-Motive wasn’t a labour relations issue, “and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise.”
Whatever the Harper government’s lack of jurisdiction, Conservative MP Ed Holder says he arranged calls between Labour Minister Lisa Raitt and the parties involved.
I helped arrange discussions with the federal Labour Minister between the Company, the Union and the Mayor. These were in an effort to get everyone back to the bargaining table … The calls took place in mid-January.
Ms. Raitt released a statement about the dispute on January 5.
Meanwhile, Mike Moffatt busts the myth that Electro-Motive received a direct subsidy from the Harper government. And the House is spending the day debating the following NDP motion.
That this House condemn the decision of Caterpillar Inc. to close its Electro-Motive Diesel plant in London, Ontario, with a loss of 450 jobs, and that of Papiers White Birch to close its Quebec City plant, with a loss of 600 jobs, and call on the government to table, within 90 days, draft amendments to the Investment Canada Act to ensure that foreign buyers are held to public and enforceable commitments on the ‘net benefit’ to Canada and on the protection of Canadian jobs.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 9, 2012 at 10:24 AM - 0 Comments
Amy Minsky tallies the Privy Council Office.
In the mid-1990s, under Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien, there was the equivalent of 662 people employed on a full-time basis in the Privy Council Office, the bureaucracy that supports and advises the prime minister and his cabinet. By 2010-11, that number swelled to 1,066, according to the office’s annual performance reports. During the same time, costs of running the office increased to $160 million from $79.7 million.
By Paul Wells - Friday, December 9, 2011 at 8:30 AM - 46 Comments
WELLS: Short attention spans will get the focus off Attawapiskat. Fixing the actual problem will take longer.
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. Last week the public relations crisis at Attawapiskat First Nation entered its second week. The humanitarian crisis has been going on for longer. For the first time since the Harper government was elected in 2006, a story on Aboriginal affairs made it to the top of the PMO barometer.
Standard PMO procedure is to do what it takes to get a story off the top of the barometer. That’ll be easy enough for news of the appalling living conditions at Attawapiskat. Short attention spans will do the job without any help from the Langevin Block. Fixing the actual problem will take longer.
On Nov. 29, Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan met until 10 p.m. with the cabinet subcommittee in charge of the strategic and operating review. He had prepared for his appearance for days. Every minister has to go through this. Their task is to explain how they will cut 10 per cent of their department’s spending, if needed.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, November 21, 2011 at 2:34 PM - 17 Comments
The Hill Times tallies the number of people employed by the government for the purposes of “communications.”
The Hill Times went through the government electronic directory service to get a rough idea of how many communications staffers—people paid to help craft and disseminate any given government message—currently work in the public service, ministerial offices, the PMO and the PCO. In all, there are currently around 1,500 communications staffers working in government offices and departments across Canada, including 87 in the PMO and PCO.
That’s roughly five for every MP. And if that total doesn’t include staff employed by opposition MPs and leaders’ offices, the ratio is even higher.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 8:45 AM - 9 Comments
Greg Weston looks into what Bruce Carson was doing after he left the Prime Minister’s Office.
In an exclusive interview with CBC News, Turner said the board has simply written off about $15,000 of taxpayers’ money that Carson spent on personal travel and other expenses during his last month on the job. The school — a think-tank set up at the University of Calgary with a $15-million federal grant — withheld another $13,000 it owed Carson when he left under a cloud of controversy in March…
The Canada School of Energy and Environment was supposed to bring together the best and brightest from the public and private sectors to create new clean energy technologies and strategies. Instead, Carson effectively turned the school into a one-man advocacy centre to promote the Canadian oil industry in general, and the oilsands in particular, a role he had played through most of his time in the Prime Minister’s Office.
By Richard Warnica - Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 11:50 AM - 14 Comments
After nine years with the prime minister, Soudas surely has tales to tell. Getting them is another matter.
It is the spokesman’s lot to be forever in frame yet rarely in focus. Spokesmen deny and confirm. Sometimes they reject or agree. They speak often, in other words, but say little. One would imagine, then, that after a long stint in communications, the average spokesman would have a lot of pent up things to say. But if the spokesman in question is Dimitri Soudas, one would be wrong.
Soudas stepped down this fall after nine years alongside Stephen Harper, a man he calls “the greatest prime minister Canada has ever had.” Soudas joined Harper when the latter was leader of the Canadian Alliance. He stayed with him through the Conservative merger, the Paul Martin minority and the coalition crisis. He leaves after a stretch as the Prime Minister’s chief spokesman and months after his old boss won the majority government he had long craved.
Recently, Soudas signed on as the executive director of communications for the Canadian Olympic Committee. In the week before confirming his new gig, Soudas spoke to Maclean’s about his years with Harper, the tone in Ottawa and what he would do differently, if he had it to do over again. (The answer: not much.) Soudas remains deeply loyal to his old colleagues. In conversation he retains the demeanor of a communications professional, forever on message, even if, as is the case, it’s not his message anymore.
By Paul Wells - Monday, September 12, 2011 at 10:05 AM - 126 Comments
Paul Wells takes an inside look at where the power really lies in Ottawa
For a loner, Stephen Harper works surprisingly well with others. The Prime Minister won his job by earning the loyalty of the old Reform party even though he used to be Preston Manning’s most persistent internal critic. He ended a decade’s rivalry with the Progressive Conservatives after doing more than almost anyone to fuel the rivalry.
He has wooed former Liberals into his caucus, sent New Democrat Gary Doer to Washington as Canada’s ambassador, and even put the occasional former Bloc Québécois member on the government payroll. No premier except Newfoundland’s now-retired Danny Williams has seen any political profit in antagonizing him. Harper drives his political opponents so crazy that it’s less frequently noticed how often he makes allies.
But the flip side of that coin is that his alliances rarely last. He hardly talks to former advisers like Tom Flanagan. He is on his fourth chief of staff, sixth communications director, and fifth foreign minister since he became Prime Minister. Jean Chrétien kept Eddie Goldenberg at his side for nearly 40 years. Paul Martin kept his 1990 Liberal leadership team around him until the day he retired. Harper’s team is like George Washington’s axe in the old joke, its blade replaced three times and its handle 26. All that remains is the ability to chop down opponents.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 12:13 PM - 3 Comments
Old Persichilli column slams Quebec nationalism
Prime Minister Stephen Harper won a majority government with little support from Quebec, and if his choice for new chief spin doctor is any sign, he intends to keep it that way. Harper appointed journalist Angelo Persichilli as his new director of communications Tuesday. On Wednesday, Sun Media’s David Akin dug up a Toronto Star column in which Persichilli decries the number of francophone bureaucrats in Ottawa, slams former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe’s “selfish cultural aspirations” and urges Quebecers to be more grateful to the provinces, such as B.C., Alberta and Ontario, that pick up the tab for its generous social programs.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 12:29 PM - 2 Comments
Toronto Star columnist replaces Dimitri Soudas
Stephen Harper has appointed political columnist Angelo Persichilli as the new director of communications for the Prime Minister’s Office. Persichilli replaces Dimitri Soudas, a close confidant of Harper’s since he became leader of the Canadian Alliance in 2002. Persichilli most recently worked as the political editor for the Italian-language newspaper Corriere Canadese, and as a political columnist for the Toronto Star and the Hill Times.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, August 5, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 14 Comments
Video of the Prime Minister speaking at Rob Ford’s barbeque was apparently removed from YouTube at the behest of the Prime Minister’s Office.
But the little Ford-Harper On the Road yuck fest video that went viral Wednesday, then AWOL Thursday, apparently didn’t sit right with the Prime Minister’s Office. The video was yanked from YouTube, although by Thursday night it had mysteriously popped back up on the site.
It had been taken down by the user, one of the 800 or so Ontario Conservatives who attended a tribute to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty at Ford’s mother’s home Tuesday evening. Harper’s office took care of that.
The video is newly posted
here. (And now that clip seems to have been pulled because of a copyright claim by the original poster.)
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, July 13, 2011 at 3:44 PM - 0 Comments
The government has decided to release the Champlain Bridge report, but denies this constitutes a change in position.
“I think that they will be released, actually,” Sara MacIntyre, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, told The Canadian Press on Wednesday. ”I think that those reports will be out shortly.”
A spokeswoman for Lebel added that a statement from his office would be out Wednesday afternoon. She rejected the suggestion that the government had a change of heart. ”It’s just a question of timing,” Vanessa Schneider said. ”We received the report, I think, in the department just before the election, and as you know, Minister Lebel was appointed in late May, so it’s just a question of going through all our processes.”
Connoisseurs of the subject matter can read the report here.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 4, 2011 at 1:19 PM - 40 Comments
“I did not know about these revelations that we’re finding out today. I don’t know why I did not know,” Harper said. ”Had I known these things, I would not have … hired him.”
Mr. Carson’s lawyer says all of his client’s criminal record was disclosed to the RCMP. Whether or not that briefing made it to Mr. Harper, on May 12, 2006, Sun Media reported that Mr. Carson had been “disbarred, convicted of theft and sentenced to 18 months in jail in the early 1980s for stealing money from clients of his law firm.”
Update 2:39pm… The Globe adds these comments from Mr.Harper: “Let me be very clear about the situation: I knew that Mr. Carson had difficulties with the law many, many years ago—some 25 years ago.”
For the sake of clarity, note that there are two sets of charges here. Five years ago, it was reported by the Sun that in 1982 Mr. Carson had “pleaded guilty to two counts of theft over $200, after forging the signatures of two clients and stealing almost $20,000.” Yesterday, it was by CP that in 1990 Mr. Carson had pleaded guilty to defrauding Budget Car and Truck Rental, the Bank of Montreal and TD Bank.
It is the latter set of charges that Mr. Harper says he was unaware of. And it is on account of this latter set of charges that Mr. Harper says he wouldn’t have hired Mr. Carson.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, March 18, 2011 at 10:42 AM - 23 Comments
Her mother, Christine McPherson, is the director of programs and services for the water filtration firm, H20 Global Group. She defended Carson and her daughter in an interview Thursday.
“Mr. Bruce Carson has never worked with us as a lobbyist and never promised any form of access to any government official. He has simply assisted us in an advisory role to understand how we can work with the Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and First Nations,” Christine McPherson said in a statement. “Mr. Carson has never lobbied for us nor has Mr. Carson ever offered to do (so) and no money has been paid or (has any been offered) to give us access to any government official,” the statement continued.
The Toronto Star details Bruce Carson’s differences with the Assembly of First Nations and the water filtration company’s dealings with one reserve.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 9:59 AM - 65 Comments
In one email, obtained by APTN, Carson wrote two officials with the company, H2O Pros, claiming he had spoken with the prime minister on Aug. 5 about the pending appointment of Duncan to the Indian Affairs portfolio. “I spoke with the PM last nite and with (Assembly of First Nations national Chief Shawn) Atleo-the movement of John Duncan to INAC does not slow anything down (sic),” wrote Carson, in an email dated Aug. 6 and received at 7:01 a.m. “Both Shawn and I know John very well-and I will be calling the new Minister this morning-so it is still full steam ahead.”
Carson told APTN on camera that he lied in the email, but that he had spoken to “someone,” but did not elaborate.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 10:44 AM - 68 Comments
The Privy Council Office explains that there’s been no “formal directive” to rebrand everything the “Harper Government.”
“The distinction that needs to be made here is the word ‘directive’ — a directive, as opposed to, you know, in a particular case departments may have used the words ‘Harper Government,’” said Raymond Rivet, a PCO spokesman…
Civil servants from four departments told The Canadian Press last week they’ve recently been instructed to use the new terminology. “If a department has told you they’ve got direction from ‘the Centre’ to use a message or certain wording or do something, I mean, that would be normal, would it not?” Rivet said. “Part of the role of PCO and PMO in the communications sphere is to co-ordinate government communications, so I imagine they get direction on a variety of things. So that’s not in opposition to somebody telling you that there’s no formal directive.”
By macleans.ca - Monday, March 7, 2011 at 11:43 AM - 15 Comments
Harper’s staff removed journalists from event prior to Liberal leader’s address
The PMO has apologized for kicking out journalists and removing the podium before Michael Ignatieff was scheduled to speak at an event at the Indian high commission. After Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed the crowd at the “Year of India in Canada” event, which included a coterie of journalists and TV crews, PMO staff ushered the scribes out of the room. Liberal communications director Leslie Church called it “an appalling abuse of power.” A press release issued by Mr. Ignatieff’s office did not indicate whether he would be speaking, merely that he would be attending the event, and the podium reportedly belonged to the PMO. Harper spokesman Andrew MacDougall has apologized for the misunderstanding, saying in an email that “media should not have been asked to leave prior to Mr. Ignatieff’s remarks.”