Wednesday, April 26, 2006

harper falling from grace, even by his own ...

Furor over fallen soldiers a major misstep for government, conservatives say
April 26, 2006

Even conservative stalwarts agree Stephen Harper's government has blundered into a minefield largely of its own making.

The public pounding the Conservatives are taking over their treatment of returning war dead shows the perils of taking message management too far, a couple of long-time Tories said Wednesday.

The decision to bar public access - via the news media - to the repatriation ceremony for four soldiers killed in Afghanistan followed hard on the heels of a new government protocol that kept the Maple Leaf at full mast on Parliament Hill this week.

The changes had a three-fold purpose: to honour all Canada's military fatalities equally; to protect the privacy of grieving military families; and to generally lower the public temperature on the Afghanistan mission's human cost.

This last, unspoken, rationale is the one that has failed so spectacularly in the short run - and could have a lingering impact on public perceptions of Stephen Harper's administration.

They're inflaming something which is not a particularly positive story for the government about their attitude toward the public's right to access to information, conservative strategist Rick Anderson said.

Anderson doesn't believe it will hurt the Tories immediately, but what they're doing is building a theme - and not a good theme.

That theme of information censorship plays to the worst stereotypes the Harper government has worked so hard to dismiss.

Norman Spector, the former chief of staff to Tory prime minister Brian Mulroney, calls the flag protocol defensible.

But restricting access to the base when caskets are returned smacks of a government that is nervous about public opinion on a highly contentious issue, Spector said Wednesday in an e-mail exchange with The Canadian Press.

The government's opponents will lick their lips at the Bush-lite stereotype, but that's just about the next election, as the decision is for the government.

Even Peter Kent, the veteran newsman, sometime media critic and recent Conservative party candidate, said the government went way too far.

In some ways this undercuts the success of the last couple of months with the Harper visit to Afghanistan and the media's full and complete and terrific coverage of the deployment, said Kent, who said he'd like to run again for the Tories in the next election.

Kent defended the government's motives, if not its timing - clearly, no one intended dishonour - but conceded the moves provide a stick for government detractors.

It's given those who want to make inaccurate analogies a little bit of traction.

Spector, who followed his stint in Mulroney's PMO with a term as ambassador to Israel, called the access decision particularly ill-advised in light of divided public opinion and the sense among many Canadians that we got into this war by stealth, without adequate parliamentary debate or media coverage.

And should the public begin to believe that Harper's much-chronicled - and largely discounted - battles with the parliamentary press are indicative of a wider fear of public scrutiny, the message becomes toxic.

Each event is another layer on the whole picture, and it's now getting to be fairly disturbing when you look at the whole picture, said Peter Desbarats, the former journalist who headed an inquiry into military wrongdoing in Somalia and does not want to see a return to the days of Defence Department stonewalling.

The whole business of accountability, which this government has talked about a lot, depends on access.


decoin said...

HArper is finished. LPC will be restored to power any month now. Thank you Lord for HArper's catastrophic mis-steps.