As much as I furrow my brow about the fact that a passionate admirer of Reagan and Thatcher – a man who has called the US neo-cons a “light and an inspiration” – is the Prime Minister of Canada, I can’t help but be impressed by Stephen Harper’s management of the media. Apart from a couple of embarrassing mis-steps [1,2], his policy of shutting out national media in favour of announcing federal policy decisions to local reporters (less likely to be critical due to the unusual excitement of the scoop) seems to have been pretty effective: Canadians hear very little about what their government is doing that doesn’t come directly from Stephen Harper’s mouth.
Which is probably why the Liberals had to resort to driving through Ottawa in a van with loudspeakers to broadcast a tape in which Harper admits he was aware of a bribe offered to Chuck Cadman (former independent MP) in 2005. According to Cadman’s wife, her dying husband was offered a million dollar life insurance policy in exchange for supporting Harper’s party in a confidence vote that would have toppled the governing Liberals. (Cadman, bless him, still did not side with the Conservatives.)
This reflects the same campaign tactic the Liberals used to attempt to defeat the Conservatives in 2005: Repeating things that Harper has actually said. As he was then, Harper is stomping mad.
And he is not going to take it lying down. He is suing the liberals for three and a half million bucks for “defamation” and “misappropriation of personality” for exposing his comments to the public. Tellingly, just like before, he is not claiming he didn’t make the comments (after all, they’re on tape), he’s only saying it’s unconscionable for the Liberals to use them for their own political purposes.
This may be the first time in Canadian history a Prime Minister has resorted to suing the official Opposition for their opposition, but it’s not a surprising move for a man who has just left a lucrative career as a hard-right propagandist (promoting the privatisation of Canadian health care, dismantling of unions and social services, campaigning against women’s rights and human rights, etc.) He has obviously learned over the years that tight message control is the key to implementing policies the vast majority of Canadians would oppose if honest, open debate were tolerated.