Monday, 19 August 2013

Prime Minister Stephen Harper may be setting us up for real Senate Reform or are we really seeing poor management from the Prime Minister's Office?

Harper: Vision of Canada or seeking Divine intervention

Prime Minister Stephen Harper picked Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin for Senate appointments. All of them have generated scandal and stress for his government. Then his Chief of Staff Nigel Wright demonstrated poor judgement bailing out Senator Duffy with $90,000 of his own money.  In addition, Prime Minister Harper has gone through seven Directors of Communication. Does Stephen Harper need a personnel management course?

by Tom Thorne

The Senate Scandal just won’t die. It has real traction mainly because it points to  Prime Minister Stephen Harper all the time and if not him, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The rarified air of the PMO seems to trip up consistently over the past year and the problems arise from appointments made by the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister’s chief of staff Nigel Wright resigns over providing Mike Duffy with $90,000 to bail him out of his Senate expense fiscal foible. That act showed a complete lack of judgement on the part of the chief of staff. More seriously, since the Prime Minister claims he knew nothing about this $90,000 personal gift it demonstrates that he is out of touch with what happens at the operational levels of his own office. 

The Prime Minister tries to distance himself from all this controversy. But the fact remains that he chose his chief of staff.  He chose the people for senate appointments. He is the person who has gone through his seventh press officer, and he is accountable for the selection of who gets Senate of Canada appointments. His appointments are all currently in hot water. 

With so many foibles it may be time for the Prime Minister to take a course in personnel management. Obviously his judgement for selecting people is lacking. No matter how hard he or his handlers try to distance the Prime Minister from all of this controversy the fact his he is ultimately accountable for the actions of his staff and appointees.

It would be refreshing if the Prime Minister actually admitted that his judgement in choosing these senators and staffers is at fault. That might actually get him some sympathy votes in the General Election in 2015. 

Then there is his promise to alter, change and improve the Senate of Canada. In eight years in power he has not moved one centimeter on this file. In fact he has made the Senate into a laughing stock. Senators who actually try to do something feel truncated and frustrated. More evidence of poor management by Stephen Harper.

Then there is the grumbling in the backbench of the House of Commons. Many Conservative members feel that their views and opinions don’t matter even when voiced in Caucus. Conservative members are frustrated. They are subject to the most tight party discipline in the history of the Canadian Parliament. The executive branch of parliament has become much more dictatorial. It is frankly an old fashioned top down management style that in the Age of Information it is a simply passé way to manage people. Stephen Harper doesn’t seem to realize that.

The Stephen Harper management style is to never be wrong even when things go bad. He is not a collaborative person or at least he doesn’t give that impression. He may be a charming guy in private if you get to know him but his public persona is one of remoteness and control.

When he tries to keep himself dry as the current senate rainstorm continues it demonstrates that when there is trouble he distances himself from the fray. His management style is unfortunately top down and controlling. He does not portray that he is open to discussion.

Why is this? I think it is because of his right wing view of the world. If you hold that everyone is looking for ways to waste public funds you create a centralized bureaucracy where all decisions end up at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to protect the public purse from profligate waste. This act destroys flexibility and certainly truncates any sense that Ministers of the Crown have to exercise their own take on problems and legislation.

The Harper style stifles initiative because decision making is largely focused in the rarified air of the PMO a place where people are worn out by 24/7 work schedules that grind people down to the point that they make dumb errors in judgement. Hence Nigel Wright, normally a smart guy with lots of private sector savvy simply dropped the Mike Duffy ball. Spin has become more important than substance and Prime Minister Harper is now wrapped up in what I call Spin Doctor Blowback.

Spin Doctor Blowback is a condition in time when your public and media relations are no longer credible. You are seen by the public and the media as obscurers of fact and the truth. Your every action is suspect. Recipients of your press releases know that the usual spin has now slipped into managing information and worst yet, permanent damage control. You have no integrity left to work with.

The PMO is in this state. Their credibility is shot. How can they hope to generate a good news story about the Senate of Canada or its ultimate reform? By kicking their miscreant senators out of Caucus they are saying they cannot control these people and what is going to happen to them. They are trying to distance the Prime Minister from the fallout. If integrity still reigned in the PMO the Prime Minister would carry the can for his errors in judgement. He is ultimately accountable not only to his Conservative Party but to the people.

This week the Prime Minister is on his annual Northern Canada tour. The mess in Ottawa continues while he is away trying to generate good news stories. The Auditor General has now decided to explore the fiscal practices of the Senate of Canada for all its members. Senators Duffy, Wallin, Brazeau and also Liberal Senator Mac Harb are launching legal actions. Some of these miscreant senators may now be of interest to the RCMP.  

Is it too cheeky to suggest that we may be experiencing Part 1 of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s promises to reform the Senate? Perhaps out of crisis and auditing this pork barrel institution will provide Harper with a way to implement his unarticulated promised reforms. Now that could be a way to counter Spin Doctor Blowback for the next Federal Election in 2015.

© 2013 Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

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