Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party Policy Convention. The agenda is on past gaffes not future plans.

Is Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the nadir of his time in office?

Spinning the web: How will the Prime Minister’s Office present gaffes, scandals and foibles before, during and after The Conservative Party Policy Convention? Is there a good news story lurking here somewhere?

by Tom Thorne

Tomorrow (Thursday 31 October 2013)  the Conservative Party starts its policy convention in Calgary. In Ottawa, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) usual intense work load for such an event has been further amplified and very likely frustrated by the  Senate of Canada proceedings and the further revelations of Senator Mike Duffy. This drama will not die.

It has been quite a week so far and it’s not over. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is slated to speak to the convention Friday evening. The PMO staffers must be trying at this very moment to figure out what to say in the Friday night speech. He has to make a speech. It is not an option not to speak or to not mention the Senate affair.

First of all the PMO’s credibility is now at a low spot. He looks like a tired waffler whose grasp on the truth is fleeting whether this is true or not. It’s the optics of the situation perhaps not the reality. Fixing things for the boss is now a herculean task from a media and public relations point of view. It must be difficult to get the PMO staff up for the job they need to do. Their morale must be very low.

One view the PMO could adopt would be to stress the positive like the European Trade Deal and attempt to downplay the Senate debacle as here today and gone tomorrow. the Trade Deal however needs lots of explanation and detailing and it may be unwise to launch it in the midst of so much negative energy.  

It was all a tragic sad moment in the PMO when the cheque(s) were cut for Senator Duffy.  However rumours continue that it is not only the PMO’s involvement but also Conservative Party officials helped by paying Duffy’s legal expenses. 

Duffy circulated the cancelled cheque for his legal costs! Ouch!  PMO and Prime Minister spin? That’s normal for the Party to do this type of action. That looks bad to Conservative Party donors who expect their money to be used for worthy causes. Not a good PR and media relations moment.

One spin could be that Senator Duffy has an ax to grind trying to stave off his own financial ruin. They could say that ignorance of the Senate spending rules, even when they change after the fact,  is no excuse despite all his perhaps self serving revelations. That might work. If Duffy is low in their overnight polling they may do something along these lines. However it would be a weak response bordering on a personal attack.

Then they could deepen the blame on former PMO Chief of Staff Nigel Wright. But that is hard because of the flip flopping that has already gone on from the Prime Minister has Wright  resigning through to the Prime Minister firing him. Narrowing in on Nigel Wright will offend many Conservatives because Wright has an enviable record raising funds for the Party. It is important to maintain the “base” support of the Party.

A statement from Nigel Wright might help. The PMO may be working on this one. However, if there is any sense that the Prime Minister or other Party officials are involved in any way other than what he said already, then Prime Minister is an obscurer of facts and perhaps even guilty of lying, not only to the public, but more importantly to Parliament. Nigel Wright’s lawyers probably will not allow this scenario because he is still in the RCMP headlights.

The new Chief of Staff, Ray Novak has his work cut out. And he is not clean either. He must have been deaf and dumb not to have known about the Duffy cheques as a senior PMO staffer under Nigel Wright. So his credibility in any media relations work will prompt questions especially in a press conference. Anything he tries may blow up in his face. However, silence is not an option. I am also predicting Ray Novak’s resignation after the Convention when he realizes that he cannot protect the Prime Minister.

Any number of PMO staff must have knowledge of the entire sad affair. It is hard to believe that Nigel Wright and now Ray Novak have not briefed other senior and middle range staff about the actual facts of this case so they can intelligently do their media relations work. Of course Ray Novak may have kept the entire operation in his own hands but that is unlikely given the workload before the Conservative Policy Convention.

The next 48 hours is crucial. If a vote before the Convention in the Senate suspends Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau then it looks like the Conservative majority in that place are following the Prime Minister’s orders. The orders of a tainted leader.  If there is a compromise to soften the suspension, then it looks less like a bullying exercise from the Prime Minister and they are in control of their own affairs. I suspect the latter scenario.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has painted himself into no-win corner. What arises from this debacle is his own poor judgement choosing Senators and PMO senior staff. His ability to choose good people are the optics of this sad event. He has lost control and may now show a side of himself that is very negative. This situation is basically the outcome of being too controlling and it maybe the nadir of his time as Prime Minister. 

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

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