Megalomedia - Wake up to your news

Thursday, February 23, 2006

You can lead a scribe to water. . .

Alternative title: Why Joe won't get accreditation for the next budget lockup I wrote about this for the MediaScout earlier this week but it continues to frustrate me, so all you Megalomedialites get to read about it now. As many of you likely know, Stephen Harper replaced his director of communications on Monday. You can read about it here, or if you prefer a knob-pollishingly ass kissing recap, read this. That in and of itself isn't big news, though it did prompt some analysis about the less-than-ideal job security in the PMO. What IS news, at least in my opinion, is that new director of communications Sandra Buckler is a former lobbyist. Harper et al. didn't try to hide that fact; it was apparently included in the press release (though I can't find a copy of it. Hey, who writes a press release to announce a new director of communications? Weird). But for some reason, nobody did much digging into her background, save for a couple of journos who took the time to list some of her former clients. Odd. I seem to remember a lot of coverage of Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor's lobbying history. In fact, wasn't a crack down on the Liberal lobby culture a major part of Harper's campaign? Granted, there's nothing illegal about lobbying, nor is there anything illegal about hiring a lobbyist to be your communications director. But when you've made a crack down on the lobby culture a major theme of your campaign, shouldn't someone take the time to run a few Google searches just to see what the aforementioned lobbyist was up to between stints with the Conservative party? Here's a good place to start. Or, if that gives you an error message, go here and enter Sandra Buckler's name. Now, does everyone have their list of Buckler's clients? Good, let's start Googling! Of course, before we engage in this little exercise, let me make it perfectly clear that I am NOT connecting Buckler to any kind of wrongdoing. She registered her lobbying activities and deregistered (unregistered?) before going to work on the Tory campaign. Now that we've cleared that up, let's have a looksy at that client list. Royal LePage Relocation Services. If that name doesn't ring a bell, you probably didn't work as a media monitor on a DND contract. There were some concerns raised a few years ago that Royal LePage acted less than scrupilously in their dealings with the government. Since everyone else gets to hide behind Parliamentary privilege, I will too. Check out this Hansard entry and Google more yourself if you want. Canadian Payday Loans Association. This is the association that represents, obviously, the payday loans companies. MoneyMart and the like. Recently there were concerns raised about the levels of interest charged by these companies. There was talk of federal legislation but to my memory, nothing came of it. I stand to be corrected on that. CCFDA. What the heck is the CCFDA? Oh, the Canadian Coalition for Fair Digital Access! Well, digital copyright issues and the recordable media levy haven't been in the news or anything. Once again, let me reiterate - there's no reason to believe Buckler did anything wrong. She registered properly and deregistered before working (officially at least) with the Tories. That said, she lobbied on behalf of companies/groups that do work with the government. In the last two cases listed above, she was working with groups with a vested (in the case of CCFDA, stated) interested in changing or affecting legislation. Now she has the ear of the PM. Is it illegal? No. Is it unethical? Maybe. Is it slightly hypocritical on Harper's part? I think so. Is it worth coverage in the mainstream press? Abso-fuckin-lutely.

7 Comments:

  • You've got a faulty premise in there, methinks. If, as you say, the position of D.Comm. is more or less a revolving door in the Harper admin, I do not suspect that said person will have much influence over PMSH's policies so much as the reverse.

    Unlike previous Prime Ministers.

    By Blogger The King of Bastards, at 9:12 PM  

  • Fair point, TKOB.

    That said, I think the optics of the situation are just as troubling regardless of how much practical access Harper's D.Comm (great abrev. by the way) has.

    It goes back to the old conflict of interest vs. appearance of conflict argument. If at some point down the road, Harper shoots down legislation that would hinder payday loans companies; or abolishes the digital media levy, someone could point the finger and say "Sure, that's because your director of communications has ties to those industries, she was on their payroll for crimminy's sake."

    Is that a problem? Maybe not. But I still think it's a hypocritical stance from the man who was going to clean up the lobby culture. It breeds more cynicism about a system that is already looked down upon by a lot of Canadians - or at least it would if someone would report on it.

    By Blogger Joe Boughner, at 10:37 AM  

  • I honestly don't see anything worthy of mainstream coverage here. The fact that she was a lobbyist - which, frankly, is one of those scary words that most people don't actually understand - has no real bearing on the job of director of communications. I also agree with TKOB on the point that any communications person under Harper is not going to be driving the bus, so much as chasing after it frantically, screaming "NO! DON'T TURN THAT WAY! YOU'RE GOING TO... shit."

    There was some word that Harper wanted to do his own PR. Yeah. And I want to do my own dental surgery, but it's probably not a good idea.

    By Anonymous Ryan, at 3:30 PM  

  • I agree that it has no bearing on her ability to her job. The newsworthy element is that Harper ran on a platform that promised to end the close relationship between lobbyists and the government.

    This isn't about Buckler, in my opinion, it's about Harper.

    By Blogger Joe Boughner, at 4:06 PM  

  • Just because he promised to crack down on lobbyists doesn't mean he has to shun them like lepers. In his eyes, the fact that she was a lobbyist is probably what qualified her for the job. She has experience in liaising between government and the private sector. If she uses those connections to sway him one way or another, or if she gets kickbacks for doing so, then something's gone wrong and that needs to be pointed out. I can see the value of journalists remembering where she's worked and who she's worked for, but it's not a story unto itself.

    By Anonymous Phronetic Man, at 4:32 PM  

  • It was more than simply cracking down on lobbyists though. He made many comments referring to the close connection between lobbyists and the government. It was something he was going to clean up.

    I don't know, maybe I'm off on this one, but I really see a hypocrisy there. . .

    By Blogger Joe Boughner, at 4:38 PM  

  • More importantly, this is a debate that the public should be having. The press does not have to report that what she is doing is wrong - but it does serve the public interest to let the people of Canada know who the D. Comm has worked for in the past.

    It will keep her honest and it will keep Canadians critical of government activities. Which is the point of a free press, right?

    By Blogger The Shotgun Solution, at 8:24 PM  

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