Under Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister's Office was given a new prime directive: character assassination. So, the office produced animations of puffins pooping on Stephane Dion's shoulder; it trumpeted the message that Michael Ignatieff entered politics for personal gain, not public service; it accused Theresa Spence of defrauding the Canadian public. The attacks were always pre-emptive. They were launched long before election campaigns. For the Conservatives, the best defense is a strong offense.
But the targets have always been political opponents. Now, Michael Harris writes, they've chosen to target the press. Their most recent target is Stephen Mahar, who has been on top of Election Canada's investigation into robocalls and other electoral shenanigans. Recently, Mahar has been investigating the charge that Dean Del Maestro broke spending limits in his election campaign:
Maher reported that officials at Elections Canada have asked the RCMP to assist in their investigation of Del Mastro. Del Mastro, formerly the PM’s attack-trained defender on matters touching the robocalls scandal, couldn’t even explain if it was the PMO or his own office that wrote the statement sent to the Peterborough Examiner. In the end, he adopted both positions.
The ‘talking points’ which formed the basis for the official letter included the statement that Stephen Maher was a “controversial reporter.” The basis for that comment was a clarification Maher’s newspaper had run on a previous story he had written about donors in the Conservative riding association of Laurier-Sainte-Marie.
The lack of clarity in Maher’s original story was based on the fact that the Conservative party originally had refused to provide the cheques to prove that certain donations had in fact been made. When they changed their minds about furnishing the cheques, Postmedia issued the clarification.
The aim of the execise is to discredit Maher, whose revelations have been damaging. Harris writes:
The measure for the kind of work that Maher, [Glen]McGregor, Tim Naumetz and Greg Weston do is not the metric of public relations. The question is not whether their stories are good or bad for the government.
The question is whether the stories are true. If they’re not, it doesn’t mean that the reporters hate the government — just that they’re wrong. If they’re right, they form part of the composite of facts that makes up public reality. The RCMP are now involved in the investigation and the public is entitled to know that. Thanks to Stephen Maher, it does.
It's another example of the Harper policy of shooting the messenger. We've seen it before:
Former nuclear safety watchdog Linda Keen took the advice of her professional staff not to re-start the Chalk River nuclear reactor, and the PM traduced her publicly as a Liberal appointee, suggesting a political motivation for her position rather than a professional one.
When diplomat Richard Colvin raised serious questions about who in official Ottawa knew what about the transfer of detainees in Afghanistan by Canadian Forces, the minister of defence savagely attacked him personally. To this day, the government has never dealt with the substance of his testimony and
And, as I wrote in yesterday's post, Kevin Page has also been a prime target. Like Lance Armstrong, these folks will do anything to win.