The number of chairs around the table in Stephen Harper's Inner Sanctum hasn't changed. Same number of chairs, same number of people. But, according to Tom Flanagan, the quality of those people has changed:
In an interview, Flanagan, who admits the prime minister doesn't talk to him anymore, said, "He's lost so many people, it's kind of sad. We were good friends. When I would come to Ottawa I would stay at Stornoway."
In earlier years, Harper's staff often included lawyers, professors and business executives. Others had worked for previous prime ministers, and possessed an institutional memory of Parliament and a well-honed sense of what to learn from past political mistakes.
Flanagan listed a series of "very able people" who have passed through Harper's team. "Ken Boessenkool, Ian Brodie, Geoff Norquay, Bruce Carson — whatever his personal problems, are he's a very capable adviser — Keith Beardsley, Guy Giorno, Nigel Wright, David Emerson, Michael Fortier."
The people who now serve Harper are loyal but narrow:
Beardsley thinks Harper isn't attracting what Flanagan calls "top drawer" people because of rules in place since 2008 that prohibit lobbying for five years following a job as a designated public office holder.
"People aren't going to come up for one or two years. It's not worth it to them financially and career-wise."
Currently, Beardsley said, many of the PMO staff come out of the parliamentary intern program. "They're all young and basically of one mindset," he said.
That mindset, said Beardsley, is something former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff references about his time in politics.
“We’ve blurred opponent with enemy,” Ignatieff said, in a speech last year to a law school audience. “Belonging matters more than confidence, expertise or trustworthiness.”
In the Harperian universe anyone who holds a contrary opinion is the enemy. And, Stephen Harper believes that many people who used to work for him are now enemies.