Sunday, December 09, 2007

On misdirection

It's been no secret that the Harper Cons developed a sudden allergy to accountability as soon as it could be aimed in their direction. But the last week offers two particularly blatant examples of the Cons' efforts to deceive their way out of trouble.

First, there was the story surrounding a climate change report which the Cons seem to have conveniently misplaced:
The federal government isn't secretly plotting to cover up its studies about the impacts of global warming across the country, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday.

"The government is not hiding any particular reports," Harper said in the Commons during question period. "This government is more than aware of the problem of climate change and this government has laid out in the throne speech the very precise actions and positions we are going to take to combat climate change, both here and internationally ... There's no conspiracy here."

Harper made the comments in response to revelations this week about internal government research from the Foreign Affairs Department along with a major Natural Resources Canada report that warned the government about regional impacts of climate change in the country and the importance of setting policies to avoid crossing a tipping point of irreversible damage to the earth's ecosystems. While the first research paper was obtained through an access to information request, the government has delayed the release of the second report that was expected to be made public last month...

Despite Harper's assurances, the government was unable to explain what happened to the second report.

"I have not seen the report, I only learned about it this morning," Environment Minister John Baird told a parliamentary committee. "It's a report commissioned by another department. The Department of Natural Resources, and I encourage you to put that question to the minister of natural resources."

Baird's comments came one day after Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn refused to answer questions about the study.

"I've seen it," Lunn said after question period on Monday. "But talk to John (Baird). He's our lead spokesman going into Bali, and he's aware of all those issues."
After such a blatant attempt at deflection, I'd think the Cons would at least be relatively hesitant to use the same strategy again. But it took a matter of only days before the Prime Minister's office itself was actively directing inquiries to a minister who had no intention of speaking about an issue - this time on the Cons' polling controversy:
Last Tuesday, following reports the government spent a record $31 million in 2006-07, Public Works Minister Michael Fortier stated in the Senate that the government, "effective today, will ask all its departments to refrain from using public funds for polls until further notice."

Hours later, his spokesman Jacques Gagnon clarified that a moratorium was merely under consideration.

Within 24 hours, Gagnon had a different story for the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, or MRIA, which represents Canada's polling industry.

In an advisory to its corporate membership obtained by The Canadian Press, the association reported it had been in contact with Gagnon as well as Laurent Marcoux, the director general of the government's Public Opinion Research Directorate.

Gagnon told the MRIA's government lobbyist on Wednesday that the Tories "had no intention of proceeding with a moratorium on public opinion research," said the advisory from Brendan Wycks, association executive director.

And on Thursday, Wycks himself was informed by Marcoux that "Prime Minister Harper and Minister Fortier had decided the government definitely would not be placing a moratorium on public opinion research."...

Asked to clarify matters, Harper's spokeswoman directed inquries to Fortier, who declined to be interviewed. His spokesman also would not speak to The Canadian Press by phone.
It's not clear whether the Cons are deliberately pointing the media toward known dead ends, or whether it's simply a matter of internal policy to deflect questions to another department in order to buy time.

But one way or another, it's clear yet again that the media's time would be far better spent challenging Con suggestions and directions rather than accepting them. And the more obvious it becomes that the Cons are trying to play their media questioners for suckers, the more reason those same questioners will have to cast the Cons' honesty into doubt when public opinion matters most.

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