A View From the Hill by Keith Beardsley – Ignoring Ministers Not a Good Thing – November 12, 2010 – Cornwall Ontario

Cornwall ON – Ignoring ministers when decisions are being made is becoming more blatant as demonstrated by the decision to extend the Afghanistan mission.

Whether the decision is the right or wrong one is not the issue, whether or not a minister is part of the decision does matter.

There were many reasons for PMO to play a strong role back in 2006. Back then, few ministers had any managerial experience, especially in the political sphere. Ministerial staff were newly minted and when you added in the need to keep the new Conservative Party united and on course, PMO was the designated coordinator of all things political.

Five years later, that is no longer true. Several ministers have as much political managerial experience as the Prime Minister and they have been in their jobs a lot longer than most of the staff in PMO. Who has the experience now?

While both Rae and Ignatieff had publically commented on the need for some type of presence in Afghanistan after 2011, using a short phone call from Lawrence Cannon to Bob Rae as an excuse for PMO to spin that the Liberals are now informed about the Afghanistan decision is a bit of a stretch. Spinning that the Liberals are on side is just spin unless Ignatieff and or Rae were given a detailed briefing and there is no indication of that having happened

The extension decision is being made at the request of NATO and that falls under DND. However, MacKay was not the one spreading the message when this decision was made public. Instead it was a staffer from PMO making the media rounds. That in itself belittles the importance of this decision as any mission extension; even one “behind the wire” will have a huge impact on the men and women of our armed forces. At the very least, they deserved to have their minister spreading the message about a decision that directly affects them.

Unfortunately for MacKay, PMO staffers aren’t the ones answering questions in Question Period, but ministers do take the heat for decisions made in PMO. It will be interesting to see which minister takes the opposition questions on the extension. Since it can’t be PMO spokesperson, Dimitri Soudas, will it be Cannon or MacKay?

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails.

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  1. Right on, Keith. Coming to a theatre near you, “Dmitri & Steve”–a docudrama on democracy in Canada today.

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