JULY 20, 2020 – The WE controversy continues to build and get more interesting every day. It is not going away.
Day after day we see one more item coming to the surface which makes the Trudeau deal with WE look more suspicious. From internal financial issues with WE and ME, to procedural issues there are plenty of red flags.
Usually when a government decides to let a minister testify at a committee hearing they do so to shut a story down. This has not happened- instead, other avenues of attack have opened up. However, because a minister appeared, media stories about whether the PM or the Clerk Of The Privy Council should appear before the committee have largely disappeared- success for the Liberals on that point.
Do not kid yourself, ministers will be well briefed, often directly by PMO staff. They will be handed precise talk points and they will be told not to deviate from them.
One of the roles for opposition research is to look beyond the talk point answer and look for what the minister or bureaucrat is hiding.
When a minister answers “I was not directed by the Prime Minister’s Office,” the key word is “directed”
For someone to use the word “directed” is unusual. It has been inserted into the talk point for a reason. It is up to the opposition to figure out what that word is hiding. Was there instead an “informal chat” with someone in PMO that would encourage the minister to see WE’s proposal in a positive light?
Being so precise and using the word “I” eliminates her from a conversation, but what about her staff? Let’s face it most conversations are between PMO staff and a minister’s staff, not PM to minister. Her staff will not direct her, but they can certainly report on conversations they had and what points were emphasized in the conversations they had with other staff in PMO or the Finance Minister’s office.
It would be better to ask did you or anyone on your staff speak to anyone in the PMO, including the PM about this project before it was announced. Did you or your staff receive any emails, texts or voicemails from anyone (minister or staff) in PMO or the Finance minister’s office and so on. The opposition still need to dig down below the surface on this one.
The exact same question can be put to the senior bureaucrats in this case starting with Rachel Wernick. The key is always to go in with your strategy and questions laid out knowing exactly what you are looking for. Do not get sidetracked by a talk point answer.
With this bureaucrat you can replace “PMO” with “PCO”. No minister will approve a huge program (almost a billion dollars) without extensive consultations between her department and PCO. Officials in her department will also be talking to staff in her minister’s office (assigned to this file) to get a feel for what direction the minister wants to go and why.
Anyone who has seen how departments function, know they rarely make decisions this fast. For one thing bureaucrats like collective decisions-making and rarely stick their neck out. Every department has a sign off sheet for briefing notes, decisions etc.
It would be fun to see who signed off on this decision. I remember when at External Affairs in the 1980s (now Global Affairs Canada) seven bureaucrats signed off on every briefing note going to the minister- each one watering it down. The real truth was in the original note written by the desk officer.
This story is far from over if the opposition knows where to look.
Keith is a former Conservative political staffer with over 50 years of active involvement in Canadian politics. During that time, he has held quite a few party positions as well as political staff positions. Most recently, Keith was the Deputy Chief of Staff for Issues Management with Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper (2003-2008). Prior to that he worked as an advisor in the Leader’s Office for Peter Mackay, Joe Clark and Jean Charest. Keith also served as the Chief of Staff to the minister in three Federal departments during Brian Mulroney’s government (1984-89). Additional political experience came as the staff person in charge of Question Period from 1997-2008 where he served in both the Opposition and Government roles. Keith is also known for having created one of the most effective political rapid response teams in Canadian politics. He also has municipal experience and he was a city councilor in a suburb of Montreal. Known for his bluntness and to the point comments, this blog is also known for its fairness and respectful treatment of politicians from all parties. A well-known political pundit, Keith has appeared many times on Canadian political panels and he has been interviewed by major Canadian networks including CTV, CBC, Global. He has also given presentations/speeches in various parts of Canada and the USA.