We all know that our Steve (Harper, that is) has some control issues. He is finally going to let Parliament reconvene this week -- Steve V at Far and Wide reminds us that the recess has been 116 days long:
If an election is averted, I sure hope Harper and company can last until the 7 week Christmas break. Pace yourself "new" government, burnout is real.
Our Steve (Harper, that is) has been getting so much done without Parliament, though. There's that ongoing SPP thing, and then there's Steve's "panel" on Afghanistan -- I mean, you have to wonder why he bothers with Parliament at all. I'll bet he does.
Next up, it appears, is the Press Gallery. Remember the free press? The fourth estate? Special mention in the Charter (and everyone else's democratic Bills and Declarations)? Essential to democracy that they work free of political control?
OTTAWA–The Prime Minister's Office, which has long had a rocky relationship with the national media, has been working on a secret project to build a new, government-controlled briefing room at the cost of $2 million, documents obtained by the Star show.
Long kept under wraps, the plan – codenamed the Shoe Store Project – is in the works by the Privy Council Office and the PMO to establish a new government-controlled media briefing centre near Langevin Block.
The yellow-brown building that now houses Stephen Harper and his senior staff would supplant the current National Press Theatre, just a block away.
The National Press Theatre, used by prime ministers and cabinet ministers since Lester B. Pearson opened it in 1965, is a venue with simultaneous translation where on-the-record news conferences are moderated by press gallery executive members – not Harper's political staff.
A hand-drawn sketch of the PM's renovated shoe store/press theatre indicates a space for "maybe permanently installed cameras with feeds to media."
That could put the news cameras in the hands of government-employed camera operators, not independent photojournalists employed by the television networks. It suggests the Prime Minister's communications people would send broadcast feeds to the TV networks for their use in reports, or as most politicians prefer, live-to-air broadcast.
The Harper government has had several run-ins with the national press gallery. When Harper came to power, he changed the rules governing press conferences, insisting his staff decide which journalists pose questions. It is an American practice, which Paul Martin attempted to use on the 2006 election campaign trail.
But when the Conservative government made clear it would be the new norm, the national media objected. Harper told interviewers it gave him more control, which is precisely why the press gallery for years has run press conferences, to depoliticize exchanges between the media and government. The moderator is held accountable by his or her peers for playing favourites.
The media's concern has been that the PM's staff might sideline reporters deemed unsympathetic.
Ooh! This is just so Washington, isn't it? So Beltway. Think of all the propaganda laundering we're going to get from arrangements like these.
So if my count of those "countervailing institutions" Condi Rice was lecturing the Russians about on Saturday is correct, Steve is now two down and one to go if he wants to catch up to the Bush administration, never mind the Russians. Parliament vapourized: check. Free press humiliated: check. Hi, there, Supreme Court. Anyone feeling the waters lapping around the ermine-edged ankles yet?
Meanwhile, many details in the Shoe Store Project documents are blacked-out or withheld for reasons related to "international affairs and defence," "security," and cabinet confidentiality.
Update: Snerk 1. Snerk 2. And I could go on.