harpers distasteful stunt

Foreign Affairs minister Peter MacKay has gone all badass on the Globe and Mail. It is an old Bush-administration trick — discredit the…

Foreign Affairs minister Peter MacKay has gone all badass on the Globe and Mail.

It is an old Bush-administration trick — discredit the messenger.

In a six-paragraph letter to the paper, MacKay sounds outraged, shocked and, well, full of moral indignation.

It is misplaced.

His indignation should be directed down the hall, towards the Prime Minister’s Office.

MacKay was spitting and sputtering about a well-researched front-page story outlining how control freaks in the PMO impeded Canada’s evacuation effort from Lebanon.

From MacKay’s letter it’s apparent the truth hurts.

The Globe’s story asserted Foreign Affairs officials knew last week that there was an emergency situation developing involving tens of thousands of Canadians in Lebanon.

But PMO communication director Sandra Buckler issued a gag order within government, the Globe reported.

She wanted the affair kept hush hush.

Her office, alone, was to co-ordinate things.

This is not surprising.

Remember, recently Harper’s censors were responsible for silencing an Environment department scientist — threatening to fire him — if he addressed the Canadian Press Club about his novel about global warming.

Harper’s team are thuggish when it comes to controlling and shaping the message, so there is a lot of fear in the federal civil service these days.

And it’s important to know that when an oppressive government stifles free speech, officials don’t stop talking they just stop giving their names.

Anyway, a handful of Canadian officials landed in Cyprus on Sunday.

“But only just,” an unnamed diplomat involved in the operation told The Globe.

Most officials didn’t arrive until Tuesday or Wednesday.

Communication was confused and irregular.

The Cypriot government didn’t even know, officially, that a Canadian delegation had established itself on the island.

Officials in Ottawa and on Cyprus bemoaned the PMO’s centralized command and communication strategy.

All decisions had to be made in Ottawa. That lack of trust in officials on the scene slowed Canada’s response to a crawl.

In war-torn Beirut, the Canadian embassy was closed on Saturday and Sunday.

And, because of the time zones, nobody in authority was even at work in Ottawa until noon in Cyprus.

 “If you want to know where that boat is going, don’t ask us — it’s Ottawa driving the boat,” said another unnamed official quoted by The Globe.

On Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made his snap decision to personally airlift 120 stranded Canadians in his Airbus jet.

Harper could simply have dispatched his Airbus to assist and flown home on a government Challenger.

Instead, against the backdrop of the death and the destruction from Hezbollah’s missile attacks on Israel, and Israel’s “measured” response leveling Lebanon, and amid all the bedlam and anxiety of Canada’s largest evacuation in recent history, Harper wanted a photo op.

So, a skeleton crew of 36 Canadians in Cyprus in the midst of organizing the daunting task of evacuating 40,000, or so, Canadians from a war zone suddenly had to divert resources to lay the groundwork for Harper’s security and comfort in Cyprus.

Harper’s stunt is revealing. And very disturbing.

But it gets worse.

Harper’s political handlers discovered another problem.

There were no rescued Canadians in Cyprus to greet Harper. They were still in Lebanon.

So Ottawa made an “urgent request” of the British government to allow 120 Canadians to board one of its ships, presumably dislodging its citizens, to guarantee a Canadian contingent greeted Harper when he landed.

Only 20 Canadians boarded the British ship.

So federal officials then tried to speed the sailing of the Blue Dawn, the sole Canadian-rented vessel to have anchored in Beirut.

Again, not possible.

Eventually, a critical mass of Canadians arrived in Cyprus.

And, if you check the national media, Harper got his photo op.

So Buckler and her centralized command staff achieved their goal.

They got images of Harper doing something charitable in a region filled with blood and carnage.

A clever stunt.

A costly stunt.

And, ultimately, a distasteful one.

In his letter to The Globe, MacKay suggests the paper take its responsibility to Canadians more seriously.

We suggest it’s time Harper’s government did so. (RM)