Saturday, October 14, 2006

Bad relations

You know the kind: that rich brother-in-law that you have to invite over for the holiday dinner because you share some common blood somewhere, even if it's by marriage. You don't like each other much but you are stuck with each other on special occasions.

And what does your wife tell you? "Be nice!" And so you act nice to each other for the time you are thrown into each other's company. You keep up appearances in front of the rest of the family because that's the right thing to do and because someday you might have to ask him for a favour.

This weekend Prime Minister Harper is appearing at the NL PC Party convention in Gander.

The message of the coverage so far has been consistent: Harper is going to speak and the premier is NOT introducing him.

It's worthwhile reviewing the process by which these stories would have started and reached wide circulation.

It would have started with an invitation to the Prime Minister from the local party inviting him to appear. This invitation cannot and would not go out without the explicit approval of the Office of the Premier.

In effect, he's there because the Premier invited him; it's the Premier's party and he gets to decide the guest list.

Then, in the days leading up to the convention, the good people who execute the public relations function in the Office of the Premier would have contacted each and every major media outlet in the province to let them know what was going on with the convention. They would message and massage in order to tune the coverage their way.

One item of information which would have been emphasized was that, while Harper was attending the convention and occupying a position of honour in addressing it with the support and consent of the Premier, the Premier was not going to introduce him.

That backroom media work was reinforced when the Premier goes out of his way to repeat his previous criticisms of Harper as a buddy of big oil. All this gets reported just as Harper arrives in the province.

You really have to admire that kind of smooth and gracious political adoitness.

It's kind of like bitching about your brother-in-law as he comes in the door and telling all concerned that he can come into the house for dinner but he's got to get it himself on a paper plate. Then you spit on his dinner just for good measure.

I've never found that public humiliation was the best way to win friends and influence people. Maybe the Premier has found more effective techniques of cooperative federalism than we've seen in this country so far.

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