2 min

The whisper campaigns

I’m sure that by now, everyone is going over the entrails of just what went down in yesterday’s committee hearing on the long-form census. But if there’s one bit of analysis that you should read, it’s Susan Delacourt’s.

Delacourt points to former chief statistician Munir Sheikh’s testimony, where he said it was media reports that Tony Clement had said Statistics Canada recommended the voluntary survey in place of the long-form, which prompted his resignation. It was an honourable out, which didn’t betray his oaths or confidences, but pretty much called Clement out as a liar.

What Delacourt finds most significant is the way the government felt it could hide behind the civil service’s traditional reserved silence to mount a whisper campaign against the department. This is especially important because we all know perception is usually more important than reality, and if the government can shape perception to its purposes – just as they did with the coalition crisis of late 2008 – then they can get away with a lot more than they should. The Governor General was caught in a similar whisper campaign at that point:  if she refused Harper’s request for a prorogation, he would mount a public campaign against her legitimacy and the legitimacy of her office. They’re using similar tactics here, and it’s disturbing to watch.

The doors were opened a tiny crack, however, to a possible compromise on the issue, where enough testimony was gathered to suggest that if the threat of jail time was removed for non-compliance with the census, then it should remain mandatory. As well, seeing that the government has control over which questions are asked, they can remove any they find overly intrusive. Mind you, Clement is now getting bogged down in the internal logical disconnect of saying that all of these questions are intrusive and unnecessary – and yet he’s leaving them on the voluntary national survey and spending $30 million to encourage people to fill it out. No, it really doesn’t make any sense, but that’s part of the problem.

Meanwhile, the only other political story is the complaints levelled against RCMP Commissioner William Elliott by senior Mounties. They say he’s verbally abusive, closed-minded, arrogant and insulting, and has reduced others in the senior ranks to tears. The clerk of the Privy Council has ordered a “workplace assessment,” but remember that Harper brought Elliott, a civilian, into the RCMP to clean them up. By all accounts, that isn’t happening.
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