Harper government enemies list: What’s the big deal?

Andy Radia

"Stephen Harper will be remembered as Canada's Richard Nixon."

That was a quote from NDP Ethics Critic Charlie Angus' on his Facebook Page.

I have a lot of time for the MP from Timmins-James Bay but that comment might be a little over the top.

The statement is in regard to media reports, this week, that suggested government staffers were directed to compile "enemy lists" to be included in transition documents for incoming cabinet minsters.

According to the Toronto Star, the directive came in the form of a leaked email from Erica Furtado, an issues management staffer in the Prime Minister's office.

On the “Transition Binder Check List” are 10 items, such as: “What to expect soon” and “Who to appoint,” as well as “Who to engage or avoid: friend and enemy stakeholders” and “What to avoid: pet bureaucratic projects.”

Item No. 6 on the list is “Who to avoid: bureaucrats that can’t take no (or yes) for an answer,” but Furtado said in a later email that day — also obtained by the Star — that this list was “no longer required.”

To be fair to Angus, the issue has garnered a lot of attention on both social and mainstream media with most 'analysts' slamming the government.

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I'm not sure, however, that I understand what all the hoopla is about.

Isn't this just prudent and efficient? Don't we want incoming cabinet ministers to have a full 'lay of the land' before assuming their posts?

We need our new cabinet ministers to be able to hit the ground running.

Moreover, these sorts of things happen all the time — at least informally — in the corporate world.

Things like: 'Stay away from Don, he's a time waster' or 'don't spend too much time on Sandy's idea of reorganization' are often tidbits of 'intel' passed on from an outgoing to incoming employee.

[ Related: Twittersphere mocks Stephen Harper during cabinet shuffle announcement ]

Political consultant Gerry Nicholls doesn't think it's a big deal either but acknowledges that the PMO could have worded their directive a little more tactfully.

"The media is seizing on the idea of an “enemy list”, because it’s a loaded term that brings to mind Richard Nixon, political paranoia and vindictiveness," Nicholls told Yahoo! Canada News.

"But the memo itself is really about the need to caution incoming cabinet ministers about bureaucratic projects to avoid. That’s a lot less sinister.

"Yet, the media likes to foster the narrative that there’s a war going on between the public service and the government, which is why when drafting communications, staffers should avoid emotion-laden words, like 'enemy.'"

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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