We Don't Need a Control-Freak PM

By:  Rachel Marsden

Just a few months ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper (I'll call him PMS) was flogging the idea of a more open, honest and accountable government. Now, Captain Democracy is reportedly muzzling his MPs, limiting media access to his cabinet ministers, and vetting everything that passes their lips when they do talk.

If PMS had spent any time on the dating circuit, he would know that controlling relationships don't work. Ultimately, they lead to anger, frustration and resentment.

Like the wife who tolerates her control-freak hubby because she figures a trip to Monte Carlo or more bling may be just around the corner, Harper's MPs are toeing the line for now. The exception is Halton-area MP Garth Turner, who keeps spilling it to the public like he's on Oprah's couch (you go, Garth!).

Could you imagine if U.S. President George W. Bush had muzzled congressional Republicans during the Dubai ports fiasco? The deal fell through due, in large part, to conservative dissent. It was this kind of internal party fracturing that really turned off our former ambassador to the U.S., Frank McKenna, who once bellyached about the American system having too many free agents. That's not a surprising sentiment, coming from a Liberal. PMS should know better, though.

In fact, he does. Last week, he even called on Canadians to pester their MPs: "We're going to need all of them writing, e-mailing, faxing and telephoning their MPs to tell them to get on with the plan."

Apparently, the people should speak out, but their representatives should only do so if PMS lifts the duct tape. Doesn't that kind of defeat the whole purpose? In a truly stunning display of Olympic-calibre flip-floppery, PMS made his plea for the public uselessly to lobby his gagged MPs during a speech pimping his proposed government Accountability Act.

One of the biggest downsides to an open, accountable democracy -- which, according to the throne speech Harper's government delivered this week, is something they believe in -- is that, unfortunately, it involves dealing with the media. Journalists are often agenda-driven and obnoxious, but playing silly games with them doesn't help.

Banning reporters from the floor where cabinet meetings take place, as PMS's PMO has done, isn't a big deal. It's not as though the media have no other possible way to talk with them. But it's like taking candy away from a small child. Is it really worth having to deal with all the bawling afterwards?

To make matters worse, Harper's newest director of communications, Sandra Buckler, has insisted that it's really all about the well-being of reporters. Yeah, I'm sure that's it: Harper wants to keep the media from the floor where cabinet meetings take place because he fears the hacks will crush each other in a political running of the bulls. He wishes.

If Buckler keeps it up with the blatantly obvious BS, she’ll be a shoe-in for the “Baghdad Bob ‘There Are No American Infidels in Iraq’ Spinsanity Award”.

In reality, PMS gains little with these measures against the media. The optics, however, are far more damaging.

PMS needs to stop being a control freak and start focusing on getting things done. It's hard to accomplish anything if you're obsessed with screwing up. To put it back in relationship terms, you need to let your sweetie out of the house once in a while to go shopping and see her friends. And if, in the end, she dumps you, then it just wasn't meant to be.