Thursday, June 26, 2008

Back to lobbying for Sandra?

I told the PMO I wouldn’t blog again while Sandra Buckler was still Stephen Harper’s director of communications. Today, just one week later, the PMO caved and Buckler announced her resignation:

Sandra Buckler, the Prime Minister's sometimes contentious director of communications, is stepping down.

Ms. Buckler, 42, announced her resignation in an e-mail to reporters Thursday night. The e-mail popped up on reporters' BlackBerrys as they were sipping wine and eating canap├ęs at Prime Minister Stephen Harper's annual summer garden party at 24 Sussex Dr.

OK, that’s not really how it happened. But Sandra’s departure does seem like an opportune moment to end my blogging break and lament her departure, which comes all too soon. Why, it seems like only yesterday Sandra was taking over for William Stairs, who had done a less than stellar job for a young Harper government that was still just learning how to ignore the media. He’s now Chief of Staff to the president of the Treasury Board, whomever that is.

Stairs, a fluently bilingual Nova Scotia native with a PhD in political science was a longtime presence on Parliament Hill.

He became Harper's chief spin doctor last year, and had previously held the same role for Peter MacKay under the now-defunct Progressive Conservative party.

The shake-up follows complaints that Harper has avoided the media since being sworn in as prime minister on Feb. 6.

Sandra leaves us with so many memorable moments, from Project Shoebox, to RCMP-led hotel lobby evictions, to a smackdown by DND, and so much more. Her successor will have some bog shoes to fill, to be sure. She did miss out on my favourite Conservative media relations caper though, the Benny Hill-esque top secret, hotel changing, fire escape, er, escaping press conference.

In all seriousness though, what is Ms. Buckler’s depature likely to mean for the media relations under Stephen Harper et al? Not a whole lot. After all, the Cons were giving the finger to the media under Stairs too. She’s not the originator of the strategy, she’s just charged with carrying it out. The boss man calls the plays, and he’s not about to change the call.

This would be an advisable time for him to reconsider his “f*** the media” strategy though, as it’s coming back to bite him in the ass. After a few years of regular abuse the media is turning on the Cons, and how, from not giving airtime to hacks like Jason Kenney to laughing at their ridiculous attempts at spin.

With a new CoS, and soon a new director of communications, there’s a chance to change course. Not that Guy Giorno had a reputation for Mr. Media Friendly while implanting the Mike Harris “Common Sense” Revolution, but still, it’s a chance to turn over a new leaf with a fresh face. Will they change course though? I doubt it. In a Web 2.0 world they’re betting the main stream media are largely irrelevant. Maybe one day it will be. But not today.

Anyway, was she forced-out as part of Ian Brodie’s departure and Giorno’s pending arrival as Chief of Staff? Maybe. There tends to be high turnover in these sorts of high-stress positions anyway. Some of the comments in the article were interesting though.

A senior government source said Thursday that Mr. Giorno has been recently meeting individually with members of the PMO and some of the meetings, says the source, “have not been pretty.”

Could there be more house-cleaning to come in the Harper PMO? If so, I just hope they have more bench strength to choose from amongst the ranks of Conservative political strategists then they do caucus strength to facilitate cabinet making. It does paint a certain picture of disarray though that, as a Liberal, I’m not displeased to see.

As for Sandra, you’ll recall she came to the Harper PMO from the world of lobbying. Has the infamous “revolving door” just swung again? Time will tell.

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