Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Harper government upstaged Parks Canada at presser: documents - Nova Scotia - CBC News

I'm not picking on the "Harper government," really I'm not. I want to use this story to demonstrate something else:

Harper government upstaged Parks Canada at presser: documents - Nova Scotia - CBC News:

This story is about PCO meddling in a PR event designed to show case Parks Canada and conservation of a particularly ecologically fragile island off NS. Big deal ... I can hear people say. Since when does a government -- particularly one interested in good PR as all governments are -- not try to upstage someone?

Good point, but this is a case that is particularly interesting because of what was done. In this instance, the government of NS had been involved in long negotiations with a federal bureaucracy to create a conservation area. These negotiations occurred under a minister's watch but were not a priority of the Harper government whose ecological record, in fact, is a more than a bit shaky. Instead, they really were instances of the civil service trying to do something (or, as friends of mine might say: "the embedded state.")  Having accomplished their goal of creating this conservation area, Parks Canada wanted to make a show up it, likely for their own propaganda reasons. But, their show was nixed. Neutral references to the state were removed and replaced by specifics ("Harper government"). Civil servants were told they were not to be on stage during a signing ceremony, even as MC. They could sit in the audience but that was all.

Why be concerned about this? The main reason is not that Harper is a PR hog. As I said, most of us would accept that as a failing of government. Or, that the PM is trying to take credit for something he did not do; heck, that might be normal too. Instead, what is interesting is the efforts of the PCO to edit the state out of the picture. In other words, the Harper government's PR spin is not simply to hog credit but to try to erase the work of other people, as if they did nothing.

In the case of the state, this erasure is important because many people don't feel that the civil service (bureaucrats) do anything. Yet, here is an example where bureaucrats accomplished something meaningful but a government committed to the neo-liberal small state looks to erase the record from public discourse.  I am not trying to say that this is a conspiracy but I am pointing out the political effect of this action. People wonder what civil servants do. They wonder why they need a state. They wonder if the state is to big. No wonder that they wonder. If the actual work of the state is erased from public discourse (removed, as it were, from view), they have no way of knowing what is actually going on. If the hard work of civil servants is replaced by a "Harper government" that is made to appear as if it were the one that cut through fifty years of red tape, then no one people wonder about the civil service.

Moreover, the new PRs give a false perception of policy. In this case, policy happens because of the determination of the government, rather than careful, prudent discussions that dot the "i"s and cross the "t"s to make sure all is in order. The state is erased, prudence and caution are also erased replaced by a crusading government that accomplishes acts that others could not by force of will (instead of acknowledging how the work of people that went before allowed for this development). With a discourse like this, it is no wonder there is so much confusion about how policy is made and implemented.

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