Monday, November 19, 2007

Ouch. That Had to Hurt.

Don Martin takes a savage kick to the 'nads

The conspiracy theories alleging Stephen Harper made a letter written to him by Karlheinz Schreiber disappear took a rather merciless kick to the balls today, as Marilyn MacPherson, the Assistant Deputy Minister for Corporate Services at the Privy Council Office, decided to clear the air regarding a recent column written by Don Martin.

In the column, Martin wrote:

"For reasons that defy logic and established process, the Prime Minister's Office insists the incarcerated lobbyist's rant against former prime minister Brian Mulroney never reached Mr. Harper's intensely inquisitive staff.

This just doesn't pass the smell test given the procedural checks in a system that handles roughly a million pieces of mail per year, which must surely represent the only million letter writers left in a nation of e-mailers.
Martin goes on to vaccilate over whether or not Harper ever saw the letter itself. However, he notes, a conversation with Jean Chretien's old "mailbag man" predictably proved to be "constructive":

"There are only two explanations: Either somebody dropped the ball in the bureaucracy or Mr. Harper's office is fibbing when they say Mr. Schreiber's package failed to reach even one of the 82 people listed in the PMO directory.

The standard correspondence form generates a six-digit reference number for every letter that arrives, and scans them into a database for instant retrieval. Bureaucrats can check off one of two options, to forward either the original or copies to one of seven sections in the PMO.

This once-senior official insists all correspondence addressed to the prime minister is routinely forwarded to his office unless the sender falls into the "frequent wingnut" category.

While some may argue that shoe fits Mr. Schreiber, keep in mind most correspondence staff have been there since Jean Chretien was prime minister, and that unique name would still set off a rocket's red glare for special attention.

"There's institutional memory in the unit for this particular file," the Liberal said. "A clerk would not be qualified to take responsibility for that sort of correspondence by themselves. They would need guidance from the PMO."

It probably doesn't matter that Mr. Harper didn't see the letter personally. But there's either a troubling failure to communicate between the two senior levels of government or a deliberate miscommunication with the public.
"Of course there is," Newman would probably want one to agree.

Until, that is, one reads the recent letter by MacPherson to the National Post, wherein she writes:

"I am writing to clarify several issues relating to Don Martin's Thursday column. Firstly, the headline of the column is misleading -- no letter went missing. All correspondence processed by the Privy Council Office is kept on file for the prescribed period of time. The statements attributed to a former supervisor in the correspondence unit of another government, to the effect that "all correspondence addressed to the Prime Minister is routinely forwarded to his office" is not accurate either. Due to the volume and nature of correspondence, in fact the vast majority of it is not forwarded to the correspondence unit in the Prime Minister's Office, but is processed by the Privy Council Office correspondence unit.

As we have stated with other media representatives, the Privy Council Office processes all incoming correspondence to the prime minister. In the case of correspondence from Karlheinz Schreiber, it was decided that replying would be inappropriate as a result of the author being the subject of an extradition hearing, as well as his involvement in other litigation.

Finally, I want to reconfirm here for your readers the accuracy of statements made by the Prime Minister's Office, that the Privy Council Office did not forward the March 29, 2007 letter to the Prime Minister's correspondence unit.

One needs to remember that this is coming from an Assistant Deputy Minister, whom tend not to be elected officials, but bureaucrats selected for the job. When one also considers the remarkable number of deputy ministers not fired by the Harper government, one has to wonder what to make of the following passage from Martin's column:

"Most of my media colleagues would side with the dishonest declaration view. PMO flaks have a well-deserved reputation for non-communication when they're not spinning exaggeration or fabrication.

The level of media distrust in getting the true goods on any issue from Mr. Harper's team is lower than any communications shop I've encountered in almost 30 years of covering politics.

It seems that Martin is forgetting that last particular fact. Whether or not one considers the current batch of deputy ministers to be "Harper's team" is immaterial. The fact is that they were also "Paul Martin's team" in this regard, and as such, one has to wonder what to make of such assertions when the Pricy Council office backs the Prime Minister's Office up, as McPherson has.

At the very least, one pretty much instantly knows what to do with the varying conspiracy theories regarding the Karlheinz Schreiber affair. It just so happens to be the same thing one knows to do with Martin's 15 November column.

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