Sunday, March 01, 2009

REVEALED: BC Liberal Ministerial Assistants secret orders to ensure cabinet ministers avoid answers, spin the media

Few answers, lots of spin


B.C. Liberal government ministerial aides are under strict orders when the B.C. Legislature is in session and rule No. 1 is to not provide answers to the opposition in Question Period and spin the media, a newly released confidential government document shows.

"It's Question Period, not Answer Period," reads an internal government document titled House Review: A Day In The Life dated January 2007.

"Answer the best you can each time, every time. But if you can't, ATTACK!! NDP record, evidence of internal conflict, etc ...." the document instructs ministerial assistants to B.C. cabinet ministers.

UPDATE: My 24 hours Sean Holman has a fascinating video scrum at his Public Eye Online website of B.C. Liberal House Leader Mike de Jong reacting to this story - don't expect much illumination though. Sean also gets a non-comment response out of Attorney General Wally Oppal - who uses the same excuses as de Jong that the "matter is before the courts" - but the scrum is entertaining!

House Review also details how cabinet aides and other government staff are expected to influence reporters to keep them from writing about controversial issues raised in Question Period by the opposition.

A section titled: "10 A.M. - The News Blitz" says: "This is our chance to get to the media while they are still thinking about their lead - give them something else to write on so they aren't pressured to write on QP [Question Period]."

There are: "Several options for 10 a.m. blitz: 1) Legislation; 2) News Releases; 3) Comment on issues already on media radar."

House Review is part of 8,000 pages of confidential government documents ordered released by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Bennett Wednesday in response to an NDP court application.

The information was obtained through Freedom Of Information requests by defence counsel acting for David Basi, Bob Virk and Aneal Basi, three former government aides facing corruption charges related to the $1-billion sale of B.C. Rail.

Bennett also ordered that the documents be made available to media and the public for review but not photocopying at the court's Criminal Registry.

The document states in a "Question Period" section that: "Ministers are judged on the three Cs: Competence - we know the file better than the critics; Confidence - we are sure of our position; Control - we are clear in our communication."

The "Question Period" section also outlines how cabinet ministers are backed up by staff in several locations so they can answer opposition inquiries quickly.

"Speed Kills - one person in 223 [Room 223 in the Legislature, presumably], one in the office, so that info can get into the chamber," the unsigned document reads.

The media spin doctoring continues following Question Period, according to another section titled: "3 p.m. The Hallway" - regarding media questioning of ministers and opposition in the hallway outside the Legislature Chamber.

"The halls are Round 2 - if QP goes well, it's the NDP's 2nd Chance. If QP goes bad it's our chance for clean-up," House Review says. "The halls will NEVER be a good substitution for a good QP performance."

The newly released documents also include detailed briefing notes for Campbell prior to interviews with columnists Vaughn Palmer of the Vancouver Sun and Michael Smyth of the Province newspapers and for talk radio show interviews.


House Review outlines in detail what happens in the hallway after QP: “Jason, Dale, Caucus and PAB work the halls – follow their lead, stay in contact if you are the flavour of the day. Find out what the NDP is saying and distributing. Assess best mitigation techniques, including whether to keep your Minister in the House or bring them out on cue.”

“Dale” would appear to be Dale Steeves, Premier Gordon Campbell’s Communications Director. “Jason” may be Jason Keenan, Campbell’s former Legislative Support Officer. PAB is the Public Affairs Bureau, the government’s communications arm.

“We can use the halls to mitigate their attacks,” House Review continues. “1) Distribute paper that refutes their claims….2) Provide balancing data to supplement their stories – usually contrasting information; 3) Send the minister back out to take another round of interviews with media.”

House Review says the government’s day starts with an 8:15 a.m. House Meeting: “Smaller meeting with PO [Premier’s Office], Leader’s Office, Caucus and Whip’s Office – may introduce PAB into discussions. Final decisions on QP angles. Final decision on the 10 a.m. News Blitz.”


Anonymous said...

The Campbell Regime doesn't govern British Columbia . . . it is at war with its citizens and its democracy.


Anonymous said...

Why is this news? Every government of every stripe does this. The "secret" orders probably haven't even been updated since Confederation.

Of course the Liberals have a plan to handle the media. The NDP has a similar (read "identical") playbook. File this one under the "DUH! Of course" category.

Pete's Viewpoint said...

Regrettably, there's nothing illegal about this sort of tight message control. As any insider knows, its not about the content of the message, its the context for which it is delivered and interpreted. Campbell, for all of his sins, is a brilliant politician. He has surrounded himself with an army of professionals that are experts in communications. They've perfected the art of the 'spin' and can convince most gullable people that their sh*t doesn't stink.

Anonymous said...

Harper does the same thing with his automatons. During the last Federal election, Conservative candidates avoided public appearances and on the few occasions they were questioned by citizens and reporters might as well have had muzzles wrapped over their faces. So, people didn't vote for those who they thought might represent them best on a person to person basis, but for a brand name. Personally, I like to know the man or woman who represents my riding can carry on a conversation with courtesy, is well-spoken, has an attitude of service and humility. How are we supposed to learn these things about the people who make decisions that affect practically every aspect of our lives if they won't talk to us? They're setting themselves apart from the public. I not find that not only offensive, but suspicious as hell.

Anonymous said...

Silly me - I thought we appointed governments to govern!

If they spent half the energy actually fixing the problems that they seem to devote to these elaborate ruses to cover them up, wouldn't that make the job a whole lot easier?

There is something deeply wrong with this culture. And to suggest that every government does it and that we should just play along with the game is deeply troubling.

When citizens no longer have any confidence or trust in the integrity of the mechanisms of public order - government, justice, etc - it is an open invitation to anarchy and chaos.

We are travelling down a very dangerous path.

Anonymous said...

This is standard fare for any government comms strategy. Nothing surprising here. Im sure the NDP circulated similar memos surrounding the various scandals they were involved in.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of an interview with Harry G. Frankfurt, the author of “On Bullsh*t”

"On Political spin-doctors, they don’t care about the truth, they care about a certain impression in the mind of people they are addressing. They are engaged in the enterprise of manipulating opinion; they are not engaged in the enterprise of reporting the facts."

When I watch Question Period, I only once saw a Liberal answer a question with honesty. It was the former finance minister, Carol Taylor. She answered with no bluster and was very straight forward , consise and complete. There was no need for a follow-up question as her response was complete. No wonder she is not running again and has been removed from the cabinit.
Contrast that with Kruger's response. Check Corky Evan's video.