PCO Directive Watch: “Government of Canada” vs. “Harper Government” by the numbers
Posted: September 15, 2011 11:51 AM
Last Updated: September 15, 2011 12:04 PM
Last December, the phrase “Harper Government” began popping up in official news releases in place of the more traditional — and, it bears noting, scrupulously neutral — “Government of Canada,” a not-so-subtle bit of rebranding that, according to a Canadian Pressreport, was the direct result of an edict handed down from the top — or, in the peculiar parlance of official Ottawa, “the Centre”: the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office, or PMO/PCO.At the time, then-Treasury Board Secretary Stockwell Day shrugged off the suggestion that a change in wording had been orchestrated from on high, claiming that it was the first he’d heard of it, while the PM’s then-director of communications, Dimitri Soudas, called it a “long-standing practice that accurately reflects the government’s leadership, regardless of who is prime minister.”
Last week, however, documents obtained by CP revealed that a directive may indeed gone out to civil servants — from PCO, no less, just as originally reported, and stoutly denied, both at the time and in response to the latest story, by the government in question.
What no one seems to have mentioned thus far, however, is how uncharacteristically ineffective the alleged directive appears to have been, at least as far as garnering government-wide compliance with anything approaching consistency.
Yes, some departments — or, more precisely, some ministers’ offices — have been dutifully deploying “Harper Government” in every official missive, but a quick check of the media archives shows that just as many, if not more, departments are still using the tried and true “Government of Canada” designation.
Were their respective communications directors inadvertently left off the distribution list (that, as noted above, may or may not have existed)? Or is this the first sign of a crack in the control that the centre has so meticulously — and successfully – exerted over official communications since the Conservatives took office?
For the record, and very possibly to save some luckless junior PMO staffer the trouble of putting together their own list of holdouts, here’s how the use of “Harper Government” breaks down by department.
(As a bonus, I’ve also noted departments that style their minister as “Canada’s Minister of..”, as I find it silly and pretentious, and hope to eventually report on its quiet and unmourned demise interesting. At some point if I really get ambitious/obsessive, I might even follow up with a count of how many ministerial press releases mention the “strong mandate” that the government was given last May):
“Harper Government” and “Canada’s Minister of…”
* Uses both “Harper Government” and “Government of Canada,” apparently interchangeably
** Uses “Canada’s Minister of…”, “[Porfolio] Minister X” and/or “Minister of [Portfolio]” also apparently interchangeably
“Harper Government” only
Minister of State (Democratic Reform)
Public Works and Government Services Canada*
Minister of State (Finance)*
Minister of State (Small Business)*
*While “Harper Government” is used occasionally, the clear preference appears to be for “Government of Canada”
“Government of Canada” and “Canada’s Minister of …”
The remaining departments, including Finance, National Defence, Industry, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Human Resources and Skills Development, Agriculture, Treasury Board, Justice, Citizenship and Immigration, Transport, Revenue, CIDA, Veterans Affairs, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and — somewhat paradoxically given the origins of the alleged edict, PMO itself — have apparently decided to take a pass on eponymizing the government’s moniker.
So what, if anything, can be gleaned from all this?
In my initial attempts to reverse engineer the styling formula, I dabbled with the theory that the HG/CMo combination was most likely to appear in releases prepared for cabinet ministers without a stand-alone department or communications office, as well as ministers of state, whose messaging requirements would most likely be handled by the centre; specifically, PMO/PCO, the office that may or may not have issued the alleged directive in the first place.
That would almost certainly be the case for the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, who does indeed use “Harper Government” consistently, but if, you’d think the messaging mavens at Finance would look after their dedicated minister of state, the affable Ted Menzies, but while releases issued under his name make regular use of the “Harper Government” phrase, I was unable to find examples of the full-fledged finance minister doing the same.
As for my initial hypothesis on ministers without dedicated departments, it was, alas, almost immediately debunked when I checked the record for (Canada’s) Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, whose releases alternate between GoC and HG, despite the fact that her office is under Human Resources and Skills Development, which eschews the “Harper Government” protocol.I wasn’t even able to establish a firm connection between “Harper Government” and “Canada’s Minister of..” although I’m still privately (well, not really all that privately anymore) convinced that there must be some link between those two terms.
Yes, despite my best efforts at cracking the code, I’m still stumped, so I’ll turn it over to you, dear readers — if you spot any pattern, or have the inside scoop on how these decisions are made, let me know in the comments, via twitter or by email, and I’ll update this post.As for what, if anything, this bodes for the future, as far as centrally synchronized messaging versus the possible rise of ministerial autonomy, well, stay tuned. It’s going to be a fascinating four years.
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