Local Regina Conservatives Question Harper's Top-down, Heavy-handed Approach
"They're just a bunch of mean buggers"
Regina, Sask Conservative Party member
Harper's Ham-Handed 'Handlers' Raise Eyebrows Among Local Tories
By Murray Mandryk
March 30, 2011
"Sometime between the third or fourth security check at Prime Minister Stephen Harper's campaign stop in Regina Tuesday morning, it dawns on one that the issue isn't necessarily his well-known disdain for the media.
It's nothing personal. It might be just an extension of Harper's controlling nature.
And lest anyone assume this is a just a media whine, go talk to local Conservative activists. You might be surprised to find out their frustrations are all too similar.
Admittedly, much of the media frustration is somewhat self induced, as was demonstrated at Harper's early morning pitstop at Regina's Performance Marine to reannounce last week's budget news about a one-time $1,000 hiring credit (against increased employment insurance premiums) for small businesses.
While the news value was minimal, everything leaders do these days makes the six o'clock news. And Harper checking the dipstick on an outboard boat motor beats a boring shot of him standing behind another generic podium. It's what the media collectively wants and it's not willing to sacrifice eye-catching visuals for questions of substance.
Realizing this, Harper's campaign has limited reporters to a mere five questions at such events -including just one from the "local" media. And what was particularly ironic -or at least, ironic from a personal standpoint -is that it came just days after a voter phoned me demanding we grill Harper on the top-downnature of the Conservative nomination process. The real irony is that this voter was a frustrated Conservative from Regina Wascana, which held its nomination just 12 hours before Harper's visit. After a couple of quick calls, it appears he's not the only one. While the cushy front-row seats at Harper's stop at Performance Marine were reserved for MPs, candidates and other loyalists (the media were relegated to the back of the backshop), it's interesting to know local Conservatives are frustrated by their inability to penetrate Harper's bubble when comes to local nominations.
Griping about excessive Harper-Ottawa control over nominations is an emerging pattern. It's been raised in Alberta and Okanagan-Coquihalla, where local party members went so far as to claim the process to replace Stockwell Day was "rigged".
And while the concerns surrounding the process that selected Ian Shields as the Conservative candidate in Regina Wascana over two other candidates didn't signal anything untoward, they do paint a picture of a top-down process rather than a grassroots one.
The nomination -originally scheduled for last Friday -left little time for candidates to mount campaigns. Potential candidates were carefully screened by party hierarchy from Ottawa and at least two potential candidates were disqualified for reasons as insignificant as out-of-date memberships. Those successfully "vetted", say Conservatives, were required to post a $1,000 certified cheque as a "good behaviour bond" that the party gets to keep until the next election.
Suffice to say, this hasn't gone over well with some independent-thinking Conservatives, but few are eager to complain publicly. Former Saskatchewan Party MLA Jason Dearborn -one of those once interested in the Regina Wascana nomination -has written a commentary raising concerns about the above process and wondering if this was a "direct attempt to suppress the democratic process . . . perpetrated by unelected party staff intent on controlling a tight message for national consumption."
Other Conservatives are -at least privately far more pointed, talking about the Darth Vader-like control of Harper and the nastiness of the staff that surround him. "They're just a bunch of mean buggers," said one Conservative, seeking anonymity for fear of retaliation.
Admittedly, not all Conservatives share this harshness. For example, long-time Regina Wascana Conservative Joe Lomas called Monday's nomination exciting and hammered at the notion that Harper and his Conservative MPs have provided Saskatchewan with much more than Liberal Ralph Goodale ever did.
However, Lomas admitted there were legitimate concerns from local Conservatives about "top-down" Ottawa control over the timing of the nomination and how it inhibits effective local campaigns. "It's sometimes the problem with big parties -(the need for) political control," Lomas sighed. "What are you going to do?"
It's a fair assessment. But it's also interesting that a lot of media and voters are now asking the same questions about Harper's top-down, heavy-handed approach as are his local supporters.
-Mandryk is the political columnist for the Leader-Post.
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