Why Jason Kenney eats Chinese food

Posted by admin on Mar 12th, 2011

By Jeffrey Simpson, Globe and Mail, Mar. 12 2011

If diplomats, as is said, are sent abroad to lie for their country, then Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has been sent across Canada to eat for his party. Mr. Kenney was scalded recently because his office sent, on ministerial letterhead, a frantic appeal for $200,000 to Conservative Party riding associations to finance yet more pre-election advertising. This ad campaign would be directed at South Asian and Chinese communities. Mr. Kenney apologized and the aide was fired, since parliamentary letterhead should not be used for such partisan purposes (although anyone not born yesterday knows a grey zone exists between the parliamentary and the political). Details aside, what if the aide had not inadvertently sent the letter to an NDP MP? No one would have ever known about the transgression.

So Canadians got a peek into how the Harper government does business – in particular, the immense emphasis it places on advertising and its almost manic devotion to spin, photo ops and messaging.

But the episode was revealing for other reasons. The “mistake” was made by a young aide, of whom there are dozens and dozens swarming around ministerial offices, many of them ideologically fervent but administratively inexperienced.

Part of the reason so many rookies abound is the government’s own fault. The Accountability Act, the most overwrought piece of legislation of our times, precluded anyone who worked in government from dealing with government for five years after leaving. The predictable result was to scare away almost anyone with knowledge and experience in government. The vacuum was accordingly filled by people wet behind the ears.

Compounding the problem is the mania for centralized control. Since ministers are held on such tight leashes by the Prime Minister’s Office, these youthful enthusiasts dare not do anything creative. That explains why most press secretaries and other spokespeople never have anything to say except “no comment” or some boilerplate media line. Rather than assist understanding of what the government is doing, they impede it, because they’re often jejune and always fearful.

The Kenney letter, of course, is part of a campaign the entire government has waged to improve Conservative fortunes in large ethnic communities. As the fundraising letter said, the Conservatives still trail the Liberals in these communities, but they have closed the gap. The fact that the Liberals can no longer take these communities for granted also assists political debate.

Mr. Kenney, with his safe seat in Calgary, can fuse his ministry with this outreach program, He can also use his influence in foreign policy, where he’s been one of the most unbridled supporters of Israel’s right-wing government.

Some years ago, Mr. Kenney went on a severe diet because he could no longer fit into his suits. Those slim suits have now given way to very big ones, courtesy, one presumes, of all those South Asian and Chinese banquets he’s attended.

But the outreach goes beyond South Asians and Chinese, and involves the entire government, not just Mr. Kenney. The Jewish community has been another target, as are the Korean and Polish communities. Muslim/Arab communities and those from the Caribbean and Latin America have received less attention.

It’s impolitic in Conservative circles to breathe a word about a post-Harper party, but, eventually, there’ll be one. And Jason Kenney is a surefire candidate when that time comes. He has a base in Alberta, support among social conservatives, many friends in ethnic communities and a major legislative accomplishment in a long-overdue reform of refugee policy. He’s also learned passable French.

If Mr. Kenney can’t win the Conservative leadership – the party is unlikely to turn to another Albertan – he’s likely to have a decisive say in who does. All those banquets have short- and long-term consequences for the party, and for him.

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