OTTAWA – Immigration lawyer Barbara Jackman doesn’t know if the Conservative government has an “enemies” list, but if they do, she figures she’s probably on it.
Jackman, a prominent immigration advocate and perennial thorn in the side of governments of various stripes, never met once with Jason Kenney during his five years at Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and says the minister made it clear that if she attended stakeholder meetings, he would not.
A leaked memo shows that in the leadup to Monday’s cabinet shuffle, the Prime Minister’s Office asked ministerial offices to provide a list of unhelpful bureaucrats and “friend or enemy stakeholders” to guide the incoming boss on who to meet and avoid.
The PMO is refusing to confirm or deny the memo’s authenticity.
“While we don’t comment on internal communications, we are collaborating with our ministers, especially new ministers, to ensure they are fully briefed so they can continue their work on behalf of Canadian taxpayers,” Harper spokesman Carl Vallee said in an email.
The “Transition Binder Check List,” dated July 4, was to be inserted into transition briefing books prepared for new ministers as they entered cabinet or moved to different portfolios.
The memo was apparently inflammatory enough to cause some disgruntled individual to mail off copies to media outlets across Ottawa.
“Is this the real face of the new ‘fresh’ cabinet?” said an anonymous cover letter stapled to the PMO email.
The leak is illuminating on two fronts: It highlights both a Conservative government penchant for us-versus-them thinking and also the looming internal perils of a major cabinet shuffle that has left some long-time government members permanently on the outside looking in.
“When I heard about the list my first thought was, ‘Am I on it?'” Jackman said in an interview from her Toronto law office.
“Because this minister (Kenney) has made no secret about the fact that — although I’ve never met him, never dealt with him — he doesn’t like me.”
Kenney once called Jackman a “left-wing hack” in the House of Commons, later retracting the “hack” remark.
“Other ministers have disagreed with me but they’ve never refused to meet with me, nor have they bad-mouthed me out of the blue for no reason,” she said.
“It’s petty and childish. And to pass it on to the next minister is more pettiness and childishness.”
Chris Alexander, Kenney’s successor as immigration minister, told CTV the transition books are useful guides to policy.
“It’s not about who hasn’t supported us,” Alexander said Tuesday.
“We know there will be some of those in Parliament and outside. It’s about what has worked and what needs to work in the future if we’re going to keep this country’s economy strong.”
Robert Fox, the executive director of Oxfam Canada, said it is not an unusual government tactic abroad.
“Because Oxfam works around the world, we do see governments around the world who shut out their own citizens and we also see the consequences when governments do that,” Fox said in an interview.
“We think it’s vitally important that governments be open to hearing as many different views as possible.”
But that’s just not the way the Harper government rolls, said Brent Rathgeber, the dissident Independent MP who left the Conservative caucus this spring.
“On the political side, the communication people and issues management (staff) live in this life-and-death struggle world of politics that they’ve self-created for themselves,” Rathgeber said.
“There are no shades of grey. Everything is black and white…. If you don’t support the government and don’t support the government agenda, you’re maligned as an enemy.”
Jim Munson, a Liberal senator who was once communications director for Prime Minister Jean Chretien, said in an email that during his two years in the PMO he never saw or heard of a “so-called enemies list.”
“Bureaucrats were viewed as enablers helping to deliver government programs,” Munson said in an email.
The Harper government’s siege mentality suggests it is capable of anything, said New Democrat MP Charlie Angus, the party’s ethics critic.
Angus said he sees it at the root of everything from various election campaign spending imbroglios to the Mike Duffy scandal in the Senate.
“If you believe that you’re surrounded by enemies, then it justifies taking whatever action you feel is appropriate,” he said.