Stephen Harper has plucked a journalist from the ranks of Canada’s ethnic media to be his new communications director, a nod to the success of the Tory strategy to win over immigrant communities by appealing to their social conservatism.
Angelo Persichilli, the Toronto-based former political editor of the Italian-language newspaper Corriere Canadese and a columnist for The Toronto Star, will take over from Mr. Harper’s long-time communications aide, Dimitri Soudas.
It is clearly his strong association with the ethnic Canadian media that has attracted Mr. Harper. In addition to his positions with newspapers, he’s also been a political commentator on television and radio, including Omni-TV – where he also served as vice-president of news programming.
According to his resume, distributed by the PMO, Mr. Persichilli “oversaw the production of Channel 47's three daily news telecasts: Chinese, Italian and Portuguese, and has produced and hosted his own specials, has interviewed ministers, prime ministers and international leaders.”
The Harper Conservatives have successfully courted immigrant communities in Canada through the ethnic press – a strategy that was championed by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who said he was “delighted” with the appointment.
“He's the eminence grise of Canadian ethnic media,” Mr. Kenney tweeted Wednesday.
Access to Mr. Harper was tightly guarded through the campaign for the May 2 election, with reporters travelling with him limited to a total of four questions a day. However, ethnic media outlets were granted exclusive one-on-one sessions with Mr. Harper and invited to take part in roundtables.
Mr. Persichilli does not speak French, but says he will be working to learn the language.
“I'm honoured and privileged for this job, for the appointment, and I'm honoured to serve Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government,” Mr. Persichilli, 63, told The Canadian Press.
Mr. Harper's bilingual press secretary, Andrew MacDougall, will take on the role of associate director of communications and be the main spokesperson for the Prime Minister's Office.
It’s not clear whether Mr. Persichilli’s approach will differ from that of his predecessor, Mr. Soudas.
Mr. Soudas, one of Mr. Harper's hard-core loyalists, was seen as being open with some journalists in Ottawa, while ignoring others. When Mr. Harper became Prime Minister in 2006, Mr. Soudas was closely linked to the PMO’s efforts to impose greater control on communications, including making a predetermined list of journalists who could ask questions of Mr. Harper.
Mr. Persichilli, 63, also had close ties to the Paul Martin Liberals. In fact, during the years of Liberal infighting between Jean Chrétien and Mr. Martin, Mr. Persichilli had strong relationships with a number of Martin supporters in caucus.
Mr. Persichilli immigrated to Canada from Italy in 1975.
Although he was based in Toronto, Mr. Persichilli is an Ottawa fixture, covering all of the big stories, including budgets and elections. He’s also very present in the Ottawa political social scene.
The announcement comes as the national press gallery helped celebrate Mr. Soudas’s departure on Tuesday night. Mr. Soudas is moving with his young family to Toronto. He had announced just after the election that he was stepping aside.