1. Four flaks and counting. John Williamson, who joined the Prime Minister’s Office late last summer as Stephen Harper’s communications director, is leaving. Was it something we said?
No. The 39-year-old Atlantic Canadian wants to try his hand at elected politics – he is seeking the Conservative nomination in the federal riding of New Brunswick Southwest.
Greg Thompson, who recently stepped aside as Veteran’s Affairs Minister, has represented that riding for nearly 20 years and has decided not to run in the next election.
Mr. Williamson, a past federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, did not make much of an impression in his short time in the key PMO post. He was barely visible.
Dimitri Soudas, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman, does all the heavy lifting in that office and was the go-to guy for reporters. Fiercely loyal, he clearly has Mr. Harper’s ear.
And Mr. Soudas has been with the Prime Minister since the beginning. This cannot be said for his other communications directors – William Stairs lasted a few weeks in 2006 until he stood up to the Prime Minister and was moved to a minister’s office. (Mr. Stairs, who is bright and accomplished recently returned to the PMO in another capacity.)
Sandra Buckler, who with 28 months under her belt was the longest-serving prime ministerial communications director and the most divisive, replaced Mr. Stairs. The relationship between Ms. Buckler and the media was not good. After leaving the Hill for a time, she is recently back, too, as chief of staff to senior Harper minister Peter Van Loan.
And then there was Kory Teneycke, who came in with great expectations as the one who could repair the strained relationship between the PMO and the press. He lasted less than a year and is now a CBC pundit.
Mr. Soudas confirmed this morning that Mr. Williamson is leaving to “take a more public role with the PM’s team.”
”I know that for John, leaving the Prime Minister’s Office is a very difficult decision,” Mr. Soudas said. “But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that suddenly presented itself to John, which is to return home and, with a lot of hard work, represent the voters of New Brunswick Southwest.”
Mr. Soudas said no decisions have been made as to a replacement.
A friend of the outgoing communications director said Mr. Williamson told the Prime Minister of his decision on Monday. And to his credit, he is not being handed anything. Rather, it is expected the nomination will be contested
“To move home, which many Atlantic Canadians always desire to do, and put your name on the ballot for any party in this day and age is a risky proposition,” a friend said.
“This isn't a staff revolving door issue this is a guy who has always been committed to public service taking it to the next level.”
2. In search of the recovery. Bizarre but kind of funny, Jim Stanford, the Canadian Auto Workers economist, is using videotape and his acting skills to make his point that there is no economic recovery.
For just under $10,000, Mr. Stanford shot a video last December (the editing was just finished and it’s been posted to YouTube) called “The Curious Case of the Missing Recovery.”
In it, Mr. Stanford assumes a Colombo-type character – calling himself Lieutenant Stanfordo. He is dressed in a trench coat; he carries a magnifying glass and chews on the stub of a cigar.
And for the duration of the film, he drives around parts of Toronto, Mississauga and Brampton – “all the hot spots of the industrial meltdown,” he says – in search of the recovery that Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney insists is here.
He talks to CAW members who have lost their jobs or whose companies have gone bankrupt and he deals with disappearing pensions.
Mr. Stanford, who is on a sabbatical right now but still writing on economic matters, says he came up with the idea after speaking to union and community where he would use the detective analogy in his talks.
The official CAW version of the movie is being shown at membership meetings across the country, he said. And it’s on YouTube for all to see.
The video ends with the detective not finding the recovery because there “never was a recovery,” he says. And then he jumps into a Hummer that is driven by an actor, who looks just like CSI Miami’s Horatio Caine (he is actually a friend of Mr. Stanford’s – Robert Storey, a McMaster University professor), and they go to Florida.
(Photo:John Williamson, right, looks on with PMO spokesmen Andrew MacDougall and Dimitri Soudas during a Conservative caucus meeting in January. Chris Wattie/Reuters)