Stephen Harper’s cabinet ministers and MPs have been given strict marching orders for participation in upcoming provincial elections and the leadership race in Alberta: do not become the story, do not do anything to jeopardize the federal provincial relationship and do it on your own time.
The two and a half page missive, sent to MPs Tuesday, follows closely on the heels of the recent controversial news conference by Alberta Tory MP Rob Anders. Mr. Anders provoked criticism for making an announcement on affordable housing as he repeatedly mentioned Ted Morton’s name. Mr. Morton is one of six candidates running for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Party.
In addition, the memo includes an introduction from Stephen Harper’s chief of staff Nigel Wright: “Dear Caucus members. This fall Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan and Northwest Territories will hold provincial and territorial elections. Alberta Progressive Conservatives will also have a leadership race.
“During these elections you may be called upon by a provincial candidate to assist them in their election. Please keep in mind that we do not want the federal government to become a story in any of these elections,” he warned.
PMO spokesman Andrew MacDougall would not comment on the memo.
The memo notes that, “In provinces where there is only one ‘conservative’ option, we may all make efforts as individuals on private time to assist the election of that option -- provided that we comply with this policy.”
In addition, all of this must be done in a way “that does not impair our ability to maintain appropriate federal-provincial relations and does not bring the federal Government into disrepute.”
“A degree of support for provincial and territorial conservative counterparts is expected and will be accepted by their opponents and the public,” states the memo.
Under the heading of “Provincial Leadership Races,” the memo notes that there is one in Alberta this fall.
“Our first responsibility is to the Conservative Party of Canada and the Government of Canada,” according to the memo. “We need to retain all components of our base of support.”
It then adds, “Cabinet and Government of Canada should not be taking positions in provincial leadership races.”
And under the sub-head of “Parliamentary Secretaries/MPs,” the memo states: “MPs are encouraged to remain neutral. If a Caucus member chooses to participate, they should keep in mind that their first loyalty remain to the Conservative Party of Canada and that as a Party and a Government we have no official position on a provincial leadership race.”
In fact, Mr. Anders was making the announcement, which he peppered with the Morton endorsements, on behalf of Human Resources Minister Diane Finley.
A spokeswoman from Ms. Finley’s office had said that “the minister’s position on this matter is that provincial leadership race politics should not be raised during announcements made on behalf of the government of Canada,” according to a CBC report.
The memo asks that all MPs and ministers and staff review and “comply” with the Accountability Act and the Conflict of Interest Act “each of which may have some applicability to situations that could arise while participating in any political campaign.”
For example, an MP, Minister or Senator may host or be a special guest at a fundraiser as long as the ticket price is “not more than the current federal contribution limit of $1,100,” according to the memo.
PMO permission, however, is required if the politician is planning to participate in a “partisan media event.” And MPs are reminded not to use their government issue BlackBerrys “for non-governmental or partisan purposes.”