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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper gestures as he stands with members of his Cabinet following a swearing in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, July 15, 2013.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Office is once again under fire after it sent a memo asking for lists of "enemy stakeholders" for new cabinet ministers – a request one union leader says is unprecedented and another sign of the Conservative government's combative nature.

Earlier this month, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) sent a "check list" of instructions to ministerial staff creating "transition binders" for the new cabinet. One request was: "Who to engage or avoid: friend and enemy stakeholders." Government offices typically take a more formal tone, even when referring to their critics.

"To talk about it in terms of enemies and friends is just unheard of," said Gary Corbett, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, representing scientists and professionals in government, including the federal civil service. Bureaucrats and political staff continue to have a "very tense relationship," he said.

"Now it's about enemies and friends, not people who have different opinions. And that's really what they're saying: if you have a different opinion, you are the enemy," Mr. Corbett said.

It's the latest misstep for the PMO. Mr. Harper's chief of staff, Nigel Wright, resigned earlier this year after writing a cheque to embattled Senator Mike Duffy, and the PMO was then embarrassed when it was accused of trying to feed an unflattering story about Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to a local newspaper. Now comes the leaked memos, made public this week when copies were anonymously sent to several media outlets, including The Globe and Mail.

The July 4 e-mail memo shows the extent to which the PMO is involved in ministerial operations. The memo asked for a list of "bureaucrats that can't take no (or yes) for an answer," though that request was withdrawn in another e-mail four hours later. It also asks "What to avoid: pet bureaucratic projects" and references "sword / shield issues" ministers need to be aware of during Question Period.

It's not clear, from the e-mails, whether the lists of "enemy stakeholders" were ever produced by each ministry. The main memo was signed by Nick Koolsbergen, an "Issue Manager" in the PMO, and sent by Erica Furtado, an executive assistant in the PMO's issues management section. The PMO declined comment on the leak, neither confirming nor denying its 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," spokesman Carl Vallée said.

The Official Opposition NDP said the leak is another signal the cabinet shuffle was just for show. "This is part of an alarming pattern of Conservatives putting partisan politics first, and shutting out any group that disagrees with them," NDP Deputy Leader Megan Leslie said.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada said Tuesday it didn't know whether its members – non-partisan government staff – would have been tasked with helping develop lists of "enemy stakeholders."

"This government should be listening to all Canadians, not just those who agree with their policies," Chris Aylward, PSAC's National Executive Vice-President, said in an e-mailed statement.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper shuffled his cabinet on Monday, introducing eight new members and slightly more women to try and give a fresh face as the Conservatives' poll numbers have slid. Of the 39 ministers, 27 take on new files – and will get a transition binder.

With a report from John Ibbitson

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