In George Orwell’s 1984, it was called the Ministry of Truth. In China, it is the Central Propaganda Department. Now it appears Canada has had its very own Ministry of Propaganda, headed by Jason Kenney.
During his day job, Kenney is an MP for Calgary Southeast (next-door neighbours to PM Stephen Harper) with the added fiscal stipend of Minister of Employment and Economic Development. As revealed this week, Kenny is also moonlighting as a propagandist. Apparently, he employs his office staff to create anti-Trudeau graphics for him to Tweet.
When I say employ, I mean he makes them do it. According to Kenney’s Press Secretary, Alexandra Fortier, the staff is creating the graphics outside government hours using personal computers. At least the taxpayer isn’t officially footing the bill for the ads this time. Even if that were the case, as Mr. Mulcair has pointed out, everybody does it.
Last year, Kenney got in trouble for tweeting that it was a “good thing” his staff isn’t unionized, since he kept them working until midnight. One might wonder when work hours start and end for Tory staff. Since they aren’t unionized and since they receive the lowest pay of all political staffers on the Hill, the fluidity of the threshold between work and propaganda is understandable.
Gregory Thomas, the Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, concurs. He says parliamentary offices are “doing politics 24/7,” and most of it is partisan. Of course, when the government does it, that’s fine. According to Peter Van Loan, they are just allowing “Canadians to be informed about those contrasting aspects of leadership available.” When members of the Opposition parties “do […] politics 24/7,” they get to feel the wrath of the BOIE (Board of Internal Economy) as the NDP found out earlier this year.
The Minister’s staff was so efficient in creating these after hour attack ads that, according to the Liberals, the Minister spent about 20% of his time tweeting about Trudeau last week. Why a senior Cabinet Minister in the Conservative government was spending so much time on Twitter is unclear. Fortier alleged that it was Kenney’s personal Twitter, but, when you’re a Conservative from Alberta (unless you’re Rob Anders), you could be wasting your time on the government account without worry. Why the third party in the House is paying such close attention to what the Minister does instead of using their resources to capitalize on their own popularity is equally unclear, but also worth asking.
Until the Prime Minister shuffles the deck chairs around again to give Mr. Kenney the official designation of Propaganda Minister, his staff must continue to pull those extra hours to attack his leader’s growing list of enemies.
Kenney ought to be wary, though. When Propaganda Ministers fail at getting the message across, they have a tendency to disappear without a trace.