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How the PMO Became the Butt of Its Own Protest

06/25/2013 11:03 EDT | Updated 08/25/2013 05:12 EDT

Political staffers always walk a fine line between what they are willing to do and what they shouldn't be doing when it comes to partisan political activities. Today we have a good example of that with allegations in the media that PMO staff had a direct involvement in organizing and coordinating the demonstration that took place earlier this month when Justin Trudeau gave his outdoor press conference.

Kudos to the Liberal Party research team that was able to track down the names and bios of the Conservative interns that took part in that demonstration. That is a job well done. A search of that magnitude can be pretty time consuming, but for political partisans it is always fun to embarrass your political opponent. But wait a minute, party research offices are funded by the taxpayers, in this case the Liberals got $1.2 million. The Liberals will be walking a fine line when complaining about the Conservatives using taxpayer's money for partisan activities when their own researchers are also paid by the taxpayers.

The Liberals do have a point though about PMO's direct involvement. These types of activities are always best left entirely to the party to organize and staff. In Canada, sending individuals to another party's events is nothing new. As far back as the 1960s the Liberals deployed so called "truth squads" against John Diefenbaker and trailed him around the country.

During an election it is standard practice to have your partisans at a leader's media stops, local riding debates and even at the leader's debates. That is probably the key point, this time it wasn't during an election and it was on Parliament Hill.

It comes down to judgment, or lack of it. Someone in PMO should have made the decision that this be left entirely to the party (where it belongs). Perhaps if there had been a "long pants" in charge, i.e. someone with more experience, they might have recognized the difference between PMO work and party work. Keep in mind that one of job requirements for PMO staff is to keep your boss, i.e. the Prime Minister, out of trouble and away from negative headlines. On that point alone this activity hasn't measured up.

Was it really necessary to protest at Trudeau's press conference? Did the protest achieve its objective and embarrass Trudeau? Did the protest earn positive press coverage for the Conservative Party and more importantly for the Prime Minister?

Hardcore partisans can debate those questions for hours on end. But the average Canadian is not a political partisan and in the end what matters is what Canadians saw and how they interpreted that protest and the ongoing fallout from it.

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