07/16/2013 10:38 EDT | Updated 09/15/2013 05:12 EDT

Cabinet Enemy List: Harper Government Won't Confirm Or Deny List Of Bureaucrats, Critics


OTTAWA - Immigration lawyer Barbara Jackman doesn't know if the Conservative government has an "enemies" list, but if they do, she figures she's probably on it.

Jackman, a prominent immigration advocate and perennial thorn in the side of governments of various stripes, never met once with Jason Kenney during his five years at Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and says the minister made it clear that if she attended stakeholder meetings, he would not.

A leaked memo shows that in the leadup to Monday's cabinet shuffle, the Prime Minister's Office asked ministerial offices to provide a list of unhelpful bureaucrats and "friend or enemy stakeholders" to guide the incoming boss on who to meet and avoid.

The PMO is refusing to confirm or deny the memo's 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," Harper spokesman Carl Vallee said in an email.

The "Transition Binder Check List," dated July 4, was to be inserted into "political" transition briefing books prepared for new ministers as they entered cabinet or moved to different portfolios.

Among the checklist items:

— "Who to avoid: bureaucrats who can't take no (or yes) for an answer."

— "Who to engage or avoid: friend and enemy stakeholders."

The memo was apparently inflammatory enough to cause some disgruntled individual to mail off copies to media outlets across Ottawa.

"Is this the real face of the new 'fresh' cabinet?" said an anonymous cover letter stapled to the PMO email.

The leak is illuminating on two fronts: It highlights both a Conservative government penchant for us-versus-them thinking and also the looming internal perils of a major cabinet shuffle that has left some long-time government members permanently on the outside looking in.

"When I heard about the list my first thought was, 'Am I on it?'" Jackman said in an interview from her Toronto law office.

"This minister (Kenney) has made no secret about the fact that — although I've never met him, never dealt with him — he doesn't like me."

Kenney once called Jackman a "left-wing hack" in the House of Commons, later retracting the "hack" remark.

"Other ministers have disagreed with me but they've never refused to meet with me, nor have they bad-mouthed me out of the blue for no reason," she said.

"It's petty and childish. And to pass it on to the next minister is more pettiness and childishness."

Treasury Board President Tony Clement, who oversees the public service, denied any knowledge of the memo. But Chris Alexander, Kenney's successor as immigration minister, told CTV the transition books are useful guides to policy.

"It's not about who hasn't supported us," said Alexander.

"We know there will be some of those in Parliament and outside. It's about what has worked and what needs to work in the future if we're going to keep this country's economy strong."

Robert Fox, the executive director of Oxfam Canada, said he'd be "very disturbed" if the tactic became standard procedure in Canada.

"We do see governments around the world who shut out their own citizens and we also see the consequences when governments do that," Fox said in an interview.

"Speaking truth to power is something governments don't always want to hear but is absolutely vitally important if we're going to have thriving, healthy democracies."

But that's just not the way the Harper government rolls, said Brent Rathgeber, the dissident Independent MP who left the Conservative caucus this spring.

"On the political side, the communication people and issues management (staff in the PMO) live in this life-and-death struggle world of politics that they've self-created for themselves," Rathgeber said.

"There are no shades of grey. Everything is black and white.... If you don't support the government and don't support the government agenda, you're maligned as an enemy."

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney was known to keep a list of unfriendly journalists, and Jean Chretien occasionally shunned reporters he didn't like.

But Gary Corbett, president of the Professional Institute of Public Service of Canada, said unlike journalists, civil servants have a professional duty to offer frank advice and then implement the orders of their political masters.

"I think the trust is broken between the politicians and the bureaucrats," said Corbett.

"I've never heard of it put that way before — that some are on a do-not-approach list. Is it about war? Or is it about responsibly running a country and getting the best input from all sides?"

The civil service avoidance check list appears to have been deleted from the final list of requirements for transition books, Corbett noted.

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