L’État, c’est moi

It seems as though the thirty or so years that American neocons have poured money into right-wing political movements in Canada is really paying off. Not only does Canada have a conservative prime minister, he seems to think that he and the government are equivalent. L’État, c’est moi! But the Liberal party is fighting back:

OTTAWA — Federal Liberals are moving swiftly to capitalize on public outrage over Conservative attempts to rebrand the government of Canada as “the Harper government.”

They’ve produced a radio ad that will begin running Saturday in Quebec, expressing shock at the Tories’ effrontery in equating the government with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“Like you, I am profoundly shocked,” Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says in the ad.

“It’s totally unacceptable. The government of Canada is not the government of Mr. Harper, it’s the government of citizens, the government of all the citizens of Canada.”

The Canadian Press revealed Thursday that a directive was sent late last year to public servants, advising them that “government of Canada” should be replaced in all federal communications with the words “the Harper government.”

The story — which included fierce criticism from some public administration experts, including former clerk of the Privy Council Mel Cappe — spread like wildfire through social media. The reaction appeared to be predominantly negative.

In the Commons on Friday, Tory MP Andrew Saxton defended the branding exercise as “a longstanding practice across various governments.” He said the former Liberal government of Jean Chretien used to do the same thing.

“This terminology is widely used by journalists and the public. In fact, Mel Cappe, who was quoted in these stories, approved many of the releases when he was clerk using the term ‘Chretien government,”‘ said Saxton.

The Prime Minister’s Office later supplied examples of such releases but only three — involving the government of Paul Martin — actually personalized the government in the same way the Tories are attempting to do.

The releases during Chretien’s tenure are all headlined “government of Canada” and use those words throughout. The only reference to the “Chretien government” comes in quotations from ministers.