When you are the prime minister of Canada, the last thing you want to hear after waxing boastfully of successes within your pandemic response is a political aide looking up, eyes wide, and … “Oh Dear!”
There are blunter things for an aide to write or utter, of course, and you can likely hear the courser language running through your brain.
F-bombs come to mind. Just not in writing.
But rarely do we see the mess political staffers often have to go through in telling the sharp pens of the parliamentary press gallery that the prime minister erred without actually saying he erred.
Better, instead, to obfuscate and hope the media doesn’t notice.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s slip up was described internally as “misleading the public,” no small matter for a government with claims of stoic honesty and transparency.
As chronicled by Blacklock’s Reporter, Trudeau stepped in the oh-oh way back on June 9 when he said federal agencies were fully prepared with a bounty of pandemic supplies for any reopening of the economy.
“As we start to reopen and some people head back to work, the need for personal protective equipment and other essential supplies like hand sanitizer and disinfectant will continue to grow,” Trudeau told reporters in a televised appearance. “We’re making sure we’re ready for that.”
“On Saturday, a ship carrying 160,000 litres of hand sanitizer arrived in Vancouver and we’re expecting seven more ships with hand sanitizer in the coming days,” he added.
Internal records, however, showed federal agencies in fact had only 32,000 litres of hand sanitizer in stock, and that four more shiploads were due for delivery, not seven.
“We’ve also have almost a million face shields,” said Trudeau.
Nope. Records at the time indicated only 100,000 face shields were ordered with just “600 received.”
“Oh Dear!” wrote James Fitz-Morris, a former CBC hand and director of communications for the Department of Public Works. “The Prime Minister publicly said on Tuesday that 160,000 litres of hand sanitizer had just arrived by boat.”
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The scramble was on.
Staff emails attempted to conceal the true extent of the stockpile.
“If journalists ask we can say that due to an issue with inventorying this week our update will be postponed until next week,” wrote Fitz-Morris. “We will try to nail down (hopefully) a reason for this backlog as well.”
“Maybe we can say they focused on distribution this week and will resume inventorying deliveries next week (assuming that is true),” Fitz-Morris added.
A week later, in a staff email, Fitz-Morris wisely encouraged aides to just conceal it all from Opposition MPs.
Judging by my time in provincial Opposition comms departments, and later in federal government, concealing is not concealing. It’s putting aside.
Winging it had also seemed to work here,
“Do we want to try and talk around it again in the hopes that, it being the last sitting day, (the press and MPs) don’t actually care that much?” he asked.
When in doubt, of course, creative writing is often the best option, with aides suggesting colourful phrases to cloud the dilemma — like a “new metric to distract somewhat from unattractive delivery numbers,” offered a policy advisor.
Yes, inventing a “new metric.”
“Oh Dear,” is right.
Back in April, Leslie Church, chief-of-staff to the public works minister, stated inflated numbers on masks, gowns, and other medical supplies without more evidence would not fly.
“The tone is, ‘We’re doing a ton of work but I know we’re nowhere near done and big challenges remain,” wrote Church.
Hmmm. If only she knew.