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Truth, Tories and the Sun Network: 'Let's do it. We can fake the Oath!'

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Immigration Minister Jason Kenney (CBC Photo)

More than one story emanating from Ottawa yesterday revealed the casual relationship between the Harper Conservatives and the truth, not to mention the special role Sun News Network plays in helping the party manufacture "facts" for public consumption.

It's tempting to dismiss both as unintentionally hilarious -- as indeed, in their way, they are -- but the issues underlying, as it were, are serious.

The breaking news yesterday morning was the revelation by the Canadian Press that back on Oct. 18 last year federal civil servants had been drafted, apparently on the basis of their appearance, to pretend to be "new Canadians" for a hoked up "citizenship reaffirmation ceremony" to be broadcast on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's personal Pravda: the so-called Sun News Network.

Many of us have suspected for a long time that the Sun Network (let's dispose of the News part right now) has precious little to do with news in the traditional sense of the word, which implies a degree of accuracy and truthfulness, and yesterday's events confirm this suspicion is warranted.

Documents obtained by CP through an Access to Information search inevitably led readers to the conclusion there had been a sleazy conspiracy between the Sun Network, known popularly as Fox News North for the role in our national discourse it is clearly intended to play by its backers in the Conservative government, and the office of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to gin up the fake ceremony to meet the minister's publicity needs at a time insufficient numbers of actual new Canadians were available.

"Let's do it. We can fake the Oath," read one email from a Sun Media email address (with the name of the sender conveniently blacked out, naturally) quoted by CP.

Predictably, the Sun Network initially refused to comment and Kenney's office instinctively tried to place the blame on the public employees who got stuck with the job of faking the ceremony. "The civil servants made some decisions without informing us or Sun News Network," one of Kenney's spokesthingies said.

Now, anyone who has worked in communications for a Canadian senior government, as I have, and understands the relationship between government departments and their ministers' offices, knows that no civil servant could have come up with this idiotic stunt without explicit approval from the political level.

If the fingerprints of Kenney's personal staff aren't all over this one, it's because someone wiped down the scene of the crime before the cops -- in the form of CP's reporter and her Access to Information request -- got there!

Cornered, later in the day Kenney apologized -- to the Sun Network!

For its part, Sun Media first exercised its right to remain silent. Once Kenney had said he was sorry they'd been ratted out, the company issued statements saying it knew nothing about the scheme. "We were surprised Thursday to learn that some of the people participating in the citizenship affirmation ceremony broadcast on October 18th were in fact citizenship and immigration Canada employees," Sun Network spokesperson Luc Lavoie said in a story that fingered by name the public employee designated to wear the blame.

Well, assuming that Kenney knew nothing at all about this, there was a day when Parliamentary convention dictated a minister was nevertheless considered responsible for lies told by department employees. Alas, that one's long gone by the wayside and Kenney is free to evade responsibility for his department's questionable activities using any excuse he likes.

The Conservative strategy from now on will likely be to blow this off as an insignificant story -- which in a way it is -- and to try to brazen it out as powerful symbolism in which the facts as portrayed by the Sun Network, or Sun Media's cozy relationship with the minister's office, matter little.

Indeed, as Kenney's spokesperson, Candice Malcolm, was quoted saying by CP: "Welcoming proud new and old citizens to the Canadian family and watching them affirm or reaffirm their loyalty to the Queen and our proud traditions is moving and memorable. We hope to do more televised ceremonies." (Emphasis added.)

Future "reaffirmation ceremonies," presumably, can be taped with a super script that reads: "Actual new Canadians may not appear exactly as illustrated," or words to that effect.

Meanwhile, buried in the media onslaught surrounding the shenanigans in Kenney's office was the testimony Wednesday by Public Safety Minister Victor Toews, a relatively new Canadian who serves in Harper's cabinet, before a Senate committee reviewing the government's tough-on-crime-that-may-not-actually-be-happening bill.

The Paraguayan-born Toews told the Senators that, as far as this government is concerned, facts don't really matter when it comes to justifying the government's plan to build a multi-billion-dollar gulag. Indeed, the Conservatives would be just as happy if the facts would go away, as they don't particularly help their case, so never mind that falling crime rate.

"I don't know if the statistics demonstrate that crime is down," Toews (pronounced Taves) told the Senators (and, he might have added, I don't really care) according to a report by Postmedia News. "I'm focused on the danger."

According to Toews, the public is in danger as long as any criminals walk the streets, which I guess is true as far as it goes. Alas, as Jesus said of the poor, the criminals will always be with us, so the Harperites will always have the excuse to work with Sun Network to drum up fear of crime as an effective electoral issue.

Like the Harper Government's fake pension "crisis," which has already sparked enough anger among sectors of the population known to get out and vote that Harper's ministers were busy laying smoke and working on a tactical retreat yesterday, very little this government does is based on facts.

Most everything the Harper Conservatives do is based on perception management to achieve highly ideological goals.

All yesterday's citizenship ceremony uproar did was expose the intense micromanagement and routine mendacity with which this government approaches everything.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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