Inside Politics

Rae: '25-year-old jihadis in the prime minister's office'

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It's generally not considered polite to compare somebody to a terrorist, but Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae went there today, venting his frustration over centralized control in the prime minister's office.

In response to a question about the government's decision not to fund Kairos, Rae started talking about the work former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney had done with South Africa as it shaped its democratic system following the end of apartheid. He said a lot of different players were involved, including the provinces.

"This is very much within the best traditions of this country," Rae said.

"And that's what we're not doing right now. Because this government just doesn't have the imagination, political will, or the willingness to let other people do things.

"If they can't control it, if the 25-year-old jihadis in the prime minister's office can't control it, it doesn't happen. and that's what's wrong about this government. That's the pathology I talked about two weeks ago, and that's the pathology that affects everything that moves in this government."

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That wasn't all he had to say. In response to a follow-up question, he talked about the trouble civil servants and Canadian diplomats run into when they want to talk to the media.

"Our ambassadors overseas ... are not allowed to comment on anything, ever, without first referring anything they might say or could say, to be approved by people in the prime minister's office," Rae said.

"People in the prime minister's office have probably never been to the country in question, they don't know anything about it, probably in some cases could not find it on a map, and they're the ones who are deciding these people who have been in the field for 30 years are going to be able to do their jobs.

Tight message-control in the PMO is something widely acknowledged in Ottawa and has had more prominence lately in the opposition attacks over International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda.

"The Oda affair is about the same thing," Rae continued.

"This is not about Bev Oda. This is about the prime minister and his office and how they control things. And the fact that [Government House Leader] John Baird stands up [in Question Period] and says 28 times in response to questions, the minister made the decision, and the minister is standing right behind him and isn't allowed to speak, what does that tell you? It's a preposterous situation."

"It's a terrible model of governance. If you want to talk about how do you export this model, God forbid we export this model. It's a terrible model."

Rae wouldn't name anyone in particular in the PMO, arguing it's up to the prime minister to set the culture in his office. But, he said, "it's a culture of people who are ideologically attuned in one area, who are fanatically loyal to the government and to what the prime minister is trying to do, and who are given responsibility far above their abilities."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's spokesman was quick to respond on Twitter.

"While Canadian officials are working around the clock to evacuate Canadians from Libya, @BobRaeMP resorts to such extreme comments," Dimitri Soudas tweeted minutes after Rae made the comment.

(Update: I originally said the tweet disappeared, but it appears my browser was just using a cached version of the page. Apologies to Dimitri)

NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar spoke just after Rae. The first question to him was on the jihadi comment.

"Well, I might use different language. But I think if we look at the influence of the prime minister's office, I think it's very clear they have a hand in everything."

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