Inside Politics

Senior PMO officials fumed at lack of control over Tory senate caucus

A draft memo to the prime minister prepared by senior staff earlier this year gives a rare glimpse at the authoritarian attitude with which at least some members of his team approached relations with the Senate, and even its own Upper House caucus.

The correspondence was filed as an attachment to the production order filed by the RCMP earlier this month as part of its ongoing investigation into the Senate expense scandal.

To set the stage, here's the March 21, 2013 letter from then-Senate Government Leader Marjory LeBreton to the PM, which she apparently sent in response to what she has been told by senior PM staff is his concern over her proposal to "review, clarify and strengthen the rules in the Senate" on travel and residency claims. 

(The document also includes an internal PMO email chain, which can be found at the beginning of the embed.) 

Letter from Senator LeBreton to the PM (March 21, 2013) 

In response, a quartet of senior PMO staffers, including then-chief Nigel Wright, prepared the following memo to the PM, which quickly shifts from a simple context-setter to what amounts to a 3 page screed against the apparent unwillingness of the Conservative Senate caucus to sufficiently kowtow to the will of the government. 

"It was quickly apparent," the memo notes, "that Senator LeBreton's office had little influence over what other Senators did and said, and limited read into the Senate caucus generally." 

The result, according to the authors of the memo: 

What we see is a laissez-faire system that requries constant direction, supervision and follow-up from [PMO] to ensure that Government messaging and direction are followed. This problem is not limited to expense and residency issues. There are Senate committee reports that call on the government to lower airport rents, create a national pharmacare plan, invest heavily in Aboriginal education, and review our tariffs as a way of dealing with the gap in retail prices between Canada and the US. 

We speak with Senators who do not receive talking points or communications advice, and who are seldom, if ever, guided on messaging. 

In managing the Senate's response to Ann Cools' privilege motion relating to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, we found that individual Conservative Senators had, or were preparing to speak to the issue without any advance coordination and without thought to the impact of the Government's litigation with the PBO." 

Senators speaking out without pre-approved PMO talking points? Senate committees coming to their own collective conclusions on public policy without checking to ensure it followed the government line in advance? 

Why, it's almost as though the Senate were an independent Chamber of Parliament! 

Read the full memo here -- which, like the original letter, also includes excerpts from the original email chain, which can be found at the beginning: 

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Submission Policy

Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.