My absence last week mostly meant you were spared a lengthy and heartfelt tangent on the apparent breakup of Oasis. (Suffice it to say it's hit me hard enough that I'm trying to organize a wake over the long weekend.) But I also missed commenting on various happenings in Ottawa, most notably Stephen Harper's Senate appointments and the arrival of John Williamson in the PMO.
So much has been said elsewhere about the former that I'm not sure I have much to add. But having come into contact with Williamson a fair bit over the past few years, his new gig is intriguing.
It's easy to understand why the PMO wanted Williamson. He's a cut above your average political hack; it's easy to see him being more comfortable at the London School of Economics, where he's currently finishing up his dissertation, than hanging around Ottawa. What's a little fuzzier is why he wants to be part of the PMO.
Certainly, there's a prestige factor. However impressive his academic credentials, Williamson will have an easier time finding interesting (and lucrative) work after a stint in one of the top political backroom jobs in the country. But seeing as how he always seemed a little too thoughtful to be the frontman for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, he seems way too thoughtful to be doing communications for Stephen Harper.
That's not a knock on the Prime Minister's intelligence; it's just a reflection of the rigid messaging of prime minister's offices in general, and this one in particular.
Williamson was more interesting than most CTF mouthpieces because he was unafraid to speak his mind; during his days heading the Ontario wing in particular, he was a useful source because he wasn't afraid to give an honest assessment. He'd anger his friends in the provincial Conservatives by blasting them for perceived excesses and abuses, and he'd occasionally praise the (then-opposition) Liberals for promising restraint.
At the time, Williamson's candour worked for him. My understanding was that he was too unpredictable for the taste of Walter Robinson, who was then the CTF's national director. But that evidently didn't stop Williamson from winding up in that job himself.
It's fair to say that if he shows similar independent-mindedness in the PMO, it won't earn him a promotion. Nor will he be able to hover above partisanship, obviously, in the way that he has through most of his career (outside of a brief stint working for Harper during his Canadian Alliance days). Not to mention his easygoing demeanour - which, as today's editorial notes, is likely to run into the same brick wall as Kory Tenecyke's affability.
It's an odd fit. But then, so is making the decidedly unsympathetic Dimitri Soudas the PM's chief spokesman, even as a likeable guy like Williamson comes on board. Given the rate of turnover in the PMO, perhaps there's no harm in trying various combinations until one of them works.