Reporters were interrupted in their sipping of wine and eating of canapés at Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s s annual summer garden party June 26, by an email from Harper’s director of communications, Sandra Buckler, announcing her resignation.
The pros were appropriately restrained in their reports: Andrew Mayeda reported for CanWest
that Buckler’s resignation ends “a sometimes controversial tenure in which
she clashed with the media over the government’s tightly controlled
communications strategy.”(That is an understatement.) Jane Taber’s story in the Globe and Mail about her departure described the 42-year-old lobbyist and PR practitioner as “not popular with the national media” (no kidding) and “known for her stinginess with information and for sometimes bullying MPs.” Rob Russo of Canadian Press pretty much summed up the atmosphere between journalists and a government that seems oblivious to the idea that the press has a role to play in democratic politics — an atmosphere which Buckler did much to create. Noted Russo: “Her sparring with reporters and iron-fisted control over the information flowing from the government won her the admiration of the prime minister. Indeed, officials said her stock with Harper soared with every confrontation and every complaint from reporters.”
Buckler, who had been spokesperson for the Conservative party in the last election campaign, replaced William Stairs as Harper’s communications director in Feb. 2006. Within a month, Buckler had antagonized most every press gallery member and gone a ways toward alienating journalists across the country. An example, from a story in Embassy: “Stephen Harper’s director of communications Sandra Buckler did everything she could to antagonize the press gallery, prompting its president, Emmanuelle Latraverse to call an end to the meeting after 20 minutes. On Monday, a transcript of the meeting was issued to press gallery members to show them how bad the situation has become. The transcript shows Ms. Buckler professing to be unfamiliar with the National Press Theatre, the normal rules governing the conducting of press conferences with the prime minister, and longstanding reporting traditions involving cabinet meetings, photo-ops, and just about any issue the gallery wanted to raise.”
Reported CBC: “Buckler came under fire in January when, after being asked why the
government withheld information that the military had stopped
transferring Afghan detainees to local authorities, she said the
Canadian Forces had not told the government about the change.
“Having infuriated military officials and her own party members, she later retracted the comments, saying she had “misspoke.”
But as CBC noted, misspeaking was likely not the cause of Buckler’s departure: “Government sources suggested Buckler, a former lobbyist for Coca-Cola, De Beers Canada, Rogers Wireless and Power Corporation, was leaving her job for health reasons after recently being diagnosed with thyroid cancer.”
All in all, not a happy tenure, nor departure.