Is the Harper government in the midst of a ‘re-branding?’

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Don't pinch me awake — but it appears that the Harper government is transforming itself into a more open administration.

In an exclusive and in-depth interview with the Globe and Mail, published Thursday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty came out about having a skin condition that requires him to take steroids; the steroids, however, come with significant side effects.

"I developed a dermatological condition – which is like a really bad rash – which got progressively worse. I was having medical care for that – under medication, but it was relatively mild – and some treatment also. And it was ineffective.

So my specialist then moved to a higher level of medication and that is a medication with significant side effects, including bloating, puffiness and significant weight gain – all of which I have been a classic case of.

I've had a couple of stakeholders say “You’ve put on a lot of weight, you should get more exercise.” And I don’t talk to them about this. In fact I don’t like talking about this. But it’s necessary because I am in public office. I don’t want people to think there’s something significantly wrong with my health that affects my ability to do my job."

During the interview, Flaherty also spoke openly about his drinking habits saying that he has decreased his alcohol consumption since being on the medication.

[ Related: Jim Flaherty reveals skin disease, explains bloating ]

When is the last time you heard a Conservative party cabinet minister speak so openly about any topic?

Certainly, Flaherty was left with little choice but to go to the media to quell any rumours.

But he could have done what the Tories have done since 2006: he could have had his highly paid communication experts send out a press release with carefully crafted talking-points.

Instead, Flaherty chose a different tack: he chose authenticity. And it worked.

Earlier this week, Stephen Harper Tweeted a #dayinthelife of the prime minister. Certainly, it was a bit of a stunt, but it gave Canadians some insight into what Stephen Harper is all about.

[ Related: Stephen Harper tweets his #dayinthelife of a prime minister ]

Some believe that #dayinthelife is only part of bigger strategy.

In his article for the Globe and Mail, Bruce Anderson wrote about how, lately, the prime minister seems more open in long-form interviews.

Tim Harper of the Toronto Star, suggests that the Tories are 're-branding.'

"In October, [the prime minister] crashed a wedding party for some pictures with the newlyweds. Wednesday morning, he opens part of his caucus meeting to reporters.

Last week, we had shots of him at lunch at the Prescott Hotel, a capital landmark known for its quart bottles of beer and meatball sandwiches, the kind of place the guys hit to unwind after a night at the rink.

Earlier in the month, he dropped into Chances R, a west-end Ottawa eatery partly owned by legendary junior hockey coach Brian Kilrea where he lunched with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and a bunch of the guys.

We’ve seen him at the movies, with caucus members, watching Lincoln."

Whether it's a re-branding stunt or a sincere effort to be more open, it's a wise move.

The candid interviews and the photo ops go a long way in softening the images of both Flaherty and Harper — the two top politicos in the country. They make both men appear less like robots and more human hence more likable.

Now only if they'd give the same freedom to the rest of the Conservative caucus.

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