A CERTAIN OVERBLOWN gravitas tends to attach to a prime minister’s chief of staff. Some bring the makings of a weighty image with them when they cross over from the senior ranks of the public service, like Derek Burney, who was an ambassador and deep thinker on trade policy before Brian Mulroney tapped him for the job. Others carry established reputations as political heavyweights, like Jean Chrétien’s equally feared and respected “velvet executioner,” Jean Pelletier. But Stephen Harper’s chief, Ian Brodie, is known for laughing easily and carrying power lightly. He once summed up the job as “50 per cent traffic cop, 40 per cent firefighter and 10 per cent trying to find the time to think ahead.”
Brodie’s work might be all that, but it’s also 100 per cent being the single most influential figure in Harper’s inner circle. There are others who have as much impact on policy, or image-making, or managing critical files, or on keeping an eye on the next election. But nobody else brings all those concerns together as Brodie does. One sign of just how important he is: a false rumour last July that he was on his way out swept through Ottawa like a summer wildfire, leading insiders to briefly forget to gossip about what turned out to be accurate speculation about a coming cabinet shuffle.
Brodie brought a more varied outlook to the PMO than either a pure policy expert like Burney or a hard-core politico like Pelletier. A former political science professor, Brodie
wrote a book on how left-wing activists were using the courts to advance their agendas. But he also knows the pragmatic trade of party organizer, having served as national director of the Conservative party back in 2004. (His wife, Vida Brodie, also a long-time Conservative activist, still works part-time for the party.) That combination—intellectually grounded conservative convictions and hard-earned insights into moulding a winning party—makes him sound a lot like his boss. He has more direct daily access to Harper than any other senior official, typically starting when he and top bureaucrat Kevin Lynch deliver a morning briefing to the Prime Minister at about 9 a.m.
If Harper conveys an intensity and capacity for anger that can be intimidating, Brodie is a more disarmingly low-key personality and an even-keeled manager. His experience allows him to bridge the party operation, which he knows intimately, and the government’s day-to-day preoccupations, which he oversees meticulously. If there’s a hallmark of Brodie’s PMO, it’s methodical, risk-adverse government. Cabinet ministers get precise instructions, although they are often given more freedom to carry them out than the impression of a highly centralized regime often suggests. It’s communicating the government’s message that is more subject to strict PMO authority. Brodie himself is never the messenger. He declined to comment for this story.
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