Mark Cameron is unusual in the Prime Minister’s Office for two reasons. For one, he used to be a Liberal. For another, one of the first things Stephen Harper did when he returned to Ottawa as Canadian Alliance leader in 2002 was to fire Mark Cameron.
But they made up. So now Cameron, an unassuming 37-year-old from British Columbia, is manager of policy for the new government. The model for Cameron’s job is the role Chaviva Hosek played in Jean Chrétien’s first PMO. The tide is modest by design—Cameron is a “manager,” not a “director”—but he will play a key role in setting the future path for the Conservatives whether they hang onto power or get kicked out of Parliament and into another election.
Cameron’s job is to manage the flow of MCs, the “Memos to Cabinet” that outline proposed changes to legislation and regulation, as they make their way through the four policy committees of cabinet: economic affairs, social affairs, foreign affairs and security, and Treasury Board. But Cameron, one Conservative insider said, is also in charge of “more proactive policy formulation”—the design of ideas for government several months in the future, or for a new election platform if one is needed.
It’s the latest step in a growing relationship between Harper and Cameron that started offbadly indeed. Cameron began his
political life as a Liberal—student delegate for Jean Chrétien at the 1990 leadership convention in Calgary; Parliament Hill staffer to Liberal ministers David Emerson and Stéphane Dion. He entered the bureaucracy after the 1997 campaign and didn’t work again in electoral politics until Stockwell Day became leader of the new Canadian Alliance. Cameron is a devout Roman Catholic who once wrote a weblog about Catholicism and politics and who today has four children; he was attracted to Day’s social conservatism as much as to the Alliance’s economic conservatism. Perhaps the low point in Cameron’s political career came during the 2000 election, when he helped organize the photo opportunity at Niagara Falls where Day claimed, incorrectly, that the water there flows from north to south.
Cameron stayed on in Day’s office until Harper became the beleaguered party’s new leader in 2002. His dismissal was nothing personal, just a matter of Harper replacing the old leader’s staff with a new staff. But Cameron stayed close to key Harper advisers, including economics expert Ken Boessenkool and electoral organizer Patrick Muttart.
They brought Cameron back into the Conservative war room for the 2004 campaign.
After the election,
Cameron and Muttart coauthored a long, bruising memo describing in merciless detail the party’s “Campaign ’04” missteps. Harper made Cameron and Muttart part of the team charged with making sure the same mistakes didn’t get made again. In the 2006 campaign, Cameron was a prominent figure in the Conservative war room. With Boessenkool he was responsible for “scripting”—coordinating policy, message, visuals and logistics so tour events hammered home campaign messages instead of simply filling up the leader’s day.
Now Cameron will help script the Conservative government’s entire policy menu. He controls the flow of new ideas to and through the cabinet committees. He oversees the development of a governing Conservative philosophy over the longer term. More than any other individual except the leader, Mark Cameron will decide what the new government talks about. BY PAUL WELLS
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