So who becomes Director of Uncomfortable Silences?

The Globe and Mail celebrates the first day of the Giornoficiation of the Prime Minister’s Office with a generous helping of delicious, if possibly baseless, speculation on the changing of the guard – starting, of course, with another shortlist of possible replacements for the outgoing Ministress of Uninformation, Sandra Buckler:

There are two rumoured contenders to replace Ms. Buckler: Kory Teneycke, the party’s director of research, who worked with Mr. Giorno in Mr. Harris’s office; and Jason Lietaer, a consultant who recently moved to Ottawa and who also worked for Mr. Giorno at Queen’s Park.

One tidbit that the article doesn’t mention about Lietaer is that he also served as general director of the Ontario Flue-Cured Tobacco Growers Marketing Board, which put him at the opposite side of the negotiating table from the Norfolk County’s Conservative MP  – and cabinet minister – Diane Finley during last year’s failed attempt to persuade Ottawa to provide funding for farmers that want to switch to a less contentious crop :

On Thursday, board chairman Fred Neukamm, along with General Manager Jason Lietaer met in Ottawa with Local MP Diane Finley and AG Minister Chuck Strahl. Neukamm tells CD 98.9 the government is willing to work on an exit-strategy – if the board was willing to compromise on the price tag. Neukamm says in order to get things moving forward the board has made the tough decision to be more flexible where money is concerned. No financial aid was presented for tobacco growers in last months federal and provincial budgets.

Unfortunately, the lobby effort proved unsuccessful; since then, relations between Finley and her constituents have gone rapidly downhill. Earlier this year, she bailed out of a meeting with local farmers – claiming first that there were “security concerns,” and then dismissing the venue as “inappropriate.” A few weeks prior, dozens of farmers had held a protest outside her riding office, where they burned their Conservative membership cards, and then headed over to the headquarters of Liberal candidate Erik Hoskins to join his party instead.

As for Lietaer’s former employer, the board sided firmly with the farmers:

Linda Vandendriessche, chair of the Ontario Flue-Cured Tobacco Growers’ Marketing Board, said farmers have a right to be angry.

“Farmers are being forced into bankruptcy, and foreclosures have taken place already and … we have suicides here. I am shocked there haven’t been more because the depression level has been unbelievable,” she said, sitting in the board’s Tillsonburg office.

Production that topped 285 million pounds of tobacco in 1983 will fall to less than 20 million pounds this year. Of 1,559 quota holders in Ontario, only 600 (most of them in Norfolk County) are active, half what the figure was in 1991.

Vandendriessche said the banks have been holding off for the past two years, believing, as the farmers did, that there would be an aid package coming. “We were led to believe that there were dollars that were going to be coming,” she said, talking about promises made by the Tories during the 2006 election campaign.

“But at the end of March (2008) we were told that there was no money left at this time to be able to put a program together,” even though governments collected more than $9 billion in 2006 from taxes on tobacco.

Given that the embattled minister is married to senior Harper advisor Doug Finley, I’m not sure how welcome Lietaer would be in the inner sanctum at PMO; if Finley loses her seat in the next election – a distinct possibility – both she and her husband may find it hard not to blame him for his failure in handling the fury of the farmers.

Speaking of spouses, the current spokesperson for the tobacco board is one Linda Lietaer, which is either a remarkable coincidence, or another reason why Lietaer seems like a long shot as far as the top communications job, no matter how badly Guy Giorno wants to bring the whole Harris gang together again.

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