Let us all now pause and say a prayer for my friend, Angelo Persichilli.
Firstly, he is deserving of a prayer because Angelo has, as of Tuesday, started his new job as Stephen Harper’s director of communications. It is one of the toughest political jobs around, and it is a job made immeasurably worse by the fact Harper detests the media.
Secondly, Angelo is worthy of divine protection because he is also one of my best friends.
It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, I know. One of the most senior federal Tories is chummy with a no-good, dirty, rotten Liberal Party apologist? A respected conservative commentator willingly associates with a mangy Grit attack dog? Does Angelo possess no sense?
If there is one thing Angelo Persichilli possesses in abundance, it is common sense. He is also unafraid to speak the truth to power — an essential ingredient for success as either a political adviser or a political journalist. He is therefore the right guy for the job.
Angelo’s 63 years old and the former political editor of the influential Italian-language newspaper, Corriere Canadese. There, he was frequently accused by Conservatives of being a Liberal. Later, while one of the Toronto Star’s marquee political columnists, he was accused by Liberals of being a Conservative. In any journalist’s book, ticking off partisans in equal measure usually means a job well done.
Among those who follow politics, Angelo was known as a journalist who frequently broke stories and never, ever ran with the pack. For the weekly Parliament Hill newspaper, the Hill Times, Angelo was able to write compelling stories about political Ottawa — without living there. (He and his family live in Toronto, and have for years.) He was one of those few journalists who still knew what “off the record” meant.
On one occasion, I put Angelo together with a prime minister for an off-the-record talk, and I can attest to the fact not a single word of that discussion ever made its way into print. Even though lots of newsy stuff was discussed.
I don’t know for certain, but I strongly suspect he has been the recipient of private phone calls from Canada’s Conservative prime minister and even Ontario’s Liberal premier.
Which raises another interesting fact: Editorially, Angelo has written supportively of Stephen Harper federally and Dalton McGuinty provincially. Which suggests he, like most voters, supports strong leadership, regardless of partisan stripe. (Full disclosure alert: I am, and have been, a McGuinty campaign worker.)
The challenges he faces have already been canvassed by the Ottawa media, including our own David Akin. Angelo doesn’t speak French, but is committed to learning the language. He also has not worked before in the dog-eat-dog Ottawa political culture, where, as my former boss Jean Chretien once said to me, “you are lucky to leave this place with three good friends.” Angelo has a good heart — some politicos don’t. It could get complicated.
That all said, Harper has made a smart choice. Canada is one of the most multicultural nations on earth, with a media to match. Angelo knows the so-called ethnic media better than anyone in the country. If Harper is looking to make further inroads into previously Liberal fiefdoms, Angelo’s the guy to help him do it.
That all said, say a small prayer for him Tuesday morning. His new job is a lousy one.
Also, his taste in friends — some might say that is pretty lousy, too!