RCMP Supt. Bruno Saccomani stands next to the right of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Saccomani is the head of the RCMP's Prime Minister's Protective Detail, the 96-member squad charged with protecting the prime minister, his wife Laureen and their children Ben and Rachel. (Handout Photo)
OTTAWA - Before Bruno Saccomani was promoted to the rank of RCMP superintendent and put in command of the group charged with protecting Stephen Harper and his family, the unit - known as the prime minister's protective detail - was, quite frankly, a gong show.
Former and current top aides to Harper have been quick to sing Saccomani's praise - and tell of the security lapses before his arrival - after portions of a leaked RCMP management review report suggested Saccomani was such a tyrant of a boss that his 96-person unit of top-flight bodyguards could barely function.
But consider this: One former Harper aide told me that a female personal-security officer assigned to stick with Laureen Harper at all times on an overseas trip so got so drunk on the evening of her arrival that she slept through her alarm clock and did not show up to protect Mrs. Harper until noon the next day. That was pre-Saccomani.
On another occasion, also pre-Saccomani, the personal-security officer assigned to be Harper's body man - the assignment consisting of standing within a few feet of the PM at all times - showed up at a press event and stood there with a pizza box in his hand. Apparently, protecting his lunch was more important than protecting the PM.
But when then-deputy RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson (he's now the commissioner) called Saccomani into his office more than four years ago and asked him if he wanted to take over the PMPD, as it's known, Saccomani vowed that those kind of operational lapses would be a thing of the past under his watch.
All RCMP officers guarding the PM and his family, for example, would wear bulletproof vests. Incredibly, they weren't all outfitted with that gear before his arrival.
Saccomani made sure all the vehicles in the PM's motorcade were four-wheel drive and he sought out highly trained drivers so as not to repeat an event in Calgary when a little old lady in her small car was allowed to get between the PM's car and the lead vehicle in the motorcade.
Under Saccomani's leadership, the PM no longer holds any events unless there is a secondary exit he can use in an emergency. Previously, the PMPD never seemed to care if the primary exit might get blocked.
In short, Saccomani, a thickly built mustachioed commander, whipped a unit once jokingly derided as "Club Med" into top operational shape.
And the Harpers have noticed, sources close to the family say. They love Bruno - as they call him - and the work he's done to improve the operational professionalism of the unit.
"Put it this way: Laureen Harper has absolutely no concerns when it comes to Bruno looking after [their children] Ben and Rachel," one top PMO source told me.
But now Saccomani is under fire.
A 23-page "Management Review Report" of Saccomani's unit, published Jan. 26, was distributed to all 96 members under his command. Portions leaked to the French-language service of the CBC said the RCMP reviewers conclude that Saccomani is a domineering boss, and that some in the unit complained of intimidation, favouritism and harassment. More ominously, the reviewers conclude that this stressful workplace environment could put the safety of the PM and his family at risk.
Those close to the PM say that the Harpers have never felt safer with Saccomani in charge.
But QMI Agency has obtained a copy of the full report - it also went to all members of Saccomani's unit - and while it does say that some of the bodyguards he commands were grumbling, it also says this:
"Almost all employees reported that they have pride in their work and feel what they do is important; that their duties are clear and that they (for the most part) do not have difficulties performing their duties. The overwhelming majority of employees enjoy the team spirit and comradeship of their peers."
Current and former PMO aides, as well as sources within the RCMP, are unanimous in the conclusion that Saccomani has been caught in the crossfire of a "culture war" inside the RCMP.
Saccomani's unit will spend more than $18 million this year protecting the PM, up from $10.7 million in 2007, an increase largely due to the overtime for officers because of the PM's increased overseas travel schedule and because of the fact that he simply doesn't have enough manpower.
Saccomani's push for more resources, mostly more officers, has ruffled feathers at and above his level. And, as on former PMPD member told me, those who liked the more leisurely pace of duty before Saccomani arrived are grumbling at him from below.
"He's been rough with some people but he's a consummate professional and he doesn't take any bulls---. A job needs to be done and at the end of the day the PM's got to go to bed alive and safe, as well as Madame (Harper) and the kids," the former PMPD officer told me. "There's no margin for error because if you do let your guard down for a second something drastic could happen."