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May 24, 2006 5:52 PM   Subscribe

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he'll no longer give news conferences for the national media, after a dispute led a number of journalists to walk away from an event when he refused to take their questions.
posted by EarBucket (89 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Money quote:

"We can't accept that the Prime Minister's Office would decide who gets to ask questions," Yves Malo, a TVA reporter and president of the press gallery, told CP on Tuesday. "Does that mean that when there's a crisis they'll only call upon journalists they expect softball questions from?"
posted by EarBucket at 5:53 PM on May 24, 2006


Didn't take the little asshole long to go Bush on us, did it?
posted by fleetmouse at 5:54 PM on May 24, 2006


Paging Dr. Gannon...Dr. Jeff Gannon...please report to Canada, stat.
posted by uosuaq at 5:54 PM on May 24, 2006


I was just thinking two things.

1) I can't decide if this is better or worse than the US method, where politicans only pretend to answer questions and instead rant on about such things as "known unknowns". At least this way we *know* we're getting screwed.

2) Once you take into consideration that Paul Martin apparently thought the press was out to get him too, you must surely conclude that the press is doing something right.
posted by tiamat at 6:05 PM on May 24, 2006


He has no idea how to behave now that he's not longer in opposition. All those stupid potshots at the Liberals, his inability to stop blaming the previous government for every little thing that happens...and now thinking he can pick and choose with the press.

It will be interesting to see what happens when the Liberals have a leader again.

And I say this as someone who votes NDP.
posted by Hildegarde at 6:06 PM on May 24, 2006


He might be forgetting that unlike George W, he only has a minority government. If he gets too obnoxious we'll soon be heading for another election.

That's also not the best time for a politician to be telling the media to get lost.
posted by Stuart_R at 6:06 PM on May 24, 2006


I've actually been really impressed by Harper's time in office. He's no pushover. He gets things done, and he's doing everything he promised he would (or at least trying to).
posted by Count Ziggurat at 6:13 PM on May 24, 2006


As for his minority government... I think Harper's popularity has soared since his arrival in office, hasn't it?
posted by Count Ziggurat at 6:14 PM on May 24, 2006


Hmm, let's see...he valiantly fought off corruption by getting a liberal to switch over to his party and join his cabinet mere days after the election, cancelled Kyoto, got rid of thousands of daycare spaces in Ontario, raised taxes on the lowest paid citizens of the country, and now he thinks he can control the media.

Yeah, he's doing great!
posted by Hildegarde at 6:21 PM on May 24, 2006


Ignorant Yank here: How do they normally decide who gets to ask questions? Seniority? Lottery? Arm-wrestling?
posted by languagehat at 6:24 PM on May 24, 2006


Face-off, duh.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:27 PM on May 24, 2006


It's Canada - they solve everything with a dogsled race, duh.
posted by Ryvar at 6:30 PM on May 24, 2006


A good, honest thumb-wrestle, that's how. Like any respectable nation.
posted by Hildegarde at 6:30 PM on May 24, 2006


Count Zigguart: Gets things done? Like what? A 1% tax cut that fools the country into thinking they are getting a break when they are actually only saving mere pennies and the government is losing hundreds of millions of dollars because of it?
posted by patr1ck at 6:30 PM on May 24, 2006


I've actually been really impressed by Harper's time in office. He's no pushover. He gets things done, and he's doing everything he promised he would (or at least trying to).

Same bull shit everybody used to say about Harris, look how well that worked out.
posted by Chuckles at 6:32 PM on May 24, 2006


That is going to work soooo well for him.
posted by wilful at 6:33 PM on May 24, 2006


Geez, even Bush gave up on that stratagy.

This does bring up a logistical question, like if Bush, for example, has a press conference more reporters will show up then he'll have time to answer questions for, and Bush decides who asks the questions on the spot. So couldn't he just choose whom to answer questions from on the spot?

Couldn't Harper do this as well?

Anyway, that photograph of him in the picture looks ridiculous, like the a Golem in a wig.
posted by delmoi at 6:35 PM on May 24, 2006


When it is just an MP cabinet minister or opposition member it is pretty pretty much arm-wrestling. When it is the PM they sometimes set up a mike in the hall and it is a little more civilised. I'm not 100% sure in the mike case about how it gets decided, but there is still a fair amount of shouting from reporters.

It all works very well, even if that seems a little surprising.
posted by Chuckles at 6:35 PM on May 24, 2006


There goes another complaint email to the PMs office.

I'm a Conservative voter, will remain so, but that doesn't mean I like this.
posted by Kickstart70 at 6:36 PM on May 24, 2006


languagehat,

The PM's press conferences used to be held in the National Press Theatre and moderated by a representative of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. After Harper became PM and decided to shift press conferences to other, more friendly locales, the PMO started making lists of prospective questioners. In response, members of the gallery started forming their own queue (a system previously only used for press conferences featuring visiting heads-of-state, etc.).

Decent summary of the brouhaha here (precedes today's developments).
posted by Urban Hermit at 6:38 PM on May 24, 2006


Also – speaking of the picture – Mackay looks incredibly stoned.
posted by patr1ck at 6:38 PM on May 24, 2006


Harper's popularity has soared since his arrival in office, hasn't it?

Not really, no. I think the conservatives are polling about 5 points higher, which puts them right on the boundary of majority/minority.
However, since the largest opposition party doesn't have a leader right now, those numbers are not very meaningful are they?
posted by Zetetics at 6:47 PM on May 24, 2006


The PM's press conferences used to be held in the National Press Theatre and moderated by a representative of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

Only a few formal press conferences ever make it into the Gallery, as far as I can tell. The nightly quotes from politicians you see on the news are almost all via scrum.

In fact, that may be the root of this development. In a scrum the MP can exert at least a little control over who gets to talk, so they don't really mind scrums as much as they pretend they do..

Hmm, there are subtleties here I am only guessing about..
posted by Chuckles at 6:54 PM on May 24, 2006


Just another part of Harper's facade that is disconnected from reality. It would seem that he cannot, in fact, take a punch. But maybe we shouldn't take that too seriously, because as we all know campaigns are campaigns.

What I want to know is how this will promote accountability (one of the Conservative's five key issues and the only thing Harper will let MPs discuss) in our government.

I still can't believe that he's running my country. It's embarrassing for our PM to be throwing a hissy fit like this.
posted by exon at 6:56 PM on May 24, 2006


Am I going to have to move to Europe to get my Canada back?

I mean, this cocksack is sitting at 40% approval right now.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 7:02 PM on May 24, 2006


[this is good] *cough*quebec2009*cough* :D
posted by zenzizi at 7:04 PM on May 24, 2006


Anyway, that photograph of him in the picture looks ridiculous, like the a Golem in a wig.

Hey, at least he wisened up and ditched the hat.
posted by squeak at 7:11 PM on May 24, 2006


I think the guy's smart. The guy wants a majority. He said so in '04, and he's making it clear to his base that he needs one now. He figures that the *MSM* (larfs) doesn't serve his purposes, so he does a workaround: Court the Scugog Times and the Wetaskiwin Beeper and, well, your five targeted points get good play.

Face it, the CPC has given up/abandoned the urban vote and, in order to be heard above the yammering of the Toronto Media Elite®, he'll let softballs be lobbed his way by awestruck shopping columnists in Vernon.

Sweet.
posted by hobocode at 7:15 PM on May 24, 2006


God do I hate how the American press never stood up to this BS from Bush (which is obviously where Harper got his inspiration). It's good to see that there are still some journalists in the world that take their job seriously.
posted by Skwirl at 7:19 PM on May 24, 2006


Chuckles: Most nightly political clips are indeed from scrums, but I think this dispute is mainly over more formalized 'press availabilities'.

PMs in recent years have rarely allowed themselves to be scrummed in the traditional manner (although Chretien seemed to enjoy it); the closest I have seen Harper get is to answer a couple of questions on his way down the stairs from his office and into QP. Scrums of cabinet ministers are also increasingly rare now that Harper has declined to publicize the time and location of cabinet meetings.

hobocode: It has long been rumoured that this was Harper's strategy, but there seems to be no reason to explicitly rub it in the national press gallery's faces. Reporters, after all, are almost as vain and self-important as politicians.
posted by Urban Hermit at 7:19 PM on May 24, 2006


If quebec seperates, wouldn't that make Canadamuch more conservative overall?

It would be cool to have more countries in North America. Perhaps we could have a Northamericavision contest?
posted by delmoi at 7:24 PM on May 24, 2006


I mean, this cocksack is sitting at 40% approval right now.

Oh, I take it you don't use cocksack as a complement.

Anyway, Harpo's declared war on Ontario, which isn't smart in the long run. I think he has potential to do more for the grits than D. Stockwell Day and Preston Manning put together.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:29 PM on May 24, 2006


U. Hermit: "Reporters, after all, are almost as vain and self-important as politicians":

True enough. Journalistic self-importance aside, though, I don't think there's too many press folk jonesing to put their John A.'s on the softball team sign-up.

As for Chretien, for better or worse, the dude rolled with it. He could think and act on his feet. As that throttling photo attests. Canada's first punk P.M. I miss him already.

The press will bite back. How deep that's gonna go, what kind of scar it'll leave, well, we'll see,
posted by hobocode at 7:35 PM on May 24, 2006


He could think and act on his feet.... Canada's first punk P.M. I miss him already.

Think and act, yes. Speak? Not so much.

"No, a proof is a proof. What kind of a proof? It's a proof. A proof is a proof, and when you have a good proof, it's because it's proven." -- Rt. Hon. Jean Chretien

I miss him too.
posted by Urban Hermit at 7:42 PM on May 24, 2006


Re: more countries in NA — hell yes!

I look at Canada and I see a system that seems to be working pretty well on the whole. There are glitches here and there of course, but the ship seems to be sailing pretty well.

We've got a kickass Charter, we've got High Court judges who seem to do a fine job of identifying what kinds of things really hurt society versus those that are just social discomfort, and we've got tons of people who are prefer to be a little more European than American, so we're fairly socially liberal and fairly supportive of social services. It's pretty damn good, all in all.

I look at Canada and I see we've a population comparable to that of California. And like California, we've got a couple population centres and a lot of farmland, mountain, and small cities. And California seems to moving along fairly nicely, too.

Which to me says that a population of about 30 million people is "about right" for a country. 'cause let's face it, California is damn near a country: it has lots of hallmarks, including a metric ton of specification code that differs from everyone else on the continent.

Divvy up the countries, then, based on borders that roughly drawn to correspond to a balance of population, primary natural resources, primary trade products, and social beliefs. Which is to say, draw up countries that can actually thrive based on their real resources, ability to trade, and ability to get along internally.

I think we'd see a half-dozen or so countries come out of that scheme:
  • The Arctic
  • The Pacific Rim
  • The Breadbasket
  • The Industrial Core
  • The Upper East Coast
  • The Godlands
  • Latin America
  • I've no real idea where the actual boundaries would be, but the general themes feel okay on a gut level. I could well be out to lunch.

    And, of course, I've completely neglected to think about the problem of native reserves. A problem that's gone on far too long, IMO.

    posted by five fresh fish at 8:00 PM on May 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


    Canadians: Express your displeasure through email. pm@pm.gc.ca
    posted by freedryk at 8:09 PM on May 24, 2006


    "No, a proof is a proof. What kind of a proof? It's a proof. A proof is a proof, and when you have a good proof, it's because it's proven."

    You want the proof? You can't handle the proof. Anyway, I think ol' Count Ziggurat is just 'mocking'.

    http://www.metafilter.com/mefi/46448
    posted by hobocode at 8:11 PM on May 24, 2006


    Harper to press corps: "Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!"
    posted by Effigy2000 at 8:14 PM on May 24, 2006


    The Pacific Rim

    You know, if you're not going to be needing BC, us down here in Seattle will take it.
    posted by dw at 8:16 PM on May 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


    As a recovering Canuck journalist, a number of ideas:

    1. The current brou-ha-ha isn't really because of the PPG difficulties -- that's more of a proximate cause -- but because Harper has significantly curtailed scrums, where journalists button-hole MPs coming out of caucus meetings, the House, etc. Harper's earlier quote -- something along the lines of "when we have good news, we'll announce it" -- didn't sit well with the scribes in the press gallery.

    2. This is another in an increasingly long line of mini-Bush-isms. The importance is not in substance -- after all, on most issues, Mr. Harper is a bit closer to the Dems than the Republicans -- but in tactic: Curtailing national media, not allowing media access to the remains of soldiers KIA in Afghanistan, giving media packages and availabilities to the (more easily cowed) local media; not giving out contact info for press officers and ADMs, etc.

    3. I guarantee that Jean et Marie-Therese Six-Pack care not one whit about the vagaries of the national media's access to the prime minister. Advantage: Mr. Harper. In fact, this is really a problem of the hacks' own making: Their piss poor coverage of the current Conservative government thus far means they are dependent on these press availabilities for the copy required to feed their respective goats (the daily deadline, the six o'clock newscasts, etc.) Any journalist with something more than shit between their ears knows that the real stories do not appear magically whilst scrumming MPs but from actual reportorial effort away from parliament hill. If they had stories or facts damaging to the Conservative government -- i.e. the current love-fest between Harper's clods and the separatists in Quebec, or the links between Harper and energy companies, or their flat-tax daycare scheme -- you can bet your double-double Mr. Harper and his pack of drooling retards would do their best to get their faces in front of the cameras.
    posted by docgonzo at 8:23 PM on May 24, 2006


    Ah, Cascadia. I worked in Calgary, AB in the early nineties and for whatever reason got hooked up with a bunch of Cascadians. It sounded good, kinda. Except for the militias. And Dominionists (Theonomists? Reconstructionists? Imagineers?).

    Still, if it went my way, I'd join up in a second. But my beach would still be my beach.
    posted by hobocode at 8:29 PM on May 24, 2006


    1) I can't decide if this is better or worse than the US method, where politicans only pretend to answer questions and instead rant on about such things as "known unknowns". At least this way we *know* we're getting screwed.

    OK, two points:

    1. Rumsfeld has many faults. I can't stand the fucker. But his "known unknowns" bit — "As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, The ones we don't know we don't know." — is a perfectly coherent statement. Any literate English-speaking person can read this and know exactly what he's saying. It makes sense. It's clear. I can't really think of any clearer way to make the point he's making.

    2. I'd be thrilled if the Bush administration would stop holding press conferences. Sure, for a while the Washington press corps would be at a loss, and the news would suck even more than usual. But eventual they'd get tired of playing Solitaire all day, and they'd do some motherfucking journalism instead of quoting statements made at press conferences. Quoting press conferences and press releases is not fucking journalism, and anything that discourages this disgusting practice is fine by me.
    posted by IshmaelGraves at 8:51 PM on May 24, 2006


    Ishmael that speech also lead to an incredbly funny bit on "The Boondocks" Sam Jackson as "Gin Rummy"
    posted by Grimgrin at 9:02 PM on May 24, 2006


    To show my solidarity, I will no longer be answering questions from the Canadian national media either.
    posted by bingo at 9:06 PM on May 24, 2006


    Rumsfeld has many faults. I can't stand the fucker. But his "known unknowns" bit — "As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, The ones we don't know we don't know." — is a perfectly coherent statement. Any literate English-speaking person can read this and know exactly what he's saying. It makes sense. It's clear. I can't really think of any clearer way to make the point he's making.

    I think the problem people have with that statement is that it's so vapid.
    posted by delmoi at 9:11 PM on May 24, 2006




    I'd be thrilled if the Bush administration would stop holding press conferences. Sure, for a while the Washington press corps would be at a loss, and the news would suck even more than usual. But eventual they'd get tired of playing Solitaire all day, and they'd do some motherfucking journalism instead of quoting statements made at press conferences. Quoting press conferences and press releases is not fucking journalism, and anything that discourages this disgusting practice is fine by me.

    IshmaelGraves has it, right on target.
    posted by namespan at 9:26 PM on May 24, 2006


    "You know, if you're not going to be needing BC, us down here in Seattle will take it."

    I think the fact that the US already has the Alaska Panhandle - which SHOULD be part of BC - (insert Wookie Yowl) - is quite enough, thanks!
    posted by bowbrush at 9:30 PM on May 24, 2006


    Speaking as someone who held his nose and voted Grit last time, I haven't really had a problem with The Cons so far. We've just been giving Kyoto lip service without seriously implementing it anyway.
    We only started to hear about our actions in Afghanistan when Harper took power (The Liberals considered the military an albatross most of the time).
    As for the media thing... well, they are out to get him. I'd cover my ass too.
    posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:33 PM on May 24, 2006


    A bit of historical perspective: 1, 2.

    do some motherfucking journalism

    actual reportorial effort away from parliament hill.


    docgonzo, IshmaelGraves: apparently some Canadian journalists agree.
    posted by Urban Hermit at 9:34 PM on May 24, 2006


    "Media" in Canada often means "the CBC". Those fine folks have good reason to hate Harper, he won't be nearly as generous as his predecessors when it comes time to look at the billion bucks we spend on them.

    Most of the other big outfits are strong Liberal supporters too (NatPost and some CanWest Global and Quebecor stuff), the only reason given when some support was thrown to Harper in the last election was that the Liberals needed to change leaders, regroup, and take back their rightful place at the helm after 13 years in power.

    There are far fewer big media options in Canada than in the states. If you can't get your message out through their disproportionately influential filters, you have to do it directly to the constituents, or bypassing them directly.

    That being said, even the Star has had some nicer than usual pieces on him lately.

    And if you're Canadian, making fun of Harper's physical appearance is dirty pool. We all remember 1993 right?
    posted by loquax at 10:12 PM on May 24, 2006


    Globe Web Poll has 75% of respondants agreeing with Harper, BTW.
    posted by loquax at 10:19 PM on May 24, 2006


    However, loquax, in this case "media" means "parliamentary press gallery", a bloc of journalists from not only the major Canadian news organizations, but also from major newspapers, Agence France-Press, Reuters, Bloomberg, Xinhua, the Wall Street Journal, Itar-Tass, etc etc.

    But anyway.

    I have no idea who these people who are agreeing with him are. Did someone edit Canada while I was away for two years in the US?

    That being said, Paul Wells (a member of the PPG, with Maclean's magazine, and generally quite a good guy) provides some good background here on previous Prime Minister's interactions with the press, and why the sky isn't quite falling yet... but I still don't like it.
    posted by blacklite at 10:34 PM on May 24, 2006


    Check out the list of Gallery members - there's a lot of CBC on there, biggest single group by far, it looks like. Followed by the CP, CTV, and then the rest. You can bet Harper isn't talking about bias on the part of the AFP or Xinhua guy, assuming they have nothing better to do than follow him around.
    posted by loquax at 10:45 PM on May 24, 2006


    (and btw, when I wrote"Most of the other big outfits are strong Liberal supporters too (NatPost and some CanWest Global and Quebecor stuff)", I of course meant "except for...")
    posted by loquax at 10:47 PM on May 24, 2006


    It's not that the media is anti-conservative or anti-liberal, it's that they're anti-politician. Which is precisely how they should be.
    posted by nightchrome at 11:22 PM on May 24, 2006


    And if you're Canadian, making fun of Harper's physical appearance is dirty pool.

    It isn't so much, when Harper chooses to wear goofy damn hats. It's like when Doris Stockwell Day showed up on the jet ski.
    posted by Dipsomaniac at 11:38 PM on May 24, 2006


    I find it astounding that somebody who did such a good job of handling the media during his election campaign, seems to have taken such a backwards step. It's mind boggling, really. And I can't take too much stock in those opinion polls - how are people going to say they support the Liberal party, when the Liberal party doesn't even have a leader right now? Who the leader is makes a fairly big difference in public opinion.
    posted by antifuse at 2:56 AM on May 25, 2006


    1. Rumsfeld has many faults. I can't stand the fucker. But his "known unknowns" bit... is a perfectly coherent statement. Any literate English-speaking person can read this and know exactly what he's saying.

    2. I'd be thrilled if the Bush administration would stop holding press conferences. Sure, for a while the Washington press corps would be at a loss... But eventual[ly] they'd do some motherfucking journalism instead of quoting statements made at press conferences.


    I agree so strongly with both these points made by IshmaelGraves that I can't resist reposting them.

    I think the problem people have with that statement is that it's so vapid.


    Bullshit. Virtually every word that comes out of every politician's mouth is vapid; the problem "people" (i.e., liberal types such as you see around these parts) claim to have with it is that it's allegedly meaningless garbled nonsense. This is bullshit, just as much bullshit as making fun of Bush for saying "nucular." Those guys love it when you fixate on stuff like that, you know. It distracts attention from their looting and raping the country.
    posted by languagehat at 5:21 AM on May 25, 2006


    Harper is a terrible leader, but a great politician. As long as he keeps making terrible decisions and calling them "getting things done", he'll get a majority. He could shit on our heads all day, and people like Count Ziggurat will reward him for the damage he does.
    posted by Jairus at 5:51 AM on May 25, 2006


    I'd always thought Harper would embarras Canada terribly internationally, and he's done so now.
    posted by juiceCake at 6:40 AM on May 25, 2006


    ioquax: Globe Web Poll has 75% of respondants agreeing with Harper, BTW.

    Of course, the question asked is whether they think the national media is biased against him. I'd be interested to see the results of poll asking whether Canadians agree with his decision to stop giving news conferences with the PPG.

    That way I could *really* have my idealistic bubble popped!
    posted by Adam_S at 6:59 AM on May 25, 2006


    Of course he's popular. Do not underestimate the anti-intellectual element in Canada. Harper hates research so shut it all down (good for him, those pinheads can't tell us what to think!). Harper hates the media so shut them out (big-city liberals think they're better than us!). And if that means pandering to the LCD ("tough on crime" mandatory minimums, raise age of consent, revisit same sex marriage) he’s oh so pleased to do it. Whether this is a prelude to going full-out Bush on us upon getting a majority I'm sure we’ll be finding out soon enough.

    Half of his terrible decisions, Jairus, were election promises (economists think his GST cut is a terrible idea, he calls for a federal prosecutor for a criminal code (ie: provincially prosecuted) crime, etc, etc). He's smart to concentrate on the remaining promises and nothing else.

    As an added bonus, our religious right is just getting organized.
    posted by dreamsign at 7:44 AM on May 25, 2006


    Half of his terrible decisions, Jairus, were election promises (economists think his GST cut is a terrible idea, he calls for a federal prosecutor for a criminal code (ie: provincially prosecuted) crime, etc, etc). He's smart to concentrate on the remaining promises and nothing else.

    That was my point exactly.
    posted by Jairus at 7:46 AM on May 25, 2006


    It's embarrassing for our PM to be throwing a hissy fit like this.

    Speaking as an American, welcome to our world.
    posted by blucevalo at 8:24 AM on May 25, 2006


    Speaking as an American, welcome to our world.

    The truth of these words is chilling.
    posted by Jairus at 8:27 AM on May 25, 2006


    Those fine folks have good reason to hate Harper, he won't be nearly as generous as his predecessors when it comes time to look at the billion bucks we spend on them.

    Funny, when I watched "The National" every night when I still lived in Michigan, every night's broadcast seemed like a big wet smoochy soul kiss for Mr. Harper, but maybe that was just me.
    posted by blucevalo at 8:27 AM on May 25, 2006


    I still can't believe he is in charge here. Fuck.
    posted by chunking express at 9:04 AM on May 25, 2006


    And if you're Canadian, making fun of Harper's physical appearance is dirty pool. We all remember 1993 right?

    Nah, it isn't the same as running an attack ad that said in part, "I would be very embarassed if he became the Prime Minister of Canada" while displaying close ups of Chrétien's partially paralyzed face.
    posted by squeak at 9:08 AM on May 25, 2006


    I had forgotten how horrible those ads were.


    IS THIS A PRIME MINISTER?
    posted by Jairus at 9:11 AM on May 25, 2006


    (Come home, Chrétien. All is forgiven.)
    posted by Jairus at 9:13 AM on May 25, 2006


    blucdvalo, "The National" isn't the same since Peter Mansbridge lost his hair.

    Where is Barbara Frum when we need her?

    Another Michigan CBC viewer here.
    posted by QIbHom at 9:35 AM on May 25, 2006


    I think Harper is a snake, and we'll all see his fangs as soon as he has the majority too many people seem willing to give him (though, curiously, I don't *know* of a single one of my acquaintances who voted for him. Must be because I only hang with "Big City Liberals"...)

    As for Jean Chretien...despite the Sponsorship Scandal, I'm still grateful that it was someone of his spine on guard when GWB came calling, looking for our support in Iraq. And I'm grateful that he echoed P.E. Trudeau ("There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation") when he said that he wouldn't let his own (Catholic) beliefs (second-last paragraph) influence his decisions about same-sex marriage.
    posted by I, Credulous at 9:52 AM on May 25, 2006


    Where is Barbara Frum when we need her?

    Between this and the way her son turned out, the great lady is spinning furiously in her grave.
    posted by zarah at 10:09 AM on May 25, 2006


    "The National" isn't the same since Peter Mansbridge lost his hair.

    You mean to tell me that Mansbridge actually had hair at one time?
    posted by blucevalo at 11:34 AM on May 25, 2006


    Oh, BTW, QIbHom, I'm glad that I wasn't the only person in Michigan who was watching the CBC! The local network affiliate news stations there are enough to turn your cerebrum to oatmeal!
    posted by blucevalo at 11:38 AM on May 25, 2006


    Do not underestimate the anti-intellectual element in Canada.

    If the anti-intellectuals think that Stephen Harper is their man, they're sadly mistaken. Steve-o is an academic and a policy wonk. I mean, he's no Bob Rae (or Jack Layton, or Michael Ignatieff), but he's definitely an academic.
    posted by Hildegarde at 11:39 AM on May 25, 2006


    Yes, blucevalo. When I was a child, Peter Mansbridge had hair. Shocking, I know.

    The best CBC/local pablum comparison was when Reagan visited Canada. On The National, he was greeted by a few people who heckled him, he tripped and he said even dumber things than usual. At 11, we switched to one of the local US stations (probably NBC, possibly CBS). Reagan was visited by huge, cheering crowds, he didn't trip, and said intellegent things (for him).

    Same day. It was eye-opening.
    posted by QIbHom at 11:48 AM on May 25, 2006


    If the anti-intellectuals think that Stephen Harper is their man, they're sadly mistaken. Steve-o is an academic and a policy wonk. I mean, he's no Bob Rae (or Jack Layton, or Michael Ignatieff), but he's definitely an academic.

    Hardly matters. Remember, Bush isn't one of those rich corporate types and Diana was the people's princess. It's the sale job that matters, not the reality. Early experience with Harper has taught them to concentrate wholly on the image, perhaps to the point of being oblivious to everything else. Would a real policy wonk shut down research? Expect more of this. Reality is the enemy.
    posted by dreamsign at 12:24 PM on May 25, 2006


    It's not that the media is anti-conservative or anti-liberal, it's that they're anti-politician. Which is precisely how they should be.

    I totally agree with you there, and it's obvious that Harper can't handle it. I mean, let's face it: Harper has as much social skills as a fresh cowpie.
    posted by antifreez_ at 1:22 PM on May 25, 2006


    This is long, but it should be read. It's by Paul Wells, ex-of the National Post, now the back-page columnist with Macleans. And a very smart guy.

    From Inkless wells:


    In the early days of this blog, back at the end of 2003, I posted this piece, the text of a speech I delivered to public servants about the shortcomings of the press gallery. This was at a time when the next prime minister of Canada was energetically blowing sunshine up my colleagues' butts, and I was far from sure we, as a group, deserved it. Now a new guy has picked a fight with us, and judging from my email, there's an immense market for the idea that we're everything he accuses us of being and worse. I think it's worthwhile investigating where that sentiment comes from. So I'm re-running this piece. Its points may still be worth considering.

    I must admit I have come before you tonight under false pretenses.

    I was invited to discuss the media’s perception of the public service. I thought about the assignment for a good long time, then began polling some of my colleagues. As late as last night, at a book launch for Lawrence Martin’s new Chrétien biography, I buttonholed a valued colleague and asked her: "Hey, what’s our perception of the public service?"

    She considered the question for perhaps two seconds before replying, "Non-existent, for the most part."

    As that was pretty much a consensus view, I figure I should explain what has been going on in my line of work, although I confess that even though I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, I remain a little mystified. I’m afraid most of my remarks will be about my kind of people and not about yours, but I do think it is important that public servants understand the guiding neuroses of the Parliamentary press gallery.

    Here are a couple of big stories that will not be news to you — but would absolutely be news to any Canadian who has been depending on newspapers and newscasts to bring her the news, because as far as I’ve noticed nobody has written a word about any of it.

    • For the past year, senior civil servants have been engaging in a thorough review of every facet of government in anticipation of a new prime minister’s arrival. One official told me the review is divided into three broad areas of inquiry — as broad as you can get, actually: (1) How does government in Canada spend? (2) How does it tax? (3) How does it govern? This review should, in theory, allow Paul Martin to consider even very radical changes to government action.

    • This past spring the Prime Minister instituted the second or third-biggest shuffle of senior departmental officials in his decade-long administration. Most of the action was at Foreign Affairs and the overwhelming impact of the shuffle was to radically reinforce the firepower dedicated to the Canadian-American bilateral relationship.
    Three days after Peter Harder became the new deputy at Foreign Affairs he was in Washington visiting the Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage. Topics of discussion included how Canada can express disagreement with the Americans in the future without ruffling eagle feathers more than necessary.
    Days after that he was in London and Berlin telling Canada’s European diplomats the Canada-US relationship is too important to be handled only by Canadians in the US, and that other foreign missions must reflect our American obsession in their own work.

    In 1988 either of these stories would have filled half of Page 1 in the Globe. In 1999 either would have been the National Post’s line story. In 2003 you can look as long as you want and you won’t find three paragraphs of coverage. Our equalization system, worth tens of billions of dollars and a crucial pillar of eight provincial budgets, is up for re-negotiation. The design of the program is hotly contested. Nobody’s written a word about it.

    In a second I will tell you what we ARE writing about, but here’s one more example of what we AREN’T covering.

    We will have a new prime minister on Dec. 12. Some Canadians may wonder how he will govern. Well, last Saturday he provided a pretty detailed answer: a 16-page pamphlet, Making History: The New Politics of Achievement, distributed to reporters only 14 hours after Mr. Martin won the cliffhanger Liberal leadership vote.

    I am told by one of Martin’s senior policy advisors that this pamphlet is the skeleton on which the new Prime Minister will build a throne speech; an economic update; a budget; and a re-election platform. The pamphlet lacks detail, to say the least, but it is a goldmine of hints and indications about what Martin wants to do. There is language in there on technology transfer, human capital, Canada-US relations, Parliamentary reform and the New Deal for cities.

    Nobody wrote a word about it.

    There were probably 100 columns in the larger newspapers last month, and 200 or 300 hours of television pundit-panel time, devoted to speculating about the precise date of Jean Chrétien’s retirement, a story whose distinguishing features were (1) it was impossible to pretend to begin to guess at the answer; and (2) it could not possibly have less impact on the lives of Canadians. If we had asked Chrétien to pick a number between one and 100 and assigned 40 journalists to work fulltime guessing the number we would not have more completely wasted Canadians’ time.

    Now the same batallions of pundits are wasting more time on an equally futile pursuit: guessing blindly who’ll be in a Martin cabinet. Never mind that the answer cannot be known until the new prime minister starts making phone calls on Dec. 11. Never mind that the identity of a cabinet minister is useless information if we don’t also know the policies she will be asked to implement, the constraints she operates under or the policy tools available to implement any change. I’m sorry. We’re spending too much time playing musical chairs to worry our pretty heads over anything but trivia.

    Another recent highlight in the annals of journalism was the news that six or eight Cabinet ministers fished at the Irving complex in New Brunswick. Shame on them. Each time, each minister was pocketing benefits amounting to $500 or so and maybe — perhaps! — having his or her priorities corrupted. Entire forests were toppled to bring this story to our eager readers. Never mind that each transgression was tens of millions of times less important than equalization or the CHST or debt relief in Africa.

    Never mind that each of those programs, or their absence, or any amendment to them, is a far more tangible expression of politicians’ actual values than anything any of them might do to pay back a fishing pal. We have decided — and by "we," I mean every large news organization in Canada without exception — that nobody in Canada needs information about how we are governed any more. In a shockingly short time, we have shrunk the moral distance between the Sunday political shows and the weeknight reality shows to zero. Both shows are about who gets voted off the island.

    We have become a ridiculous bunch. For the past five years it was hard to find 200 words, in even the Globe and Mail, on the contents or ramifications of any bill before the Commons. In fact, for months at a time, the people whose job it is to cover Parliament would claim there was nothing going on in Parliament. Oddly enough, when a session was suspended or prorogued, or Chrétien dropped the writ for an election, we would read long, long lists of important-sounding legislation that would now never be passed. How come we never heard about a bill until it died on the order paper? One of life’s little mysteries.

    I have taken you through this grim landscape to demonstrate something you probably have already noticed: the stuff you devote your lives to — quality, well-designed delivery of services to Canadian citizens — has vanished from the Press Gallery’s priority list.

    I asked another friend of mine, a broadcast producer, what public servants mean to her. She said, "That report they spend two years of their lives working on? I pick up a copy of it and give it to my reporter, so when he interviews the minister he can point to it on-camera and say, 'There’s a lot of stuff in here.' It’s a prop. He’ll never read it."

    How did this happen? It pains me to say I think the National Post had something to do with it. People forget that the Post was also a lively policy newspaper when it launched in 1998, that Giles Gherson and Al Toulin were all about finding out what was going on in the big economic and social departments. As an alumnus of The Gazette and a survivor of the 1995 referendum, I had my ear pretty close to the ground at Intergovernmental Affairs. Luiza Chwialkowska was the best young courts and Justice policy reporter in the country. We’ve all left the Post, and its other function, as lively source of gossip and scandal, has become what its dwindling number of readers notice. And what competitors who should know better continue to imitate.

    The current editor of the Globe was that paper’s Ottawa bureau chief only a few years ago. He wrote incredibly valuable pieces about the design and delivery of programs at Human Resources, about the effect of spending restraint on program design, and a dozen other meaty subjects. He has not assigned any of his successors to write any such thing since he went to Toronto. I spent half my life reading the Globe to find out what was going on. Now all it tells me is who’s popular.

    Surely things will be better now that Chrétien is gone and a new era of policy innovation is beginning. We can only hope. But I’m afraid there is little evidence that hope is justified. First, it’s not as though laws weren’t passed or governance didn’t evolve during the Chrétien years; they did, often radically, and we got tired of covering them anyway.

    Second, the early Martin years will provide plenty of the shallow skulduggery we so love. The first reaction when he names his cabinet will be to interrogate everyone who didn’t get in for signs of bitterness. Teams of specialists will examine the Commons seating plan to see who the popular kids are in the new regime. And I can absolutely guarantee you that more of us will write about the quality of the meals on Martin’s campaign bus than about the content of his platform. It’s not personal. It’s just the kind of press gallery we have become.

    I am sorry to deliver this rant when you have had your minds on productive things. I don’t know when we will abandon our trivial pursuits. I don’t know if you can make us. Frankly, I’m not sure you should try; there’s a good chance you will receive nothing in return except an Access to Information request for your lunch budget. But thanks for letting me get all this off my chest.
    posted by docgonzo at 2:02 PM on May 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


    Thanks for that, docgonzo. I've been saying for years now that the press doesn't have a right/left bias (although that's there as well) so much as a lazy/sensationalist bias.

    Flagged as fantastic.
    posted by arto at 6:13 PM on May 25, 2006


    I am now depressed.

    Do we have any high-quality Canada-focused news blogs that aren't run by partisan nuts?
    posted by five fresh fish at 6:43 PM on May 25, 2006




    "We'll just take the message out on the road. There's lots of media who do want to ask questions and hear what the government is doing for Canadians, or to Canadians. So we'll get our message out however we can," Harper said.

    "Doing to Canadians" being the key phrase.
    posted by blucevalo at 10:37 AM on May 26, 2006


    And here is another Government contradiction concerning the media. When will the insanity end? Hopefully when the next election takes place and we give em the boot!
    posted by pezdacanuck at 10:46 AM on May 26, 2006


    Bring back Jean Chrétien!
    posted by ArunK at 12:25 PM on May 27, 2006


    Who was our last pretty good Prime Minister? I mean, sure, it's not like any of them have put us into an offensive war, ballooned our debt to the breaking point, or tapped our phones... but I don't remember the last time we had one that spent our money wisely, invested heavily in the public health and welfare, or gave us all a real good party on Canada Day.

    Of course, it'd be tough for any PM to top things like universal healthcare, a new Charter of Rights, or the various Olympics and Expos we've had.
    posted by five fresh fish at 5:50 PM on May 27, 2006


    I saw this over on another blog today, some may get a laugh out of it (or not).
    posted by squeak at 3:41 PM on May 29, 2006


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