Stephen Harper vs. the ‘Ottawa media elite’

Dust-up is just the latest in enduring sparring match between PM and journalists


OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative caucus members are back at work in Ottawa and spoiling, it seems, for a fight — and not just with their traditional House of Commons rivals.

These days, while Liberal and NDP members of Parliament are sporting their share of political shiners, so too are the journalists who cover them.

Sparring between the Prime Minister’s Office and the Parliamentary Press Gallery is hardly new. But the gloves came off on Wednesday when a dispute over access to a government caucus meeting turned into a Conservative fundraising pitch.

Most of the media gallery refused to show up for Harper’s speech to caucus members on Wednesday when his office insisted on allowing only photographers and TV cameras to attend — no reporters.


Before the day was out, the Conservatives were using the dispute to raise money — a fundraising letter accused the “Ottawa media elite” of sinking to a “new low” — in hopes of turning Canada’s love-hate relationship with its journalists to the party’s political benefit.

In closing the door to reporters, the Prime Minister’s Office was surely mindful of the last time it invited the media to a caucus meeting — this one at the height of the controversy surrounding Harper’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, and his $90,000 cheque to Mike Duffy.

On that day last May, reporters shouted questions at Harper as he entered the room and took the podium, demanding to know more about why Wright — who resigned his post just days earlier — had paid off the embattled senator.

So when reporters were barred from Wednesday’s caucus meeting, television, radio and print outlets – with the exception of Sun Media – refused to cover the speech, insisting their journalists be allowed in rather than having to rely on the PMO’s own transcripts.

“It’s about reporters being able to do their jobs,” said Daniel Thibeault, president of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. “You need to see people. You need to see the reaction, the body language …. and in the past, it’s never been an issue.”

The Conservatives also took issue with the fact some journalists opted to accept an NDP invitation to sit in on New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair’s caucus speech, taking place across the hall.

“You won’t believe what the Press Gallery just did in Ottawa,” Fred DeLorey, the Conservative party’s director of political operations, said in his fundraising email.

“Rather than send cameras to cover the prime minister’s speech, they attended the NDP’s meeting, and were welcomed with cheers and applause. We knew they wouldn’t give us fair coverage — but this is a new low for the Ottawa media elite.”

A Harper spokesman later insisted “various media organizations were invited to attend to capture the prime minister’s speech, but chose not to.”

Just as it did prior to a cabinet shuffle earlier this year, the Prime Minister’s Office turned to Twitter, tweeting snippets of Harper’s speech. That enabled reporters to learn and report the details, but didn’t mute complaints about what they consider a filter-free end-run around the mainstream media.

The dispute comes on the heels of a major personnel change within the PMO’s media-relations arm. Jason MacDonald, Harper’s new director of communications, took over last month from Andrew MacDougall, who was widely viewed as being among the more gallery-friendly officials in Harper’s inner circle.

Conservatives have long tried to get around the Ottawa press corps, often by reaching out to regional and ethnic media organizations, because they view the mainstream media as hostile to their message, said Harold Jansen, a political science professor at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta.

“There’s nothing terribly surprising about the throne speech fight — it’s just more of the same,” Jansen said.

Indeed, the latest dust-up represents just the most recent round in an enduring sparring match between Harper and the media that has raged since the Conservatives took office in 2006.

DeLorey’s fundraising email suggests the Conservatives still consider it a winning strategy to assail the media in front of party faithful — a tactic they appear to have been revisiting in recent weeks.

In September, a veteran CTV cameraman asked a question during a Harper photo-op in New York — breaking an unwritten rule that prohibits unsolicited questions during photo-op moments that don’t include a formal Q-and-A session.

In Canada and the U.S., it’s long been standard media procedure to shout out questions during public appearances. More often than not, elected officials will provide a brief response to an unanticipated question during a photo-op.

However, Dave Ellis — the cameraman in question — was told he would not be allowed to cover Harper’s trip to Malaysia and Indonesia the following week, even though he was already accredited to attend. Ultimately, the PMO backed down and allowed Ellis to board Harper’s plane.

“They are remarkably effective at fundraising, so they’ll pick these fights and then send out a fundraising email and say: ‘See, we’re standing up for you,'” said Jansen.

“And they also believe the average Canadian simply doesn’t care that the media is shut out of events, that it’s not an issue that is going to cause them any trouble on election day.”

Christopher Waddell, director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University in Ottawa, called the Conservatives’ anti-media tactics puzzling.

Harper is a skilled communicator and gives full, well-considered answers when questioned, Waddell said.

“His unwillingness to engage in all of that ends up hurting his cause, not helping his cause,” he said.

“The impression that’s created is that they’re not interested in explaining themselves, they’re not interested in being open. They’re not interested in the questions and answers and the debate that is part of a democracy.”

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Stephen Harper vs. the ‘Ottawa media elite’

  1. They’re just pushing to see how much they can get away with. I’m glad the press gallery has taken a stand on this. PMs come and PMs go….it’s a lifetime job for the journalists.

    • “job”? LOL.

      • Job/career/profession….call it what you will.

      • . . . and you are . . . ? Oh, you have no “job”? Or what?

        • Um, this is about the media. Focus.

          • Not you, Emily. This is about Aurora 7 villifying journalism. Focus.

          • Damn….yer right! Sorry!

          • :-)

    • yeah, I don’t believe “progressivism” whether it’s practiced by those that refer to themselves as “Journalists” or not can be regarded as a “job”, “progressivism” is more like Marxism or a religion, but certainly not a “job”.

      • Nice to know you don’t believe in progress. That certainly explains the right wing.

  2. Searching for a boogey man and a canard to knock over

  3. The Left Wing bias of the eastern media is no surprise. CBC, CtV, ,Macleans ,Toronto Sun, National Post Etc Etc never liked Conservatives or gave them fair unbiased coverage. Eg. What about the liberal senator who racked up more expenses than the other 3 that are being hung by the media. Don’t hear anything about him.

    • He resigned in case you have been hiding under a rock.

      • So, he resigned, but he still abused the system and indeed stole the most money of them all. Yet, his name has hardly been mentioned in the news, either before of after he resigned. His name is Mac Harb and I think most Canadians will never have heard of him.

        Double standards galore.

        • Conservatives – ESPECIALLY Alberta Conservatives – have been abusing the system, the environment, and the First Nations for 40+ years . . . and perhaps a few Liberal politicos DO display double standards – maybe better than no standards at all. And I speak as a multi-generation Albertan ashamed of my province’s legacy. So far. And don’t DARE to tell me if I don’t like it, leave . . that’s the standard response for the ignorant, self-centered right wing puppets . . .

          • The most prosperous province in the nation providing more high paying jobs for First Nations people then any other province and providing young people with the opportunity for a great future.

            Yeah, you must be a progressive. Progressives are always ‘ashamed’ by Alberta’s success.

          • If by “sucess” you mean poisoning our groundwater by fracking and uncontainable crude spills and leaks, poisoning farm families and First Nations people, poisoning our rivers, underfunding social programs to keep big oil profits high (Alberta has lost $30+ billion during the Conservative reign – in world-record low energy royalties), sacrificing huge ecosytems to tar pits expansion (oil sands euphemism is a bald-faced lie), and a passion to run pipelines – dangerously inadequate pipelines – to transport this filthy crude in every direction rather than refine here – then you are (congratulate yourself) a conservative who thinks the term “economy” has only to do with the fiscal bottom line, ignorant of ecosystem and human health and well-being, climate change threat, sustainability, the rights of First Nations, and the futures of your children and grandchildren – except maybe for how much money they might make working for an oil company – or a Dairy Queen in Fort McMoney. By the way, it’s clear that you equate prosperity with money – sorry for you in that respect . . .

          • By the way, your education – or lack thereof – shows in your grammatical ignorance. If you are going to use the English language as a tool of criticism – try to use it at least in its most basic correctness . . . “then any other province”. Go back to elementary school before you speak again . . .

      • Indeed he did, and Liberal Senator Lavigne is in jail.

    • Yes, the National Post is a bastion of left-wing bias.

      The fact that you would even remotely think that means that you have a far right bias.

    • Don’t forget that the Senate audit flagged 15 Senators for” questionable spending” 10 were Liberals, 5 were Conservative. The media “outrage” regarding the so called “Senate scandal” does not include the 10 Liberal Senators, heck, the media don’t even care to know who the Liberal Senators are. The media in this country are as corrupt as the political party they shill for, the Liberals.

      • Where’s the link to that information? No link because it never happened, did it? You made it up.

        • Taxed 2 death probably got his ‘facts’ from a conservative fund-raising letter. It should be noted as well, that the lack of media outrage against Liberal senators is due, in part, to the Conservative platform of transparency, accountability, and Senate reform. Essentially, they are not practicing what they preach.

  4. “The impression that’s created is that they’re not interested in
    explaining themselves, they’re not interested in being open. They’re not
    interested in the questions and answers and the debate that is part of a

    Yep. That’s what a rational person might conclude anyway. Why the cons continue to think a good chunk of the non partisan public is irrational is an enduring mystery.

  5. Is there a double standard being set by the MSM? ABSOLUTELY!!

    A few examples:

    Mac Harb (as a LIBERAL senator) stole the most money of all the senators so far and HE has been in the news the least! Is Mac Harb’s loan to pay of his abuse of power a gift? Does the media know? Does the media care?

    How much money did Pat Martin get from unions? Does the media know? Does the media want to know??

    How long had Tom Mulcair known about Pat Martin’s gifts from the unions? Does the media know? Does the media want to know? Pat Martin had to return some of the financial gifts. Had Tom Mulcair been aware of that before Pat Martin returned some of the gifts?? Does the media know? Does the media want to know??

    Why is it that Dion, Fry and Dryden have not yet paid off their 2006 campaign loans? Martha Hall Findlay has paid off hers under the NEW rules, so why could Dion and Fry and Dryden not do the same? Has the media asked why that is so? Does the media care?

    Double standards being set by the media: ABSOLUTELY!!! I hope many people will donate money to the CPC over this issue. I hope the CPC will collect so much money that they can leave the MSM out of the picture entirely. Let the PM go directly to the people. There is a senate investigation going on and also an investigation in regards to Wright and still the media wants Harper to answer questions before the investigation has been completed. Utter rubbish to play gotcha journalism with the PM of this country.. Shame on the MSM for trying to play gotcha journalism time and again.

    • And where did the 3.1 billion go?

      • Come on Wes, until the media locates every dime spent on Adscam it would be completely unethical to look into any money the Conservatives may have lost.

    • These questions are being asked by the media, and enough of this “Main Stream Media” nonsense.

      It’s just that for you, any criticism of your deal leader is too much.

    • When it comes to the corrupt Liberals and NDPers, the media have a need NOT to know!

  6. I think we could take some lessons from the American White House question/answer sessions. Get the media all in one room, make your statement, perhaps with additional explanations that were not made in Parliament, then have members of the media raise there hands if they have questions, one at a time.
    But then Harper is not interested in serving the cause of democracy.

    • Are you really suggesting that PM Harper fill a room with a mob of lick spittle flunkies and hero worshipping sychophants disguised as journalists to lob ridiculous soft ball questions in a grotesque charade of “accountability”? Thats a “progressive” tactic that would never work for this PM. The PM of Canada is a Conservative not a Liberal/”Progressive/Marxist.

      • Well, yes.
        It is either these “flunkies” ask the “softball” questions, or nobody does. I can understand your disgust with some of our journalists; however, where else are we going to get some of our information about what is happening in Ottawa? Certainly not from the PMO’s office. Or from the private interviews done by Mansbridge with the PM. There are some hard-liner journalists (although I can’t off-hand name any) who might ask a few pertinent questions if they ever had access to the PM. Perhaps we can get Duffy back doing his job — snicker: but as it stands now, nobody can get anything out of the Cons except propaganda.

  7. What a hilarious piece of fluffery and entitled whining. Is this ridiculous piece written in an attempt to garner sympathy for the viciously biased, corrupt PPG? Because, if it is, thats funny, pathetic, but very funny!

    • Taxed 2 Death, your rants are taxing to read. If MSM is so biased, where do you get your news and facts? Your comments suggest you receive fund-raising letters from the CPC and you accept their content without question. I guess you never considered that the gospel coming from the juveniles working in the PMO, the wind-up toys who spew CPC talking points in QP and in TV interviews, and of course, from our great leader may be biased as well.