'That was totally useless. Thank you.' - Macleans.ca

‘That was totally useless. Thank you.’


Strolling casually around the House of Commons foyer yesterday, Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan happens upon a group of reporters. A delightful exchange of pleasantries follows.

Question: How long have you had the report from the Commissioner of Firearms?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: The report from the Commissioner of Firearms has to be tabled tomorrow which it will be.  I know that some information – some information on it will be coming out shortly.  Some of it has already been released in the public accounts.  The one that I know has attracted some interest is the number of times that the police access it which is close to three and a half million times.  What’s very interesting about that statistic is of those three and a half million times only 2.4 percent of the time is it actually information about the registration of a long-gun that would eliminated by the long-gun registry.  If the bill to eliminate the long-gun registry is passed and becomes law, 97 percent of the times that the police utilize that information from the firearms centre would continue to be in place because of course the bill does not eliminate the requirement for licensing of gun owners and only, as I said, 2.4 percent of those queries had to do with information related to long-gun registration.

Question: (Inaudible)

Hon. Peter Van Loan: I am referring to the 2008 statistics.  And what’s more interesting –

Question: (Inaudible)

Hon. Peter Van Loan: If I could finish, what’s more interesting –

Question: You haven’t answered my question once yet though.

Hon. Peter Van Loan: If I could answer —-

Question: A different question from the one I asked you, sir.

Hon. Peter Van Loan: The report will be tabled tomorrow which is the requirement.

Question: How long have you had it?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: What is more interesting –

Question: Well, no –

Hon. Peter Van Loan:    — what is more interesting is that –

Question: (Inaudible) what’s more interesting we ask the questions.

Hon. Peter Van Loan: — the proportion of times when in 2003, for example, eight percent, 8.3 percent of the time that police accessed information from the National Firearms Centre it was information related to the registry of long guns, right?

Question: Okay, great.

(Several reporters speaking at once.)

Hon. Peter Van Loan: That proportion, that percentage has gone down every single year since 2003 –

Question: So how long have you had it?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: — to last year when it was 2.4 percent.  So what the information –

Question: How long have you had it?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: — what this report demonstrates is exactly what we have been saying.

Question: How long have you had the Commissioner of Firearms report?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: If I could finish –

Question: No, sir, you haven’t answered the question that I asked you.  You’re answering a completely different question.

Hon. Peter Van Loan:    What the report demonstrates is what we have been saying all along –

Question: How long have you had the Firearms Commissioner’s report, sir?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: — that the registry – the long-gun registry is not used by police to prevent crime.  It’s thoroughly ineffective and that when we eliminate the long-gun registry, 97 percent – over 97 percent of the occasions –

Question: This isn’t a news conference, these are questions.  How long have you had the Firearms report?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: — over 97 percent of the occasions that –

Question: This is not QP, okay?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: — that individuals –

Question: We’re asking you a question. How long have you had this report?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: — that the police access the registry will be continued.

Question: How long have you had it?  Has it been weeks?

Question:Why did you hide it before the vote?  How long have you had this report?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: This report has not been hidden.  I think when people see the report –

Question: How long have you had it then?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: — when people see – it’s been available to me a matter of days.

Question: How many days?

Question: Did your department receive it in April, is that true?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: I don’t know. I don’t believe so but I –

Question: When?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: I certainly did not see it back in April or May?

Question: Well, when did it (inaudible) your office?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: It’s – I received it and looked at just recently, in recent days.

Question: When?  Recently meaning what?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: However – in days.  I could go back and find that for you.  It’s not terribly relevant because the information –


Hon. Peter Van Loan: The information that is revealed is exactly what we say.

Question: But the information was revealed after the vote.

Hon. Peter Van Loan: The long-gun registry is not utilized by police to prevent police.  In fact, the information that they utilize, 97 percent of it, more than 97 percent of it now is information they will still have after the elimination of the long-gun registry because we maintain –

Question: Useful information for MPs who don’t know so why didn’t you give it to them before yesterday’s vote?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: Well, it’s the same information.  We had the report last year revealed the same trend.  The year before revealed the same trend.  The year before revealed the same trend.  There’s no new information in that.  What we know is the same thing –

Question: So you decide what information should be or should not be made public because you don’t find it’s interesting enough?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: We release it as the statute requires, as the rules require and it’ll be released tomorrow in accordance with the rules.

Question: How long have you had the statistics about that?

Hon. Peter Van Loan:    That’s what we do with reports.  But what’s interesting is the report has said –

Question: You decide what’s interesting —

Hon. Peter Van Loan: — every single year that the information –

Question: — you decide what people can know before they vote so you —

Hon. Peter Van Loan: No, we table the report as we are required to.

Question: After the vote though.

Hon. Peter Van Loan: What’s interesting though is this is –

Question:No, you don’t get to decide what’s interesting.

Hon. Peter Van Loan: No, here –

Question: We’re asking you a very simple question.  When did you get that report?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: Here’s one more – here’s one more thing –

Question: When did you get that report, sir?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: — here’s one more thing, in fairness, that’s interesting about the report.

Question: We don’t care what you find interesting.

Hon. Peter Van Loan: What you’re going to see tomorrow in this report produced by the National Firearms Centre to justify the existence is that the statistics I just gave you were not included. Whoever put it together didn’t put in there the information that only 2.4 percent of those three and a half million queries were actually related to information about a long-gun registration number or about a serial number of a gun. Only 4.5 percent.

Question: Why do you think that is?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: And that shows –

Question: (Inaudible) that’s why you didn’t make it public?  Is that what you’re saying?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: No, that information was not put there by the people at the National Firearms Registry so you should ask them why that information wasn’t there.  We’ve gone and got that information –

Question: And that’s why you decided not to make it public, because that information was not there?

Hon. Peter Van Loan: No, no.  We’re putting it out there on the public table at the time that’s required under the law.  But the more important question is why was that piece of information I gave you not revealed by the Firearms Centre and that’s a very important piece of information for Canadians to have.  That’s why I’m sharing it with you.  Thank you very much.

Question:That was totally useless.  Thank you.


‘That was totally useless. Thank you.’

  1. This is not directed at Van Loan specifically because all pols do it but where do these people learn how to ignore questions and continue on with their answers regardless. I find it awfully weird – most of us are programmed to answer questions that we are asked. Dissembling like this is no easy thing.

    • The more important question is why the press doesn't simply walk away when it becomes clear that the person is not willing to answer the questions. Politicians need the media, not the other way around and until the press clues into that fact, politicians will continue to be evasive because they know that whatever they're belching out will be dutifully published.

      • "Politicians need the media"

        Not often we agree McClelland but this time we do. Many journos appear grateful for whatever crumbs pols are willing to give but pols would freak out if reporters stopped covering them for a few days. Being on tv, or in the newspaper, is a big draw for a lot of pols and taking it away should keep them in line.

        • Actually, no. The journalist should be congratulated for being so persistent in his or her questioning in regard to Van Loan's refusal to answer when he had received the report. Add this now to the admission that his claim (that only 2.4% of the queries were in regard to long guns) does not appear in that report, it certainly suggests that Van Loan was trying to manipulate availability of key info before the vote.

          Interesting though that some people lament that this Cons govt does not answer legitimate questions during QP(acknowledging that there are some questions from the opposition that really do not deserve serious answers) and then would suggest that this reporter should just have shrugged his or her shoulders and walked away.

      • that's not their job, to walk away. I think this became more interesting because they stayed.

        • Agreed. Walking away was the outcome Van Loan was looking for.

      • I think they did a better job there by not letting the issue go. They let him have his spin once and then would not let him repeat it but kept on him and on him. The total video showing the evasiveness and ignoring a very relevant, proper and important follow-up question has a bigger impact than if they had walked away.

        They need to be more aggressive, like they were under Martin, than walking away. Walking away would be more than fine for the Conservatives. They don't like it when people ask them questions about how they are running our government or spending our money.

        • I could not agree more – they need to press for real answers and not accept the pre-canned scraps that are normally tossed by Ministers. They represent the people after all and we are entitled to some measure of accountability from government.

          Perhaps I wasn't paying attention before but it seems to me this strategy for dealing with the media via talking points arose with the advent of the first Harper minority. There was a change in policy that the ministers and the PM especially did not take questions at all for the most part and generally avoid all but the most tightly scripted appearances.

          A perfect case in point, any interview with Pierre Poilievre.

    • My favorite line was the one about this not being Question Period. Priceless.

      • Agreed. You almost get the feeling from the transcript, that Vanloon’s wondering where the peanut gallery is and why the hell the speaker does call time.

    • There's a training room at the Little Shop of Tories.

  2. Great example of what you are taught to do by ex-journalists who run media training companies.

    • You mean Van Loan and his talking point? I'm sure that's exactly true.

  3. FINALLY! If only our reporters could always be this tenacious.

  4. Wow, reporters in Ottawa not being total pushovers for once!

    Lets see more of this people!

  5. Looks like someone's angling for a senate seat!

  6. It's very rare indeed for a journalist, after having provided repeated opportunities for a respondent to answer a question he/she doesn't like, to advance, finally, a plausible explanation for the evasion and then ask the respondent what he/she thinks of that. Such as "Let's try this another way. Minister Van Loan, I suspect you had this report and didn't release it because you didn't want the Parliamentarians to have this information. What do you think of that?"

    Of course, we know why this rarely happens. It's not one of the "rules of the game." Which goes a long to explain why people are turned by both politics and the news media.

  7. Someone is not a PVL fan! It’s hard not to cheer for a reporter who actually gives a politician trouble for being evasive and duplicitous.

  8. Watching the tv clip of Van Loan, my impression is he thought he was becoming more Baird-than-thou but just because you can bray a few retorts with a cheerleading section behind you in QP doesn't necessarily translate to doing well in a scrum. As Van Loan so obviously demonstrates. This clip will be used in media training seminars for years to come, as what not to do. Brutal.

    • Au Contraire. This is exactly what they teach you to do, it will be used as an example why the technique works. It might be used as a de brief in a journalism class to generate more ideas on how the questions could have been asked differently.

      The reporter better hope his editor doesnt decide the useless comment belongs in his performace review.

      • "The reporter better hope his editor doesnt decide the useless comment belongs in his performace review."

        The editor better start worrying that it's exactly this type of condemnation of common sense that is killing news journalism.

        • I am not particularly fond of the tactic, but really, isnt our cherubic host being just a tad naive. As I said, his colleagues teach this tactic every day to business, labour and political managers and leaders. Its infuriating when you're a journalist, but part of your job isnt just to ask quetion…anyone can do that….its to ask the right questions in the right way…and even then, in the face of a determined media saavy answerer you wont get much at that exchange. Nobody said Van Loan had to make their job easier, he had a message he wanted out and he did his job.

          This is just another day in the jungle. The teaching of the black arts of media training will go on regardless.

          • You’re completely forgetting the audience – the public. Any reasonable person would conclude that Vanloon came off looking like a clown. Even more so since the media’s persistence in this case eventually eked out the very info they wanted – confimation from his own lips that he had an ulterior motive for witholding the report.

          • Perhaps. I am just saying, this is what they teach.

            Why wont the public see the clip, because it is not concise, not sexy and it is full of bafflegab or bridged messages. So I dont think Van Loan is too worried this would lead the national, it just makes its way to some blogs…yawn…..where very abnormal people like you and I can look at it and opine.

            Van Loan met his goals, he won ugly, and the reporter is left without any useable information…good when Van Loan had something he DIDN't want to talk about.

            And as I said…Aarons colleagues get REALLY GOOD MONEY teaching this tactic and when it should be used to anyone of a number of groups who go before the media.

          • 'Van Loan met his goals, he won ugly, and the reporter is left without any useable information…"

            I've no idea where you're going with this. In my world my headline would read:" Minister admits he may have held back report"! Not strictly true, but i no longer care when dealing with this type of politician.

          • Not going anywhere in particular, other than saying why is his bafflegab a surprise. And if the story is what you indicate, there really isnt a useable quote out of this. So, I guess my point is Van Loan did his tactical political job so why should anyone complain. If the meme is he covered something up, then there needs to be a different turn to this.

            Being shocked that a Minister does a complete stonewall on a topic he doesnt like isnt news.

          • I agree with you completely. From PVL's point of view, the bad headlines were unavoidable. Better to get bad headlines for poor media relations (which everyone expects anyways) than to get headlines that you admitted covering up a report.

            It's ugly, but people do it for a reason.

          • I'm just impressed he didn't lie.

          • Your cynicism is refreshing. Thanks for the lesson on how the World works.

            I approach this as a consumer of news products and a citizen.

          • Really, the purveyor of the empty quip is just a naif in the woods? I appreciate you brightening my day, that gave me a good chuckle.

            If you cant accept that Van Loan was engaging in a technique taught to many people many times a day then I dont know what else to say. You dont have to love it, or even agree with it to understand it. Denial of "what is" doesnt help. The reporters job now, as far as I can tell, is to find some other way to confirm what the minister wouldnt say directly. Assuming it is even worth his time to do so. My suspicion is it isnt and the story sinks underneath the waves…therefore you now have to question why this is even worth pointing to, other than to show up Van Loan. It is an everyday occurence, that Wherry's "professional" colleagues teach for good money, a known and accepted tactic. So why are we discussing this again?

          • "If you cant accept that Van Loan was engaging in a technique taught to many people many times a day then I dont know what else to say."

            It's not that I can't accept it. It's that I won't accept it. If I had been in Peter Van Loan's place, I probably would have done the exact same thing (although I'd also have to imagine that I'd have accepted to operate within an environment where opacity and disinformation are normal ways of operating, which is highly unlikely), but I wasn't, was I?

            The larger issue for me is that being exhorted to simply accept that this is the way things work is truly only relevant to politicians and political journalists. It's not relevant at all to consumers of news (who, you know, pay for this stuff) or citizens (who, you know…also pay for this stuff).

  9. Q: "God morning, Mr Van Loan. Lovely day, isn't it?"

    A: "What's interesting is that day follows night, and night follows day"

    Q: "But don't you think it's a lovely one, as far as days go?"

    A: "I guess the Yankees were just the better team."

    Q: "Why won't you answer the question I'm asking?"

    A: "Rainbows!"

  10. Kady posted this yesterday.

    • Does anyone still read her? Her schtick got old fast.

  11. Here's a statistic then.

    84000 times. That's the number of times the police will not be able to get information (2.3% of 3.5 million) from the Registry.

    That's a lot of information being eliminated to police.

    • Hiding behind percentages.

      Van Loan claims the percentage of use has gone down. But all that is is a comparison to the use of the handgun registry.

      The actual use has gone up. The use of the handgun registry has gone up even more.

      That should tell us that law enforcement find an increasing usefulness to the long gun registry. The exact opposite of what Van Loan is trying to spin.

  12. Don’t know how this looked, but it reads like a very effective cross examination. Persist with your question until the defendant…er pol hangs himself. A good day for journalism i’d say; even so, i wonder if that journo is on his/her way to Iqaluit tomorrow.

    • This was a scrum so there were more than one reporter asking the questions. Buzzetti, however, looked like she was about to smack Vanloon on the head with her recorder.

  13. PVL impulsively went looking for an easy score and met up with trouble instead.
    My guess is he'll be looking for payback.

    • It definitely sounds like he imagined that going differently in his head: "Oh these reporters will love to hear about these stats after the vote… they'll lift me up on their shoulders… cheer my name for the entire length of the hall… this is going to be grand!"

  14. Continue to duck the questions long enough and people will stop asking you questions – I think that's what Peter was going for. Running away with his head down and his proverbial tail between his legs was classic though. "I'm needed on the car lot!"

    • It usually works. In fact, the Tories have that one down to an art form. Frankly, I'm pleasently surprised by the reporters' reaction.

  15. "You don't get to decide what's interesting".
    That sounds like a fun job. Do the tables ever get turned and the pols heckle you?

  16. "This is not Question Period." Priceless!

    Who was the reporter, Aaron? He deserves a salute.