CLARENCE-ROCKLAND, Ont. — Limiting journalists covering the Conservatives’ re-election campaign to five questions per day and prohibiting follow-up queries is long-standing party policy, leader Stephen Harper says.
Harper made the remark Sunday in response to a question at a time when his news conferences have been dominated by queries related to revelations that have surfaced in testimony at the Mike Duffy trial.
His comment also came less than a week after someone in a partisan Tory crowd, frustrated by watching Harper face repeated Duffy-related questions, shouted to reporters to use their limited number of questions to ask something about “the topic at hand.” Harper himself shushed his own supporter.
“I think you’re all very aware of how we’ve structured our press conferences,” Harper said Sunday in Clarence-Rockland, Ont., where he delivered a promise to introduce a new tax credit for membership fees at service clubs such as the Royal Canadian Legion.
“It was cleared with everybody and what’s important to me is that we’re able to answer a range of questions on a broad range of subjects. That’s why every day I speak on a different topic.”
During the campaign, Harper has fielded up to five questions per day with no follow-ups. A maximum of four have been reserved for journalists embedded on his tour and one for local reporters at each stop.
On Sunday, however, Harper only took four questions in total.
Conservative spokesman Kory Teneycke said one of the travelling media outlets, Radio-Canada, did not have a reporter present to ask a question. He added that the same thing happened at a Harper event a week earlier.
Other journalists present at Sunday’s event did not get an opportunity to ask a fifth question, said Teneycke, who cited a policy that it be reserved for media outlets that had paid to travel with the tour.
One national reporter present at the event tried to shout a question at Harper following the fourth question.
He asked Harper why there was no fifth question. But his voice was quickly drowned out by the music of Collective Soul, as someone at the venue turned on Harper’s most-popular campaign theme song and cranked up the volume.
As prime minister, Harper has faced criticism in recent years for capping the number of media queries at news conferences and for requiring reporters hoping to ask him a question to enter their names, beforehand, on a list.
Harper, meanwhile, has also been criticized for only rarely holding media availabilities for the Ottawa press corps, except during visits by foreign dignitaries.
Teneycke insisted Harper had so far answered more media questions during the campaign than his main rivals — the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair and the Liberals’ Justin Trudeau.
He also noted how neither Mulcair nor Trudeau took questions Sunday because Harper’s campaign was the only one that held events.
At Sunday’s event, Harper unveiled a promise to introduce a tax credit the party says would help defray the costs of membership fees at service clubs, such as Knights of Columbus, Kiwanis and Shriners.
The measure would come into effect in 2017-18 and would cost public coffers about $30 million per year in tax revenue.