Guess who won’t be holding the his traditional pre-release press conference during next week’s budget lockup?
If your answer was “the minister”, give yourself a gold star: According to the advisory that went out to the gallery yesterday afternoon, it seems that Jim Flaherty is taking a pass on the mini-presentation that, in recent years, has taken place midway through the lockup, which provides clips for media outlets scrambling to put together reports that will go to air or online the moment that the embargo is lifted. Instead, the minister will be available for one-on-one interviews, although it’s not clear from the advisory whether those would take place before the budget is tabled.
Why the ministerial no-show? Well, that’s an even more interesting story.
Apparently, it came down to the question of whether or not opposition parties would be able to respond to the minister’s statement to the press. Since the lockup is organized by the department, not the press gallery, the decision of access ultimately falls to the minister’s office. Not only was the request rejected, but even though the executive accepted that decision, they were subsequently informed that no press conference would take place – a first, as far as ITQ can remember.
I wasn’t able to get a comment from Finance, but press gallery president Richard Brennan provided the following explanation by email:
The gallery executive met yesterday with two finance department officials and we told them it remains our position that if held a press conference that opposition critics should also be given time to to respond. I told them the Gallery executive felt it was a matter of fairness but certainly added that it was Mr. Flaherty’s show and it was up to him to decide whether he wanted to hold a press conference or not. I was somewhat surprised at the decision given that we even talked about where the press conference would be held during the lock-up at the old train station.
(Full disclosure: on hearing the news, my initial reaction was “Yippee! No PowerPoint! More time to go through nine hundred and seventy-six pages of budget documents!” )
*Alternate headline: “Maybe if we let him hold it at Magna– oh, wait. Never mind.”
UPDATE: As a reader points out, it was Flaherty who initiated the practice of giving a pre-release presentation within the lockup, rather than waiting until after the budget had been delivered, and then holding a press conference on the Hill.
AND STILL MORE UPDATERY: Turns out that the exact same thing happened in 2008 – the minister pulled out of the scheduled media availability after the gallery asked to have opposition representatives present. He did, however, make an embargoed appearance during the now infamous fall fiscal update.