On the surface, last week’s visit by Prime Minister Stephen Harper was all peaches and cream. There were lots of smiles, handshakes and good cheer.
And, without a doubt, it was a positive visit for the province when looking at the big picture. The big picture is that it’s always good to have the country’s leader visit just so he doesn’t forget about us.
After all, in spite of all the self-importance we allot to ourselves, in reality we are a small jurisdiction far off the beaten path, and it is always a challenge to have our voices and concerns heard on the national stage.
So, the prime minister came, he said some nice things about us and our place in history, all on hand applauded and everyone was happy. Well, sort of. Since he has left, there has been a bit of whispering and moaning — all done discreetly of course.
It’s a poorly kept secret that the premier’s office wasn’t entirely pleased with the visit. And even some journalists — CFAs — felt a bit snubbed.
Premier Robert Ghiz had hoped to be involved in the prime minister’s visit. After all, the PM was here to celebrate the 2014 anniversary year and pledge Ottawa’s financial support for it. Since provincial funding and involvement are important parts of that celebration, it doesn’t seem unreasonable the premier could have gotten on to the podium with the visiting leader from Upper Canada — sort of a 2014 version of Sir John A. Macdonald and John Hamilton Gray patting each other’s backs.
But other than a handshake and perhaps a comment on the weather, there was no interaction between Harper and Ghiz. However, the PM did have time to have a 20-minute meeting with P.E.I. interim PC Leader Stephen Myers.
The media gripe came as a result of something very representative of Prince Edward Island — a lobster. The fact the local paper — in this case us — was invited to the photo op while the visiting national media was not, caught the attention of our mainland media colleagues.
While one of our photographers was shooting the PM at the two “official functions,” one of Harper’s handlers mentioned they would call later and tell us where and when we could get an exclusive photograph of the PM. It turned out to be a visit to the Lobster on the Wharf restaurant.
We jumped at the opportunity, and the result was a front-page photograph of the PM eying, but not daring to touch, a lobster. Meanwhile, one of his cabinet ministers, Gail Shea, a fisherman’s daughter from West Prince, showed no such trepidation with handling the crustacean.
The national media was a bit miffed at not being invited. Their point was that they travel with the PM at considerable expense so why were they not informed? Whether it was a case of the PMO trying to be kind to the local yokels or snubbing its nose once again at the national media is the question. Apparently, a similar situation occurred a few days later when Harper visited a city in southern Ontario.
As is always the case with Mr. Harper, everyone who is allowed into his tight little circle comes away raving about how nice he is. Getting inside that circle, especially if you’re not wearing blue, can be a challenge.
A question that begs being asked is whether Mr. Harper was just in his usual control-freak mode or whether he has issues with our premier. If he has a problem with our duly elected premier, that’s not good news to P.E.I. If the PM doesn’t have any issues with Ghiz, then lighten up. And before his next visit to our province he should brush up on Island Hospitality 101.
Gary MacDougall is managing editor of The Guardian. He can be reached by telephone at (902) 629-6039; by email at email@example.com; or on Twitter.com/GaryGuardian.