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EDITORIAL: Look but don’t ask

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answers questions at his cross country town hall meeting at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Feb. 1, 2018. (Ed Kaiser/Postmedia)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. — Postmedia file photo

Trudeau welcomes media presence, as long as no one has questions

Writer Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, famously wrote, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.”

In other words, there are only so many times that something can happen before it’s clearly deliberate.

Well, when it comes to the upcoming federal election, there are clear signs there’s a little of that action going on. Because it’s clearly not coincidence.

Last week, it was a photo-op at a Liberal party candidates’ event; reporters were invited to record and report on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s prepared remarks, but were told Trudeau would not be taking any questions.

SaltWire Network columnist Russell Wangersky touched on this last week, writing, “more and more often, it seems that the media is expected to attend and be part of the political script: here’s the politician looking professional, dutifully recorded as such. Now, move along, media.”

Well, how about more and more and more often?

Trudeau was in St. John’s for a fundraising event Tuesday night — a news release said “The Liberal Party of Canada has also committed to the strongest standards in federal politics for openness and transparency with political fundraising events …” Apparently those strong standards for openness don’t extend to answering questions.

Because once again, Prime Minister Trudeau was explicitly not taking questions from the media.

As the campaign heats up, it will be interesting to see if Trudeau and other politicians feel they can campaign from inside bubbles that try to insulate them from accountability.

Wednesday, his schedule spelled out a range of glad-handing and community events — speaking to firefighters at a policy conference, heading to the Royal St. John’s Regatta to act as a guest starter for boat races, presenting trophies and medals — all of which were described in the prime minister’s official itinerary as “open coverage” opportunities for media.

That being said, reporters were again told by political staff that he would not be answering questions. So, the media was welcome to show up and get non-challenging video, photos, and quotes, but that’s all.

“Good” reporters, apparently, are to be seen and not heard.

Do politicians owe the media — and by extension, the public — answers?

Yes, they do. And if they are unwilling to provide answers, the media owes it to the public to clearly point it out, every time that a politician wants prominent coverage, but comfortably and without any sort of challenge.

As the campaign heats up, it will be interesting to see if Trudeau and other politicians feel they can campaign from inside bubbles that try to insulate them from accountability. It will also be interesting to see how far down the line that message might travel: candidates don’t only take direct marching orders from their political leaders, they often mimic the style that those leaders display. And this is a bad look.

Political campaigns that specialize in insulating candidates from providing meaningful answers to questions shouldn’t be rewarded with government.

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