Journalists are encountering a wall of silence from federal Conservative Party candidates as they and their Leader Stephen Harper work the campaign trail across Canada.
Several media outlets have detailed accounts of trying — and failing — to find a Tory candidate, including Harper, willing to talk outside strict guidelines, on the record.
In a column, the Toronto Star’s Tim Harper writes about trying to arrange interviews with several Tory candidates in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, only to have them cancelled or denied. A representative for Joe Daniel, the Conservative MP for Don Valley East told the Ottawa Citizen that he wouldn’t be doing interviews until after the election.
Vice’s Justin Ling gives a detailed account of trying to submit a question to Harper at a campaign stop in eastern Ontario. After talking to several Tory media co-ordinators, who vetted his question, Ling was ultimately passed over. He also breaks down the cost for a journalist to join Harper on his tour bus — $3,000 a day, or $78,000 for the entire 11-week campaign.
One political expert says stonewalling the media is not unheard of for politicians in power, and to the average Canadian, it won’t make a difference in how they vote.
Allan Levine, a Winnipeg-based historian and author of the book Scrum Wars: The Prime Ministers and the Media, says speaking to the media is not a “constitutional obligation” for campaigning politicians and journalist don’t have a right to anything.
“If you’re the government, it’s a no win situation if you open yourself up to all sorts of questions,” he tells Yahoo Canada News. “I suppose that’s where this control-freak mentality comes from. Whatever they say is going to be attacked.”
Governments in power are trying to maintain control of their agenda, Levine explains, particularly during an election — and the media can disrupt it. Any slip-up or mistake can be blown out of proportion, which simply isn’t worth the risk during such a critical time. He refers to NDP candidate Linda McQuaig’s recent comments on the Alberta oilsands, which turned into a media storm for her and the party.
While the media might think being shunned is an important issue, most voters don’t. For the Tories, it’s more important to focus their efforts on talking directly to voters.
“The media thinks it’s a hot button issue because they’re personally affected. But does the average voter actually care if Harper answers questions?” Levine says. “I suspect journalists care more than voters really do care. The people who you hear yelling about this wouldn’t vote for him anyways, and he knows that.”
Tom Henheffer, executive director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, has told Yahoo Canada News that the Harper government has a reputation of holding back information, citing its reluctance to speak with the media, the ending of the long-form census and the defunding of scientific research.
Journalists aren’t the only ones having difficulty pinning down a Tory to talk to. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson was scheduled to meet with Conservative candidates to review local issues, as he’d done with other parties. The meeting, however, was cancelled after nobody turned up. Candidate Pierre Poilievre of the Ottawa area has since scheduled a meeting along with other candidates, set for the coming weeks.
Yahoo Canada News contacted the Conservative Party’s spokeswoman for comment about the allegations that the party has a no interview, no debate policy. She did not respond by press time. Calls and emails to several Conservative candidates were also not returned.