Harper refuses to explain limits on media queries
March 31, 2011.
HALIFAX — Prime Minister Stephen Harper held his news conference Thursday and declined to tell journalists — corralled behind a yellow fence 43 feet away — why he limits the daily encounters to just five questions.
The episode highlighted the brewing issue of whether Harper, as the apparent front-runner in the race, is running a campaign in a bubble to prevent embarrassing mistakes.
After several days, it is clear his daily schedule is carefully designed to minimize political risk. Harper has not done any “walkabouts” on city streets where average voters can meet him. Moreover, the photo-ops with voters — such as at a seniors’ home and a deli — have been pre-arranged. Also, people who attend rallies must be on a list to gain entry to the event.
Harper only provides one news conference per day, and it is specifically designed to ensure that it is not free-wheeling. Journalists who are travelling with his campaign tour are, as a group, only allowed to ask four questions. One more question goes to a local journalist at the news conference.
On Thursday, Harper was asked to explain why — when Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and NDP leader Jack Layton provide news conferences with no limits on questions — he insists on no more five questions.
Harper chose not to answer that question and moved on to the next questioner.
When journalists then pressed him for an answer to the question he ignored, Harper said. “If there’s another subject I’ll answer it.”
That led to another question from a journalist, who noted that politicians such as himself promise openness and accountability. With that in mind, he was asked again, why the limit on questions during the campaign?
“If there are other subjects I’m not addressing, I’ll take them. What’s the subject? One subject.”
Journalists asked another question, about Canada’s position about the conflict in Libya. Harper answered and then ended the news conference.
Harper ‘backing out’of one-on-one debate: Ignatieff
Les Whittington and Bruce Campion-Smith
Toronto Star, Ottawa Bureau
WINNIPEG—Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says Stephen Harper’s refusal to join in a one-on-one debate shows that the Conservative leader cannot be trusted.
Harper is now “backing out” of the debate, Ignatieff told reporters during a campaign stop in Winnipeg.
“Less than 24 hours ago, he was saying, ‘Let’s go into the ring, toe-to-toe, head to head,’ and I said, ‘Look, I’m willing to do that, provided that other leaders participate in a regular debate.’ I don’t want anybody excluded (from debates).”
“And now he’s turned around. You can’t trust this man,” Ignatieff said. “This is about respect for the democratic process. I think Canadians would like such a debate. I’m willing to go anywhere, anytime (to debate Harper) and I repeat that.
“But if he’s kind of walking away, that tells you what you want to know about whether you can believe this man,” Ignatieff said.
Harper is rejecting Ignatieff’s call for a one-on-one debate, saying he’s more interested in campaigning on the road.
Just 24 hours after saying he’d like to square off against Ignatieff, Harper now says the idea is dead.
“We were open to all kinds of options. Our first preference was a direct debate with the leader of the coalition. Mr. Ignatieff insisted that his first preference was to have his coalition partners with him at the debate,” Harper told reporters during a campaign stop in Halifax.
“That’s the format that was proposed. We’ve accepted it,” Harper said.
While the networks have scheduled traditional debates involving all parliamentary leaders on April 12 and April 14, Ignatieff said he’s still ready to face off against Harper one-on-one, as the Conservative first proposed.
But Harper shut the door on the idea Thursday.
“We’re not interested in multiple debates. We were interested in one debate. Our first preference was clear. If Ignatieff wanted that debate, he could have chosen that debate but he didn’t,” the Conservative leader said.
“We’re going to spend the rest of our time campaigning across the country,” he said.
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Posted by Brent Fullard at 12:37 PM