TorStar Editorial: Harper’s five question policy a disservice to public

A “what-not-to-do” lesson.

“TorStar Editorial: Harper’s five question policy a disservice to public” Apr 3, 2011

“Perhaps he’s channelling former prime minister Kim Campbell, who said an election campaign is not the time to debate important issues. Perhaps, despite leading in the polls, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is running scared. Or perhaps he just can’t be bothered.

Either way, Harper’s strategy of refusing to take more than five questions a day from reporters amounts to a gross disservice to the public. Four of the permitted questions (generally two in French and two in English) go to reporters following Harper’s campaign, while the fifth is allotted to a local scribe, wherever the Conservative news conference that day happens to be staged. It’s a fragmented format that renders it almost impossible for reporters’ questions to build momentum and bear down on an issue.

Harpers rivals, in contrast, are far more open with the media — willing to subject themselves, and their policies, to some barbed questions in an effort to get their message out to voters.

That’s as it should be. Few Canadians are able to follow the ins and outs of an election first-hand. Reporters serve as the public’s eyes and ears on the campaign trail. Ultimately, voters are the ones denied access and explanations through Harper’s five question format.

It’s ironic. The Conservatives came to power promising more accountability, more openness and more access to information. Those principles matter the most in an election, when people need as many answers as possible to make an informed choice.

Harper should bear in mind Campbell’s defeat in the election where she didn’t want to discuss serious issues. The Tory party was pulverized — reduced to just two seats. It’s an appropriate fate for those who would keep the public in the dark.”

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