Stephen Harper ran a tight ship when he was in government – especially where the media was concerned. It’s almost humourous that he would attempt to throw shade on an industry he worked so hard to keep in the dark during his time in office.
From the security in the halls to the lists of media present at events, Harper’s brief time as Prime Minister made an impact on media.
“They would not cover cover my announcements. They would not cover any gaffe of my opponent, they scrubbed it out … They would not run any ad that showed footage depicting my opponent in an unfavourable light … We literally were censored out of the coverage.”Stephen Harper, 2018
Following Harper’s cross-Canada tours were impossible as the Prime Minister refused to release his schedule so Ottawa-based reporters could attend in-person, according to the Star.
Harper treated media much the same as he still does – as a necessary evil. Although Harper may have been ahead of his time on that decision, he still bore the fruits of his labours.
Harper allowed only four questions — two from Ottawa media and two from the reporters travelling with the visiting dignitary. Rather than prepare individual questions as in past years, Canadian reporters had to huddle in advance to narrow down the list of possible queries until agreement was reached on the best two.Les Whittington, Ottawa Bureau Chief for the Toronto Star; June, 2015
For those who would point and say: “the Star is a left-wing news outlet”, Harper didn’t discriminate; leaving media, in general, out in the cold.
Reporters covering Harper on the campaign trail are limited to five questions during media scrums and Harper’s answers to those questions are tightly scripted. He has a message to deliver – and he does everything possible to make sure you and I will only read what he wants us to read. The journalists who get to ask questions are pre-approved by his staff.Jim Warren, Toronto Sun, August 29, 2015
Was Harper’s decision to freeze the media out of the conversation intentional? Absolutely – not that he will take any responsibility for it.
The problem Harper created for himself was that there was plenty of room for improvement.
In the lead up to the 2015 election, Justin Trudeau didn’t have to exert himself to clear the bar Harper had set where the media was concerned. After years of being frozen out of conversations, availability, and inside baseball, the media was more than willing to spend time with someone who would deign to answer their questions – let alone acknowledge their existence.
Starving people of attention only makes it more noticeable when it is finally received.
But that was the least of Harper’s problems in 2015 – though it is painfully obvious he doesn’t recognize it as such.
2015 was the year he should have been paying attention to media because they picked up on something he and his Party did not: dissatisfaction.
Canadians were appalled by the “old stock Canadians” comment, the niqab ban, and the Barbaric Practices Snitch Line. We may well be a country of racists (sorry, not sorry – it takes a lot to admit it and even more to change it) but the majority of Canadians don’t appreciate having it shoved in their faces.
Harper would have known that if he would have paid the media some attention.
Instead, Harper left the opposition, Trudeau and Mulcair, plenty of space in the news and print – and thanks to Harper’s restrictive playbook, both were more than willing to take advantage of the opportunity.
That wasn’t the media’s fault – it was Harper’s design – media just learned to navigate the layout.
This post contains opinion.
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Deirdre is a freelance writer physically distancing in southern Alberta.
Connect: @Mitchell_AB, email@example.com