Harper, Press Gallery row intensifies
[PoliticsWatch Updated 6:15 p.m. April 13, 2006]
OTTAWA — The
battle between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Parliamentary
Press Gallery intensified this week at a press conference where the
Federal Accountability Act was unveiled.
In a podcast, PoliticsWatch replays what happened on Tuesday when
the PM tried to bypass Press Gallery reporters lined up at a
> Listen to
the podcast of the PM's press conference
Timeline of the Battle Between Harper and the Press Gallery
> January 26: Harper chooses the foyer of the House of
Commons over the National Press Theatre to hold his first press
conference as PM-designate. Harper's aides say the site was selected
to bookend his campaign, which was launched in the same spot. Some
reporters are not comfortable with one of Harper's aides controlling
the list of names of reporters who get to ask questions.
> February 1: Harper holds a press conference to react to
the Gomery inquiry's recommendations in the National Press
> February 6: Harper faces an open scrum with reporters on
the third floor of the Centre Block after the first cabinet meeting
of his new government.
> February 7 to 20: With the controversy over some of his
cabinet appointments dominating news coverage, Harper does not hold
a media availability for two weeks.
> February 20: Harper holds a media availability in a
small room on Parliament Hill to announce his plans to change the
Supreme Court selection process. His aides again control a list of
reporters with questions.
> February 20: Sandra Buckler replaces William Stairs as
Harper's communication director.
> February 21: Harper holds his second news conference in
as many days, this time in the foyer. Again one of his aides
controls the list of names of reporters with questions. When asked
if his two press conferences were a sign of a new communications
strategy, Harper tersely responded, "I will be available
whenever I have something to announce."
> March 1: Harper holds his third wide-ranging news
conference in the foyer since becoming PM. Reporters are pleased
with the amount of questions being taken and the newsworthiness of
the answers Harper is providing at these events, but at the same
time are still uncomfortable with his aides controlling who asks
> March 7: Harper's staff tells reporters they will
no longer be allowed to wait for ministers in the third-floor Centre
Block hallway outside the cabinet meeting room. His staff says
Harper and his ministers will take questions a floor below in the
foyer. The PMO says the reason for the change is "more
space." Reporters are suspicious it will give cabinet ministers
more escape routes after cabinet meetings. Harper holds his fourth
press conference in the foyer with his aides controlling who asks
questions. While he holds his press conference on the second floor,
embattled Trade Minister David Emerson leaves the cabinet room on
the third floor and faces a smaller pack of reporters.
> March 8: Parliamentary Press Gallery president Emanuelle
Latraverse writes a formal letter of complaint to the PMO, saying
the new restrictions on covering cabinet meetings would "roll back decades of tradition and impede the freedom of the press to have access to our country's top decision
> March 17: The Globe and Mail publishes a leaked internal
government document revealing the Conservatives are deliberately
restricting media access to cabinet ministers as part of their
communications strategy. The decision to not allow reporters to set
up outside of cabinet meetings is specifically mentioned as part of
> March 23: Some reporters fed up with Harper's aides
controling who asks questions start shouting comments and follow-up
questions during a Harper press conference in Gatineau.
> March 24: A meeting between the Parliamentary Press
Gallery executive and officials from the PMO does little to settle
the growing row, and raises new concerns that the PMO may hold
secret cabinet meetings to circumvent House of Commons rules
allowing reporters to set up outside publicly announced
> March 27: A transcript of the meeting between the Press
Gallery and the PMO communication staff is released to reporters.
PoliticsWatch publishes the full transcript.
> March 28: The government holds a cabinet meeting without
informing the media. Harper later defends the decision at a press
conference in the foyer, saying it is within his constitutional
> March 31: A rookie B.C. Conservative MP issues an an
apology after writing a letter to a local newspaper floating the
idea of jailing journalists who write inaccurate or misleading news
> April 5: Harper holds a surprise scrum with reporters
after a Tory caucus meeting. It is the first time in two months
Harper meets the Hill media without his aides controlling who asks
> April 7: At their annual general meeting, the Press
Gallery membership unanimously supports resolutions to deplore
efforts by the PMO to limit access to cabinet ministers and to
signal it would no longer allow PMO aides control who asks questions
at press conferences. Journalists informally agree not to provide
their names to Harper's aide and to instead line up at a Press
Gallery microphone at news conferences.
> April 11: The Press Gallery sets up its own microphones
in the foyer where Harper is scheduled to hold a news conference to
launch the Federal Accountability Act. At the last minute, the PMO
moves the location to a smaller room in the Centre Block. Reporters
tell Harper's aide they will not be providing him their names for a
list of questions. Harper delays the news conference by 20 minutes
and reluctantly relents to take questions from the first two
reporters in the line up.
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