Saturday, March 17, 2012

Christy Clark decides to be more like Gordon Campbell

Lively read from Harvey Oberfeld on the controversy over Christy Clark's refusal to take questions from the media at a Vancouver photo op, and new communications director Sara MacIntyre's snark-laden on-camera exchange with reporters over the question ban. (Snark-laden on both sides.)
The control-freak approach to avoiding questions from journalists or unscripted exchanges with the public is popular these days. Stephen Harper - for whom MacIntyre did similar work - is a big fan. And he is also prime minister, which might lead some to think it's not a bad tactic.
Not so good for democracy though. Though it's fair to question our performance, reporters play an important role in asking questions that the public might want answered. No one anointed the media as public representatives, but it's part of the checks and accountability of our system and not lightly to be abandoned. (And, theoretically, if the news media ask all the wrong questions people will quit paying attention to them. Which, in fairness, I note they are.)
The alternative is politicians spouting scripted platitudes and talking points.
It's an odd approach for Clark to choose. Her record in government wasn't impressive, but Clark's leadership campaign was based in part on her abilities as a politician, which had been highly rated. Her radio background and personable nature were supposed to make her an effective communicator, able to perform well in challenging situations.
Turning her into a politician like Gordon Campbell or Stephen Harper, sticking to stiffly scripted set pieces in staged settings, tosses away what was claimed as a major political asset.
The increasing distance between politicians and the people they represent, which looks much like dislike, is also damaging for democracy.
As premier, Glen Clark, like those before him, was scrummed regularly by reporters. When the legislature was sitting - a less rare event in those days - the Press Gallery pack could usually count on one or two chances a day to pose questions. Clark also wandered the legislature lawn, talking, sometimes arguing, with people.
Campbell ended all that. He wouldn't stop for questions in the hall, no matter how pressing the issues.
Instead, he introduced what the press gallery types called secret scrums. Reporters were summoned to the premier's office infrequently and waited for Campbell to emerge from an inner office and stand in front of flags and take questions. At any moment he could wave a cheery thanks and bolt away, avoiding tough topics. Campbell also wasn't one for walkabouts, since RCMP officers accompanied him for security. (Though it's hard to imagine Clark having much less need for security by the end of his time as premier.)
Of course, Campbell won three elections, so maybe the tactics work politically.
But at the same time, voter contempt for, or at least disinterest in, politics and politicians, seems to be rising.
Winning elections at the expense of a diminished democracy seems a bad trade for any responsible politician.

Footnote: In the video, MacIntyre claims that there was no release from the premier's office saying the premier would be available.
That wasn't true. Journalist Jeremy Hainsworth notes the Office of the Premier did issue an advisory at 5:34 p.m. on March 13 that said "The event will be held indoors, and photo and interview opportunities will be held after the Premier's address on the trade show floor."
Which suggests level of disorganization in the premier's office, perhaps the result of too many highly paid people rushing around each thinking he or she is in charge.
MacIntyre's testy and inaccurate response also suggests a certain panic. I did a weekly piece for Shaw TV on B.C, politics and policy and frequently had MacIntyre on, when she was the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation rep, to offer commentary. She was excellent, prepared and poised on camera and offering useful perspective. Not at all like in the unfortunate clip.

1 comment:

Scotty on Denman said...

I still believe Christy Clark sincerely wanted to call an early election immediately after winning the BC Liberal leadership one year ago. Her natural self-confidence would never have seen her victory as a de facto rejection of her opponents, who were all tainted Campbellites. No, she won because in her mind Christy is Christy; the leadership win was merely a perfunctory proof, in case there were any party members who needed reassurance, that she could go on to win a general election. Caucus did not share the same level of confidence, however, and pressured Christy to renege on her campaign promise for fear of being annihilated in an early general election. From this point on Christy would be able to blame party strategists for not letting Christy be Christy, for not getting behind her simplistic princess warrior schtick with the same enthusiasm. And, you know what?...she's partly right. Her new press secretary, imported from the Ottawa Conservatives, has been brought in to run defence for the shoot-from-the-lip Premier, to head off ill-considered comments about the Senate or the judiciary, to preclude news bites of the BC Liberal leader convulsing and foaming at the mouth at the mere mention of Adrian Dix, to in fact stop Christy from being Christy. This is a conundrum.

Christy blames BC Liberal misfortunes on not being allowed to be Christy while the rest of the party blames BC Liberal misfortunes on precisely the opposite, on precisely Christy being Christy.

Would you buy an election from these people?