EDITORIAL: Photo ops are not democracy

Prime Minister Harper, feds practising China-style control over messaging

Photos of Prime Minister Stephen Harper strolling the Kinsol Trestle with schoolchildren graced the pages of newspapers across the country this week.

It’s no doubt part of a plan to show the PM connecting with citizens as a regular guy, but in reality, it’s the latest sign that Harper’s handlers are doing their best to keep their boss away from the questioning media.

Our collective heads shook this week when Prime Minister’s Office staff sent out a media advisory at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday asking that any outlets wishing to cover Harper at the Fairmont Empress – again, photo-op only – must be there at 7:20 a.m.

A simple scheduling mistake made by people thousands of kilometres away? Perhaps. It might also be easy to chalk up the perceived slight to the fact Greater Victoria has no representation from the Conservative Party of Canada, and thus, has no one “on the inside” to steer the PM in the direction of local groups and media.

But this kind of behaviour from the PMO is not reserved to our area.

Last month, a similar tactic was used in Ottawa when a photo opportunity involving Harper was scheduled at a public event, but the regular press corps were not allowed to attend.

We receive daily emails from the PMO, whose staffers diligently keep us and other media abreast of where the PM is and with whom he’s hobnobbing all over the country.

But when we try looking for real information from Ottawa, we get stonewalled.

Following the recent federal funding cut to Camosun College for English as a second language programming, we wanted government input about the feds’ announced plan to administer the program itself. They worked hard to give nothing of substance and pre-written talking points – the norm these days with any federal ministry.

Controlling and managing of the message comes from the top down and is a poor replacement for transparency and democracy. The next time the PM comes to town he should try talking to local media. It might do his image some good.

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