As a new journalist and (apparently lifelong) journalism student, I find big events like Stephen Harper’s visit pretty fascinating. I tried to pay attention to how Harper treated the media as Prime Minister, and I was even more curious about how he would treat the media as a campaigning Conservative leader.
Media were to arrive “no later than 8:20 a.m.” to the event (which ended up starting right before 10) I met The Omega’s news editor Jim Elliot at the venue at 8 a.m. and we made our move towards the door. After we eventually found the right one, we walked in and were greeted by local Conservative campaign staff. We were asked to show some kind of ID to prove that we were reporters – something Jim didn’t have yet, but I was able to vouch for him, along with help from another reporter present.
Local Conservative campaign staff members were friendly and seemed excited about the party leader’s visit. We signed in, leaving our contact information and business cards, and took a seat in a small, taped-off side area in the quiet warehouse.
We were initially told we couldn’t leave the area, but that restriction was somewhat loose and unclear.
And then the bomb sniffing dog arrived. A member of the RCMP emerged from a hallway and asked awaiting media if they knew that they would have to have their things searched. When we told him we didn’t know that, he chuckled and then sighed, saying that someone should have told us. No one seemed too upset by the prospect, however, and we lined our bags up on the ground for inspection.
Other than some slobber on one CBC reporter’s microphone, our stuff was no worse for wear. About 15 minutes later we were quickly briefed and then led by a Conservative party member out of the waiting area.
The media area was set at the very back of the room, about 40 feet from where the Conservative leader would be speaking. After waiting for another five minutes or so, local Conservative candidate Cathy McLeod emerged to raucous applause to introduce the man of the hour. I took photos, Jim took notes and Harper spoke. After a 20-minute speech, Harper wrapped up and then turned to take questions from the media.
At Monday’s event, the Conservative leader stuck with the format of only taking four questions. Journalists from Reuters, Canadian Press and Radio-Canada filled the national spots and Kamloops This Week reporter Cam Fortems filled the local spot. No follow-up questions were allowed – the Conservative leader answered on his own terms.
Overall, the media felt like a nuisance to be tolerated. Things felt controlled and very much in the hands of the Conservative party, which could be seen two ways – either they’re very professional or they’re very paranoid.