(Hey, it ain't easy always coming up with these heds, ya know.)
The Star was one of the media outlets that chose to remain.
Today my friend and colleague Susan Delacourt, Ottawa bureau chief for the Star, emailed with a comment. I thought it better to give her a posting of her own. Here it is:
It looks like a silly spat. It many ways it is.
For print reporters, this whole business of scrums and how they run is a sideshow. We don't need TV or voice clips to write about the Prime Minister.
So I haven't leaned in any strong direction on the list until recently, when I started to see that Canada's Prime Minister, personally, was taking a keen interest. In fact, it was so important to him that he waded into the fray personally, rather than leave it to his handlers, at the now-infamous accountability announcement. (Where he refused to recognize the reporters lined up at the microphone and tried to choose his own questioner.)
The fact that the top politician in Canada thinks this issue is worth his while means, I'm sorry, then it becomes important to us too.
Why is it so important to him? We don't know.
Why is it so important to us that we decide who ask questions? Let me just give it a try:
The Parliamentary Press Gallery is an elected institution in Ottawa. Every year, we vote for its executive members who have regular meetings. There is a PPG staff, with a budget, to serve as a central clearing house/operation centre/hub between the government and the media. These are the folks who call all of us at home when there's a disaster, who make sure that reporters aren't paid lobbyists harassing politicians, who oversee decorum and civility on the Hill.
We want the PPG to run the news conferences because if they do a bad job -- giving all the questions to the CBC, or English language or Toronto-based media, or men/women only, for example -- we can hold them accountable.
Note that word: ACCOUNTABLE. We like the concept too. We believe in it. We have built rules around it. These are rules that have functioned for many years, to the benefit of reporters AND politicians. Because there are organized scrums after cabinet, for instance, ministers aren't chased around the clock at restaurants, at their homes and outside their offices. Canada has not seen the kind of excessive camera-stalking of politicians, for instance, largely because we've had a civilized dialogue on the rules of engagement here.
If that relationship is to be revisited, we do not think it's unreasonable for it to be a two-way conversation. So far, the PMO has not proposed any new arrangements that involve compromise on their part, or even input from us. Nor has anyone explained why PMO needs to run the scrums.
I grew up, journalistically, at the Globe and Mail, where the motto still runs on the editorial page every day: "The subject who is truly loyal to the Chief Magistrate will neither advise nor submit to arbitrary measures." Why don't I just leave it at that?
Over to you.