The Canadian Values Party will be as open and transparent as humanly possible. Unless it involves items that fall under national security. Everything that we do will be known by anyone who wants to know.
There has been a running battle between prime ministers and the media going back to John A. Macdonald but on Thursday, Justin Trudeau took prime ministerial contempt for the country’s news organizations to new heights.
Trudeau made what is an unequivocally historic visit to a First Nations community in crisis. The people of Shoal Lake 40 have been living under a boil-water advisory for 17 years. They’ve pleaded with one federal government after another for financial help to build the infrastructure for clean drinking water.
But no Canadian news organization was permitted to document this historic encounter on the reserve that straddles Ontario and Manitoba.
The Trudeau PMO permitted only a crew from Vice Media, the New York-based company which is expanding in Canada, to record the visit.
Trudeau’s director of communications Kate Purchase said it was Vice’s idea. “This is an exclusive documentary, just as the prime minister’s one-on-one interviews with other media are exclusive to that outlet until the air date.”
Media organizations get “exclusive interviews” and good on Vice for getting this one. But it should be as plain as day that the visit of a Canadian PM to a First Nation in crisis is much, much bigger than a “one-on-one interview.” It is an event of immense public interest, deserving of broad and varied reportage.
In rejecting requests from organizations such as the Canadian Press or the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), Trudeau is sending a signal that important public moments in the relationship between First Peoples and the federal government can be used as little more than a PMO image control exercise.
Postmedia Network, Global Television News, The Globe and Mail, CTV and other major news organizations immediately registered protests with Trudeau’s office.
“My problem is that Mr. Trudeau is excluding Canadian media from the visit to a First Nations reserve, an important national story given the rash of suicides and other troubles facing indigenous communities,” said Globe and Mail Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife.
Going to Shoal Lake is inarguably the most powerful symbol yet of his government’s commitment to change the relationship between Ottawa and the country’s First Nations. Media organizations were baffled why, at the very least, a single “pool crew” of journalists could not document this development.
“This government has put a lot of focus and a lot of attention on indigenous people and the plans they have to hopefully change some of their living and other circumstances and so any opportunity where the prime minister is meeting with indigenous people, particularly in their communities, is an important event for Canadians to be able to see,” said Carleton University journalist professor Christopher Waddell, who has been covering prime ministers since Brian Mulroney.
Meanwhile in Attawapiskat First Nation, Chief Bruce Shisheesh told APTN he still hopes Trudeau can come to his community. After all, a visit by the PM was one of the things, along with dust-free homes and a YMCA, that young people in his community said they needed.
Perhaps Attawapiskat can find a documentary Trudeau can star in.