Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s tour of the North ended Friday with a dust-up involving a Chinese journalist who was prevented from asking a question about rules surrounding foreign takeovers.
Li Xuejiang of the People’s Daily, China’s largest newspaper, has been following the week-long tour.
The Prime Minister’s Office limits the number of questions during public events and other journalists on the tour offered Mr. Li the opportunity to query Mr. Harper.
When staff refused to recognize him, Mr. Li tried to take the microphone, triggering a tussle involving one of the prime minister’s communication officers that ended with him being hauled to the back of the room by RCMP security staff.
He was not detained, nor charged.
“It’s not fair,” Mr. Li said afterward. “I would have liked the prime minister to clarify the federal government policy and regulations towards foreign state-owned companies investment because it is not clear since the Nexen takeover. People in China would want to know.”
Last winter, CNOOC Ltd., China’s state oil company, was given the green light to take over and Nexen Inc., in a $15.1-billion (U.S.) deal for the Alberta oil patch giant.
But Mr. Harper erected new barriers to foreign investment by state-owned companies.
There are 10 journalists following Mr. Harper on this week’s tour, and his availabilities have been tightly scripted, with only four or five questions allowed before they are cut off.
The incident took place at the end of an event at the Raglan Mine in northern Quebec, where Mr. Harper was lauding a renewable energy project funded by the federal government.
Mr. Li, the newspaper’s bureau chief and a former Washington correspondent, says the communications staff initially gave him the indication he would be called upon, but then revoked it just before the prime minister’s availability.
He said he doesn’t intend to ask his embassy to file a protest, and apologized for causing a fuss.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister, Andrew MacDougall, responded on Twitter saying the matter will be raised with the Parliamentary Press Gallery and he called on Mr. Li to apologize immediately.
“Agree or disagree with how events are run, there was no excuse for the Chinese state reporter to get physical with our staff,” Mr. MacDougall wrote.
But Mr. Li was incredulous.
“Why should I apologize? They should apologize to me for depriving me of my right to ask a question,” Mr. Li responded.
Tension between the Canadian media and the prime’s minister’s staff has largely become a matter of routine since the Conservatives were elected, but it the incident is the first of its kind with the international press.
The incident capped a week where Mr. Harper hop-scotched through the Arctic with three – sometimes four – federal ministers in tow, reannouncing some measures from the last federal budget, and adding $100-million (Canadian) in new money for mineral resource mapping in the region.
It is a broad effort to lay the foundation for a resource boom in the Arctic, something Mr. Li said is of particular interest to Chinese readers and investors.
Opposition New Democrats have dismissed Mr. Harper’s tour of the region as little more than a taxpayer-funded photo-op.
Mr. Harper met with Inuit leaders from across the country as part of the journey and took time to praise them on Friday.
“It was a very positive, forward-looking discussion,” he said. “We all recognize there are serious challenges, social challenges that exist in the Arctic regions of Canada. At the same time, the Inuit are very proud people with a very long history of adventure and self-reliance.The focus of the leaders is overwhelmingly on the great opportunities that are ahead of them.”