Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre’s boycott of Parliament Hill journalists hit the 40-day mark this week and, to be frank, if The Globe and Mail hadn’t reported on it, most people wouldn’t have been aware it was even going on.
It’s not like Mr. Poilievre has spent the days and nights since he won his party’s leadership wandering in the desert. He was in the House of Commons this week, jousting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Question Period and dutifully pushing the timeless official-opposition narrative that says every single bad thing in your life, and a few you weren’t aware of, was immaculately conceived by the government of the day.
Just like other party leaders, Mr. Poilievre’s Twitter feed is filled with stage-managed photos of his meetings with members of different groups across the country.
And just like other party leaders, his message is tightly scripted and repetitive. If he were to answer questions from the media, the responses would be no less of a deflection than those of Mr. Trudeau, who takes questions about high interest rates and turns them into paeans to GST rebates.
So does it really matter if Mr. Poilievre is the only one in his cohort who doesn’t make himself available to a scrum of reporters on his way into a caucus meeting, or in the more formal setting of a news conference?
From a partisan perspective, not at all. In fact, it’s a good thing. His supporters eat it up.
Mr. Poilievre has long portrayed himself as the victim of a hostile press. “The political media in the Parliamentary Press Gallery are part of the establishment that finds me threatening because I’m upsetting the apple cart,” he told a friendly interviewer in May.
In July, he used his Twitter feed to attack the media in general, and Global News in particular, after a reporter emailed him questions about his meeting with James Topp, a Canadian soldier who is now facing misconduct charges for speaking out against the Armed Forces’ COVID-19 vaccination policies.
And last month Mr. Poilievre torqued an incident during a news conference, at which a reporter heckled him after he had refused to take questions (repeat: at a news conference), in order to raise funds.
“This is what we’re up against,” he said in a fundraising letter. “It’s the media, who are no longer interested in even pretending to be unbiased. They want us to lose.”
This is garden-variety politics. Inventing enemies and playing the role of their victim is an age-old way of rallying your supporters and getting them to open their wallets. For the NDP, the bad guy is ”greedy” corporations; for the Liberals, it’s Pierre Poilievre.
But while attacking the media might be personally profitable, taking it too far can harm society.
It all comes down to the important fact that Mr. Poilievre wants to be prime minister.
This is not about him having to prove that he can handle the cut and thrust of politics; he clearly can.
This is about him failing to acknowledge the inescapable fact that a free press is a critical part of a healthy liberal democracy, and politicians need to do their part, like it or not.
Can you imagine the country led by a PM who refused to speak to the Parliamentary Press Gallery, and who only talked to friendly reporters guaranteed to lob him softball questions about his awesomeness?
Former U.S. president Donald Trump personified this practice during his single, highly destructive term in the White House. He could rely on Fox News and similar networks to pander to his agenda and his ego; the media that actually reported on his presidency were labelled “fake news” and derided in Mr. Trump’s toxic social media feeds.
Democracy in the United States is in crisis today, and the elevation of the lie about the 2020 election outcome by Trump-friendly media outlets is a big part of it.
A democracy without a healthy free press is a democracy in danger. Mr. Poilievre can only hide behind his fabricated victimhood for so long. At some point in his quest to be taken seriously enough to vie competitively for the job of prime minister, he will have to demonstrate the same tolerance for a key pillar of liberal democracy that his fellow party leaders do on a routine basis.
Why not start now?