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Politics Federal Conservative Party and Leader Scheer increase criticism of media and reporters

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer speaks to supporters at a pre-election event in Ottawa on Oct. 21, 2018.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

The federal Conservative Party and its Leader, Andrew Scheer, have heightened attacks against the news media in recent weeks, lumping reporters and pundits with pro-government elites and publicly criticizing stories that they deem to be inaccurate or biased.

The back-and-forth between the Official Opposition and the news media is mostly playing out on internet platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, but also in open letters and speeches. Mr. Scheer, some of his top MPs and an official Conservative social-media account have taken specific news organizations and reporters to task for their recent coverage, describing one journalist as a “Liberal reporter” and offering alternative headlines or more worthy subject matter in other cases.

In a key speech at the Conservative convention in Halifax in August, Mr. Scheer did not mention the media or the news industry even once. But with the next federal election slightly less than a year away, the Conservatives are making it clear that taking on the media is now a key part of their political message.

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“Never have taxpayers and everyday Canadians more needed someone who will stand up to this government, the media and the privileged elite on their behalf,” Mr. Scheer said in an open letter that was published in the Toronto Sun last weekend.

At a rally in Ottawa to start the one-year countdown to the next election, Mr. Scheer accused media pundits and academics of being on the side of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, saying the Conservatives “don’t always get the same kind of coverage in the mainstream media that he has.”

There were tense relations between the Parliamentary Press Gallery and the previous government of Stephen Harper. Still, the Official Opposition has only recently started to ratchet up its direct criticism of the media.

“When there are instances of inaccurate reporting or attacks on our record, we aren’t going to let them go uncorrected or unchallenged. It’s especially important in an election year that the information Canadians will use to choose their next government is as accurate as possible,” Brock Harrison, the director of communications in Mr. Scheer’s office, said on Thursday.

Faron Ellis, a professor of political science at Lethbridge College, said there is a level of anger in the right-wing movement toward the sense that the media, with its pack mentality, is largely parroting the views of the Liberal government and its supporters.

“There is a growing recognition that the media is increasingly less critical of the overall progressive consensus than it either once was or could be,” Mr. Ellis said.

Still, media experts are worried about the broad attacks against the media, saying they are reminiscent of the language used by U.S. President Donald Trump, who has railed against “fake news” and “failing” media organizations.

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“Journalists provide information that is critical in helping the public make informed decisions. They are therefore a key pillar of democracy and their work must be protected as such, even by those in power who may not agree with their reporting,” said Margaux Ewen, North American director for Reporters Without Borders, an NGO that defends media freedom. “[We are] concerned by any tactics that seek to discredit the media, especially in the context of an election.”

The Conservative Party is pro-actively responding to news stories. In a series of recent shots at CTV News, the Twitter account for Mr. Scheer’s office said the news organization had chosen to “manufacture a controversy” over the Conservative position on whether cannabis should be recriminalized.

On Thursday, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre described a Bloomberg correspondent in Ottawa, Josh Wingrove, as a “Liberal reporter” for referring to a news release in which the Business Council of Canada supported the new federal carbon tax. Mr. Wingrove responded that he had written a full story on the Conservative opposition to the carbon tax, adding he would not respond to the “drive-by character-assassination attempts.”

Later that day, Mr. Scheer expressed his displeasure at a CTV News story about Liberal MPs siding with the Opposition to amend C-75, a bill that would change the way that some terrorism-related offences are treated by prosecutors.

“I fixed your headline: Conservatives embarrass Liberal MPs into fixing part of flawed justice bill,” Mr. Scheer said on Twitter.

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