Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s practice of avoiding questions from journalists on Parliament Hill has now stretched beyond 40 days, an approach to the media that is at odds with decades of tradition in which party leaders routinely tout, defend and explain their policies though frequent back-and-forth exchanges with reporters.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh all took media questions as they were entering caucus meetings or in news conferences, but Mr. Poilievre did not – a consistent pattern.
Mr. Poilievre, who is also leader of the official opposition, did not hold a news conference after winning the Conservative leadership on Sept. 10. He last took two questions from Parliament Hill journalists on Sept. 13, after a testy exchange in which one Hill reporter heckled the new leader over his original plan not to take any questions at all. (Global News reporter David Akin later apologized.)
Mr. Poilievre has conducted a few interviews with media, including Ottawa radio outlets, but has not taken questions in a news conference or media availability format with members of the Press Gallery, which consists of 302 members from 48 agencies and outlets, not counting freelance journalists, since becoming party leader.
His political rivals have taken note of the situation.
Asked about the issue, the Prime Minister’s Office said Canadians deserve answers from their political leadership about their ideas and policies, even when the questions are tough.
“It shows a lack of confidence in his own ideas that Mr. Poilievre refuses to face questions and scrutiny, especially when he offers slogans and simplistic proposals to complex issues. All political leaders bear responsibility to answer questions, in order to remain accountable and transparent with Canadians,” said the statement issued by Ann-Clara Vaillancourt of the PMO.
“The PM continues to take questions, usually several times a week, on any issues he’s asked about,” she said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Mr. Poilievre is hiding from critical questions on how to help Canadians during challenging times. “We are always happy to take questions and we will continue to do so,” he said in a statement.
The Globe reached out to Mr. Poilievre’s office for comment on Wednesday, but did not receive a response.
Mr. Poilievre forecast this approach during the Conservative leadership race, declaring during a debate in May that he doesn’t try to go through the “Liberal media” to get his message out, but rather connects with Canadians through social media.
Mr. Poilievre’s following on social media – he has 465,000 followers on Twitter, for example, and 588,000 followers on Facebook – was key to reaching prospective and existing Conservatives as he sought support during the month’s-long leadership race. Since winning, he has also used those platforms to talk about his policies and criticisms of the federal government.
Asked, on Wednesday, about Mr. Poilievre’s aversion to questioning from Parliament Hill journalists, Quebec Conservative MP Gérard Deltell, the environment critic, defended the leader’s approach
“I think there are plenty of ways to express our position, and to talk to Canadians. Among them you have the House of Commons, you have Question Period,” Mr. Deltell said. “The leader is there to ask the government, to take the government to account, and this is exactly what he is doing.”
Last weekend, Mr. Poilievre skipped the Press Gallery dinner held for the first time since a two-year hiatus linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. The event sees politicians and journalists who work on Parliament Hill come together for an evening of laughs at each other’s expense, with party leaders delivering comic speeches.
Christopher Waddell, a professor emeritus at Carleton University’s School of Journalism, said the challenge for Mr. Poilievre is that he may be reaching like-minded voters through social media and interviews with conservative media outlets, but risks not connecting with voters who follow politics through the mainstream media.
He is, said Mr. Waddell, surrendering this stage to other party leaders.
“The other party leaders will be glad to fill up the time that would have gone to him,” said Mr. Waddell, who was both the former CBC Parliamentary Bureau Chief in Ottawa and a former Ottawa bureau chief with The Globe and Mail.
Political scientist Alex Marland said opposition leaders are usually looking for media attention.
“It’s certainly a little unusual,” said Mr. Marland, who is based at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.
“It speaks to a broader issue in society that transcends one party leader. It’s a trend we’re seeing in the United States as well, and it’s really about this sense of Conservatives battling the mainstream media and alleging biases,” he said.
Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to state that Ann-Clara Vaillancourt issued the statement from the PMO.