Press shuts down blogger

A couple of weeks ago, I headed down the street to Parliament Hill to cover the budget for my blog and for Blogging Tories. You can see the product of that effort here, here, here, and here. I have a Hill pass that indicates that I have been pre-screened by security and allows me access to a variety of places in the Parliamentary district. While hovering on the periphery of a budget-day scrum with Jack Layton, I was spotted by Elizabeth Thompson of the Montreal Gazette. She scolded me and expressed to this lowly blogger that he wasn’t allowed to scrum with Layton. Largely ignoring her, I continued to mind my own business and started to needlessly check my camera settings. Thompson alerted Parliamentary Press Gallery President Richard Brennan to my presence and minutes later, security asked me to leave the foyer area.

I left the hallway outside of the foyer and walked over to the railway room to interview some ‘stakeholders’ of the budget. This went off without incident and during that time, I cheerfully chatted with some reporters that were in the same room.

Having completed my interviews with the stakeholders, I left and headed on over to the Rotunda where I had a friendly chat with Jack Layton. Elizabeth May and her assistant were also hanging around chatting when I saw Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc walk by. Having heard that his party was the lone opposition party supporting the budget, I asked him for an interview. He agreed. After the interview something ugly happened.

An official from the Press Gallery walked over and informed me that he had received “complaints” about me. “Thompson?” I inquired. “Complaints”, he seemed to acknowledge. I pointed out that we were currently in the Rotunda of Parliament and that my pass allowed me to be there. “But you have a camera” he informed me. He called over a security guard to escort me from Parliament.


Yes, the Parliamentary Press Gallery, with no powers granted to it by constitution or statute, used security to remove somebody who had the right to be present on the Hill granted to him by the Speaker of the House.

A similar incident happened recently when two female staffers from the Conservative Resource Group were similarly removed from the Hill by security when the Liberals complained to the Gallery.

After the incident, the Prime Ministers office called the sergeant-at-arms (who works on behalf of the Speaker on Hill security) and was told that the Gallery and Liberals were wrong to ask for the ouster of the CRG staff from Dion scrums (and scrums in general).

Of course, this brings up a few questions. If security on the Hill is the responsibility of the Speaker, and if I have been granted access to most non-privileged areas of the Hill by the Speaker, what authority does an official of the PPG have in calling in the guard to have me removed from perhaps the most public area of the Hill? Elizabeth May was also present in the Rotunda, yet she is not an elected member, nor is she associated with an elected party in Parliament. She has also been granted security clearance to the Hill by the Speaker. So, is it the camera? What is so offensive about my camera? Since I am cleared to be present on the Hill, is it because I haven’t been cleared to use one of the Press Guild’s many tools? Would May be ejected by the Gallery if she was in possession of a camera? What if I am invited by a politician to use my camera on the Hill? Is this forbidden? Was this interview with Jack Layton in the NDP leader’s office violating some unwritten rule of the media powers that be? Does the CRG/Dion Hill incident (and the aftermath) set a precedent for my presence (with camera) on the Hill? Again, why does the power reside in a largely unelected, unaccountable body of Parliament that is not defined by statute? I’ve made a sport out of taking on institutions with artificial and inflated senses of entitlement, maybe the Press Gallery is next.

Or, you may ask, why don’t I just suck it up and join this all-powerful guild as some of the friendlier gallery-folk have suggested? I’ve always been unsure about this move as I am a declared partisan, yet I am not employed by the Conservative Party. Still, should partisan media exist? Should it be allowed? Since this blog is de facto media and it already operates in a partisan manner, should the CRTC or Elizabeth Thompson shut it down? Frankly, I can understand reasons against ‘official’ recognition of my media status in the Parliamentary precinct. After all, couldn’t I flood Conservatives with long and friendly press conference questions to waste time? (yes). Would I? (no). Would I sell out my media brethren and sign up for ‘the list’? (yes).

But then again, the game is changing and bloggers are becoming a new category in a variety of forums they intersect. Will the next evolutionary phase be a smooth one or will it require direct action?

As the concept of “press” is being redefined to include bloggers, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised that some of the “officials” that are trampling on our rights include members of the “dead tree” division of the guild we wish to complement.

UPDATE: I’ve been told that I am ineligible for membership in the Parliamentary Press Gallery because I am not employed as a journalist by any organization. Do you think that the evolution of media and reporting should change some of the traditions and practices on parliament hill?

That time when I met Elizabeth May

This week I also met Elizabeth May. The leader of the Green Party was in high spirits that day despite Garth Turner’s betrayal of everyone (conservatives, constituents, May and the Greens) just a few hours earlier. Turner campaigned for May in London North Centre, teased us all by telling us that he was considering “going Green”. He even turned his back on his constituents, which during a townhall in Halton, about 1 in 4 told Garth to go Green while not one told him to go Liberal.

Anyway, this post is about Elizabeth May. Unfortunately, we didn’t have too much time to chat.

Stephen Taylor and Elizabeth May
Stephen Taylor and Elizabeth May

It would be interesting to see May in a debate with party leaders during an election. However, should a party have at least one elected (or sitting) MP in order to have such a platform? What is your opinion?

If I remember correctly, Reform was allowed to debate only after Deb Grey won a by-election. If Turner had gone Green, he would have been a sitting, yet unelected Green MP. What should the threshold be? Also, consider that the laws governing the identity of a “party” have changed since 1989 when Grey became the first Reform MP.

You’ll find Liberals advocating that May should be allowed to debate because the Green vote is thought to cut into NDP support. NDPers thus are less likely to support the idea. Since Conservatives are depending on the NDP to split the left, they’re more likely to support the NDP position.

What may be certain though, is that we ought to have clear guidelines for Green Party inclusion in a televised debate.

BUT… this brings us to another topic to consider. The national networks are largely in charge of debate format and the participants invited and their decisions are largely subjective and outside of parliamentary review and jurisdiction. If a debate were held in a different forum (and medium — say… online) who would accept an invitation to debate and on what terms? If Harper, Dion, Duceppe and May accepted an invitation, would Layton turn down the opportunity to debate?

Is there such thing as an “official” debate?

George W Strawman II

The Tories released their Clean Air Act yesterday. Like 99.9% of Canadians, I haven’t read through the details yet but it seems that the media is particularly hostile to it, along with environmental groups. Luckily, they’ll use the old standby for criticizing Canadian conservative policy: George W Bush, of course!

George W Bush is unpopular in Canada because of the Iraq war and has low approval numbers in the US too. Like virtually all Canadians, I haven’t read the Clean Air Act, but thankfully the media, NGOs and Jack Layton will use Canadian dislike for George Bush to bring us up to speed on how we’re supposed to feel about the proposed Conservative legislation on clean air.

“The proposed federal regulations presented today by the Harper government line up with the outdated and weak standards of the Bush Administration, not the stringent standards of the state of California” — The Sierra Club

The government strategy also misses the point that in today’s world, the battle against global warming is an iconic cause on par with the war on international terrorism. To witness the passionate crusade led by former American vice-president Al Gore for more action on climate change.

But then it could be that it is much easier for Harper to borrow a page from George W. Bush on fighting terrorism than one from a Democrat such as Al Gore on fighting climate change. — Chantel Hebert, Toronto Star, Oct 20th, 2006

The Conservatives’ plan is similar to one announced three years ago by U.S. President George W. Bush, who called for an 18 per cent reduction in emission intensity by 2012.

Bush argues any attempt to cut emissions would harm the U.S. economy, particularly because two major competitors, China and India, aren’t bound by the Kyoto Protocol to reduce theirs. — Peter Gorrie, Toronto Star, Oct 12th, 2006

Canada’s commitment to the Kyoto Accord is being ignored, and Harper is following George Bush‘s lead in working on smaller green issues while climate change isn’t directly addressed. — Midland Free Press, October 18th 2006

Some environmentalists saw the minister’s insistence on legislation as little more than a stalling move reminiscent of tactics used by U.S. President George W. Bush. The Conservatives insist their approach amounts to an effort to inject some accountability into pollution-fighting efforts. — Red Deer Advocate, October 11th, 2006

The Harper government has closely aligned itself with the American philosophy, which in environmental terms is not really the type of neighbourhood in which you would want to raise your children. Under George Bush, the Americans firmly believe global warming is largely a media creation, national parks should be harvested for their natural resources and the Alaskan wilderness is only there so it can be tapped for oil. — Chatham Daily News, October 20th, 2006

But environmentalists noted the intensity-based approach, also adopted in the U.S. by President George W. Bush and by the provincial government in Alberta, make it easy for large industries to increase emissions and still meet their reduction targets when the economy is growing. — Ian Bailey and Mike De Souza, Canwest, October 11th, 2006

Its targets have been consigned to the recycling bin by Ambrose, although she insists her government still subscribes to the international climate accord. She also (echoing an argument from the Bush administration) says technological advances, including storing carbon emissions underground, may accelerate progress on greenhouse gases. — Susan Riley, Ottawa Citizen, October 20, 2006

For example, at the first hint that Ontario carmakers might be forced to further restrict tailpipe admissions last week, Premier Dalton McGuinty — an alleged green champion — was warning Ambrose to back off.

He was supported by another nominal “progressive,” union leader Buzz Hargrove. The autoworkers boss claimed that if the Big Three are dragged, protesting all the way, into the future, and an era of more energy-efficient vehicles, they will be driven out of business — taking thousands of jobs and the Ontario economy down with them. George W. Bush couldn’t have said it better. — Susan Riley, Ottawa Citizen, October 9, 2006

(Brad) LAVIGNE: There are no timelines, Geoff, no timelines and no targets. So, yes, do we want a clean air act? Well if it’s in the look of Jack Layton’s with targets and timelines, we love it. But if it’s a Stephen Harper-Rona Ambrose-George Bush special…

(Geoff) NORQUAY: There’s that George Bush again.

LAVIGNE: I got it in there.

— From Mike Duffy Live, October 11th, 2006

“No targets means no accountability, … This announcement is nothing more than a recipe for delay. Adopting the Bush administrations standards will not lower emissions from vehicles.” — John Bennett of the Sierra Club.

The intensity targets to which legislation refers are even more troublesome. These are used heavily in the George Bush environmental platform. — Brantford Expositor, October 20, 2006

This is basically the Bush approach to greenhouse gases … Bush has adopted an intensity target for the U.S. which translates into a considerable increase in actual emissions.” — Matthew Bramley of the Pembina Institute

It’s essentially a Xerox copy of policies right out of the Bush administration. It shouldn’t be called a Clean Air Act because the air is going to get dirtier and dirtier over the next few years. — Jack Layton

Intensity targets, which have been favoured by the Bush administration in the U.S., would reduce emissions relative to a measure of output; for example, every barrel produced. — Doug Ward, Vancouver Sun

‘Intensity-based’ are words beloved by the Republican Bush government which will allow for an actual increase in greenhouse gas emissions as the economy grows — John Godfrey

Contrast that with Harper’s tentative approach to cleaner air and smog reductions. Nowhere in Mr. Harper’s speech is there mention of global warming. Only once did he allude to a connection between air pollutants and climate change. Clearly, he speaks from the same environmental textbook as George W. Bush. — W.E. Bill Belliveau, Times & Transcript, October 14, 2006

In fact, George W. Bush, like Harper, also introduced legislation to improve air quality. — Keith Boag, CBC, October 10, 2006

Harper’s announcement in Vancouver today was very much like one made by U-S President George W. Bush three years ago — John Bennett, director of the Climate Action Network of Canada

Well it’s really clear, I’ve said it before, but Stephen Harper is a carbon copy of George Bush, and not just on this file, but on this one the pun is intentional. We are following George Bush‘s approach on intensity targets. Bush invented that. And we’re calling something a clean air act reminds me very much of George Bush?s clear skies program that resulted in more air pollution. — Elizabeth May, Green Party Leader, October 10, 2006

That George Bush ought to resign if for no other reason than to stop being used as a strawman for the Canadian media, Jack Layton and Elizabeth May. But seriously, using Bush this way comes at the expense of much needed debate in the MSM on the legislation.

And now, I’m off to read the Clean Air Act.