Election 2015: “Lying piece of shit” episode inevitable

Spoof on man who accosted reporters at Conservative campaign event, Internet image
Spoof on man who accosted reporters at CPC campaign event, Internet image

During the federal election campaign in the autumn of 1965, dozens of students at my boarding school in rural Saskatchewan traveled in a big cattle truck to hear Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson speak in the Humboldt arena. The building was packed and Pearson gave a fulsome speech which was heard by anyone who showed up. Perhaps those were more innocent times. Or perhaps Pearson cared more about a vigorous democracy than some who have inhabited the office since then.

Tightly scripted events

Let’s fast forward to the 2015 campaign. Want to attend one of the prime minister’s campaign events?  You have to be pre-screened before you can get into the hall and only Conservative supporters make the cut. Some of them are chosen by the Conservatives’ equivalent to central casting to sit behind the prime minister, nodding like bobbleheads and applauding on cue. It is all rather demeaning.

All events are tightly scripted so the prime minister can deliver his chosen message – tough on crime one day and a terrorist behind every bush on the next. In Etobicoke on August 18, Mr. Harper announced that the Conservatives plan to reintroduce so-called “life means life” legislation which expired when he unleashed the longest election campaign in modern Canadian history. The bill proposes to remove judicial discretion and imprison offenders for the rest of their natural lives if they are convicted of certain murders or high treason.

Reporters’ questions

Reporters get to ask a total of five questions at Harper’s campaign events and on this day three of them dealt with the Mike Duffy trail. Evidence tabled there and cross examination of the prime minister’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright have exposed frantic attempts which occurred in the Prime Minister’s Office to cover up and manage Duffy’s expenses fiasco.

The media’s questions in Etobicoke did not please one heckler in the rent-a-crowd who shouted that reporters should confine their questions to the proposed life-means-life legislation. The prime minister, to his credit, asked the heckler to desist and the reporter to continue.

An angry man

However, this interruption was mild compared to what occurred at the end of the event when an obviously enraged older man confronted reporters at close range calling them and the media in general “pieces of shit” and “lying pieces of shit.” The man, who refused to give his name, was wearing campaign buttons on his lapel for Ted Opitz, who was the MP for Etobicoke Centre and is seeking re-election and for Doug Ford, the former Toronto city councillor and unsuccessful mayoralty candidate. The Toronto Star has found the heckler and named him. In a telephone interview with The Star, he extended his broadside calling the entire Toronto media a “lying piece of shit.”

Logical end point

Christopher Waddell, an associate professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University and a former parliamentary bureau chief for CBC News, says that these outbursts are “the logical end point of the evolution of political campaigning in Canada.” In a thoughtful article published with iPolitics, Waddell says that in the past leaders appeared at advertised events that were open to the public. Following such an event, that leader would usually hold an informal scrum with reporters in a separate room or location. But that has changed.

Campaign events now, particularly those of the Conservatives, are highly scripted for television sound bites and visuals and are tightly controlled to provide only friendly audiences. Harper and his campaign team do not want him exposed to heckling or discomfiting questions.

Hostile audiences

Another change deals with reporters and their questions. Rather than occurring during a scrum in a separate room or location, the questions are now incorporated into the campaign event itself and reporters must pose them before a partisan and sometimes hostile audience such as occurred in Etobicoke. It is, by design an intimidating arrangement and the recent incident is not exceptional. In the 2011 federal election, CBC reporter Terry Milewski and others frequently had their questions at Conservative shouted down by audience interventions.

Questionable tactics 

The Conservatives are not the only ones to have played from this book but they have taken it to its extreme, as they have with many other questionable tactics.

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Dennis

Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based writer, blogger and a former member of Parliament

3 thoughts on “Election 2015: “Lying piece of shit” episode inevitable”

  1. Hmmm…the Bible instructs in Ephesians 4:15 that we should attempt to “speak the truth in love.” While the current political climate is often characterized by negativity and fear, it is critical that citizens approach public forums with civility. Citizens for Public Justice also recognizes that political leaders can undertake reforms that would promote participation and healthy engagement in civic affairs before electoral campaigns begin: restricting the use of omnibus bills in the House of Commons, ceasing to focus Canada Revenue Agency audits of Canadian charities on “political activities”, respecting evidence-based policy making by allowing scientists to report their findings and re-instituting the long-form census, etc.

  2. In considering Harper and his crew vetting people for crowds like the one under consideration here, it is evident that the sole purpose of Conservative vetting for these crowds and for all appointments is loyalty above all else. And when you consider appointments to the senate, all thirty of those in trouble for doubtful spending are Harper’s appointments. I believe that these appointments and his vetting for his crowds are a very powerful indication of the character of the PM.

  3. It’s not surprising that the Harper team restricts attendance and media involvement, given their similar treatment of the media throughout their time in political office.

    However, it is also disappointing to see reporters use up most of the their questions on one issue, the Duffy affair, when there are so many other issues to be discussed.

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