Do you recall how many news or “media” conferences the Liberal government has held since Wade MacLauchlan became Premier in May, 2015? I can remember three, and there may have been a few more, but I know they were completely choreographed affairs designed to ensure that the packaged information and “message” the government wanted to present to the media and public – and only that message – was all the media (and public) were given.
With each scheduled news conference, the media were notified the morning of the day of the event just a couple of hours before it was held, and the only people attending were pre-selected, hand-picked and personally invited, usually people who the government knew were supportive of the announcement, or could not be overlooked without risking significant unwanted backlash.
For example, I recall vividly the day Premier MacLauchlan called a news conference to announce his new abortion policy on March 31, 2016. I later learned from an executive member of the PEI Right to Life Association that after the media were notified late in the morning, just an hour or two before the time it was scheduled to begin, she received a call from a media person asking for a comment, and she had to confess she had heard nothing about it. She then called the Premier’s office and was told that the news conference was “only for media” and that she couldn’t attend, but learned later that day when the CBC Compass story aired a video of the event that a large room filled with well-known pro-abortion advocates were invited.
When Premier MacLauchlan held a news conference with then Minister of Education, Doug Currie, to announce that no schools would be closed after the contentious months-long schools review process, the media were again given just a couple of hours notice. The “live-streamed” event presented the Premier and Minister at a head table, each reading from a carefully-scripted text, then stoically walking off-stage and out of the room, with no – if I recall correctly – follow-up questions from the media.
The long and the short of it is that the current Liberal government has had absolutely no interest in making itself available to the media or giving organizations and the general public access to government. This refusal to dialogue and engage with Islanders represents a total affront to democracy. But enough about the problem….let’s move on to the solution!
If I am elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of PEI and then Premier of Prince Edward Island I will provide full access to government to both the media and public in the following manner.
- A two-hour question/answer event will be held bi-weekly where I. as Premier – and a select number of (rotating) Ministers from different government departments – will be fully available to the media and general public for questions.
- A list of people will be created to ask questions in advance of each question/answer event; however, that list will contain only the names of the designated representatives from each of the media/public organization; e.g., the questions that will be asked will NOT need to be submitted in advance. The list will allot 5 minutes to each person, so there will be a maximum of 24 people asking questions with each event. If fewer people indicate a desire to ask a question at a particular event, more time-per-person will be allocated accordingly.
- Each media/public organization will be permitted to submit the name of one reporter and/or spokesperson to government in advance of each event to be included in the list of people asking questions. In the interest of fairness and manageability, each person on the list for each media/public organization will be provided an opportunity to ask just one question (with one follow-up “supplemental” question).
- These events will in no way be “scripted,” nor will there be any restrictions placed on what either media or representatives from public organizations can ask either me – as Premier – or Ministers of government.
- I, as Premier, and Ministers, will not use up any of the 2-hour allotted time for these media/public events giving speeches or statements. Immediately after being seated at a head table, the first person on the speaker’s list will ask his/her question.
- If – and this is likely to be the case on a semi-frequent basis – I, as Premier, or other Ministers at the head table, do not have immediate access to information to provide an adequate response to a given question, a written answer to that question will be posted on a designated government web page – for the questioner (or anyone else) to see – as soon as possible following the event, and not later than 2 weeks, when the next media/public event will be held.
- If, after two hours transpires, there are still individuals on the list of people lined up to ask questions for that particular event who have not asked a question, they will be the first people on the list of people to ask questions at the subsequent media/public engagement event.
- These events will be allowed to be recorded by anyone in attendance, live-streamed, or reported – in part or whole – to the public in whatever manner deemed suitable by the media/public attendees.
That will be real transparency, Kevin!