CTV called it “A Conversation with the Prime Minister.” I have a few alternate names for the program. How about: A Cure for Insomnia? Or even better: An Hour of My Time Wasted. Just a few weeks after my return from India where I noted the toughness and preparedness of the Indian interviewers and hosts, CTV has managed to make my point better than I ever could. Robert Fife, CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief, and Lloyd Robertson, the soon to be former anchor of CTV National News hosted a snooze-fest with the Prime Minister at Christmas.
Stephen Harper rarely makes himself available to journalists and has continuously shown his disdain for them during his time in office. So, when the opportunity arrives to grill the man it must be taken seriously. This has not been an easy year for our P.M. At a time when the Leader of the Opposition is proving to be a difficult if not impossible choice for most Canadians and Jack Layton is losing ground, Stephen Harper has managed to lose support. We can argue back and forth about why Harper can’t find the votes to secure a majority. We can even disagree about some questionable political moves like getting rid of the long gun registry and playing politics with the census, but there is no question that there are an abundance of issues to tackle when you get a chance to interview the Prime Minister. CTV missed that boat…they had a ticket, but couldn’t make the departure time.
For an hour Fife and Robertson lobbed softballs at Stephen Harper and the P.M. in turn batted them out of the park. In the first section on the economy Harper said his government was doing a great job. He even mentioned that “the deficit continues to fall.” I don’t know what universe the Prime Minister lives in but it is clear from his own Finance Minister that the government debt is still expanding and the Canadian economy has slowed to a crawl. Flaherty has even had to extend measures to support spending and job creation. Yet there was not a single rebuttal, not a query about the pronouncements. Hello! Robert, Lloyd, time to wake up.
The interview continued in the same way through the second segment on Canada’s relationship with the U.S. and the “Continental Security Perimeter.” Whatever Harper said was accepted at face value; never a follow up, not even a difficult question. When the P.M. was asked whether there was a chance the government could fall on the issue his answer was, “I don’t go around making threats.” Perhaps a question about past Harper behavior might have been in order here. Never happened.
To be fair, Fife did try to ask a few tough questions about Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan. Are we supporting a crooked regime? Isn’t the Taliban getting stronger? Are we wasting our troops and our money on a war we cannot succeed at? These are old questions that Harper can easily handle and in any case, they were not followed up on. It’s not good enough to ask the tough question, you must then question the answer if you have information that doesn’t jibe with the answers you are getting. Either Fife and Robertson didn’t do their homework or they chose to give Harper a relatively free ride.
The interview with Harper ended with a series of questions about the possibility of an election in 2011. This was the most egregious portion of the program. On several occasions Harper talked about an “opposition coalition.” He made it seem like the NDP, Liberals and Bloc were in cahoots to bring down his government. He went out of his way to question any deals that included those nasty separatists in the Bloc Quebecois. Was this not the perfect opportunity to finally question, among other things, Harper’s past working with the Bloc when he was in opposition and his attempts to unite the opposition parties at that time? Hey, and what’s wrong with a coalition? It is a perfectly legal tool used in the parliamentary system. I might have mentioned that Great Britain is currently being ruled by a coalition government. Harper has railed on-and-on about the terrible possibility of a coalition government. He always seems to make it sound illegal or at least un-parliamentary. It is neither, and a good interviewer should not allow him to get away with the characterization. Heck a poor interviewer should catch this one.
Okay, so those are the things that were actually discussed. This interview was more disheartening for the issues that were never brought up. Stephen Harper was never asked to explain his government’s stand on the Canadian census. The long gun registry was not used as ammunition for debate, but for me there were three issues that demanded tough questions and an effort to get real explanations. Why is Canada now rated last of the industrialized powers in dealing with the environment? Canada’s handling of that issue has embarrassed Canadians of all political stripes.
Nobody in the federal government has been asked to explain the fiasco that was the G-8 and G-20. The huge waste of money for which there has been no explanation. The choice of downtown Toronto as a venue. The disappearance of civil rights. Harper has a lot to answer for here. He can’t answer if he is not asked to.
Finally, the government’s Middle East policies. Whether you agree or disagree with Harper, you have to ask the questions. Is the P.M.’s support for Israel counterproductive in getting a deal between Israel and the Palestinians? I think President Obama would think so. That doesn’t make it right or wrong, but it sure makes it ripe for questioning, especially after Harper went on at length about better relations with our American partners.
By now you get the point. I hated the interview for the waste of an important opportunity and for, in the end, contributing to Canadians lack of interest in politics. It was beyond boring, it was just plain bad. CTV News and Robert Fife should be embarrassed. Lloyd Robertson was never an interviewer of any note and shouldn’t have been there. Let us all hope that when Lisa Laflamme, a real journalist, takes over the anchor position and when the new news bosses settle in at CTV that abominations like this one can be avoided.