Five question limit: Harpers campaigning in an anti-media bubble

According to The Mark News: “apparently $10,000 doesn’t buy much time with Stephen Harper.”

The journalists following Canada’s current Prime Minister on his 2011 federal campaign trail for this $10,000 fee are being forced to do their job under press restrictions, which — in terms of freedom of expression, transparency, access to information and open democratic dialogue — is a problem.

As a group, the journalists are only allowed to ask Harper four questions — two in English and two in French — and one is left for the local media, from whichever city they may be passing through. On his April 1st — no, this is not a joke — morning visit to Halifax, Terri Theodore from The Canadian Press said: “the media is being kept at a safe distance from the Prime Minister and on day six reporters were on the other side of a steel fence.”

Postmedia News reports that after a journalist asked Harper why he was limiting the number of questions during his campaign, Harper answered: “If there are other subjects I’m not addressing, I’ll take them. What’s the subject? One subject.” While Harper cuts his audience short, as Macleans explains, “Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and NDP leader Jack Layton place no such limits on questions.”

An editorial in the Toronto Star notes: “reporters serve as the public’s eyes and ears on the campaign trail.” However, despite Harper’s media controls that hamper the work of the messengers, there are other ways to be involved in the 2011 electoral process.

Ever week up until voting day on May 2nd, the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) will be posting different questions about freedom of expression that the organization encourages you to e-mail, call or write to your candidates in your riding. Week one’s questions are: (1) If elected MP of my riding, will you promote a comprehensive public inquiry into the security at the G20 Summit, as recommended by the Public Safety and National Security Committee? (2) What will your political party do to ensure that the right of Canadian citizens to free expression is not violated in the future? Inform CJFE of the answers you receive via its Facebook Discussion Board.

The Broadcasting Consortium — a composition of Canada’s largest television networks (CBC/Radio-Canada, CTV, Global and TVA) — will host the Federal Leaders’ Debates in Ottawa on April 12th (English) and on April 14th (French). The two-hour debates will be broken up into six segments, each of which will begin with a question from the audience and last six minutes. Questions, which are due by April 7th, are encouraged to be submitted by Canadians nationwide via and must include your name, address and a daytime telephone number.

Join the electoral conversation on Twitter, where tweeters are tweeting their opinions on Harper’s questions limit, freely and openly. Also check out CBC News’ federal election Twitter hashtag guide and the Canadian Election 2011 webpage.