October 23, 2009
DAVE CHIDLEY/THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO
OTTAWA–Would the conversation at 24 Sussex go something like this?
“Eeeek. Canadian news is on. Quick. Gimme that remote.”
“Oh c’mon Stephen, we just want to know what’s going on in the country. Can’t we just catch the top of the news?”
“Not a chance. I might be on it. Put on Corner Gas.”
We do know Prime Minister Stephen Harper likes the Prairie sitcom because he did a cameo appearance on it.
And one assumes the Rick Mercer Report is a safe bet. Did that cameo, too. Certainly he likes TSN’s hockey broadcasts. He’s gone on that network’s shows at least a couple of times.
So what to make of Harper’s declaration that he doesn’t watch Canadian news? This is what Harper told a Toronto business audience Wednesday:
“I watched the last several elections in the United States very closely. I tend to watch mainly American news because I don’t like to watch Canadian news and hear what Allan (Gregg, a pollster and CBC pundit who was in the audience) and everybody else is saying about me, so my hobby is to watch politics elsewhere.”
It’s not the first time Harper has suggested he doesn’t pay attention to Canadian news, but the first time he’s done so publicly.
Never mind that it comes as Canadian television networks struggle for audiences, advertising and federal help through tighter regulation of cable licensing fees. Never mind that it comes on a day when the public broadcaster was trying to rebrand its news programming, news network and news personalities.
In fact, given all the interviews he gives to American broadcasters Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and others, Harper’s words ring true.
Which NDP Leader Jack Layton thinks is kind of scary.
“Perhaps if he watched Canadian news more often, he would understand the negative impact of his policies on Canadian families. And if he actually likes Fox News better than Canadian news, then Canadians ought to be concerned,” Layton told the Star.
But is it a bit like Harper’s professed disdain for artists and galas? A love-hate thing? Is it just a political dodge to make him appear above the fray?
Liberal MP Bob Rae was skeptical.
“I’m surprised – if it’s true – I’m surprised that it’s the case. I find that quite shocking. Because we all have an obligation to know what’s going on and to know what other people are reporting and what’s taking place,” he said.
“I’m quite astounded that the Prime Minister would be so unaware of the world around him.”
Rae confessed he “always” watched TV news, even in his darkest days as Ontario’s NDP premier in the last recession. “I also read the newspaper.” Still does.
“Look at the colour of my hair. Of course, I still read it.”
“Well, of course,” said Finance Minister Jim Flaherty when asked if he watches Canadian news. Asked if the Prime Minister should too, Flaherty seemed puzzled by the question. “I think the Prime Minister probably does.”
Told he didn’t, Flaherty chuckled and escaped. “Oh you could ask him about that.”
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said he “occasionally” watches the political news shows that are broadcast from the Commons lobby – but not to check out his own performance.
“No, I hate to see myself on TV.” Asked if the PM should watch Canadian political news, Kenney smiled. “It’s up to him. Look, um. I’m glad to hear if the Prime Minister isn’t sitting there glued to the TV. It means he’s doing his job. That’s a good thing.”
Peter Kent, a former newscaster and Harper’s minister of state for foreign affairs, watches “news from all sorts of sources” – the BBC, Latin America and Canadian news.
He said the PM doesn’t watch news “about himself,” but he “absolutely” watches some Canadian news.
Asked if he knew that for sure, Kent admitted, “Well, I’ve never sat with him,” but he assumed Harper did.
Industry Minister Tony Clement was frank. The Prime Minister may be “exaggerating,” Clement suggested, before challenging a Star reporter’s summary of Harper’s comments.
“I don’t believe you.”
Asked if he believed the Prime Minister, Clement summed it up.
“I think he watches Canadian news, he reads Canadian news, he watches American news, he reads American news. He probably watches European news. We all do that.
“We’re news junkies, all of us are. Come on. You know what we’re all about.”
Shortly after that, Harper’s spokesman Dimitri Soudas replied to an earlier request for a list of the Prime Minister’s news consumption habits.
“The Prime Minister doesn’t watch himself on the news. That is why he tends to mainly watch American news.”
Really? He doesn’t watch himself on the news.
All right then.