Missing: Stephen McNeil’s media scrums

The Chronicle Herald did a great job of previewing their Saturday edition last week, sending out Tweets suggesting Ralph Surette’s column would be incredibly controversial for the NDP. Liberal MLAs spread word of the upcoming column with glee. The problem? Surette’s column was much harder on the Liberals. To make matters worse, Marilla Stephenson added a column that also tore a strip off the Liberals. Come Saturday morning, Liberals were very quiet indeed.

Stephenson: The Liberals have a lot of work to do yet to strengthen [McNeil’s] image, which may be why they have been hiding him…saving him for the campaign, are they? After calling for the NDP to deliver a fiscal update in advance of an election campaign, where was McNeil when the NDP delivered the update Monday morning? Ummm, busy elsewhere, apparently. Grit handlers asked reporters to visit the Liberal headquarters later in the afternoon if they wanted an interview, or to phone in later.

Marilla is right: McNeil and his Liberals have been hiding from reporters and scrums. For months. It started in the spring at Province House, when McNeil’s handlers started whisking away select journalists for “private scrums” in the basement of the Leg.  And it continued.  In fact, the only public scrum McNeil has done since the end of the Session, that we are away of, is when he had no choice but to be there: when Deputy Premier Corbett summoned MLAs to the legislature to pass all-party support for and Bill to avoid a paramedic strike.

More importantly, Marilla’s column raises an interesting question for journalists. How long will they allow Stephen McNeil to dictate where he is interviewed, and by who? Which reporter will stand up to the protective Liberal communications staff and say “No. We are interviewing him right here.” After all, Jamie Baillie gets scrummed and Premier Dexter has no choice but to be scrummed.

Ralph Surette, who, as Tory Rob Batherson pointed out, has proclaimed himself to be the “father-confessor” of New Democrats on the party’s left, would obviously prefer Maureen MacDonald to be Premier than Darrell Dexter.

But in his column too, he found Stephen McNeil lacking.

Surette: Here’s the big problem with the opposition. They have been virtually invisible…the Liberals are obviously hoping that an election will occur before the needle of public attention turns to them and exposes their limitations. Yet it would be unwise to elect them, especially to a majority, based on what we’ve seen so far.

If the public catches on to the columnists’ criticism, will McNeil and the Liberals have to begin to answer questions on their policies? Not unless the journalists demand it. A journalist’s job is to hold the government of the day to account. Fair enough.

But during an election campaign, the hard look at Stephen McNeil should begin.

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