Press putsch

Stockwell Day's trying to outfox the media, but they'll get revenge

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OTTAWA — For all the huffing and puffing, there wasn’t much that was memorable about Stockwell Day’s debut in Parliament on Tuesday. In fact, his pissing match with the media over refusing to scrum in favour of his own well-ordered news meeting was far more noteworthy.

Even though he tried to sell his planned afternoon get-togethers in the quieter confines of the Commons media studio with an offer of more time and more questions, he was greeted as warmly as a drag queen in Red Deer.

The exchange says a lot about reporters. They’re paid to find news but rely on routine to get their stories in on time. They’re used to getting all their clips from the scrums — those chaotic, on-the-spot confrontations in the Commons foyer.

They need them by 3:30 pm and don’t have any use for an extra half- hour of Stock’s orchestrated Q and A, thank you.

It also points to the peculiar ambivalence of the press gallery toward the pro-life, anti-gay former Pentecostal preacher from Alberta.

On the one hand, they have a vested interest in building him up so there’s a horse race with the Liberals. Suspense makes a better story than a foregone conclusion.

But reporters are children of the Charter of Rights, of an ideology bequeathed by Pierre Trudeau in which freedom of the press is entrenched along with the other rights.

No coincidence

Of course, that’s not to say that all reporters are Liberal, but you can bet most of them are liberal. It’s no coincidence that it was known for years on the Hill that NDP MP Svend Robinson is gay, but his sex life only made it into the paper when he decided to tell.

Scribes will have little truck with the kind of morals-based politics that Day promoted in Alberta.

So the cultural antagonism was already in the air when Day deep- sixed the scrum and, with it, the peculiar pecking order that places TV journalists at the top of the heap. It is for them that the scrum exists.

In the living room, it offers the illusion of face-to-face confrontation with our democratically elected officials.

But because the interviewees have to speak in a normal voice so as not to be shouting on the TV set at home, only the two or three reporters closest to them have any clue about what they’re saying.

The rest reach as far as they can with their tape recorders, hoping they’ll be able to pick out a quote when they get back to the office. “I can’t hear a damned thing,” is the typical scrum complaint

But in Day’s inaugural presser, the questions go on and on. It’s not only TV opinion-setters like Jason Moscowitz and Craig Oliver who have a chance to get a word in, but even unfashionable print reporters from out-of-the way places like the Moosejaw Advocate.

The leader of the official opposition has upset the parliamentary pecking order. Now the media will really be out to get this glib and overconfident upstart. They’ll catch him out sooner or later.

But in the cooler confines of room C130, the sweat won’t show up so well on TV.

Orthodox Jews have private Day dinner

Stockwell Day’s wetsuit was barely dry last week when he blew into town for a closed-door fundraiser with members of the Orthodox Jewish community.

I schlep over to the Village Shul on Eglinton West on a rainy Thursday evening to find Day in the basement dining room of the synagogue eating kosher roast beef and wearing a yarmulke.

Unlike that carefully crafted water-sport moment in B.C. a couple of days earlier, however, there isn’t a media camera in sight. This event is definitely not for public consumption.

The preening Pentecostal from Red Deer has hooked conservative Jews with a promise of a tax credit for parents who send their kids to private religious schools. As I wrote last month in these pages, it’s a hot-button issue for many Orthodox Jews, who are spending over $10,000 a year per child on private education.

Not everyone in the Jewish community, however, has been so eager to embrace Day. The more liberal Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) has kept its distance and is still trying to schedule a meeting with the opposition leader.

About 100 men, all in yarmulkes and dark suits, have reportedly paid $1,000 each to have dinner with Day on this night.

Sitting at the centre table beside him is Ontario’s municipal affairs minister and Alliance big-cheese Tony Clement, who’s also sporting a yarmulke.

Day speaks after dinner. But I’m not around to hear him. After about 10 minutes of drawing curious glances at the back of the room in my fire-engine-red raincoat, I’m told it’s a private meeting and quietly escorted out the front door.

It isn’t personal. A reporter from the Canadian Jewish News has already been kicked out.

So I’m stuck out on the street talking to the caterer, waiting for Day to exit. I do manage to snag Alliance MP Jason Kenney at the front door. He’s wearing a name tag with “Toronto Jewish Alliance Friends of Stockwell Day” on it.

So what’s that all about?

“It’s an ad-hoc committee,” Kenney explains. “One-hundred-plus people from the Jewish community.”

He says Day spoke for about half an hour on a wide range of issues from health care to education, including school funding.

Big secret

When I ask him who the organizers are, he directs me to Harold Medjuck. But he isn’t talking.

“It was only for a limited number of guests,” Medjuck says. “It wasn’t a public function and they don’t wish to go public with anything.”

What’s the big secret here? Everybody knows by now that Day is courting the conservative Jewish vote.

However, he might be in for a whole different experience when he finally sits down with the CJC sometime after the Jewish high holidays next month.

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