5. The PMO vs. the press gallery

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“The PMO is the gatekeeper to all the information,” says the Star‘s Delacourt. “The PMO chooses which Conservatives are on political television shows at the end of the day. Nobody is allowed to speak until they get the blessing from the PMO.”

When Prime Minister Harper assumed office he wanted to fundamentally change the way the Ottawa press gallery interacted with him and his cabinet. He insisted that reporters put their names on a list in advance to ask questions at press conferences—the PMO would then choose specific reporters. It was an explicit effort to control the media due to Harper’s belief that “the press gallery at the leadership level had an anti-Conservative view.” [1]

In May 2006, the Ottawa press gallery staged a boycott to protest Harper’s press conference protocol. At one press conference, moments before the prime minister arrived, members of the gallery stood up and simultaneously left the room in an act of defiance.

For just over three months, the press gallery continued their protest and refused to sign up for questions in advance.

During this time, Harper shut out most of the media, but not all. He gave an exclusive interview to a right-wing Alberta-based newsmagazine, the Western Standard.

In it, he stated: “The gallery has become too institutionalized and too convinced it can control the news. I think if we can break that up in any way, that is helpful for democracy.” [2]

The press gallery’s boycott fell apart on August 22, 2006 when the Canwest media conglomerate backed out. (CanWest, which was sold in 2010 and dissolved in 2013, ran numerous dailies now owned by Postmedia, including the Ottawa Citizen and the National Post, plus the Global Television Network, now owned by Shaw Media.) It informed the PMO that it planned to ignore the ban and use the sign-up list. Canwest’s Ottawa bureau said that mounting pressure for quotes from the editors of its 11 newspapers was the main reason for backing out. [3]

That same day, Prime Minister Harper made an announcement about softwood lumber on Parliament Hill. He did not take questions but later gave Canwest an exclusive phone interview.

Deflated, the Ottawa press gallery agreed to suspend its boycott of the Prime Minister’s protocol for 30 days as “a gesture of good faith,” and called for further discussion with the PMO to resolve the dispute. [4] Thirty days later, the boycott was called off altogether.

This antagonism between the PMO and the press gallery is widely considered to have set a new precedent for media relations. Delacourt says that former Liberal party interim leader Bob Rae once said: “If I had known I could get away with that then I would have done it as well.” [5]

Next: “The whole off-the-record-thing”


1. Johnson, William. “The Outsider.” The Walrus, March 2009.
2. Libin, Kevin. “I’ve got more control now.” Western Standard. 19 June 2006. Web.
3. Basen, Ira. “Stephen Harper’s press gallery take down.Rabble. 9 November 2006. Web.
4. Ibid.
5. Delacourt, Susan. Personal Interview. 4 December 2014. Unpublished.

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