• By: Dan Donovan

MPs and Ottawa Media – Some Advice

There’s no place like home for the holidays and that’s where our “cover girl” likes to be at Christmas. The immensely talented mezzo-soprano singer Wallis Giunta is a global tour de force and renowned Ottawa photographer Paul Couvrette captured Wallis perfectly in our stunning cover shot. We have a wonderful story by Ottawa’s well-known fashion designer Justina McCaffrey and we begin our Canada-Turkey Friends series with an interview with Turkish Ambassador Selçuk Ünal. We thought it would be appropriate to offer the newly elected MPs a Christmas gift in the form of an op-ed with some sage advice from the legendary Patrick Gossage, author and press secretary to Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau in the late seventies and early eighties.

MPs and Ottawa Media Some Advice
By Patrick Gossage

As new Members of Parliament, you will be wondering if you have any role with the national media who crowd around cabinet ministers and opposition leaders and critics every day in the lobby of the House of Commons.

The short answer is you do, but it’s one that does not come automatically. Some MPs over the years with strengths in particular issues of concern to the public have in fact become go-tos for the national media. Often this has been a result of innovative private members’ bills that received wide media attention.

Conservative MP Michael Chong’s Reform Act is a case in point. Through sheer will and perseverance and lots of support from the national media, his bill was passed just before Parliament broke for the last election.

So, in the new Parliament, if there is a cause you are dedicated to, think of a private members bill to give it substance.You will not lack for media attention.

In the more day-to-day setting, you can be useful to the media in a number of ways, or you can be damaging to your party. So be careful.

If you are in opposition and a government action has definite negative consequences for your riding or your part of the country, your opinion is as good as anyone else’s. Talk to the media and help your cause.

If you are part of the governing party, the reverse holds true. You know how beneficial a government policy can be to your riding in specific human terms. Letting the media know can be helpful to the government.

Being well-prepared and asking articulate questions in committee can get you attention from the national media, as can a solid performance in Question Period.

In the new session, however, spewing out the party line or being belligerently partisan will no longer get you good marks with the media or the public.

Warning! The media is obsessed by signs of fracture or divisions among MPs. You are most vulnerable to being a hero with the media but a villain to your fellow party members if you get sucked into negative comments emerging from caucus.

All in all, the Ottawa media are not out to destroy anyone, unless you deserve it! You can help them with your knowledge of how government or opposition actions are going down in your riding.

A good rule too is to always answer when reporters call. Listen very carefully to the question and see what the reporter may be trying to make you say or a supposition he or she is trying to make you agree with. There are all sorts of ways of saying: “I can’t really comment on that...” if you are uncomfortable with the question.

Finally, never go “off the record.” This apparent means of protecting yourself from a quote doesn’t exist on the banks of the Rideau.