The Hamilton Spectator

Poilievre can dish it out but can’t take it


It is a curious thing: the higher Pierre Poilievre climbs in the polls, the testier he gets with media questions.

On Monday, the Conservati­ve leader was at it again, lashing out at a Canadian Press reporter for asking about his policy on government assistance to media outlets.

“Our party does not support tax dollars for media outlets, because that’s when we end up with biased media like you who come here and articulate the (Prime Minister’s Office) talking points rather than delivering real news to the Canadian people,” Poilievre said.

This followed two swipes Poilievre has taken at the Toronto Star on social media in less than two weeks. The first one related to questions the Star was asking about security at the opposition leader’s official residence of Stornoway; the second was a reply to a fact check on crime statistics he has been citing on bail and repeat offenders.

Here is Poilievre’s response to the Stornoway questions, cited in full. “The Toronto Star is trying to write a hit piece on the fact that my wife bought a small $300 splash pool a couple years ago which we paid for and put up ourselves. Separately they are attacking us for the NCC installing a safety fence at Stornoway to protect our kids after threats to my family. This is a ridiculous attack.”

Note the language: “hit piece” and “attack.” This is how the opposition leader characteri­zes questions from the media.

The NCC, incidental­ly, is the National Capital Commission, which uses public money for the upkeep of residences such as Stornoway. Would the Conservati­ve leader have objected if the Star was asking how taxpayers’ money was being spent at the prime minister’s residence? Should Poilievre become prime minister, he will be asked questions and getting his facts checked like this all the time — more than he does now, in fact. Maybe it’s time for him to get used to it.

In some ways, the Conservati­ve leader offered an odd form of transparen­cy with his first drive-by post on X (formerly Twitter). My colleague Alex

Ballingall was chasing down a legitimate question, related to an upgraded privacy fence at Stornoway and its connection to a new pool on the property. Rather than answer the Star’s questions, however, Poilievre put up his own proactive disclosure on social media without ever replying.

He or his staff could have easily told all of this to Ballingall, minus the drive-by shots at the questions and the Star. Instead, Poilievre lit social media — and his supporters’ hair — on fire. To what end? The Star still did the story. One also wonders whether Poilievre would have preferred the story had been published without us asking questions first.

The second post came on Sunday night, when Poilievre said a Star article checking facts he had cited was published to defend Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The Prime Minister’s Office no doubt wishes it had this power. It does not. Here’s another tip for Poilievre: should he become prime minister, the media won’t be taking orders from him or his staff either. That is not how grown-up democracie­s work.

I have been trying to recall whether any other Canadian political leader has sparred this openly with the media in the decades I’ve been covering Parliament Hill. Poilievre is certainly not the only leader to resent the media — they all are constantly annoyed with us, to be candid.

Stephen Harper was particular­ly hostile to the parliament­ary press gallery, but when it came to haranguing and bullying reporters, the former prime minister left it to his staff or the raging partisans on social media. Harper just went quiet, letting junior ministers and MPs — such as Poilievre — do all the ranting in public. I’m just guessing, but I think it had something to do with Harper and his views about the dignity of the office.

When opposition leaders become prime ministers, one of the biggest adjustment­s they need to make revolves around how they handle questions. In their old jobs, they had to master the art of asking questions. In the new one, they have to answer them.

Poilievre prides himself on tough questions. But he still hasn’t proven he can take them.

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