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Chris Selley: The Liberal campaign trail is a place for absurdities, but not much else



SUDBURY, ONT. – When I talked to Justin Trudeau about his Thursday morning press conference by canoe, I assumed it was in jest. Arrival by watercraft has an infamous history in Canadian politics, as Stockwell Day can attest, and while Trudeau solos a canoe he's not above a maritime pratfall: Just two years ago, while trying to insert himself into a kayak, the man went ass -over-teakettle into the Pacific.

But then Trudeau strutted past the assembled reporters, wearing outdoor trousers and a PFD, toward the Lake Laurentian Nature Chalet. (Insert "canoe storage" joke here.) And a few minutes later, he came out, paddling around us in a red fiberglass canoe. After noodling around for a while he was joined by some local youth and they headed out a bit into the lake, a drone buzzing overhead. No doubt see the footage before this campaign is done.

And then, safely ashore, he announced a new commitment to land, water and wildlife protection and – I'm not kidding – a new investment in camping. The Liberals want to "ensure that every young Canadian, through eighth grade, is taught the skills to camp." A new "Experience Canada" program will help "75,000 lower-income families spend up to four days in one of Canada's national or provincial parks every year, ”the backgrounds document explains, offering“ a $ 2,000 travel scholarship to experience places across the country from Killarney, Banff, Gros Morne, and the Cape Breton Highlands. ”

The government will "partner with Via Rail to make these opportunities accessible and affordable," despite Via going nowhere near any of those places and being precisely used as long-distance transport for anyone with less than a teacher's or politician's worth of vacation time. and the patience of a pope.

So, let's be clear: This is bananas. Imagine telling a lower-income family you have $ 2,000 to help them out, and then revealing that they have to use it for camping.

The only thing more absurd might be the fact that Andrew Lawton, a research and journalism fellow at the True North Center for Public Policy, showed up and asked for media accreditation, he would have been denied. As if only the most highly credible reporters from the most established and established organizations could be trusted to report on camping subsidies.

Lawton has been a well-known broadcaster in London, Ont., A columnist for Global News and a contributor to many other outlets. My impression of him is generally that of a polite, harmless contrarian, with some impolite blots on his copybook for which he has apologized. Yet the Liberals denied Lawton accreditation for an event in Brampton, Ont., On Sunday, and again at each successive event he showed up this week in British Columbia's Lower Mainland and then back in Ontario.

Let’s be clear: This is bananas

In Thunder Bay on Wednesday night, security even removed him from a queue of people hoping to attend as members of the public. On Thursday, Zita Astravas, the Liberals' head of media relations, apologized unreservedly to Lawton for that incident and said she was welcome at future events as a member of the public. But there has been no good reason for denying him accreditation to individual events, or joining the proper tour.

Candice Malcolm, another True North fellow, tweeted an email from Astravas saying that "media accredited by the (Parliamentary) Press Gallery in Ottawa are welcome to submit requests (to join the leader's tour)." That would account for my presence on the bus , and my colleague Christie Blatchford's before me: I am not a member of the press gallery, but there are six National Post reporters. True North claims that; other Liberals suggest not a media outlet at all, but… something else. Not a credible policy in any event: Presumably the Liberals would have to turn away from Chatelaine or Le Figaro or The New York Times if they wanted to pass a book on the Liberal tour, despite not being accredited on Parliament Hill.

Parties can accredit whoever they want, of course, but especially bad or bad for the Liberals to privilege media outlets when they are so keen on cashing in on those who are in print journalism traffic. The other parties seem to be conspicuously more welcoming, too.

Other than making a point, there is little reason to chase the bus down the highway or the plane down the runway. In a rough count, in the five days I was on the campaign, Trudeau answered roughly four per cent of the questions journalists put to him for 15 to 20 precise minutes a day. Signing on is spectacularly expensive, and in an era of straitened resources you can spend some money well.

But Lawton made that point, and he did it well: The Liberals aren't interested in subjecting their record and their leader to the unfamiliar scrutiny. Voters can and should judge them for that accordingly.

• Email: cselley@nationalpost.com | Twitter: cselley


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