The thought of Premier Rodney MacDonald and the press corps breaking into a spat over a podium seems hilarious at first.

But it makes more sense when you think about Stephen Harper’s recent visit. Harper had a “press conference” in the loosest sense of the term. Though all the major media outlets in the region were present, they were only allowed four questions by pre-selected reporters.

It was a farce. There’s no way to ask followups or get anything other than the usual talking points from the PM. It’s the least amount of accessibility possible — done just to get the PM into the papers and on TV.

Compared to Stephen Harper, Rodney MacDonald is your next-door neighbour. The premier usually makes himself available to media multiple times per week. He’s been reasonable in returning phone calls to Metro.

But it’s scary to see MacDonald beginning to emulate Harper. The province built a new media room across the hall from its cabinet meetings ostensibly to move the havoc of scrums out of the hallway.

The press was leery, but reporters were promised that scrums would not come to a stop. When the province placed flags behind the spot where the scrums took place, reporters let it slide.

But this podium business (see page 3) became a line in the sand. Reporters wanted assurances that this wasn’t a step towards the dictatorial control Harper wields over the Ottawa press gallery.
The only response was there are “no plans” for more changes. For the press corps, that wasn’t good enough.

And thus there was the ridiculous sight of reporters stubbornly scrumming the premier on stage at his podium.

After answering some questions, the premier told media that by not following the podium rules they were disrespecting government. Then he turned and walked out the back exit, ignoring reporters’ questions — ironically, proving one of the media concerns.

Things spiralled from there.

“This is ridiculous,” said exasperated CBC reporter Jean Laroche.

“It is ridiculous,” replied MacDonald staffer Paul Palmeter.

“We want some assurances that you’re not going to take it to that next step, Paul, and you’ve refused so far to address those concerns,” said Brian Flinn, of

“Have we?” was the only response.

Having reporters and politicians at each others’ throats is just silly, and does the public no good.
Everyone involved seems to realize this, but the fight is now about much more than just a podium.

There’s one week till the next cabinet meeting. If there’s no compromise by then, things are just going to get nastier.

Paul McLeod is a staff reporter at Metro Halifax. He is currently in rehab for being a political junkie. It’s going badly.