VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – A warning to the new BC NDP leader from a political science professor at the University of the Fraser Valley: open up, or risk losing votes. This after the party’s new leader, John Horgan, has dodged media several times in the few weeks he’s been at the head of the party.
Since he was acclaimed leader on May 4th, Horgan has avoided reporters at his inauguration and interviews on issues like education, jobs and the environment, which could make voters suspicious according to Hamish Telford.
“I think all the public sees is someone who is unwilling to answer questions and therefore is trying to hide something,” says Telford. He speculates Horgan, who was previously chatty with journalists, could be trying to find his footing in the new position, or like BC Premier Christy Clark and Prime Minister Stephen Harper have a public relations team intent on controlling messages in the news.
Unfortunately, Telford says this strategy is not winning support. “Voters want their premiers and their leaders to be real people, and real people do say the wrong thing from time to time.”
Horgan’s communication representative Shamus Reid says outside of media scrums following events, the new leader will only be returning calls to media on issues not covered in critic portfolios, or things the Premier has already commented on. Horgan will also comment on energy issues, which is currently his portfolio until a replacement is named. The approach is designed to mirror how the Liberal Government responds to media according to Reid.
However, Telford is concerned this strategy isn’t sitting well with voters. “All round we’re seeing a lack of accountability. Legislature sits for fewer and fewer days every year, leaders are taking fewer and fewer questions. At the same time, the public is getting more and more disenchanted with politicians and the political process. I don’t think these things are unconnected.”
He adds both Horgan’s predecessors Carole James and Adrian Dix were very accessible to media, and open with the public. “So far at least he doesn’t seem to be embracing media in the way that previous leaders did. We’ll have to wait and see if that’s a long term strategy or just a short term matter.” Telford guesses it’s probably just temporary.
Many parties, including the NDP and Federal Conservative party, tend to believe they get a poor shake from the media leading them to limit interactions with journalists according to Telford. Telford says over the last twenty years all governments have hired more serious communications teams, and while leaders are understandably wary of media, if they avoid media it gives the same impression as a guilty person covering their face when walking out of a courtroom.