The prime minister set off on a nationwide tour this week designed to meet Canadians in church basements and coffee shops, just as his government tries to reset its agenda at home and a wild card in the White House.
But while Trudeau is bringing along two reporters for his trip, the rest of Canada’s journalists have been left to try and delineate the prime minister’s travel plans as he crisscrosses the country because Trudeau’s office has refused to hand over where the prime minister will be from day-to-day.
His office has, instead, sent out Trudeau’s itinerary for a single day, the evening before, insisting that the final schedule has not been finalized past 24 hours in the future.
Media only got Trudeau’s Thursday itinerary on Wednesday at 6pm. His Friday itinerary has yet to be sent out; it’s still unclear what province he will be in on Saturday. That lack of detail means following the prime minister’s trip, for an Ottawa- or Toronto-based journalist, is virtually impossible.
“His office is doing is trying to withhold as much as possible from the public and somehow, at the same time, turn it into public engagement.”
A spokesperson in the prime minister’s office refused to provide VICE News the schedule past Thursday, insisting it would be sent out to the media as soon as it was finalized. This conflicts with the fact that his travel plans and scheduled for Friday, Monday, and Tuesday have already been provided to the reporters who are on the bus with Trudeau.
The odd situation has political journalists excluded from the bus hopping in their cars and renting minivans in an attempt to try and follow the leader’s tour.
The prime minister’s office told VICE News that reporters joining the prime minister’s bus — from the Canadian Press and CTV — will provide collective, or ‘pool,’ coverage for the rest of the media. The pool involves two reporters, a camera person, and a photographer.
The two pool reporters spent Thursday following Trudeau from a restaurant near Ottawa to an aquarium in Brockville. This afternoon, Trudeau will holding a press conference and town hall in Kingston, followed by another town hall in Belleville.
Normally, pool coverage for the prime minister is organized by the Parliamentary Press Gallery — not the prime minister’s office. In this case, the prime minister’s office did not consult the broader press gallery on this trip or invite other reporters.
Complaints have also cropped up on social media from the public, who want to attend the prime minister’s events but don’t know where he’ll be.
“What the prime minister and his office is doing is trying to withhold as much as possible from the public, and somehow, at the same time, turn it into public engagement,” Conservative Member of Parliament Alex Nuttall told VICE News.
“I will judge the prime minister against his own standards — his own standard was to set a new level of openness and accountability,” Nuttall told VICE News. “That new level was supposed to be higher than the previous government, not below what the previous government did.”
Trudeau came into office promising a warm relationship with the media, but that relationship has already hit snags. Last month, the prime minister came out and blamed the media for negative reaction to a slate of pricey fundraisers he’s held with deep-pocket donors. Even so, Trudeau’s office has undoubtedly been more forthcoming about his schedule than his media-adverse predecessor.
Under Stephen Harper, media were frequently banned from asking questions at his events, while during his election campaigns, only media paying to fly with the incumbent prime minister were allowed to pose questions — VICE Canada relentlessly covered those problematic policies.
Even if Trudeau’s media relations policy is rosier, he has nevertheless faced criticism for secrecy surrounding his schedule.
Over the holidays, the prime minister’s office refused to tell the media where in the world the prime minister actually was. Turns out, the prime minister, a member of his caucus, and the director of his party were vacationing on the private island of Prince Shah Karim Al Hussain, the spiritual leader, or Aga Khan, of Ismaili Muslims.
It seems like not everyone is in the dark about Trudeau’s plans, however. While the media has not been told of the events, local members of Parliament have advertised their events with the prime minister.
Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef has posted about her Friday townhall with Trudeau on her website. To RSVP for that event, the Liberal Party requires your full name, email, phone number, and postal code — that sort of data has, in the past, been used by the party to send fundraising and party emails, although the prime minister’s office denies they’ll be harvesting this data for that purpose.
A newspaper in Bewdley, Ontario, also reported that Trudeau will stop at a bar on Friday morning, citing staff in the local member of Parliament’s office.
Trudeau is also slated to stop in Toronto and Canadian Forces Base Trenton on Friday, according to the itinerary that has been sent to the pool reporters but which has not been released to the public.
That schedule has him going to Quebec and Atlantic Canada next week.
CBC’s Northern bureau has been left wondering whether Trudeau is heading above the 60th parallel at all.
The tour is a clear push to try and reset his government’s agenda, just weeks before Parliament returns. Trudeau was originally scheduled to attempt a posh economic forum in Davos, Switzerland this week, but cancelled it in favor of the road trip. The charm offensive also comes just two days after Trudeau shuffled his cabinet, in an effort to reboot his promise to reform Canada’s electoral system and prepare for the incoming Trump administration.