May 27th, 2020

News editorial: Should elections look different in the future?

By Medicine Hat News Opinion on May 22, 2020.

Perhaps Albertans have misunderstood the purpose of elections.

Maybe it is political staff rather than would-be MLAs that should be campaigning.

Unless a minister happens to be in this area it is virtually impossible to get a telephone interview. It is common place now for government communications staff to simply provide an emailed statement that if often not even attributed to the minister.

There are apparently some MLAs who have their response to media vetted by communications staff.

It means we have communication strategists dictating when elected officials will bother to actually talk to media and answer questions.

It could be that government strategists are concerned about elected officials saying something inappropriate. Perhaps that is a valid concern. They may also consider smaller daily newspapers, and therefore all the readers, not worthy of their time.

Even though the former PC government was known for arrogance after decades in power, ministers were generally available for interviews and felt strongly enough about a government policy to defend it. That is honourable.

Under the NDP government we saw a small shift to having communications people handle a lot of queries but ministers also made an effort to do some telephone interviews.

What we are seeing under the UCP is unique. The UCP of course has the right to decide how to respond to the media and the public and they can ignore the expectation of accountability.

Anyone in media will already know that the names of communication people for the premier’s office and that of other ministries trips off the tongue more frequently than that of ministers.

If this is how Albertans are going to find out, or not, what the government is doing, perhaps our elections should be a little different in future.

Instead of people who would like to be MLAs and perhaps ministers campaigning in the riding and across the country, it is the communications people who should be doing this.

It would give Albertans an opportunity to determine the background of communications people, and decide whether they wanted them to be the gatekeepers of government information.

Gillian Slade is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to https://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions, email her at gslade@medicinehatnews.com or call her at 403-528-8635.

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