Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry MPP Jim McDonell is holding his annual pre-budget consultation meeting with residents this week. These types of meetings are where residents and other stakeholders talk in a public forum with the member of provincial Parliament to tell them what they want to see in the next budget. The Leader would report what happens at these meetings, but media are not welcome.
The soon-to-be-retiring MPPs meeting is advertised as “Everyone Welcome” but clearly everyone does not include media. Instead of allowing media access to a public meeting, McDonell will be available for media questions after the public participation. McDonell’s office refused The Leader’s request to attend the public meeting giving as the reason for that refusal that people are not comfortable talking in a public meeting about their concerns when media are present. This is not the first year that his office has refused media access to a public forum he has held: it is an unfortunate contrast to the approach of other MPPs and elected officials who encourage public participation and understand that public means the media too.
As The Leader is unable to attend the public meeting, this paper cannot report what concerns were brought to McDonell to take to Queen’s Park on behalf of this riding. An interview after the meeting with the MPP after the fact means reporting riding concerns through someone else’s lens. This speaks to a larger issue when reporting on government, at all levels – municipal, provincial and federal – controlling the message.
Watch a press conference at Queen’s Park or Parliament Hill. Reporters are limited to one question, and one follow-up. The ability to question government officials has been replaced with carefully crafted press releases. Access-To-Information requests for government documents are measured in months and years, rather than days and weeks. This was happening before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now public health restrictions, and technology issues, among other reasons related to the pandemic have become a convenient shield for politicians and government mandarins.
One of the jobs of media in a democracy is to hold government to account. It is one of the checks and balances of our system of government. Limiting access to public meetings is yet another affront to that job, and to the democratic process. McDonell’s staff are the latest to fall in line to limit media access. What will be next?