Harper’s Christmas interview with Fairchild

Paul Wells on how the PM might as well have his own show on Fairchild by now

On Christmas Eve the PMO sent reporters two interview transcripts. The Prime Minister had spoken to Quebec’s TVA network, and to Fairchild Television.

It’s not entirely true Stephen Harper seeks only friendly interviewers: just about the only party his TVA interrogator Jean Lapierre hasn’t represented in Parliament is Harper’s Conservatives. But Harper returns most frequently to outlets that sit at the intersection of (congenial welcome) and (useful audience).

Which is why he might as well have his own show on Fairchild by now.

Fairchild, as you may not know, is the leading Canadian broadcaster in Cantonese and Mandarin. The PMO certainly knows. Here’s Harper at their Toronto studio in April, in the second week of the election campaign:

I have just realized, and am not surprised, that this interview took place on the precise day I decided I was wasting my time watching my colleagues on the no-access bus ask four questions a day.

In the last three days of the campaign, while the no-access bus was congratulating itself on being tough on the PM right to the end, Harper gave three separate interviews to Fairchild, which claims an audience of 500,000 Chinese Canadians nationally.

So here’s Harper’s Fairchild year-ender. As one measure of the shifting landscape of media influence in this country, I note in passing that neither the Globe and Mail nor, to be fair, Maclean’s, received such an interview. (The Globe’s star reporter made do by printing the prime minister’s cocktail-party chit-chat. We make do by blogging about Fairchild.)

One thing that’s obvious in the transcript is that the reporter, whose first name Rita is all we were given (Rita Giang? Fairchild viewers help me out?), can hardly believe her good fortune. Here are her first few questions:

1. First, thank you so much for the opportunity, and I would like…

2. I would like to congratulate you for the majority win in May. Critics say that you have done all the things you say you were going to do in the campaign, so there… are there anything left to be done?

3. What is the most proud of achievement so far?

4. And you have attended so many international conferences: G8, G20, APEC. You met many foreign leaders. Have you established close relations with leaders you met? And some of them you met many times? You think that’s important for developing good policy that benefits our country?

The rest of the interview proceeds apace. (Please don’t take me to be mocking the interviewer’s imperfect English; it’s incomparably better than my Cantonese or Mandarin.) She hardly subjects Harper to a mauling. Even when she asks about a sensitive subject, she does so in a sensitive way: “We are also criticized for not caring about the environment. We withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol. And in your vision, what’s a good, healthy environment policy?”

But tone in these things matters less than we think. Over at TVA, Lapierre and Paul Larocque phrase their Kyoto question much more dramatically, but they get an identical answer from Harper. Like, nearly verbatim. Here’s the version he gave Fairchild:

Well, first of all, I’m very proud of this government’s record on the environment. I think we have one of the strongest records in many decades. We’ve created new land and marine conservation areas at a record pace in this country. We’ve got a chemicals management plan that’s world-leading. In terms of climate change, our position as a government has always been clear, that to have an effective climate change treaty, you have to have one that includes all the major emitters, and includes most of the world’s emissions. And if you don’t have that, you will not have an effective treaty. The Kyoto accord at its height included less than one thirds of emissions, now it’s something like 15 percent of global emissions. You can’t control emissions if you don’t control 85 percent of emissions. So our view, that’s not an effective treaty. And through various recent conferences at Copenhagen and Cancun and Durban, we are pushing hard for an effective international global treaty.

The other thing that leaps out is, as is almost always the case when any politician is interrogated by somebody who does not work full-time in Ottawa, there are more questions about what a government does, and fewer about perception and process. There’s a bare minimum of hockey-book crap in the Fairchild interview, nothing about polls, no hand-wringing about decorum in the Commons. And, surprise surprise, this deferential reporter gets some news out of the guy.

On a trip to China, eagerness and a spot of embarrassment. “Well, you know, we’ve certainly indicated to China that I’m willing to go. Whenever Chinese leaders want to issue an invitation, we’ll accept it. So really, the ball is in their court.”

On the year ahead, riffing on a question about the Occupy movement, some significant hints: “I think also we must realize as a nation that we’re in an extremely competitive world. Not just competition with our traditional competitors in Europe and the United States, but from all the emerging economies. And we’re going to have to do a lot of things right, work very hard to sustain our standard of living. And as the year goes forward, you know, this government will be coming forward with a number of major initiatives to really bolster the long-term prospects of the Canadian economy.”

And…well, that’s it, pretty much. Year-end interviews rarely make history. But they make news, and where this PM chooses to make news is part of his game.

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