One way to fill blogspace on a pre-long weekend Friday - Liveblogging a PMO background briefing

The Scene:

With just moments to go before the briefing gets underway, there are seventeen media representatives clustered around the table, including ITQ. So far, three of them have expressed amazement and surprise that this room — 112-N — exists, which boggles ITQ’s mind. Have they never covered Procedure and House Affairs?! Wait, don’t answer that.

This now looks like the ultimate revenge fantasy for the press gallery — a committee comprised entirely of journalists, and A Senior Government Official in the witness chair.

The dress code, incidentally, is what you would call “hypercasual”, with the exception of the representative from the National Post, who is otherwise garbed in traditional Friday-before-the-long-weekend gear, but with vibrantly pink socks and loafers. It’s kind of hypnotic, actually.

1:04:40 PM

And we’re off! (What? Apparently I just like recording life in liveblog format.)

Cue the flurry of tape recorders!

Ground rules: background briefing, we can quote this gentleman as A Senior Government (or PMO) official, or whatever we like.

The purpose of this little meet-and-greet? Planning for the Arctic tour, which is coming up soon, and this time, they’re going to provide more detail in advance “to allow for the realities that there are inherent difficulties to filing in the far North”. Which is far.

Oh! Will the PM eat a seal heart? Will he? I bet that’s the first question.

Okay, onto the housekeeping stuff — not, of course, the actual announcements, but a rough timeline, and when – throughout the trip, that is – that they expect to be “making news”. We’ll see about that, Mr. SGO.

Tour kicks off on August 17, concludes on Friday, August 21; in terms of travelling, they’ll depart from Ottawa and most of the travel will be on the Airbus (wait, is that a “the” or an “A”? How many do we have?)

First stop is Iqaluit, where they’ll have a cabinet meeting on August 18th, with a photo op in the morning; it will be an all day meeting, but media will “likely” have to leave before the meeting ends to transfer to HMCS Toronto to take part in Operation Nanook, an Arctic sovereignty mission. They’ll send out a minister or two to talk to us before we troop off to the ship — I’m using “we” in the royalest possible sense, since I’m fairly sure ITQ will not be aboard the vessel.

A reporter asks for more information on Operation Nanook, and is told that there will be a full briefing by Defence at some point before the trip takes place; Peter MacKay will be there, as will some media who are covering the operation in its entirety — again, betting not ITQ — which means there may be some limits for photo ops – one pool, not two.

Wow, this is — even less exciting than I expected, and trust me, I wasn’t expecting much.

1:13:05 PM
The PM will join the hearty crew — the media contingent thereof, that is — of the Toronto on Wednesday morning, via helicopter; his arrival will include a landing shot, although any sign of a Mission Accomplished banner, and he’s turning that chopper around and going home. (Note: The preceding was entirely extrapolated by ITQ, and should not be attributed to ASGO.)

He then gets on an inflateable boat – really? – and heads off to the Charlottetown — that’s a submarine — before heading back to the Toronto — not loving this tradition of naming all our vessels after provincial capitals, by the way, as it makes for a very confusing itinerary.

The Toronto will sort of sail around, I’m gathering, depending on the weather and the presence of Danish interlopers who need to be shown what’s what; it sounds as though the media on the PM’s tour may overnight there, but the upshot is that reporters will be “walking on the ship, and flying off”.

As for filing, as far as *he* knows, it’s possible to file from the Toronto, and they – PMO, that is – is going to try to embargo information in advance, so we can “get a jump” on our stories, since filing times may be limited. That’s as long as we agree to respect the embargo, of course. “That’s something we wouldn’t be doing for everyone in the media,” he stresses; just those sending people on the tour.

On the 20th, it’s off to Pangnirtung, where will be an announcement at some point that morning — they’ll fly in and out from Iqualuit. In the afternoon, there’s *another* announcement in Yellowknife, and the whole gang will spend the night there.

The next morning, it’s off to Whitehorse for a separate announcement at a super secret location — really; he can’t tell us, because it would make it “obvious” what the announcement would be. Hmm. How far is Hans Island? Because apparently, the mystery spot is about an hour away.

Then it’s off to Calgary, and probably back to Ottawa after that, although they’re not sure whether they’ll just stay in Calgary, but the PM will be getting off there.

The cost of this magical Arctic adventure? $1,000 flat rate for travel; accommodations and everything else is up to the media to cover. Which is — actually, surprisingly affordable. It’s like they really *want* us to come!

1:24:27 PM
More chatter about pools — the photo kind, not the watery kind — which is sufficiently technical to leave ITQ’s mind to wander. Blah blah, limited access in some cases; the Toronto — the ship — is “logistically tricky” as far as ferrying reporters back and forth from Iqualuit, since it’s a tight fit in the chopper.

1:26:07 PM
And there goes The National Post Representative and his pink socks.

1:27:12 PM
The PM will take questions from the media after an announcement, but not a photo op, as is the usual practice.

And — that’s apparently it.

1:27:54 PM
Questions! What’s the big difference between this Arctic trip and the last one, and all the other Arctic trips?

ASGO notes that there are “similar elements” to last year’s trip — a cabinet meeting, announcements, various events. “Similar in many respects,” but an “opportunity to highlight an important part of our country that most Canadians don’t get to see,” and of course, they’ll also liaise with Operation Nanook, and “see it in action”. The whole issue of Arctic sovereignty is “central” to this government’s agenda.

1:30:15 PM
A non-Arctic question about Mark Carney, and one about compensation to the provinces, neither of which ASGO will answer. One on Nortel that he refers to “Minister Clement”. “We have cabinet ministers for a reason,” he reminds us.

What about Russia sending paratroopers to the Arctic next spring? Oh, that one he can answer — sort of — the North is of interest to a number of countries, as far as zones, including Russia, and we’re “involved in a process” to figure that stuff out, which is what we’re seeing now.

1:35:54 PM
ASGO notes that “nobody asked about this”, but there is a tentative time for a briefing on the North America Leader’s Summit, which would be next Friday. Dimitri Soudas will be in charge for that Summit, as far as leading the media — logistically, we assume, and not, you know, on a delightful scenic tour of local sightseeing spots — and it sounds like there may be a “side trip” of some sort, not necessarily related to the summit, but not far off the path. Geographically, that is.

1:38:25 PM
And that, it seems, is really that. Man, not a single partisan crack. I feel cheated somehow.

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