Thursday, March 8, 2007

no public appearances for dion ??????????

Controlling the message
Party Colours: Stephane Dion, Where Are You?: Liberal leader makes mysterious Toronto stop on 17-day tour

Melissa Leong, National Post with CanWest News Service March 08, 2007

Stephane Dion was in Toronto yesterday. Somewhere.

Although the Liberal party leader is in the midst of a 17-day trip across Canada that looks suspiciously like a pre-election tour, aides would not say where he was in Toronto, when he would be appearing or with whom he would be meeting.

"The meetings Mr. Dion has in Toronto [Wednesday] afternoon are private," his spokeswoman, Elizabeth Whiting, said by e-mail.

Asked about his itinerary, she responded: "There are no public appearances." A photo, even a candid shot of him climbing out of a car, was not possible.

Word has it Mr. Dion met individually with four Chinese newspapers at a downtown hotel and was to attend a fundraiser in the evening.

Liberals have criticized Prime Minister Stephen Harper for giving the national press the cold shoulder, preferring to deal with local media outlets while tightly controlling access and information about his activities, but Mr. Dion's visit appeared to adopt many of the same tactics.

"Mr. Dion may be thinking that the grassroots level is how to do it -- without the interpretive gaze of the media. But the bottom line is the only way he's going to be known nationally is by talking to the national media," said Shannon Sampert, a politics professor at the University of Winnipeg with an expertise in media studies.

"As a PR person, you do not restrict access to the politician when the politician is not performing as well in the media as you'd like."

She said the strategy is better suited to Mr. Harper, who was in Toronto the day before Mr. Dion's visit to announce federal funding for environmental and transportation projects.

"That's smart when you have a minority government and you want to be careful about what gets out there about you."

Mr. Harper's relations with reporters in the Parliamentary Press Gallery have been frosty, with journalists objecting to his determination to choose who could ask questions. Mr. Harper subsequently announced he would be taking his message out on the road and would be dealing with less hostile regional media.

Mr. Dion's press secretary said his elusiveness was due to time constraints rather than taking a page from Mr. Harper's playbook. Andre Lamarre said Mr. Dion planned a "very quick visit" and has been available to media on most of his visits to the city.

Mr. Dion began his tour last Friday, planning stops in 27 of Canada's 308 ridings to meet with fellow Liberals and to speak to various groups. With Parliament on a break, it is seen as an opportunity for the new leader to connect with party members and strengthen his profile.

He has a lot on his plate for this tour, said Toronto-based political scientist Nelson Wiseman.

"You've got to do everything. You don't want to disappear off the front pages because you're just meeting with your party faithful. But you can't neglect the party. He's got to deal with constituency presidents and executives who were overwhelmingly not in his camp" during last year's leadership campaign, he said.

"My sense is this tour is about building his links with the executives in his party constituencies and meeting prospective candidates."

Mr. Dion has said he expects the Conservatives to force an election this spring, citing recent attack ads as evidence of an early-vote plan. Liberals have been slipping in the polls, placing anywhere from four to 10 percentage points behind the Tories in the latest surveys.

Mr. Dion's meetings with Chinese newspapers yesterday could be an effort to sway opinion in a community where Mr. Harper has courted controversy.

Mr. Dion slammed Mr. Harper's approach to Chinese relations in his interview with the Sing Tao Daily News.

Last month, a senior Chinese official warned that Canadian trade and investment will suffer without a friendlier approach toward Beijing, but Mr. Harper responded by vowing to continue to criticize China's human rights record.

"[Mr. Dion] said he is strongly concerned about human rights. But he said the way you handle it should be different," said Sing Tao reporter Henry Liu. "He said the Harper government not only closed the door to B.C., he closed the whole door into Canada for China."

Mr. Dion told Sing Tao he would help Canadian businessses strengthen their relations with emerging markets such as China and India.