Doug Ford at his rally in Chatham. May 23, 2018. (Photo by Sarah Cowan Blackburn News Chatham-Kent).

MPPs not concerned after Ford calls media ‘official opposition’ party

Local MPPs with the Progressive Conservative Party are praising their relationship with Ontario’s news media, after their leader described the media as “the official opposition” party.

During a news conference at Queen’s Park on Monday, Premier Doug Ford was repeatedly asked about his role in signing off on the recent appointment of Ron Taverner as commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police. Taverner is a long-time friend of Ford, and his promotion as the top cop with the OPP has come under scrutiny by political rivals and in the media. As things became heated, Ford accused the media of taking over from the Liberals and the NDP as the official opposition to his government.

“The NDP and the Liberals can’t keep up with us because we’re doing a great job. And now, the official opposition is the media, you see it today. And good luck over the next three and half years, I look forward to working with the media party,” Ford said before ending the news conference by walking into his office.

The comments led to criticism from the media and the NDP, as well as comparisons to U.S. President Donald Trump who has repeatedly referred to the American news media as “the enemy of the people”.  In the past, Ford’s combative tone and tactics with the news media have also extended to using political staffers to drown out reporters’ questions with applause and creating Ontario News Now, an online platform on which the PC government makes statements and releases information in the style of a TV-news report.

“Our government has no issue with journalistic freedom,” said Rick Nicholls, the PC MPP for Chatham-Kent Leamington, in a statement sent to BlackburnNews.com. “We encourage media literacy, hoping people become aware of loaded language and selection bias regardless of where it comes from. We encourage people to make up their own minds on important issues.”

Despite what critics allege is an adversarial approach Ford seems to have taken with the media, Nicholls maintained during a follow-up phone interview that his party wants to be open and transparent. He said the problem is that sometimes, people just don’t understand what is being reported by the news.

“People need to understand, and they don’t. A lot of the time, people don’t fully understand the stories or the messages behind the stories. And that’s not the media’s fault, it’s just that they read whatever they want to read into it,” he said.

When asked if he felt the media has a “selection bias” in terms of what topics it covers, Nicholls said, “I don’t mean the media.”

“People have a bias, a certain leaning, and they’ll lean things more towards their preferred party… sometimes that distorts the actual meaning itself. That’s what I meant by that,” he said.

“I understand the role of media,” he said, adding that he served seven years as an MPP when the PCs were the opposition party. “Now we’re the government, and so it’s just going to take, I believe, some adjustment on all sides to come to the understanding that we need to work together.”

Nicholls said Ford’s comments do not concern him at all, and he has worked hard over the years to build “a very positive working relationship with all the media” within Chatham-Kent-Leamington as well as outside the riding.

“I have no complaints with the media whatsoever,” he said.

The PC MPP for Lambton-Kent-Middlesex, Monte McNaughton, echoed Nicholls’ lack of concern over Ford’s behaviour towards the media or his “media party” comments, and said he supports the premier. However, he admitted he had not seen the news conference where Ford had made the comments.

“I didn’t see that press conference myself but I can just speak to how I view the media and I am very respectful to my local media and the Queen’s Park gallery,” he said and maintained that everyone in his party is very accessible to the media. “I value what the media do and how they participate in making our democracy in Canada a success.”

However, not everyone at Queen’s Park supports how Ford has handled the news media since the PCs were elected as a majority government in June.

Windsor West MPP Lisa Gretzky, a member of the NDP, said the premier’s comments were an attempt by Ford to change the topic, “rather than answering to the people of this province.”

“I think that [with] the premier, there’s been some language that’s been concerning when we talk about our media. But the premier knows better than calling the media the official opposition,” said Gretzky. “The media has a role to make sure all politicians, not just the government, are being held accountable for the things that we are saying and we are doing… He should be well aware of that and he really should not be making the comments that he’s been making.”