Volume 96, Issue 90
Thursday, March 20, 2003

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Tory media stunt backfires

Fuh getta 'bout it
Paolo Zinatelli

News Editor

Once again, in an attempt to avoid controversy, Ontario's Progressive Conservative government has brought more criticism upon itself.

It was announced last week that the pending provincial budget, normally delivered from the legislature at Queen's Park, will be delivered out of a Toronto television studio instead. Premier Ernie Eves said the new format is a way to take the "budget of the people of Ontario directly to the people of the province of Ontario." It's a nice sentiment, but the ensuing backlash has hit the government hard.

It seems that, out of protest, the province's media outlets are now refusing to air the made-for-TV budget. The dozens of people in the province who actually give a damn and may have watched it on TV, now can't. As a result, the government was sent scrambling on how to bring this budget to "the people."

They decided that when the budget is presented on Mar. 27, it will be in a town hall-type setting in front of a government-friendly audience. In order to reach "the people," eight giant screens will be set up in halls across the province to broadcast the budget.

Does anyone else find the premier's comments and what is actually happening at odds with one another? I mean, he wants to bring the budget to the people, but unless you're one of a handful of people who will make the concerted effort to find the hall nearest you, who is going to actually watch this thing? Does presenting a budget in front of card-carrying Conservative members from an unnamed telvision studio in Toronto really mean you're reaching the citizens of Ontario?

I don't think so.

I also don't blame the media for not wanting to cover this quasi-event. The government knew that, had they delivered the budget in the legistlature, it would have been covered on the major Ontario television stations anyway. Now none of them are covering it, displaying a "screw you, you can't tell us what to cover" kind of attitude. Good for them.

If the government wanted to, they could alwys purchase air-time on stations across the province at the tax-payers' expense. However, this would only bring about more criticism than ever; the government is now stuck.

It can back down and just deliver the budget in the legislature, but backing down on an issue just before a provincial election won't look good on the party. Yet sticking to this idea - which probably seemed like a good one at the time - will only continue the onslaught of criticism.

Hopefully, the government has learned a few lessons from all this. First, don't screw around with the media, as it will end up biting you in the ass. And secondly, they have to read the damn thing over agin in the legislature if they want to pass the budget anyway. Why waste the effort of doing it twice? Very few can watch the budget the first time it is presented, and I can guarantee you that fewer will watch it the second-time around.

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2002 THE GAZETTE