News, official and otherwise

December 9, 2010 11:06 AM

A mild contretemps this week with the Liberal Opposition got the Spin Reduxit team thinking about what constitutes news in the strange four-block political realm around the legislature.

Fredericton was abuzz with talk that, in their quest to shave one per cent of government spending this fiscal year, the Alward Tories were encouraging civil servants to take unpaid days off over the holidays. There had been no official announcement, but, as any good reporter will tell you, that doesn't mean it's not happening.

We put the question to the government, and Finance Minister Blaine Higgs scrummed with reporters to confirm that, yes, the provincial government was in fact hoping civil servants would take advantage of the opportunity. (The option has been available to employees in the past but given the fiscal situation, departments are being encouraged to accomodate requests.)

This is refreshing: too often, governments are coy. You ask them about something and they obfuscate, because they want to save the news for some kind of official, set-piece press conference or photo opportunity. So kudos to the Tories for saying "yes" when the answer is "yes."

But here's what's interesting: we asked interim Liberal Leader Victor Boudreau for his thoughts on the plan, and he wouldn't comment. We gave him some of the details but he still wouldn't bite; instead he groused about the program being "announced" to reporters in a scrum rather than in the legislature.

Well. Here at Spin Reduxit, we're all for respecting the primacy of the legislature. We're Donald Savoie geeks, after all. In fact, at time we think certain governments could respect it a bit more. But this was a case in which everyone knew something was happening and Boudreau would not talk about it because there'd been no official statement -- a bit too much deference to protocol. (Boudreau showed no such hesitation minutes later, in the same scrum, slamming the appointment of Tory Yassin Choukri as a public intervenor to the Energy and Utilities Board, even though that hadn't been announced officially, either.)

But Boudreau's pedantry does raise an important point: yes, the Tories are upfront and candid when reporters ask them about cost-cutting measures we hear about, but they are not actively telling us about those measures. We have to hear about them elsewhere and ask. And that leads us to wonder how many other cost-cutting measures are underway that we don't know about because we haven't heard about them and haven't asked.
-- Jacques Poitras

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