Wildrose budget response an opportunity overshadowed by 'childish behaviour'

CBC's Rob Brown takes a look at what he calls a missed opportunity for Alberta's Official Opposition after the budget was unveiled earlier this week.

Finance critic took aim at reporter and the party's message came off the rails

Wildrose finance critic Derek Fildebrandt refused to answer a question from Globe and Mail reporter Carrie Tait after the Alberta budget was unveiled earlier this week. (CBC)

We all know the old saying, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." 

Tuesday's budget was the Official Opposition's best opportunity since the election to make a positive impression by offering an alternative view.

Boy did the Wildrose Party blow it.

Everything had been unfolding predictably. Wildrose leader Brian Jean hammering home the party's position on the budget with the assistance of his finance critic, Derek Fildebrandt.

But then Fildebrandt refused to answer a question. That's not unheard of in a scrum, but this wasn't a decision to dance around a subject. It was personal.

The question Globe and Mail reporter Carrie Tait asked wasn't offensive in any way. Fildebrandt first replied he wasn't responding to questions from political journalists. Then he went on to accuse Tait of being unprofessional.

There is some recent history between these two. Tait wrote a pre-budget story quoting Fildebrandt extensively. He claims the article "attributes things I never said and was unfair." 

The exchange

She tells me she stands by the story and so does her paper. Here is a look at the exchange:

Wildrose finance critic Derek Fildebrandt refused to answer a question from Globe and Mail reporter Carrie Tait after the Alberta budget was unveiled. 0:16

"What specifically was the most financially offensive?" asked Tait.

"Sorry we're not taking questions from political journalists," replied Fildebrandt.

"What was the most financially offensive?" Tait asked again.

"Other questions," Fildebrandt replied.

"I'm asking a question," said Tait.

"I'm not taking questions from people who don't conduct themselves professionally thank you," replied Fildebrandt.

The scrum went on for a bit longer but I suspect few were paying much attention at that point. The train had left the message track.

Reaction swift

Political strategist Stephen Carter didn't mince words on CBC Calgary News at 6. 

CBC Calgary's political panel of Stephen Carter, Corey Hogan, and Zain Velji with their take on the Alberta NDP's first provincial budget. 8:11

"On the biggest day of the provincial government so far [Fildebrandt] takes the entire group off message and goes into petulant childish behaviour."

The snub got a lot of traffic on social media.

He added even more fuel to the fire with yet another personal shot — a tweet he has since deleted and apologized for.

This is not the first time a politician has taken issue with a reporter, and it won't be the last, and it's not my place to question Fildebrandt's position or defend a colleague's work.

I've never even met Tait, but I do know Fildebrandt.

Before entering politics he was a regular pundit on our weekly CBC TV political panel. His sharp tongue made for smart and engaging TV.

Yes, his tone was acerbic at times, but he was never disrespectful.

Answer given by Wildrose leader, respectfully

Only Fildebrandt knows why he decided to act the way he did on Tuesday. But the outburst comes amid a climate of hostility towards journalists in recent years. It's no secret that some in the Conservative Party of Canada have contempt for the media.

So is this a sign that the CPC's provincial cousin is picking up the mantle?

Not if you believe that ultimately, it's the party leader who sets the tone. Brian Jean is a former Conservative MP. He's seen this movie before and looked less than comfortable when his critic took aim in that scrum.

No doubt recognizing that his party's opportunity was being overshadowed, Jean answered Tait's question himself — respectfully.

Manners matter when you're trying to make a positive first impression. In politics, as in life, you don't get a second chance.

About the Author

Rob Brown

CBC Calgary co-anchor

Rob is an award-winning veteran reporter who has worked all over Western Canada. He came to CBC Calgary in September 2013. Watch Rob on-air weekdays on CBC Calgary News at 6.

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