PM accused of 'secretiveness' and 'manipulating media'

The Liberals are accusing the Harper government of secretiveness and media manipulation during the prime minister's recent Asia trip.

Opposition leader Bill Graham Tuesday accused the Harper government of secretiveness and manipulation of the media during the Prime Minister's recent trip to Vietnam for the Asia Pacific summit.

Speaking in the House of Commons during Question period, Graham said Harper and his staff "refused to tell the press about meetings and actions" during the Asian trip.

"Canadians have the right to know what's going on," the Opposition leader said, "and to be informed by a free press."

Reporters travelling with Harper in Vietnam had said they only learned about a meeting between the prime minister and President Hu Jintao of China in an e-mail sent 12 hours later. The usual practice on foreign trips of briefing a "pool reporter" who shares information with all media outlets was not followed.

Harper told the House of Commons that he had held a lengthy press conference at the end of the summit, met journalists for informal briefings and taken part in many so-called "photo opportunities" during the trip.

That response prompted Graham to remind Harper of his appearance, along with other Asia Pacific leaders, in traditional Vietnamese garb— a blue silk gown.

"He looked spectacular," Graham said to loud laughter from MPs.

Harper shot back that unlike the Opposition leader, "I wear the silk on the outside."

Talking tough with China

He also said he took a tough line with China during his meeting with President Hu, raising the case of Huseyin Celil, a Chinese Canadian human rights activist jailed by Beijing on terrorism charges.

"When we meet important countries like China," Harper said, "we discuss economic and trade interests but we also pursue the human rights and democracy agenda, particularly where the interests of Canadian citizens are involved."

Some Asia analysts have said Harper's criticisms of China were counter-productive to an important trade relationship, but Celil's family welcomed his intervention in the case of their jailed relative.