Nova Scotia·Analysis

Scientists, ministers get green light to speak under Trudeau

You're about to start hearing a lot more from elected officials and government scientists.

Federal ministers are returning reporters' calls in a timely manner

Protesters dressed as an MP, a librarian and a scientist wear gags during a demonstration against the muzzling of federal scientists in 2013 under the previous Conservative government. The Justin Trudeau's Liberal government has released a model scientific integrity policy that protects scientists' right to speak. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

You're about to start hearing a lot more from elected officials and government scientists.

For nearly a decade, the Prime Minister's Office has exercised tight control over the release of information, but reporters are hopeful they can now do a better job of telling Canadians what's happening in government. 

Since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's swearing-in on Wednesday, CBC Nova Scotia journalists have made several requests to interview new cabinet ministers. 

We wanted to know whether Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr would reopen veterans offices in Sydney. When Information Morning producer Don Munro put out the call, he said he heard back within the hour and that an interview is in the works.

Another producer requested an interview with Navdeep Bains, the new minister of innovation, science and economic development, which is responsible for the regional development agencies including the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. She also heard back within the hour. 

"It was very exciting," said Information Morning Cape Breton's Nicole MacLennan. "That's the quickest I've ever heard back from a PR person for many a year."

In an email to CBC, Alain Vezina, regional director of science for the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth, confirmed this morning that scientists at the institute are now allowed to speak openly to media.

Vezina held a meeting this morning to brief staff on the change, and said the authorization came from the assistant deputy minister of science at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Long waits have been common

After almost a decade of decreasing access to government ministers and those who work for their departments, it's a remarkable thing for journalists to contemplate once again getting comments from people who make important decisions.

I covered the national health beat for almost 14 years. In the last six or eight years of that assignment, I was never able to interview the federal minister of health. The only time the minister or a government health spokesperson appeared in my stories was following a staged media or public event with prepared statements.

Requests for comments or interviews were invariably rebuffed, and often not until days or sometimes weeks after my deadline had passed.

This is not just whining from the media. It's difficult to tell you — our audiences — how your tax dollars are being spent, or report on the policies or priorities of your elected representatives, if they won't talk to you. The news media stand in for citizens with the privilege and responsibility of asking questions and demanding accountability. 

It seems that job is about to get a whole lot easier, which means you should be getting more information about what your government is up to.


Pauline Dakin

Former host, reporter

Pauline Dakin worked for CBC News for almost 20 years. She was senior producer of current affairs programming for CBC Nova Scotia, the host of Atlantic Voice, and a national health reporter.