Further to my previous post, the gag on the Fire Commissioner was lifted briefly today, in a technical briefing for media.
The Fire Commissioner was, presumably, made available to explain the technical detail, of which Dave Denine did not have a grasp. After the briefing, reporters were invited to question the minister. The person giving the briefing was not interviewed on the record.
I fired off a question about this to the CBC's David Cochrane, who has been following this story closely. He said it is "standard practice" for government to provide a technical briefing, but for background only.
"We can attribute the information to government officials'," Cochrane said. "This is the usual method of giving us access to deputy ministers and other similar public servants."
The briefings, he explained, are not to be recorded, unless permission is given for accuracy or note taking purposes.
"This is an agreed to process," Cochrane said. "It is something I helped initiate as president of the press gallery. And it is a practice I support. The technical briefing is typically followed by a ministerial media availability. So we get the detailed technical info and our clips. It works well."
However, the situation has evolved and not all is well, Cochrane added.
"But - and this is a big but - the government has recently extended this far beyond its original intentions and imposed what amounts to a gag order on all public servants. Fred Hollett had always been available to us. He is an important public safety official and is quite able to answer detailed questions politicians simply cannot. We have been given no explanation for this change in policy. The answer is typically - and repeatedly - that "the minister Is the spokesperson." I think this is a flawed approach that only leads to hostility and incomplete information getting to the public. The government cannot deny us access to the experts and then condemn us if we get things wrong.
"On another note - it is contradictory to boast of openness and transparency and then refuse reasonable access to key people. If the minister is the spokesperson, that's fine. But they better be able to give good and proper answers or things will go south quickly."