Ontario government staffers — paid for by taxpayers — continue to applaud loudly at the end of news conferences, apparently to drown out reporters’ questions.
During an announcement Thursday about new funding to fight gun violence in Toronto, dozens of government workers stood among reporters and “clapped out” those who were there to ask questions.
Reporters were allowed only four questions, plus one clarification, about the $25-million initiative before Premier Doug Ford and Attorney General Caroline Mulroney left the room.
Spokesman Simon Jefferies refused to talk to reporters about the constraints, saying “I’m not scrumming on this,” as he walked out.
Most of the staffers hurried away and wouldn’t say who, if anyone, had ordered them to be there.
But when asked if they were being paid to attend, one staffer said “yes.”
Mulroney said she and Ford simply needed to get back to the house for question period.
“The premier was there,” she said. “He addressed the questions that were put to him and then we rushed back obviously to get to question period where the premier is there for the entire hour taking questions from the Opposition.
“So you know this is an open and transparent government … Actually he took his time answering the questions, trying to give as fulsome (an) answer as possible.”
She said she didn’t notice the staffers applauding and maintained neither she nor anyone else had told them to applaud.
“To be honest, I … couldn’t see past the press so I didn’t see anything,” she said. “My staffers were with me as they are with me when I, you know, participate in press conferences.
“There are no instructions as far as I know … if they want to clap, they can clap.”
Last week, a reporter lashed out at the applauding staffers during Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod’s announcement about changes to the welfare program.
“Can you please stop clapping? This is a professional environment. Stop it,” he said.
“Take that into the legislature if you guys want to act like that.”
The next day, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said stopping reporters from asking questions prevents the public from being informed about the actions of its government.
“If you’re holding a press conference apparently it’s supposed to be for the press, not for a group of hangers-on to create a ruckus,” she said at Queen’s Park.
“It’s there for the purposes of disseminating information through the media to the public.”
Deputy Premier Christine Elliott had suggested she would be discussing the issue with Ford.
“That is something that I think that we need to discuss because I think that reporters have a right to ask questions and they should be able to do that uninterrupted,” she said.
Since Ford was elected, the media has been limited to asking roughly five questions total during news conferences — significantly less than was allowed in the previous government.
Ford’s election campaign also used clapping out and other techniques to restrict journalists during events.