OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative caucus members are back at work in Ottawa and spoiling, it seems, for a fight — and not just with their traditional House of Commons rivals.

These days, while Liberal and NDP members of Parliament are sporting their share of political shiners, so too are the journalists who cover them.

Sparring between the Prime Minister's Office and the Parliamentary Press Gallery is hardly new. But the gloves came off on Wednesday when a dispute over access to a government caucus meeting turned into a Conservative fundraising pitch.

Most of the media gallery refused to show up for Harper's speech to caucus members on Wednesday when his office insisted on allowing only photographers and TV cameras to attend — no reporters.

Before the day was out, the Conservatives were using the dispute to raise money — a fundraising letter accused the "Ottawa media elite" of sinking to a "new low" — in hopes of turning Canada's love-hate relationship with its journalists to the party's political benefit.

In closing the door to reporters, the Prime Minister's Office was surely mindful of the last time it invited the media to a caucus meeting — this one at the height of the controversy surrounding Harper's chief of staff, Nigel Wright, and his $90,000 cheque to Mike Duffy.

On that day last May, reporters shouted questions at Harper as he entered the room and took the podium, demanding to know more about why Wright — who resigned his post just days earlier — had paid off the embattled senator.

So when reporters were barred from Wednesday's caucus meeting, television, radio and print outlets - with the exception of Sun Media - refused to cover the speech, insisting their journalists be allowed in rather than having to rely on the PMO's own transcripts.

"It's about reporters being able to do their jobs," said Daniel Thibeault, president of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. "You need to see people. You need to see the reaction, the body language .... and in the past, it's never been an issue."

The Conservatives also took issue with the fact some journalists opted to accept an NDP invitation to sit in on New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair's caucus speech, taking place across the hall.

"You won't believe what the Press Gallery just did in Ottawa," Fred DeLorey, the Conservative party's director of political operations, said in his fundraising email.

"Rather than send cameras to cover the prime minister's speech, they attended the NDP's meeting, and were welcomed with cheers and applause. We knew they wouldn't give us fair coverage — but this is a new low for the Ottawa media elite."

A Harper spokesman later insisted "various media organizations were invited to attend to capture the prime minister's speech, but chose not to."

Just as it did prior to a cabinet shuffle earlier this year, the Prime Minister's Office turned to Twitter, tweeting snippets of Harper's speech. That enabled reporters to learn and report the details, but didn't mute complaints about what they consider a filter-free end-run around the mainstream media.

The dispute comes on the heels of a major personnel change within the PMO's media-relations arm. Jason MacDonald, Harper's new director of communications, took over last month from Andrew MacDougall, who was widely viewed as being among the more gallery-friendly officials in Harper's inner circle.

Conservatives have long tried to get around the Ottawa press corps, often by reaching out to regional and ethnic media organizations, because they view the mainstream media as hostile to their message, said Harold Jansen, a political science professor at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta.

"There's nothing terribly surprising about the throne speech fight — it's just more of the same," Jansen said.

Indeed, the latest dust-up represents just the most recent round in an enduring sparring match between Harper and the media that has raged since the Conservatives took office in 2006.

DeLorey's fundraising email suggests the Conservatives still consider it a winning strategy to assail the media in front of party faithful — a tactic they appear to have been revisiting in recent weeks.

In September, a veteran CTV cameraman asked a question during a Harper photo-op in New York — breaking an unwritten rule that prohibits unsolicited questions during photo-op moments that don't include a formal Q-and-A session.

In Canada and the U.S., it's long been standard media procedure to shout out questions during public appearances. More often than not, elected officials will provide a brief response to an unanticipated question during a photo-op.

However, Dave Ellis — the cameraman in question — was told he would not be allowed to cover Harper's trip to Malaysia and Indonesia the following week, even though he was already accredited to attend. Ultimately, the PMO backed down and allowed Ellis to board Harper's plane.

"They are remarkably effective at fundraising, so they'll pick these fights and then send out a fundraising email and say: 'See, we're standing up for you,'" said Jansen.

"And they also believe the average Canadian simply doesn't care that the media is shut out of events, that it's not an issue that is going to cause them any trouble on election day."

Christopher Waddell, director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University in Ottawa, called the Conservatives' anti-media tactics puzzling.

Harper is a skilled communicator and gives full, well-considered answers when questioned, Waddell said.

"His unwillingness to engage in all of that ends up hurting his cause, not helping his cause," he said.

"The impression that's created is that they're not interested in explaining themselves, they're not interested in being open. They're not interested in the questions and answers and the debate that is part of a democracy."

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  • Stephen Harper and wife Laureen in 2011. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8472663517/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>

  • Whoops, How Did This Get In Here...

    Part of a painting of Prime Minister Stephen Harper fully nude, by Kingston artist Maggie Sutherland, is shown at the Central Kingston public library in Kingston, Ont. on May 18, 2012.

  • Beer Me!

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper gets behind the bar at the Victoria pub in Montreal Friday, March 16, 2012 where he stopped in to meet some supporters and have a drink for St. Patricks Day.

  • You Eat Half, And I'll Eat Half

    Conservative leader Stephen Harper and Laureen Harper stand next to a tray of hot cross buns at a bakery in Mississauga, on April 23, 2011.

  • Cuddle Time!

    Stephen Harper with wife Laureen and their chinchilla Charlie. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8425819048/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>

  • Easy Rider

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper waves after going for an ATV ride as he visits a farm for a campaign event in Wainfleet Ont., on Monday, April 4, 2011.

  • Nom Nom Nom

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper eats maple taffy as he visits a sugar shack in Norbertville, Quebec on Tuesday, April 5, 2011.

  • Muahhh

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives his wife Laureen a kiss following a day of G-20 meetings in Toronto. June 27, 2010. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=938&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>

  • Can I Keep Them?

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper plays with foster kittens at 24 Sussex. May 1, 2010. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=900&media_category_typ_id=6&media_id=5512" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>

  • Incoming!

    Conservative Leader Stephen Harper throws a small snowball at photographers after talking with reporters at a campaign stop in Guelph, Ontario Saturday, Jan. 21, 2006.

  • Thank God You're Not Wearing Overalls

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives Taylor Swift the book "Maple Leaf Forever" before her concert at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa. May 20, 2010. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=900&media_category_typ_id=6&media_id=5512" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>

  • Wedding Crasher

    Stephen Harper <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/10/23/harper-wedding-photos-ottawa_n_2006374.html" target="_blank">surprises an Ottawa couple on their wedding day</a> in 2012.

  • Yep, Definitely A Cat Person

    Laureen Harper laughs as she holds a husky dog with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper as they tour Caribou Crossing, Yukon, south of Whitehorse Monday August 20, 2012.

  • Harper Road

    Stephen Harper, his children Ben and Rachel, and wife Laureen cross Abbey Road in 2009. Source: <a href="http://on.fb.me/12OfGXN" target="_blank">Facebook</a>

  • Bonjour, Bonhomme

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper hams it up with Bonhomme Carnaval in the Prime Minister's Centre Block Office. November 25, 2010. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=1238&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>

  • Trendsetter

    Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, far left, watches a third round match between Agnieszka Radwanska, of Poland, and Serbia's Jelena Jankovic with his children Rachel, center, and Benjamin, right, at the 2012 US Open tennis tournament, Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012, in New York.

  • Psst! I Like Your Hat

    Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, speaks with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on July 1, 2011.

  • Giggle Fit!

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his son Ben watch a bloopers show while attending the Calgary Flames NHL hockey game against the Edmonton Oilers in Calgary, Saturday, April 11, 2009.

  • In The Key Of C Major

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper practices a few chords after arriving at home from work. February 19, 2011. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=1457&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>

  • Love You, Mom

    Conservative leader Stephen Harper gets a hug from his mother Margaret during a visit to his campaign office in Calgary, Saturday May 29, 2004.

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    Prime Minister Stephen Harper holds up a moustache scarf to kick off the start of ‘Movember’, November 1, 2012 Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8146161138/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>

  • The Sweet Side Of Politics

    Senior Legislative Assistant, Katherine Locke, left, and Government House Leader Special Assistant, Zoe Lawson, show off their House of Commons gingerbread house to Prime Minister Stephen Harper in his office on Dec. 16, 2010. The gingerbread house was filled with rows of gummi bears as members of Parliament. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=1355&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>

  • Beach Boy

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper waves to tourists as he walks on the beach after the closing of the VI Summit of the Americas on April 15, 2012 in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.

  • Game Face

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper plays a game of table tennis with Team Canada's Mo Zhang at Canada House in London on Tuesday, June 5, 2012.

  • Whaddya Mean It Doesn't Fit?

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper tries on an old hockey helmet at he tours the Yukon's Hockey History exhibit at the McBride Museum in Whitehorse, Yukon on Thursday, August 25, 2011.

  • Goooaaaaallll!

    Stephen Harper, his son Ben, and Wayne Gretzky watch the men's ice hockey team's gold medal game at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8457917081/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>

  • Who Said Politics Can't Be Fun?

    Stephen Harper and his son Ben hit balloons into the crowd after his speech at the party's three-day policy convention in Montreal on Friday March 18, 2005.

  • Jam Sesh

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  • Party Politics

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  • I Spy Something Cute

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  • Flashback

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  • Just Smile And Back Away Slowly

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  • Hats Off

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, throws Senator Gerry St. Germain's cowboy hat into the crowd after presenting him with a new one as his wife Margaret St. Germain, right, laughs during a barbecue at St. Germain's ranch in Surrey, B.C., on Monday August 6, 2012.

  • Thumbs Up, Up And Away

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  • He's A Belieber

    Stephen Harper presents Justin Bieber with a Diamond Jubilee Medal on Nov. 23, 2012. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8212520594/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>

  • I'm With Him

    Stephen Harper and Wayne Gretzky, joined by students on an outdoor ice rink in Saskatoon on Feb. 5, 2010. Source: <a href="http://on.fb.me/ZTlKy6" target="_blank"> Facebook</a>

  • Shhh... This Is The Best Part

    Stephen Harper, wife Laureen and Suraksha, Grade 10, visit an IMAX theatre in Bangalore, India on Nov. 8, 2012.

  • Umm... This Is My Costume

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  • D'awww

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen play with some furry friends at the official opening of the new Ottawa Humane Society facility on July 6, 2011. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=1724&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>

  • Omigod, So Cute

    Met Batisse X, official mascot of the Royal 22nd Regiment, prior to welcoming French PM Jean-Marc Ayrault to Ottawa. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8554783327/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>

  • I Can Totally Take You

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper receives a cricket lesson from Ankur Biswas, cricket team captain, at the Bishop Cotton Boys School. Source: <a href="http://on.fb.me/12OffwT" target="_blank">Facebook</a>

  • Mush!

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper drives a dog sled after meeting mushing teams at the Arctic Winter Games in Yellowknife, N.W.T., Monday, March 10, 2008.

  • A Very Harper Holiday

  • Hanging With The Golden Girls

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  • Tough Cookie

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen, left, make cookies with 10-year-old brain cancer survivor Baxton Wacholtz, right, and his mom Michelle, of Telkwa, B.C., during a photo opportunity at Ronald McDonald House in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday August 7, 2012.

  • Does This Mean I'm In The Band?

    Canadian musician Jens Lindemann visits Stephen Harper before a concert. "His blue trumpet reminded me of Sgt. Pepper," according to Harper. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8519328992/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>

  • Stanley's Not Going To Be Happy About This

    Met with Constable Dan Allen of the Child at Risk Response Team (and Cagney the dog) while in Calgary. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8640427193/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>

  • Say, 'Happy Halloween!'

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper points out the camera to baby Grayson, dressed up as a giraffe, during his first time trick-or-treating at 24 Sussex. Source: <a href="http://on.fb.me/10ppG5w" target="_blank">Facebook</a>

  • Bear Hug

    Stephen Harper hugs his daughter Rachel Hugging Rachel as results come in after the 2011 election. Source: <a href="http://on.fb.me/15WI2TY" target="_blank">Facebook</a>