New Brunswick Liberal Leader Brian Gallant's campaign team is in damage control mode after a botched interview where he tripped over his own policy numbers, days before voters head to the polls.
Political opponents cried foul over two CBC News interviews host Harry Forestell taped with Gallant on Friday — bringing to light concerns about the leader's lack of experience.
In the first interview, Gallant said 200 people would be affected by the party’s proposal to increase revenues by taxing the province's richest who earn an income more than $500,000 annually.
Turns out, his numbers were wrong.
Gallant’s actual tax policy proposal would affect those who earn more than $370,000 and would affect 600 people.
Five hours after the taping of the first interview, Gallant arrived at the broadcaster’s Fredericton studios to tape a “redo” to correct the wrong numbers he had given earlier.
Gallant started his second interview by taking full responsibility — but quickly brushed off part of the blame on a “staffer working till about 4 a.m. giving us the numbers.”
“Here’s the concern,” said Forestell in the second interview. “It sounds you’re talking about a staffer being up until 4:30 in the morning trying to get the math done on this — it sounds like you’re making up policy on the fly.”
“Not at all, it’s just compiling what we already knew and sending it to us … I’ve been briefed weeks ago on this and I should have remembered the proper number,” Gallant explained.
“This is a policy that came out on your platform and you’re still crunching numbers on it today?” Forestell asked.
The botched interview was so bad, Sun Media national bureau chief David Akin labelled it an “unprecedented disaster,” and drew comparisons to former federal Liberal Leader Stephane Dion’s infamous bungled interview with CTV Halifax in 2008.
Earlier this month, New Brunswick Liberals released their tax platform promising increases for the province’s wealthiest one per cent. The plan would peg the province’s tax rate as the highest in Canada, according to Kevin Mulligan, an associate economics professor at the University of British Columbia.
Gallant's interview caught the attention of provincial Progressive Conservatives, who used it to turn up the heat on the Liberals’ semi-charmed campaign. Rothesay PC candidate Ted Flemming also called CBC’s ethics into question, suggesting the broadcaster awarded special treatment to Gallant.
“In the interest of transparency and journalistic integrity, I think it’s fair to expect an explanation from the CBC and from Brian Gallant’s campaign team,” Flemming said in a statement.
An editor’s note was released by CBC News on Wednesday in response to Flemming’s remarks, explaining the context of two tapings:
Mr. Gallant did the first interview with Forestell around 11 a.m. on Friday from a Radio-Canada studio in Moncton. In that interview the Liberal leader made, and repeated, statements about his party's tax policy that turned out to be incorrect. The interview was published on CBC.ca and prepared for broadcast on television that evening. At about 3:30 p.m. Friday, shortly before the TV broadcast the Liberal party informed the CBC by email of a clarification.
The statement, written by senior producer Darrow MacIntyre, went on to explain that there was no “redo” and that the two interviews together are a testament to “solid public policy journalism.”
A decision was made by me, in consultation with Harry Forestell and the CBC's head of Journalistic Standards and Practices, that Mr. Gallant should be asked to clarify and explain the errors. The Liberal leader came to the Fredericton station where he was asked to clarify his policy and was roundly grilled by Forestell about his apparent confusion over his own party's tax policy and the leadership issues raised by that confusion.
“The actions we took are the same ones we would have taken regardless of the party involved,” MacIntyre concluded.
New Brunswickers head to polls on Monday.
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