POLITICS

Federal Election 2015: Mulcair Takes Zero Questions From Reporters At Campaign Launch

08/02/2015 12:25 EDT | Updated 08/02/2015 12:25 EDT

Thomas Mulcair marked the official start of his election campaign on Sunday by taking zero questions from journalists.

With Parliament in the background, the NDP leader spoke to media from a lectern staged in the same spot where late party leader Jack Layton launched his campaign in 2011.

In his speech, Mulcair criticized Conservative Leader Stephen Harper’s handling of the economy and reiterated the NDP’s commitment to accountability.

“I want to speak to every Canadian who thinks Mr. Harper’s government is on the wrong track,” Mulcair said. “To every Canadian who is looking for change in Ottawa.”

He did not take any questions from media.

The decision comes two days after the NDP released its final conditions for leaders’ debates including the clause that Mulcair will show up only if Stephen Harper does too.

The new rule means Mulcair is backing out of a previous commitment he made to attend the televised debate alongside Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May to be held weeks before the election.

Mulcair has held the lead in multiple public opinion polls in recent months.

The no-questions tactic was quickly panned by journalists and pundits as something drawn straight from the Conservative party playbook.

The strategy also seems to conflict with Mulcair's earlier criticism of Harper's relationship with the media.

"Stephen Harper wants to be the prime minister of a G-8 country, to manage one of the most complex governments and economies in the world, and yet he wants to do it without talking to the public, without talking to journalists, and indeed without talking to Parliamentarians," Mulcair said in 2013.

Speaking from Vancouver, Justin Trudeau responded to the commotion over the number of questions his rivals allowed from media.

“Unlike the other guys, I tend to take a lot of questions,” he said.

The Liberal leader stopped taking questions after reporters had run out of things to ask him.

Earlier, Stephen Harper officially marked the start of what will be the longest election campaign in recent Canadian history by taking questions from five journalists.

The Conservative leader plans to stick to that limit of five questions a day as he crisscrosses the country.

If Harper does stick to the rule for the whole campaign, Canadians can expect him to answer a total of 395 questions in the next 11 weeks.

The decision mirrors one Harper adopted in 2011 for the election campaign. Journalists travelling with him then were told he would answer only five questions a day.

Harper remarked how parties — not taxpayers — should finance their own campaigns and was challenged by CBC News’ Terry Milewski.

“A lot of voters are about to find that [statement very odd], considering you have just loaded tens of millions of dollar of additional costs on taxpayers by deciding to have a much longer campaign, in which, not coincidentally, you will have a chance to spend far more than your rivals,” Milewski said.

He added that taxpayers will be on the hook to subsidize the parties and candidates, and that more money will have to be funnelled to Elections Canada.

“Why should voters not conclude that you’re giving yourself a financial edge because maybe you think that’s the only way you can win?” Milewski asked.

Harper responded to the question by saying the Conservative party is better financed, better organized, and better supported by Canadians, “whether we call this campaign or not.”

Four journalists followed, asking questions in English and French, pressing Harper on the justification behind calling an early election.

Jordan Press of The Canadian Press asked a question about the Conservative’s record on economic stewardship and the credibility of its plan for the future.

Harper responded by referring to “major forecasts” that suggest Canada’s growth prospects are the strongest among G7 countries — an assertion that runs contrary to a StatsCan report released Friday stating that the economy shrank for the fifth consecutive month in May.

Voters will head to the polls Oct. 19.

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