At the start of his campaign, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair took some heat for declining to answer questions from reporters at his kick-off event. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper enforced his five-question cap that day, while Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau chose not to impose any limits.
But since then, CBC News data shows Mulcair has made up for lost time by fielding the most questions of the three leading candidates since the campaign started.
According to CBC data, Mulcair answered 258 questions at campaign events between Aug. 2 and Aug. 31. Trudeau responded to 204, while Harper handled exactly half that number, fielding just 102 questions since the election campaign started. Those numbers exclude debates, Q&As, town hall meetings and one-on-one interviews with the media.
While Harper follows a strict policy of taking no more than five questions at any given campaign event, Mulcair and Trudeau follow more open approaches.
"If all of you bear with me, I'm going to do something politicians don't do enough these days and take questions," Trudeau quipped last Thursday after he announced his plan to double spending on infrastructure.
Harper, in particular, seems to favour Q&A-style events with a moderator asking questions about topics that mesh with Conservative priorities.
Risks to openness
Peter Loewen, an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto, says the numbers shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.
"Obviously, the prime minister is the candidate least interested in opening himself up to the mistakes, and the way he gets around that is by not answering the questions," Loewen says. "People who don't like it — and there are a lot of people who don't — have already made up their minds."
Pressed about his five-question cap at a campaign stop in Clarence-Rockland on Aug. 23, Harper told reporters: "You're all very aware how we've structured our press conferences. This is a long-standing policy."
"What's important to me is that we're able to answer a range of questions on a wide range of subjects," he added.
Still, the Mike Duffy trial has dominated as the issue reporters have brought up when questioning Harper. And with the Conservative leader's five-question cap, that means there's only so much room for other campaign issues to be addressed.
While Loewen says Mulcair's approach to taking questions allows him to "appear more open" and create a favourable contrast between himself and Harper, there are drawbacks on either side.
Harper "has been able to keep himself on message," Loewen says. "When it comes to questions, Duffy aside, I don't think there's a lack of clarity on what the prime minister's main points are."
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