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Opinion: Feds didn’t invite media to big Burnaby fire hall announcement to avoid tough TMX questions

A local MP was giving out $30 million but the media wasn't invited
The Burnaby tank farm. (via Contributed)

So all signs point to a looming federal election in Canada, what with a tsunami of government funding announcements and appearances by ministers in ridings across the country.

I want to discuss the optics of how the feds have handled recent pre-election activity and their cowardly approach to awkward topics.

At the end of July, two major federal figures appeared in Burnaby. One toured a local tech firm that has received buckets of cash from the feds, while deputy PM Chrystia Freeland toured a daycare at SFU.

Neither visit was particularly newsworthy because they weren’t in Burnaby to make announcements. A minister wandering around a tech firm isn’t news – it’s a lame photo op.

The feds sent multiple notifications about both of these appearances. They went to great lengths to make sure the NOW knew these two would be in our city, which is to be expected.

And yet, on July 30 after 4 p.m. a federal news release slid into my inbox about the fact that Burnaby North-Seymour MP Terry Beech had, earlier in the day, announced a whopping $30 million for the construction of a fire hall on Burnaby Mountain for SFU and the UniverCity community.

That’s a lot of money – you’d think the media would have been invited when Beech made the announcement at a local fire hall with Mayor Mike Hurley and firefighters in attendance. I mean, it is good news.

And yet, for some reason, the feds didn’t invite the media to an actual news event while making extraordinary efforts to invite us to politicians wandering around a daycare and a tech company.

I thought this was weird (and infuriating) and so I asked Beech’s assistant about why this happened.

“We had clear direction from the ministry that media was not to attend the announcement,” read an emailed response.

Oh reeeeeeeally? Funny, just weeks before the NOW was invited to cover a Burnaby-related housing announcement.

Gee, I wonder why the difference? Could it be because they didn’t want reporters on hand asking tough questions about the fact that a fire hall is needed on Burnaby Mountain because of real concerns about a devastating fire caused by the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project?

Of course it is.

Burnaby fire Chief Chris Bowcock has repeatedly written and spoken about the potential risks of a “boil-over” at the Burnaby Mountain tank farm and how crucial it is to have a fast response. He’s not the only one. There are very real concerns about the risk to Burnaby from the pipeline and tank farm expansion.

Questions about those risks would have been asked by reporters, including from the NOW.

Instead, the feds took the coward’s way out because they didn’t want the optics of a local MP being grilled in front of firefighters and the mayor. 

It’s disgusting, but this is politics.

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.