Reporter’s Notebook: What Does a Prime Minister Photo Op Look Like?

You may noticed that coverage of the Prime Minister’s visit to Guelph didn’t say much, because when Justin Trudeau was here he didn’t say anything. Well, he did talk to staff at Polycon, a plant owned by Magna on Independence Road, but nothing was said to the dozen or so in the local press that was there, no announcement, and no speech about the awesomeness of Guelph and/or Canadian manufacturing. Still, I’m sure there’s some curiosity out there: What does a prime ministerial photo op look like?

In this instance it began with arriving at Polycon at 1 pm. The prime minister was scheduled to arrive at 2 pm, and all press had to be at the factory by 1:15. A security guard showed me to an entrance at the other end of the plant where some of the workers were taking a smoke break. One of the floor managers met me outside the entrance and took me into the plant down a series of hallways, past various offices, to an empty staff room where the press were asked to wait. Several of my colleagues were already there along with an RCMP officer in plainclothes and a couple of Polycon employees. There was also some fruit, pastries and drinks laid out.

Not too long after my arrival, the RCMP officer, denoted by the badge on belt and the red “PM” pin on his jacket, asked us place our bags and gear along one wall in the room, and a dog was brought in to smell them. As the dog did his work, the officer asked us to get out our phones, just to see that they are actual working phones and not, I assume, some kind of cover for more illicit electronic devices. He also later checked out IDs. This might all seem over the top, but as compared to my last appearance at a prime ministerial press event, which was even more public, accessing this one was a cake walk.

After the security check there was some more waiting, and fidgeting, and tweeting. Plant staff came in with a box of safety vests and several pairs of safety glasses that we all had to put on before going into the plant where all the car parts manufacturing actually takes place. Then a floor manager came in to lead us to the spot on the plant floor where the photo op would be be taking place. What followed was a long walk through a maze of hallways till we got to a pair of big doors that lead out into the plant. The manager told us we’d be walking across the plant floor to a set of stairs, then down a catwalk to another set of stairs which would take us back down to the floor and the site of the photo op. This was not good news for the CBC reporter who was carrying his gear on a small trolley.

One of the workers mentioned that it sometimes gets as hot as 30 degrees on the plant floor, and while it was noticeably warmer when we entered, it was hardly a scorcher. The journey to the corner of the plant where the photo op took place was longer than expected, I felt sorry for those with heavy equipment, but I myself had my hands full. I had my video camera on a tripod in one hand, my notebook and Zoom H2n in the other, and my DSLR camera around my neck. I could have left two of those things behind, but I wanted my notebook and audio recorder with me in case something substantive was said.

As we were told, we want up the stairs and across a catwalk that overlooked the production of what looked like the back ends of a variety of cars; these parts are made in Guelph, but they’re shipped to a plant in Brampton to build the actual car. On the other side of the catwalk there was another jaunt across the plant floor, we had to walk off to one side along the wall because several forklifts would race past us up and down the plant floor, there were even a couple of crosswalks where the foreman had to activate a signal.

We finally arrived at the spot where the photo op would take place, a corner of the plant floor where there was a device that looked like a merry-go-round where the back ends car would spin around to each of five or six stations. The parts were then brought to a quality control person nearby who inspected the part and handed it off to a colleague who would wrap it, label it, and make it ready to ship out. The 15 some-odd members of the press were crammed into a small space next the quality control station.

A member of the PM’s press office named Cameron told us that Trudeau would be coming in from behind us, and make his way to the carousel station where we would take our pictures. As for comments, nope, and given the amount of noise kicked off by the machines and the fans, it wasn’t that surprising. And then we paid the waiting game. The reporters talked amongst themselves, or took pictures of the workers doing their job. The staff started gathering around, and red Magna shirts and smocks were handed out for those not already wearing red. Two o’clock came, and Trudeau wasn’t there. Not uncommon. These things never run on time.

So we waited. And waited. And waited. And about 20 after two we started hearing cheers from far off, and then a few more. And then, he finally appeared. As indicated, Trudeau walked down the corridor with an entourage that included Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield and Mayor Cam Guthrie. Trudeau walked past the press on the other side of the quality control station. He began shaking hands, and making his way though the crowd.

Eventually they got Trudeau into position, and put him to work. They gave him some safety glasses and a safety vest that said “Prime Minister” on it, and one of the ladies on the line showed him what do. Now, from the press’ position, all we got is Trudeau’s back, and between the staff and the dozen or so people that the PM brought with him, it got pretty crowded around that work station. The RCMP made a space and invited the press cameras to get in there and get their shots. I was using my tripod like a selfie stick to get shots, but I eventually put it down and used the DSLR to get the shots I needed.

Anyway, Trudeau did a couple parts, and the people cheered; here was the Prime Minister of Canada doing working man’s work. The staff had a little card that Trudeau signed, I guess to signify this part was produced by the Prime Minister. I wonder if the purchaser of the completed car will get that? Anyway, Trudeau then thanked everyone and left the way he came in but not before taking some selfies with the a couple of the staff. The press had to hang back for about 10 minutes, before we too were led back the way we came, to the staff room where some of us grabbed the left over fruit and muffins that were put there for us.

So that’s what a photo op with the Prime Minister looks like. It was quick, dirty, and with a lot of waiting. Why do we do it? We’re the media elite. I hope this was informative, or at the very least interesting. In the meantime, if you’re interested in what’s going on with the Federal scene, MP Longfield will be our guest on Open Sources Guelph on Thursday April 28 at 5:30 pm.

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