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QP: The problem is me

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I've been going back and forth with Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen and NDP House Leader Dave Chomiak about why Question Period has sucked lately.The Tories have been asking lame questions, the NDP have been giving even lamer answers and everyone's almost done caring. But there's a third batch of players in the QP equation that also bear some responsibility, and that's reporters like me.McFadyen was telling me about what it was like under Filmon, when he'd emerge from the House for the daily scrums to be surrounded by cameras, microphones and veteran reporters who would buttonhole him for some pretty ugly Q&As. Filmon couldn't physically escape down the hall because of all the journalists, and the reporters sort of fed off each other's questions for a pretty high-octane scrum.Granted, it was a more intense time - major budget cuts, selling MTS and the like. The Leg is now a far more boring place, thanks to good economic times and a premier who thinks new driver’s licenses are a major public policy initiative.Still, this session, we've had only one scrum that I'd call remotely invigorating - the one where everyone hassled Doer about Crown corps giving money to the human rights museum. Even then, there was only a half-dozen reporters and the story died the next day.On any given day in the media balcony in the house, there's maybe five regulars and the odd camera that shows up because a reporter needs a clip from the roads minister about potholes or something equally one-off. We’re just not covering QP the way we did, and the MLAs know this, so they’ve just stopped trying as hard. It’s not just QP.There's far, far fewer reporters covering the Legislature in general, competing with each other and spending time digging up stuff. CBC has all but abandoned the Leg, and no television station sends anyone down with any regularity. Space in my own newspaper has shrunk dramatically since the days of Arlene Bilinkoff and Curt Petrovich, so we’re doing fewer stories. Whole bills get briefed. That means the daily clash of Question Period, the moment where ideas and policies crystallize, just doesn’t have any impact on voters anymore. I don’t know what to do about that.

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About Mary Agnes Welch

Mary Agnes Welch joined the Free Press in 2002, first covering city hall and then the Manitoba legislature before moving to her current post as public policy reporter. Before Winnipeg, she worked at the Windsor Star and the Odessa American, a small daily newspaper in West Texas. There, in addition to covering more than 20 counties, she took high school football scores from coaches all over West Texas by phone every Friday night.

Mary Agnes is a graduate of Columbia University’s journalism school. She has been part of two teams of reporters nominated for a Michener Award. In 2011, 2012 and 2013 she was nominated for a National Newspaper Award in the beat category.

She was a Southam journalism fellow at the University of Toronto’s Massey College in 2012-13, where she studied indigenous issues, urban planning and political science. She is also the former national president of the Canadian Association of Journalists and has served on several boards.

She once misspelled "Shih Tzu" in the paper and received 37 emails from angry dog-owners.

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