Picture close to 500 journalists, most in business suits, spread throughout six or seven meeting rooms at the Conference Center, a stones throw from Parliament Hill. Many are sitting at fold-out tables, thumbing through copies of the budget and pecking away at laptops. Others are interviewing experts and spokespersons in front of television cameras. Television sets are everywhere, tuned to news channels and budget coverage.
Theres Rob Carrick and Derek DeCloet at the front. Heres Ellen Roseman walking down the hallway. It would be a great setting for noshing but I need to have my piece posted to the CBO websiteas soon as the lock-up ends.
The majorty of the journalists are in one big, cavernous room. It is quite grand. On either side stand four majestic Corinthian-like columns reaching up about 40 feet to a cathedral ceiling. Spoiling the effect slightly is the huge wrought-iron clock perched above the main entrance: its heavy hands remain motionless at 11:50 for the entire duration of the lock-up .
Also on the wall of the big, cavernous meeting room are several enclosed balconies where language translators sit whenever there is an international meeting in session. Today, the booths are occupied by security personnel, peering through binoculars at the sea of journalists below.
Yes, the 2009 budget was half leaked before the budget lock-up — yet security was as tight as ever. Dozens of uniformed security guards were stationed everywhere, in the halls and by the exit doors (when they say lock-up, they meanthere is absolutely no chance of getting out this place until 4PM). Im always reminded of National Post reporter Siri Agrells account of her attempt to escape early (reprinted below).
My first time to the budget lock-up, in 2007, I ended up sitting at tables and standing in line next to various ribald group of journalists. There was none of that this time. Maybe it was the less-spacious setting that required sitting and standing closer together, within earshot of too many people? (No, Alan, the journalists werent sweaty). Or was it those security guards peeking at us through the field glasses?
Siri Agrells escape attempt from the 2004 budget lock-up
2 p.m. Attempt to leave through the smokers’ patio, guarded by two female security guards. Reporter: “If I run, will you chase me?” Security guard #1: “Yup.” Reporter: “I have high heels on, so I guess you’d probably catch me, huh?” Security guard #2: “Maybe not, I have heels on, too.”
2:15 p.m. Attempt to exit through rear loading door, guarded by two male security guards. Security guard #1: “Where are you going?” Reporter: “I’m trying to leave.” Guard #1: “You can’t leave.” Reporter: “What if I give you $20?” Guard #1: “Not going to do it.” Reporter: “$50?” Guard #1: “If I have to stay, you have to stay.” Reporter: “What if I make a break for it, do you think you could catch me?” Guard #2: “You have to get past me, too. Reporter: Would you arrest me if I try and escape?” Guard #2: “Worse, we’ll put you back in there.”
2:45 p.m. Attempt to exit through side door, near food service, posted with three security guards. Reporter: “I’m trying to escape, are you going to stop me?” Guard #1: “I think the three of us could probably stop you.” Reporter (as food cart is wheeled past): “What if I hid under one of those carts?” Guard #3: “Then you’d be trapped in the kitchen.” Reporter: “That might be better.”
3 p.m. Attempt to negotiate with the head of security. Reporter: “I’m trying to escape, think it’s going to happen?” Head of security: “Probably not.” Reporter: “How many guards you got around here?” Head of security: “35-ish.” Reporter: “Has anybody tried to escape before?” Head of security: “No.” Reporter: “Really?” Head of security: “Why would they? The reading material is riveting, the company’s excellent and the food is great.” Reporter: “Are you being sarcastic?” Head of security: No reply. Reporter: “Seriously, would you chase me?” Head of security: “No, but the snipers would probably getcha.”