A license to swat them away

In the closing moments of an excellent At Issues panel on CBC’s The National last night, National Post columnist Andrew Coyne explained why traditional Question Period theatrics are so feckless when a real scandal envelopes government.

[If the Opposition] would slow down and ask short simple questions, rather these kind of multiple-part grandstanding theatrics, but they don’t seem to be capable of that.

What sort of short questions, host Peter Mansbridge asked.

[S]imple questions of fact that put ministers on the record, where you can then compare what they say on the record with what they say later. It’s more in the nature of the way a lawyer asks questions in court.

It’s hard for them to resist, unfortunately, going for the big windup, you know, the big preamble beforehand, the big stream of accusations. And as we saw with John Baird, anybody who’s got any experience with those is very adept at just swatting them away. It gives him license, frankly, to give non-answers when you don’t ask real questions.

This is obvious to anyone who watches any question period in any Canadian legislature. Why don’t opposition MPs get it, and change their tactics? Perhaps because short, simple, lawyerly questions that build an embarrassing step-by-step case against a government policy or practice do not make onto the nightly television news.

Happy Canada Day

The much anticipated fireworks display over Halifax proved an austere celebration. They were fun while they lasted, about 12 minutes, and the cheerful, appreciative, harbourside crowd was a delight.

This cheerfulness, a certain joie de vivre, has a leavening effect on patriotism, an emotion that, left unchecked, can be unpleasant and dangerous.

In that spirit, I point out that, over the last 24 hours, we’ve had the Canadian Women’s Soccer Team don Tory blue jerseys for their pre-Canada Day bout with the Yanks, and the managing editor of the National Post tweeted his outrage that the Globe and Mail occasionally publishes op-ed pieces by moderate-left New Democrat organizer, pundit, and genocide expert, Gerry Caplan.

Leave the public stage for exclusive use by the cranky and aggrieved right wing, is apparently Jonathan Kay’s concept of journalistic virtue, one his journal implements with rigor.

Yet, somehow, the nation survives. Happy Canada, everyone, most especially Mr. Kay.

H/T: BC.  Photo: Sarah Kate Marsh (@sarahkatemarsh).

Parliamentary press gallery: ’embarrassed, angry, and frightened’

Blogger and tech journalist Jeff Jedras has a good analysis of the moral panic that swept through the Parliamentary Press Gallery last Friday (and previously touched on here).

The leading lights of Canadian journalism had had the news cycle snatched from their grasp not once but twice the day before, and not by the customary culprits in the PMO but by a pair of tweeters, one obscure (the PEI man who kicked off the wildly popular #tellviceverything meme) the other anonymous (@vikileaks30).

After floundering unhappily for 24 hours in the turbulent wake of these citizen journalists, the gallery regrouped Friday for an all-out assault on @VikiLeaks30’s “despicable” exposé of ministerial hypocrisy, supplemented by feckless efforts to unmask the fiend.

Here’s Jedras:

What really interests me though is the reaction of the proverbial “main-stream media” to the Vikileaks story, with an Ottawa Citizen piece attempting to trace the IP address of the “@Vikileaks30 leaker” spurring endless speculation and demands to identify the person or persons responsible.


It should be noted that had @Vikileaks30 given their documents to a journalist who chose to publish a story based on them, then the media would be reminding us how important it is to protect the confidentiality of their sources. Even competing outlets wouldn’t try to unmask another journalist’s confidential source. That’s just not cricket, old boy.


What the media reaction to @Vikileaks30 really shows though is how angry, and perhaps frightened, they are about losing their traditional role as the gatekeepers of news, the people that get to decide what we, the unwashed masses, need to know and what we don’t need to know. Journalists are used to being in the know, to having the inside details, the scoop. It helps make up for the low pay, long hours and heavy drinking.

Jedras is onto something here. Obscure tweeters had exposed the media’s failure to make a story out of the well known (to them) disconnect between Vic Toews’s sanctimonious public pronouncements on family values and his own tawdry infidelities. That embarrassed and angered the gallery. When the Ottawa Citizen claimed to have linked the offending twitter account to a House of Commons IP address, it propelled the flock into a frenzy of denunciations and a hunt for the malfeasor.

Except that, as Jedras pointed out, most of these same news organizations had already made their own passing references to Toew’s messy divorce. He compiled a litany of these media mentions, in the Winnipeg Free Press, Canadian Press, the Vancouver Sun, and the National Post. They were, to be sure, only fleeting mentions, each consisting of a bare-bones sentence or two. No major media outlet had fully reported the story, though the details were all on the public record.

Compare that reticence to the same media outlets’ treatment of a scandal involving NDP-affiliated Toronto City Councillor Adam Giambrone, whose 2010 campaign for mayor came to an abrupt halt after the Toronto Star exposed his escapades on a City Hall sofa with a 19-year-old student blissfully unaware that his would-be worship had a long-term, live-in partner.

The Star’s respected National Affairs Correspondent, Linda Diebel, broke that story in lurid detail, whereupon the same journals that would later denounce @Vikileaks30 pounced on the scandal with a vengeance, publishing comprehensive followups until they succeeded in driving Councillor Giambrone from office. So entranced was the National Post with the story that it followed up a year-and-a-half later — after Giambrone had moved to another city — with a snide “where are they now” reprise of the incident.

That would be the same National Post that denounced @Vikileaks30’s recital of the  unreported facts in the Toews case as a “further debasement of the Canadian political conversation..”

Do as I say, not as I do, at least when Harper cabinet ministers are involved.

H/T: Charlie Phillips

Canada’s equivalent of “real Americans” — #gag #spoon

I won’t presume that Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner, poster child for the Harper government’s plan to kill the long gun registry, was purposely being nasty when she referred to citizens who oppose the registry as “good salt-of-the-earth people,” “upstanding citizens who work hard,” and parents whose children “probably aren’t involved in gangs in the streets.” But I wish she would take a moment to consider how offensive her characterizations are.

They’re upstanding citizens who work hard. They take their kids and grandkids out hunting and shooting and those kids, by the way, probably aren’t involved in gangs in the streets.

These are good salt-of-the-earth people and for so long they have had really nobody in government who has been able to make any changes on their behalf. So it really was very gratifying to know how thankful they were and how much it meant to them to have someone who was going to be promoting good policy, policy that was fair and wasn’t targeting them.

By dividing Canadians into “good salt-of-the-earth people” vs. unnamed others, the Harperites are borrowing yet another unwelcome page from the US Republican Party’s noisome playbook.

Personally, I find guns creepy, and I believe the danger of having them around far outweighs the good some people see in them. But I feel no great stake in the long gun registry, which was a badly conceived and atrociously implemented indirect attack at a problem politicians lacked the gumption to tackle head on. I’m ambivalent about ending it, but it’s a repulsive lie to suggest that one side of the debate has a lock on worthy citizenship — or even that some citizens are intrinsically more worthy than others.

There are plenty of good people, and no shortage of arseholes, on both sides of this issue.

By the same token I won’t be joining the chorus of indignation that has greeted the “it gets better” video cobbled together, somewhat ineptly, by a group of Conservative MPs in response to the suicide of a gay Ottawa teen.

Yes, some Conservatives have been slow to shed bigoted ideas about homosexuality that were the norm in Canada only a few short years ago. Yes, as MP Scott Brison pointed out, the Conservative caucus has fought against such advancements in gay rights in Canada as pension benefits and the right to marry.

But the fact they are now climbing aboard the “it gets better” bandwagon marks a remarkable political watershed. The generous interpretation would be that the MPs were simply moved by the human tragedy of a promising teenager taking his own life because of the cruel treatment he faced as a gay boy. In the cynical view, this was a cold Conservative Party calculation that Canadian public opinion has fetched up firmly on one side of this issue, and the party had best get on board.

I incline to the former, but either way, it shows that those least inclined to accept equal treatment for people of all sexual orientation have now realized the debate is over in Canada. Tolerance won.

It’s about time.

(The National Post’s Chris Selley goes overboard with the argument, and lets his CPC partisanship show, but on the basic point, I find myself in rare agreement: “The fact its supporters cut across political lines is a benefit, not a drawback.”)


Canadian army officer finds detainee policies ethically dubious

The National Post ferrets out a Canadian army officer’s surprisingly critical master’s thesis on Canada’s handling of Afghan detainees.

In an exhaustive critique, the author concluded Canada’s decision to hand over suspected insurgents to Afghan authorities with a history of abuse violated Canadian ethical values, could turn ordinary Afghans against foreign troops and likely increased the stress of this country’s combatants. The policy might even have contributed to the alleged mercy killing of a Taliban fighter by a Canadian soldier, she wrote.

Major Manon Plante’s thesis, completed this year as one of the requirements for a master’s degree from the Canadian Forces College, shows a level of candor the Harper government has thus far been unable to muster:

Based on the Afghan human rights track record and its primitive prison capacity, how the Government of Canada came to the conclusion that the Afghan authorities had the capacity to detain personnel is perplexing, The decision may have been legal but it appears that it may not have been the right ethical choice.

View Plante’s 122-page thesis in html, MSWord, or .pdf formats. Hat tip: Chris McCormick.

DeAdder on the vanishing cartoonist-lifer

Mike deAdder writes about the lot of cartoonists in a era of declining newspapers. Moneyquote:

In 1967, Canada’s Centennial Year and the year of my birth, Terry “Aislin” Mosher, Canada’s pre-eminent editorial cartoonist began his long illustrious career after graduating from École des Beaux-arts in Quebec City. He started at The Montreal Star in 1967, then transferred to The Montreal Gazette in 1972. To this day, he still works for The Gazette.

The great Roy Peterson, who retired this year, always called The Vancouver Sun his home, as did The Edmonton Journal’s Malcolm Mayes, the Calgary Herald’s Vance Rodewalt, and The Province’s two cartoonists, Bob Krieger and Dan Murphy…

deadder-daily news closesI began my career in 1997. A short 12 years ago. In my career, I’ve worked for The Saint John Times Globe (now defunct), The Saint John Telegraph Journal, The Halifax Daily News (now defunct), The Moncton Times & Transcript, The Fredericton Gleaner, The National Post, and Metro Canada… eight newspapers in 12 years.]

Ironically, deAdder wrote the piece for the 20th Anniversary Edition of Ottawa’s Hill Times, the one paper where he has worked steadily for 12 years.