Monthly Archives: July 2009

Follow-Up on yesterday

At least one party doesn’t seem to be accepting Tuesday’s apology from the Telegraph-Journal: the Liberal Party. Former Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella thinks the paper made a “big, big mistake” by apologizingand blog BigCityLib Strikes Back reports a rumour that Heritage Canada had prepared talking points about the wafer affair before the T-J published its story. The video of the incident was and is inconclusive about what Harper did with the wafer, apart from the fact that he didn’t eat it right away.

I could argue that, if the rumour is true, it was perceptive of Heritage Canada to realise Harper’s very minor gaffe. I could also argue that the video did not conclusively show Harper pocketing the host and, as such, the paper should not have turned it into a national incident. Also, the journalists Kinsella cynically depicts on his blog expect their bosses to treat, if not their job, at least their name and their writing with respect. The Telegraph-Journal, by its own admission, did neither. An apology to them was the very least they could offer.

Rob Linke, one of the reporters the story was credited to, has had only one story published in the Telegraph-Journal since Wafer-Gate hit the newsstands: this story of an Englishwoman finding the debris of a World War II airplane crash. While it’s very possible Linke is on summer vacation, it does lead credence to the rumour that one of the reporters was considering a lawsuit. I wonder if Linke is still with the paper.

Rumours continue to abound about the Liberal Party’s involvement in story in online comment forums, the blogosphere, and the “National” Post. There are also rumours circulating that the timing of this apology (nearly three weeks after the story broke) had to do with the awarding of a shipbuilding contract (the T-J and several Nova Scotia shipyards are owned by J. K. Irving). I don’t put much faith in either rumour (especially the latter) and they probably won’t cause any new damage to the paper. If either turns out to be true, of course, the paper’s reputation will cease to exist. The Telegraph-Journal refuses to comment.

And now, for something less surreal, a cartoon.

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On Tuesday’s Telegraph-Journal business

This post is about the surprising front page apology on the front of the Telegraph-Journal, New Brunswick’s provincial newspaper. The paper was apologizing for this story, on July 8, which accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper for pocketing a communion wafer at Romeo Leblanc’s funeral. Harper denied the accusations and called the story, which was picked up nationally, “a low moment in journalism.” Tuesday, the paper admitted the story was “inaccurate and should never have been published.” It apologized to the Prime Minister, its readers, and also to its reporters, Adam Huras and Rob Linke, for adding the inaccurate statements to the story without their knowledge. This afternoon, news leaked out that T-J editor Shawna Richer was fired and publisher Jamie Irving (grandson of J.K. Irving) was “no longer with the paper.” Read, given the choice to quit or be fired. If you want more information and analysis, here’s the story off the CBC website, the Globe and Mail website, Craig Silverman, author and columnist for the Columbia Journalism Review, the St. John’s, NL, Telegram, and Stephen Taylor, a conservative blogger from Ottawa who showed up in the Google search. Robert Fife talked about the incident on the CTV National News Tuesday night, citing sources that said someone from the Liberal Party fed the line to young Irving personally. But, considering he’s still reporting that Jamie Irving is merely suspended from the paper and there is no confirmation of that online, I’m going to take that with a grain of salt (for now).

Tongues will be wagging about this story for at least the rest of the week, and doubtlessly big changes are coming to the T-J. But, since this blog exists so I can give my two bits, here are my thoughts tonight.

In retrospect, it was probably always going to end like this. Under Jamie Irving, the T-J turned into an “activist” newspaper. That meant that the paper grabbed hold of a few key issues (like the City of Saint John’s tax rate) and run story after story chipping away at those issues and the figures it held responsible for them (mostly, the mayors of Saint John, successive city councils, and former City Manager Terry Totten). And at first, they were successful. Saint John’s new ward system for electing councillors was probably due in part to the paper’s coverage. And the paper was cited by those close to the ex-city manager as a reason for his resignation.

And it was the T-J that broke Belleisle Elementary’s “O Canada” flap on its front page in January. I still don’t think the story deserved the front page. The change was made in September 2007, and in the intervening year and a half only one parent had complained to the district. But no matter; the story got national exposure, hundreds of parents finally discovered their patriotism, and Principal Erik Millett was hounded from his job by accusations and threats.

When I the headline “It’s a Scandal” on June 8 and read the story, I had two thoughts. 1: As a voter and a nominal Catholic, I in no way felt the thing was a scandal. 2: After the way Belleisle played out, the T-J wanted more national exposure. It’s cynical, sure, but with that headline, the Prime Minister’s involvement, and the summer news lull in full swing, every media outlet in Canada had picked up the story by the end of the day. It seemed like the paper was intent on turning minor things into national controversies. Sooner or later, it would have backfired.

The apology itself also brought my mind back to Matt McCann. Full disclosure: McCann is a classmate of mine and is editor-in-chief of the Aquinian, the St. Thomas newspaper I write a column for and, this fall, will be sitting on the Board of Governors of. He was fired, in part, for bringing the reputation of the paper into disrepute after he wrote a front page story (hey, is there a theme here?) on some UNB professors protesting that institution’s bestowing of an honourary degree on Premier Shawn Graham. More on the firing from Phillip Lee’s blog. Actually, McCann’s firing probably did more to bring disrepute to the paper (his story was picked up by the CBC, the Toronto Star, and the Columbia Journalism Review), but that’s beside the point.

The point is, deliberately faking part of a story is about the most disreputable thing you could do as a journalist. It’s the journalistic equivalent of a lawyer lying to a judge or a doctor knowingly giving a patient a dangerous combination of meds: a career-ending move. And for an editor to place those bogus “facts” in the story without checking it with the writers goes above and beyond reckless irresponsibility. If Richer and Irving had not left the paper Tuesday, no journalist in the country would want to work for them. If you were a reporter, would you write for an editor that hung out to try if you got the minutest of details wrong but inserted lies into your stories without asking? I’d sooner clean out the deep fryers at McDonald’s for the rest of my life than work under Richer or Irving, after Tuesday’s revelations. I’m not surprised if Stephen Taylor’s posting, saying that one of the reporters was considering suing the paper, is true. After all, Richer and Irving only published lies under his byline, lies that will survive forever online and in microfilm archives, and sullied his name and reputation.

Adding to the “Let’s Dump on the T-J Day” fun came news from St. Thomas University that practically the Political Science department was going to stop taking the paper’s calls for a year because of its treatment of young McCann (it’s near the bottom of the page). It’s unknown what, if any, affect Tuesday’s news will have on this item.

Tomorrow, the Telegraph-Journal begins the unenviable tasks of finding a new editor, a new publisher, and of rebuilding its reputation. I hope for their sake the rumour Robert Fife reported Tuesday, that the line was fed to the paper by a Liberal insider, isn’t true, because it would call into question every bit of the paper’s coverage of both Federal and Provincial politics since Jamie Irving took the helm. That would make the task of rebuilding reputations even more monumental.

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On post-secondary education in New Brunswick

and the changes made to it by Shawn Graham’s Liberal government. I wouldn’t be writing about this if it weren’t for this column written by Britt Dysart in the Telegraph-Journal praising the government’s improvements to the system. Not coincidentally, Mr. Dysart is the president of the New Brunswick Liberal Association and, also not coincidentally, several people take issue with his column – like Debra Lindsay, a history prof at UNB Saint John, who posted her thoughts on the Living in Interesting Times blog. And, I guess, me – posting my thoughts below.

First, Dysart says “few governments have acted as quickly and decisively on the file as the government of Shawn Graham has in less than three years.” To wholeheartedly believe this, I’d have to disregard the Miner-L’Ecuyer report. Commissioned in early 2007 and released that September, the report recommended creating polytechnics out of UNB Saint John, the U. de Moncton campuses in Edmundston and Shippagan, and the local community college campuses. The government dithered on this report amidst 6 long month of protest before finally shelving it, but many (especially in the UNBSJ community) still resent this government’s indecision. Graham, incidentally, then commissioned another panel before releasing an action plan that it still hasn’t fully acted on yet. But let’s move along.

Dysart says that “[t]he plan to restructure post-secondary education in New Brunswick will build a stronger, more affordable and more accessible system for everyone. The effects of this plan are being felt across the province.” He cites the doubling of the lifetime and annual tuition rebates for graduates working in New Brunswick, the tuition freeze, and the awkwardly-named Timely Completion Benefit. “The litmus test is not found in a partisan spin, but in how students feel about the changes this government has made to address their concerns,” he says.

Well, I am a student, I am not partisan, and I respectfully think the changes this government has made are bulls**t. The $20,000 tuition benefit for graduates hasn’t been used by many graduates because it’s basically a tax credit, meaning that to see the benefit, you have to earn enough money to pay tax – something few graduates living in New Brunswick have achieved over the three years of the program’s existence. And it’s news to me that this benefit is designed to make education more affordable. When former PC Premier Bernard Lord introduced the credit in 2006, he intended it as a population retention scheme – stay in New Brunswick and claim your tuition as a tax credit. Besides, this credit doesn’t give you money up-front to attend a university or college – one might say that without cash, PSE isn’t accesible to someone.

The tuition freeze is a good idea in theory, because it ensures that the up-front tuition cost doesn’t increase from one year to the next. Unfortunately, the government hasn’t increased its funding to the universities and colleges to replace the money that would have been gained from those tuition freezes. Universities have had to cut costs and services as a result and were left quite vulnerable to current economic crisis – a crisis which has shrunk their endowments. And less cash on hand may have an effect on these universities’ contract negotiations with their faculty unions. UNB, in particular, is trying to negotiate a new contract with its faculty, the old one having expired this year. A strike or lockout, like the one St. Thomas suffered under in 2008, would keep 12,000 students out of class – denying them access, as it were.

This brings me to the Timely Completion Benefit. Dysart accurately quotes Duncan Gallant, former St. Thomas Student Union president and current president of the New Brunswick Student Alliance, as saying the changes were “”the most progressive and comprehensive changes to student financial aid in New Brunswick’s history.” Dysart conveniently left out the fact that Gallant added that “there is still room for improvement” and completely ignored later statements made by the NBSA head, including “We are pleased that the
Government of New Brunswick is trying to limit the daunting student debt problem in our province, though we disagree with the requirement for timely program completion due to the myriad of reasons why this may be achieved.” The NBSA still wants an annual debt cap and wants doesn’t have much faith that the government will make allowances for students who can’t complete a program in four years for health or family reasons. I second the NBSA’s concerns about allowances (in spite of an appeals process) and also wonder why this program is not offered to students from other provinces who choose to stay in New Brunswick after graduation. And, again, it doesn’t address the up-front cost that is the biggest barrier to anyone trying to get into a university or college.

The part of Dysart’s column I most agree with is on infrastructure funding. For the most part, universities and colleges are in dire need of money for new building construction and old building upkeep. The community college campus in Saint John, for example, is far too small, in dire need of repair, and has been in that state for years. That this funding is coming through now is great, but government should have made this commitment years ago.

Then he talks about improvements to the community college system. I seem to remember the government committing to make the colleges independent of government, making their administration more like that of universities rather than high schools. I’ve yet to hear any more about how this will happen.

Dysart ends his column with a potshot at the Lord government and David Alward’s PC party, saying they failed to deliver on a promise to make the system more student focused. This kindly forgets that the tuition benefit was originally introduced by Lord, that the medical schools that the government are so proud of (one open in Moncton and another preparing to open in Saint John) are a consequence of agreements made by the Lord government, and that Dalhousie University nearly withdrew its vital medical school spots from Saint John because of the Graham government’s dithering first over the future of UNBSJ and then over a suitable building on campus.

Dysart ends, essentially, by asking his readers to look at results instead of rhetoric as New Brunswick moves towards next fall’s election. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I think Dysart should take his own advice the next time he writes about post-secondary education.

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NB School Support cuts reversed,

According to the Rogers radio stations. This was inevitable, as the loss of the support workers would have lead to chaos in the classrooms this September. Besides, these were the cuts Roland Hache was brought in to reverse. The Graham government, at least, can save some face by keeping a million bucks in the controversial Innovative Learning Fund (roughly the old amount of the fund less the $2.9-million and change for the support workers). The only question remaining is if reversing the cuts will help the government regain the trust it lost from hundreds if not thousands of parents over this debacle. Stay tuned.

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Around the House (Live and direct[ed] from Tehran edition)

  • I know I’ve been going ad nauseum about the NB doctors’ dispute of late, but I heard something interesting on the 5:30 CBC news about it. Bobbi Jean MacKinnon was reporting on the claim filed by the Medical Society, which alleges a deputy minister told them they could take the pay freeze at the start of the new deal or (like the Teachers’ Federation) at the end. The doctors chose the latter, but when Mike Murphy introduced the freeze bill in the legislature, he gave them no choice but to take it right now. In fact, the ex-Health Minister is on record as saying that the deputy minister told them they couldn’t take the freeze at the end of the agreement. I’ll post a link as soon as I can find one Here’s a link to a story in Saturday’s Telegraph-Journal. Stay tuned.
  • Fredericton Transit is dropping fares to 50 cents for evening and weekend Saturday fares until October in a bid to increase ridership. It won’t work because is doesn’t address the real reason people don’t use it off peak hours: it comes around only every hour or two, and Northside service is spotty at best. The only two evening buses I’ve ever seen even half-full regularly are the 9:00ish buses from (the then-closing) Regent Mall and the “Drunk Bus” (the last run of the 11 Carlisle to the bars downtown). And until Fredericton City Council gets it through their terminally obtuse skulls why people aren’t using evening buses, they could pay people 50 cents a ride and still not fill half a bus.
  • Sarah Palin resigned as Alaska’s governor Friday, effective the end of this month. Speculation is wild about why she’s resigning. Her brother says she’s had to spend too much time defending herself to effectively govern the state, others speculate a major scandal is about to unravel. Many analysts think she’s resigning to organize a campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 but I hope for the sake of her political career she isn’t. The Republicans are now the party of social conservatives only and there aren’t enough of those to elect the Republicans nationally. Unless these social conservatives all suddenly die, small-government Republicans somehow wrest control of the party back, or the Apocalypse happens before November 2012, a Democrat will be elected President again and the Republican nominee will never get another chance.
  • Quote:

“Your Bloc MP voted against the protection of children.” – That’s the translation of a flyer being mailed around Quebec by the Conservative Party who, the last I checked, was still a few points ahead of the Greens for fourth place in la belle province. CBC story here. Quick analysis: does the Conservative Party have nay credibility left in Quebec? Any? This will cheese off rather than persuade most people.

  • In Focus: Press TV is an international broadcaster owned and funded by the Iranian government. This week, British broadcasting regulator Ofcom announced they were investigating Press TV’s station in that country for failing to provide to report news “with due accuracy and… due impartiality.” I shouldn’t have to tell you what event Press TV is alleged to have covered inaccurately. Instead, here are two clips from the July 1 edition of the BBC2 program Newsnight, with the first being a story by Culture Correspondent Stephen Smith about the station… and an interview by presenter Jeremy Paxman with Matthew Richardson of Press TV and political journalist Martin Bright. For the record, the British government sets and collects a television license fee on behalf of the BBC, which is then free to spend it more or less how it wants.

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Doctors suing for government malpractice

Umm… remember when I was babbling on here how the doctors were considering legal action against the province over the wage freeze? Well, Thursday they filed suit against the province over just that, and good on them for doing so. The government will say about how it’s only a ten month freeze and the doctors should take the economic hit the rest of us should, but consider this.

  1. Most labour contracts (like the STU faculty’s last agreement, and do correct me if I’m wrong) contain some form of retroactivity. This means that if a contract is negotiated to take effect in April 2008, employees get paid at the new rate even if the deal isn’t formalized until, say, June 2009. This means that, had government accepted the tentative agreement, it would be on the hook for back pay on many procedures
  2. I can think of one ER in this province (Sussex) that’s already had to close some weekends this spring/summer because its doctor had to cover a shift in Saint John. The Saint John emergency room (running with roughly a third of its required number of permenant doctors) is probably the most visible example, but there’s a doctor shortage in New Brunswick bordering on catastrophic. If the medical society feels so offended by this breach of trust that they have to file suit against the government, what message is that sending to new doctors and physicians thinking about moving here?
  3. The economy really hasn’t gotten that much worse since the tentative agreement was signed in December. Back then, I remember hearing commentators say that this was the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression which, in spite of what the name might suggest to some of the government’s Mensa members, really wasn’t that great a time. The government should have put the cost of the tentative agreement into the budget projections (assuming for a moment that they didn’t – again, I’d appreciate evidence to the contrary). Yes, the pension fund went south in a big way, but any decent financial analyst could have told the government its stocks were going to take a beating this year. It’s still no excuse for the government to the steakhouse, promising the doctors Porterhouse and Champagne and giving them McDonald’s instead.

I’ll end with a small non-sequitor, but a relevant one (and yes, I know that’s a contradiction).  It’s Ed Flanders’s last regular appearance on the 1980’s hospital drama St. Elsewhere, where his character (veteran Dr. Donald Westphal) tells St. Eligius Hospital’s new director what he thinks of the way he and the hospital’s new owners are running the place.

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Happy Canada Day

142 years ago today, the British North America Act was signed by Queen Victoria, consummating the shotgun marriage of the provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. Since then, the Country of Canada has grown by leaps and bounds to become the wonderful (if occasionally dysfunctional) nation we have now and each July 1, we celebrate that occasion. Today is no different.

But today, amid the celebration and the collective grief for Romeo Leblanc and Michael Jackson, there is mourning in Saskatchewan for Dave Batters, Conservative MP for Palliser from 2004-2008. He committed suicide Monday night at his Regina home. Batters got into politics to reform the criminal justice system after the murder of his friend, Michelle Lenius, and introduced a bill to deny bail to those accused of committing personal injury. He also supported tougher penalties for gun crimes and drunk driving. He had been battling depression, as described by Tim Powers in this Globe and Mail blog post, and left politics before the last election because of it.  I have an uncle who has suffered from the disease the last several years, and I’ve seen the devastating effect it’s had on his life. My heart goes out to his wife, Denise, and the rest of his family. Dave Batters was 39.

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