Repeat again: there is no double standard

April 20th, 2010
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Alert readers may recall the dark days of the 1990’s, when Prime Minister Chretien insisted that Canada had the “best health care system in the world”. It seemed he thought that, the more he repeated it, the more folks would believe it, the more it would seem true.

So it is with objectivity in our media. I have had senior writers and editors at the Globe, for instance, maintain that the paper is “middle of the road” because it features writers of different philosophical stripes. This is no doubt true, if you ignore the matter of frequency. Yes, as one editor forcefully pointed out to me, Preston Manning does appear on their opinion page – a handful of times per year -, but Rick Salutin is there every week.

It’s therefore instructive to, at least qualitatively, compare how the Harper government is treated on given issues compared to its Liberal predecessors. Unfortunately, we don’t have a crew like the Media Research Center or Accuracy in Media to keep track of this stuff. So I just have a few anecdotal, but instructive examples.

How about appointments? Well, the issue of filling various and sundry public boards and/or committees with people of a political stripe has long been discussed. But, when for example, the Harper government appointed people to judicial selection boards who supported the policies it was elected to implement, it became an issue. The Canadian Judicial Council issued a statement suggesting the public’s trust in the judiciary would be undermined. Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin warned that the independence of the judiciary was “in peril”.

I am proud to say I was one of the people appointed to one such board, but unfortunately because I accepted a job offer in Ottawa, was unable to serve. The Globe and Mail was perturbed that, not only had some of the appointees been (like me) political volunteers, others who were apparently non-partisan, were still sympathetic to the government’s policies. The ironclad premise of their story, and the apparent concern of Ms Justice McLachin was that appointments by the previous government were, unlike the current one, non-partisan and therefore unlikely to put the judiciary “in peril”. Such a certainty was this premise that, obviously, no checking of the background of previous appointees was necessary. And none, to my knowledge, was done.

Now that the Governor General’s term is coming to an end in the summer, various media like MacLean’s and the CBC have taken it upon themselves to question just how the GG is appointed and even to suggest a “national debate” on the matter. Odd that there was apparently no need for such a debate when the previous government was making the appointment.

A recurring paradox is the attitude to the U.S., and the transformation the Obama administration has brought to the minds of Canadian media. Even the National Post couldn’t help point out that Canadian author Yann Martel received a personal letter from the president, while he was being “snubbed” by PM Harper. Readers will recall that M. Martel took it upon himself to instruct Mr. Harper in what literature he should be reading, thereby not so subtly underscoring his belief that the Prime Minister was sorely lacking in that department. No doubt our media would have been as gratified had a Canadian author received a personal note from George W. Bush.

We would clearly all be better off if we took the refreshingly simple view of M. Chretien. Just keep repeating, “We have the best media in the world …”

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By John Weissenberger
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