Senator LeBreton and the media


Senator Marjory LeBreton is making headlines this week for accusing the media of being insufficiently enthusiastic about Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives during the election campaign. LeBreton said journalists covering the PM’s tour should have realized a Conservative majority was in the offing and not been so negative.

Of course, this is insane, and it is expertly debunked as Nixonian paranoia by Lawrence Martin in an iPolitics column today.

LeBreton, we should remember, was appointed to the Senate by her old boss, Brian Mulroney, and for years after he left government, served as one of his few defenders in Parliament.

I never had much contact with LeBreton since I’ve been working on the Hill.  Our few conversations were pleasant. I count myself among those people on the Hill who are quite rightly sympathetic to her because of the enormous personal loss she suffered — her daughter and grandchild were killed by a repeat drunk driver, in a case that received a lot of media attention.

Beyond that, I don’t know what qualifies her to be a senator other than her Mulroney connection, but the Senate is full of cronies, so… whatever.

But I was amazed to read comments she made when my colleague, Stephen Maher, and I were writing stories about the federal infrastructure program. Under the protection of privilege, LeBreton questioned our integrity and wrongly alleged that we were some how working in cahoots with Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy, who was the party’s infrastructure critic at the time. She also took an bizarre pot-shot at Joan Bryden of Canadian Press, who over the past three decade has consistently been one of the best reporters on the Hill.

Her conclusion: “When Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor get together with Gerard Kennedy, you can be sure it will be pretty lousy research.”

For the record, we quoted Kennedy in our stories, but he provided us no research or data. All our work was based on an long and involved process using public records and advanced data journalism techniques, which I wrote about for Media Magazine.

This exchange told me everything I need to know about Marjory LeBreton’s integrity and shows her contempt for journalists doing their jobs is nothing new.

Debates of the Senate (Hansard), Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Senator Cordy: Recent investigations by the Ottawa Citizen and the Halifax Chronicle-Herald reveal that a disproportionate amount of the stimulus package contained in the Economic Action Plan is being distributed to Conservative-held ridings, while the rest of Canadians, including my riding in Dartmouth, wait for their fair share of stimulus money.

On the other hand, the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s report issued last week highlighted the fact that the details are so scarce that it is impossible to confirm whether the measures have had an impact at all.

Some Hon. Senators: Question.

Senator Cordy: In Oakville last month, after a Tory candidate said that a project was killed because the riding was Liberal, the Prime Minister said that he could provide a list of announcements made across the country.

Three weeks later, when Stephen Maher, a reporter for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, made repeated requests for the list the Prime Minister’s Office told him to stop bothering them. They suggested he click on 6,000 individual links on a government website and make his own list.

I ask the government leader: Is this the government’s idea of openness and accountability?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, as I said, they rely on Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor for their research and, of course, their in-house reporter Joan Bryden.

It is interesting that now these individuals are saying they cannot find out where the money has been spent. The last two days they have been accusing us of spending the money. It is the old saying: “You can’t suck and blow at the same time.”

Honourable senators, the fact is the so-called study of Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor chose arbitrary measurements of $1 million plus. I will list some of the biggest projects. These are just the ones in Toronto, where there has been a half a billion dollars allocated and there is not a Tory seat there. As well, the Mayor of Toronto thanked the Prime Minister for all the effort by this government.

When Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor get together with Gerard Kennedy, you can be sure it will be pretty lousy research.

I will go through some of the biggest projects. These are the ones Stephen Maher, Glen McGregor and Gerard Kennedy did not bother to mention. There are some worth hundreds of millions of dollars, such as the Evergreen Transit Line; the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Line; the Sheppard Subway Line; and the Ottawa Convention Centre, which are all located primarily in opposition ridings.

If senators look at the electoral map for the last election, the majority of the land mass in this country is represented by Conservative candidates. However, we do not follow riding boundaries. We work in consultation with the municipalities and the provincial governments, and certain members of Parliament have had a certain amount of money ascribed to them. Why? It is because the Trans-Canada Highway runs through their riding. Of course, that is supposedly infrastructure in their ridings.

Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor were at it again today on the Recreational Infrastructure Canada program. I will give more examples.

In Ontario, of the 57 maximum $1-million projects, 28 were allocated to government ridings and 29 were allocated to opposition ridings.

Some Hon. Senators: Oh, oh.

Senator LeBreton: The article falsely states that the Conservative-held riding of Kenora received more projects than any other riding. The NDP-held riding of Trinity-Spadina has the most projects in Ontario, receiving 67 of 766 projects, totalling $13 million.

In Atlantic Canada, out of a total of 130 Recreational Infrastructure Canada projects, approximately 85 have gone to opposition ridings.

In Alberta, there is only one opposition-held riding — we cannot help that — yet our government invested $1 million toward a local facility in that opposition-held riding.

In Saskatchewan, there is only one opposition-held riding — we know who that is — yet our government has invested in four Recreational Infrastructure Canada projects in that riding alone.

In the province of Quebec, the Quebec government is the prime contractor for infrastructure and as such it is they who prioritize the projects, not the federal government. Thus far, only one project under this program is in a Conservative-held riding.

I would suggest that Senator Cordy call her good friend, Stephen Maher, and maybe get her other friend, Joan Bryden, to write a true story next time.

10 thoughts on “Senator LeBreton and the media

  1. The attacks on the media are a part of the overall Harper agenda that we aren’t allowed to call “hidden” without being laughed at by our oh-so-sophisticated media.

    The broad agenda here is the same as that of the U.S right wing — shutting down objective (and uncontrolled) information sources that can and do challenge the ideological and faith-based policies that Harper is pursuing, and will continue to pursue.

    In this case, the big political piece for Harper is the virtual shutdown of CBC. We’re supposed to pretend this won’t happen, and his people will continue to lie about this when asked, but his base knows what’s coming, and are keen and anxious to celebrate its dismantling.

    Harper will, of course, leave enough of the CBC standing to pretend it isn’t being totally dismantled, and he’ll probably even call the whole initiative “CBC reform” as a bit of an inside joke for his base. Our dominant, toady non-CBC media will no doubt happily pick up the phrase and sell his message, as they are doing with all of his “reforms”, however retrograde.

    And then CBC will all but sink below any horizon as a news and public affairs provider, despite the opinions of the majority of Canadians who support CBC, but who are of no importance to Harper since he knows he won’t ever be getting their votes.

    And sadly, given that partisan considerations by the NDP and Libs guarantee at least one more con majority after this one, there is little reason to think that there is anything we can do to stop Harper from implementing his real agenda, which isn’t hidden at all, even though our right wing media choose not to expose it.

      • Thanks for using the official right-wing dismissal that is recommended for use in those rare instances when anyone gets close to the truth. I am gratified that you found it necessary to use it here. Thanks.

  2. Majority LeBreton is right. Problem is it is the media who are pronouncing themselves innocent of any wrongdoing. The results of the election show that Canadians do not believe what the media reports. They have been reduced to mostly a pile of left wing “journalists and columnists” who cannot stand Stephen Harper nor the Conservative party. Ask John Ibbiston at the Globe. He freely admits there are those in the parliamentary press gallery who hate Harper. Those members of the press gallery should be removed from covering the PM and the party. They are tainted by their bias.
    Anybody who read the newspapers or watched the TV coverage of the Conservative campaign know what LeBreton is talking about. First of all how many questions were asked about the number of questions being permitted? How many questions were asked about kids being thrown out of Conservative rallies? Story after story was run about Bruce Carson. Despite no evidence the man did anything wrong while working in the PMO the media wanted to reinforce the fact that Harper’s judgement was in doubt. Where has Bruce Carson gone since the election? Not one report in the media. Why? Because it no longer serves the purpose of maligning the PM. Then of course we have the endless stories about Helena Guergis even going so far as to publish a picture of her holding her baby. All for depicting the PM as a meanie, a bully etc. etc.
    Terry Milewski (?) made mini speeches before asking some question not usually about policy but something else. He came across as unprofessional and biased. No wonder party supporters starting booing him. Bob Fife at CTV as part of his reporting complained that the food on the Conservative plane was not as good as on the Liberal campaign.
    How many stories did we see how well the Liberal campaign was going and how wonderful Ignatieff was “performing”. Yet each report about the Conservative campaign was as Bob Fife reported virtually any time he was on the air…there is something wrong with this campaign. I just can’t put my finger on it. There are plenty of other examples.
    By the way the fact that LeBreton was appointed by Mulroney and has been around a long time is being used as a derogatory comment. However, the fact is she has watched the relationship with the media and the Conservative party for years and knows what she is talking about.

  3. Your inability to correctly characterize Lebreton’s statements, and eagerness to torque them into sensationalistic and misleading, provide good prima facie evidence for her critique. The thinness of journalistic skins is revealing.

  4. Canadian media lament

    First they came for the CBC, and I did not speak out —
    Because I was not a CBC reporter.

    Then they came for the Toronto Star, and I did not speak out —
    Because I was not a Torstar reporter.

    Then they came for the Globe and Mail bureau, and I did not speak out —
    Because I was not a Globe reporter.

    Then they came for me —
    So I got a much higher-paying job as a taxpayer-funded conservative spin doctor, and everything is great.

    • Above I wrote:

      “The thinness of journalistic skins is revealing”

      And, right on cue, one of the hill journo defenders starts comparing their situation to the Holocaust.

      • Where did you see any mention of the Holocaust? (There isn’t any, why dd you feel a need to raised it?)

        And on what basis do you conclude I’m a journo? (Which I’m not, for the record.)

        I do wish to submit Martin’s comment, however, as another fine example of how extreme right-wingers, whenever anything approaching truth is spoken, flail about and resort to smears rather than even attempting to use reason.

        This is the same approach that is clearly demonstrated in Lebreton’s dishonest attack on two of the few reporters on the Hill who actually do research rather than just stenography, as cited above.

      • “Where did you see any mention of the Holocaust? (There isn’t any, why dd you feel a need to raised it?)”

        A series of statements on “First they came for (fill in the blank) and I did not speak out”, leading to “then they came for me” is the precise form of a famous statement about German reactions to Nazism. Thus, to compare reactions to a different situation in this way is to compare it to Nazism including the Holocaust, which is alluded to the in the original. The only way you in which it would be plausible for you to deny having made such a comparison is if you happen to be ignorant of the material which you are quoting from. So you’re either comparing the situation of the journalists in Canada today to the situation of Jews in Nazi Germany, or you’re ignorant. Or, of course, both.

        “And on what basis do you conclude I’m a journo? (Which I’m not, for the record.)”

        I didn’t conclude that, which is why I didn’t write that you were. I wrote that you were “one of the hill journo defenders”.

        “I do wish to submit Martin’s comment, however, as another fine example of how extreme right-wingers, whenever anything approaching truth is spoken, flail about and resort to smears rather than even attempting to use reason.”

        You have no evidence of my political leanings whatsoever. You seem to think that “using reason” involves appropriating famous statements and then denying that you understand their implications, and then imputing claims to others which they never made in the first place. It’s instructive that you’re the sort of person who is attracted to hill journos.

      • Martin:

        I still don’t understand the apparent connection you see between my posted lament and the Holocaust. It seems a stretch to me to see any connection between my wee ode, and that heinous and enormous event, but I leave that to you.

        As for me being “the sort of person who is attracted to hill journos” well, that’s actually kind of funny in the context, following as it does an indignant outburst from you over being stereotyped.

        Anyway, I will have a look deep into my heart at some later time to see if I really am “that sort of person.”

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