Seen on Parliament Hill – despite Michael Ignatieff’s best wishes

This fellow was just off of Parliament Hill today showing passers-by a portable video playing the video clip of Michael Ignatieff saying “You have to decide what kind of America you want. Right? You have to decide. It’s your country [the US] just as much as it is mine.” The clip can be seen in the Conservative Party’s “definition” ads on the Leader of the Opposition.

Aparently, the man dressed as Uncle Sam was protesting Michael Ignatieff’s attempts to goad C-SPAN into ordering a cease-and-decist against the Conservatives for using video from their network.

Glen MacGregor of the Ottawa Citizen reports from an interview with C-SPAN’s Bruce Collins,

“He wanted to know if we were aware if our video was being used in this way,” Collins said. “If our rights were being violated, he wanted us to enforce them.”

Collins goes on to say,

“There’s nothing legal to do with it, Collins said. “Given the way video is used throughout the world, with YouTube, it would be fruitless.”

Collins says he watched the ad and believes it falls within the fair-use provisions in copyright law because of the short length and subject matter.

“It’s the highest form of speech — political speech,” he said, adding there would be no economic loss to C-SPAN resulting from the ad.

One might have thought that Michael Ignatieff would have read the first amendment to the US Constitution protecting speech during the decades he was abroad. For someone who claims ownership of the United States as Ignatieff does, he should believe in political free speech, even if such rights are generally not afforded Canadians when it comes to using CBC and CPAC footage.

Turnergate synopsis

It all started quite innocently enough. CPAC, the Canadian parliamentary channel which provides an incredible service to Canadians by providing a unbiased tracking of politicians on the campaign trail, was trailing Progressive Conservative-turned-broadcaster-turned-Conservative-turned-Independent-turned-Green tease-turned-Liberal MP Garth Turner door-to-door as part of a hustings profile they were making for the riding of Halton.

As I’ve alluded above, Turner is a controversial figure who has been forced to shop around for a party that would take him after – the governing Conservatives allege – he violated caucus confidentiality by posting private discussions on his blog. There is no doubt that Turner and his Halton seat are being specially targeted for re-capture by the Tories.

As part of the CPAC profile, reporter Martin Stringer followed Turner door-to-door to get a snapshot of the typical candidate experience. The report was produced, taped, cut and aired on CPAC a short while later. As it aired, conservative blogger Matt McGuire snipped the video from CPAC showing Turner trying to sell Dion’s Green Shift to a constituent. McGuire wanted to make the point that Turner lacked confidence in pushing the plan.

An eagle-eyed viewer of this video noticed something else, however. The random constituent that Turner was door-knocking was the son of Esther Shaye, Garth Turner’s right hand and current campaign manager. The viewer emailed popular Conservative blogger Steve Janke and Janke got to work.

This caused quite a stir in the blogosphere and enraged the good people of CPAC. This supposed random door-knocker was the “last person” CPAC wanted to film because they wanted to show a typical constituent, not someone with a direct or indirect involvement with the campaign. CPAC’s reputation was on the line. The cable network prides itself on telling the story as straight as it can and here was this photo-op that it presented as non-staged. Looking for answers, CPAC’s anchor Peter van Dusen caught up with Turner on the phone while he was campaigning and pressed him to explain himself and why his campaign set up CPAC.  Turner was taken by surprise and squirmed during the call as he was prompted to explain why his campaign offered a family member rather than a random sample for CPAC to film.

CBC reporter Susan Ormiston is tracking how the internet is shaping this election campaign and to her this story had relevance since Steve Janke busted Turner’s campaign.  Ormiston produced a story for The National and, to her credit, provided some balance not immediately apparent in the Conservative blogosphere: the Halton Conservative candidate took CPAC to a friend’s store.  As Garth Turner tried to explain himself on his blog he lashed out at Ormiston and the process by which she took to produce the story.  Ormiston hit back at Turner expressing that his accounting of the story’s production wasn’t accurate.

This story, of course, goes to credibility.  In the age of the blogosphere and pushback on unfair reporting, the mainstream media is now very sensitive to demands that their reports are unbiased and fair.  CPAC alleges that Turner manipulated what was supposed to be a typical day in the life of a candidate.  CBC alleges that Turner’s accounting of their process was untruthful.  If nothing else, this shows the MSM’s intent on showing their effort to fulfill their new contract the blogosphere to go that extra step to report accurately.  However, as far as credibility goes, Turner has run into trouble before with those that have cried foul to his recounting of events.  If he is re-elected, as the Canadian public we may have more opportunities of witnessing such incidents as they unfold on the national stage and within the blogosphere.

Ormiston vs. Turner

From Garth Turner’s comment section, CBC’s Susan Ormiston describes how she tried to get to the bottom of the Turnergate story,

The facts Mr. Turner are as follows.

Our producer called you around 11 a.m. Monday morning. He identified himself as calling from CBC News. You spoke with him for a time, and then the producer asked if you would speak with me.. and said we’d like to call you back from a studio where we can record. You agreed.

We called you back within 10 mins. We were delayed a few more minutes as we tried to connect the phone call with the record booth, which we told you.
Then you and I began to talk. I started by saying we were trying to “drill down on the bloggers claims” and you responded as I reported “well I hope you are going to drill down on the kind of gutter politics that creates this crap”.

We talked for roughly 10-15 minutes. At one point you said and I am quoting from the interview transcript:

Garth Turner: “It’s one thing to have it on YouTube, you put this on CBC… ahh, I can’t prevent you, and you can do it if you want and I’ll do your little interview here.”

It is clear to us that you knew you were speaking to a CBC journalist and agreed to do so, and that you acknowledged you were doing an interview.

I might remind you when I tried to further clarify further the events of the doorknocking , you hung up on me.

At the end of the day, Mr. Turner, in your email to Peter Van Dusen of CPAC, copied to us, you were still putting blame on CPAC.
“The bottom line seems to be that CPAC was informed, prior to shooting, that the home in question was that of the son of my associate.”

CPAC has categorically denied that claim. We represented both your side and CPAC’s rebuttal, on our story Monday night.

Regards,
Susan Ormiston
CBC News

Well, Susan, there are two sides to all stories and I’m flattered you feel it necessary to use my blog to get your message out, when a national TV network is insufficient. Actually, I was asked if I wished to be interviewed by you, but before agreeing, I wanted a conversation. When you became argumentative, the futility of speaking with you further was apparent. So, I did something useful. I went door-knocking. At no point did you indicate our words were being taped. You did not ask me, as Peter Van Dusen did, if you could record. In fact, I sent you the following email after our encounter, “Re: Our Conservation. It was not on the record, as you did not indicate so. Regards, Garth.” I copied Keith Boag, which he confirmed. BTW, you never offered an on-camera interview with me, as you did with Conservative blogger Janke and CPAC’s Stringer. But, whatever. You win. Now can we talk about issues affecting Canadians? — Garth

Garth Turner gets caught

CPAC is probably my favourite place to turn for election coverage on television. They do a top job and it is virtually impossible to determine a particular bias towards one ideology or another. The cable channel prides itself on being a straight shooter and when Garth Turner’s campaign seemed to pull a dirty trick on them as revealed by Steve Janke, Peter van Dusen made sure to try to set the record straight.

Garth Turner is of course the Conservative-turned-Independent-turned-Green teaser-turned-Liberal that is never more than a few steps away from controversy. Here is the exchange from CPAC.

First, anchor Peter van Dusen interviews CPAC reporter Martin Stringer on being deceived by Turner’s campaign. Then, so that Garth can explain his actions, van Dusen catches the Liberal MP on the phone while he’s doorknocking and an awkward Turner tries to find excuses.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Garth has been caught playing outside of the truth. Flashback to my exposing of Turner fibbing about violating caucus confidentiality and the reason why he’s now trying to push a carbon tax for Stephane Dion.

Election’s a go

Today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked the Governor General for the dissolution of Canada’s 39th Parliament and Her Excellency will ask for the return of writs in 37 days. All five major party leaders made television appearences to either give speeches, take question or both. Here are my initial impressions.

Stephane Dion started by saying that in this election there will be “two stark differences”, that between the Liberal Party and the Conservatives. Stephane Dion is picking up right where Paul Martin left-off. No, I’m not talking about a firesale where all seats must go, but rather by trying to define the election as one of two choices. Unfortunately for Mr. Dion, this election is crowded on the left and will see attention given to NDP, Bloc and even the Liberal-proxy Greens which may end up being more trouble than benefit for the Liberals. In modern elections, Liberals have always had to strike out against their main Conservative opponents while taking time to suppress NDP gains on the left. By defining “two stark differences”, the right may be well-defined but there is a low signal-to-noise ratio on the left. Dion also made a point of saying that he “loves Canada” and took a minor tangent and regaled people on his love for our country. You’ll remember that Stephen Harper wasn’t so explicit when asked by a reporter/plant during the last campaign on this topic. It took the then-opposition leader by surprise and his answer wasn’t prepared. This may be significant because of the similar backdrops of the House of Commons; Dion gave his launch speech in exactly the same location that Harper did in December 2005. The Liberals may be trying set the scene quite literally for a contrast video piece on “loving Canada”.

A reporter asked Dion if he accepts the premise that this election is defined by leadership. Dion stumbles by accepting this directly and says that he leads on the environment, poverty and a whole list of Liberal policies. The Conservatives would like nothing better than the national media to accept leadership as the ballot box question and define the rest of the race through this lens through which the Conservatives have already focused their message for almost two years since Dion won the leadership race in late 2006. I also think that it was a disastrous mistake for the Liberals to lead with what is their de facto main policy plank months before this election. Questions have arisen even among Dion’s own MPs about the implementation, the regional differences and even the concept of the Green Shift itself. Canadians are aware of the Green Shift, so how does Dion plan to re-launch it? A reporter asked about the “carbon tax” and whether its a good policy for Canadians. Dion responds without redefining the question about the “Green Shift” and answers it instead in the context of a tax. These were two significant mistakes by Dion; to accept this election as a referendum on leadership and taxation.

Jack Layton addressed supporters from Gatineau along the banks of the Ottawa River overlooking Parliament. The speech was somewhat annoying because his crowd of supporter either wasn’t big enough, or didn’t translate on the microphone well enough to sound big. The camera shot also featured a somewhat disheveled looking lady and a guy in a bucket-hat. While his supporters applauded every speech point (which were many and frequent), Layton defined this election for himself; Jack Layton is running for the job of Prime Minister. Layton is taking a bolder and different track this time around and doing (what he may argue) Dion cannot. By echoing the same message of a choice between two visions, Layton is trying to drop the Liberals from the game. How can NDP voters go Liberal to stop Harper when Liberals gave the Prime Minister the green light during the last session? The Conservatives and NDP will attack the Green Shift on two fronts. On the right, increased taxation will be Conservatives warning to Canadians while on the left the NDP will make try their point that only the NDP has credibility on the environment (Bill C-377).

Gilles Duceppe with each passing election is becoming an anachronism in Canadian politics. The Bloc Quebecois leader’s speech had a number of hidden agenda references from George Bush to abortion to gender equality. Isn’t this 2008? We’ve heard this song before et désolé, ici ce n’est pas le Bloc. Also of note, Canada may be unique in modern western democracies in that it is a viable election strategy to inflate your opponents chances indicating that they may win a majority government.

Finally, Elizabeth May gave an impassioned speech about voter participation which should be well received by anyone watching. However, May’s passion moved into a speech about climate change that gave me the feeling that an advocacy group has not yet fully matured into a political party. If the Greens are going to debate, they need to broaden their platform and present themselves as alternative on the left rather than a pseudo-Liberal coalition. Watching CPAC coverage, I could not believe my ears that former Sierra Club senior policy adviser and now-Green Party spokesman John Bennett said that because of climate change “Stephen Harper doesn’t give a damn about his children’s future”. The Green Party is not ready for prime time. However, the fact that CPAC is putting them on panels, featuring May in the rotation may indicate that the most balanced political news outlet considers them part of the mainstream and this will have an effect on their coverage (and political gains). Will the Greens’ coverage actually harm the Liberals? Does the emergence of a fifth voice (and fourth on the left) amplify trouble for the Liberal brand especially under the weak leadership of Dion?