Winnipeg Free Press takes a run at Vic Toews

Mia Rabson and Dan Lett of the Winnipeg Free Press make a story out of what they perceive to be a non-disclosure of pension income from former Manitoba MLA Vic Toews, now Minister of Public Safety in the government of Canada. Rabson and Toews have sparred before in print and this story suggests that Toews has neglected to follow requirements for full disclosure and is running afoul of his party’s pledge of accountability.

The story as reported by the Winnipeg Free Press:

MP’s pension not listed on registry
Court documents show Toews receives $18,000 annually from province

OTTAWA — Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has not disclosed $18,000 in annual pension payments as required by law in a conflict-of-interest declaration for the public registry he personally signed.

The Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons requires all MPs to disclose assets, liabilities and sources of income over $1,000 outside their MP salary. If they earn income over $10,000, that fact is to be made public in a disclosure summary posted on the ethics commissioner’s website. There is no pension income listed in Toews’ most recent summary he signed on March 5, 2009. All MPs are required to review and sign the annual summaries before they are made public. Toews’ office insists he made the disclosure although it has never appeared on the summaries made available to the public over the past four years.

There are 48 MPs from all political parties who have pension income listed in their disclosure summaries.

Documents obtained by the Free Press show Manitoba’s senior federal cabinet minister has been earning the pension since 2007.

In an affidavit filed in Manitoba court April 10, 2010, Toews acknowledges earning $18,267.84 a year from the Manitoba Civil Service Superannuation Board. Those pension payments began when he turned 55 in September 2007.

Also included in court documents is an email Toews wrote to his lawyer in May 2007. In that email, Toews indicates he had not disclosed to the ethics commissioner the pension he was about to start receiving or a condo his wife owned in Gatineau, Que.

When the Free Press asked about that email in June, Christine Csversko, Toews’ director of communications said “the email is not accurate.”

Ethics have been a key flashpoint on Parliament Hill since the sponsorship scandal helped lead to the defeat of Paul Martin’s Liberal government. The Harper Tories came to power largely on a promise to raise the ethical bar of the country’s federal politicians by introducing a new era of accountability and transparency.

The Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons has been in place since 2004 and is intended to enhance public confidence in both MPs and Parliament, demonstrate to the public that MPs are held to standards that place the public interest above their personal interests and provide a transparent system for the public to judge whether or not that is true.

Each year, MPs must disclose to the commissioner assets and liabilities, including outside income over $1,000, property, businesses, investments, and debts such as loans, mortgages and credit card debt. Only certain things are made public, such as the existence and source for mortgages and loans, businesses owned by the MP and outside income over $10,000 annually.

A spokeswoman with the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner told the Free Press via email Thursday “income over $1,000 received in last 12 months and during the next 12 months must be disclosed to our office. It is only made public (source and nature, no value) if the income is over $10,000.”

Margot Booth, manager of communications for the ethics commissioner’s office, said she could not comment specifically on Toews’ situation other than to say a misunderstanding or administrative error could explain why information was missing on the public registry.

Toews’ spokesman, Chris McCluskey, said he has confirmed with the Office of the Ethics Commissioner that Toews “disclosed the existence of Government of Manitoba pension income in 2006.”

McCluskey did not respond Thursday when asked to explain why the pension income is not on any disclosure summary.

All that is contained on the latest summary for Toews dated March 5, 2009, are two blind trusts. According to Toews’ 2006 disclosure summary, those include an RSP and an investment account.

And a statement from Vic Toews’ office:

“Contrary to the false and misleading information disseminated by the Winnipeg Free Press in its July 16 edition, Minister Toews has properly disclosed all income to the Ethics Commissioner, as required. This includes a pension related to prior employment outside of politics. This disclosure was first made in 2006 and disclosure has been acknowledged by the Office of the Ethics Commissioner. Minister Toews is not in receipt of any pension income as a result of holding any political office.”

The statement from the Office of the Ethics Commissioner is provided for your reference below:

“In the spring of 2006, Minister Toews disclosed to our Office his pension rights under the Government of Manitoba Civil Service Superannuation plan. At the time, he provided a statement of his deferred pension benefits indicating that a monthly pension would be payable commencing September 10, 2007. At the time, it was the practice adopted by our predecessor (the Office of the Ethics Commissioner) not to include any future income in the Disclosure Summary signed by MPs. This practice has recently been revised to better reflect the requirements of the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons. The annual review of the compliance arrangements of MPs is currently underway and the source and nature of income over $10,000 to be received in the next 12 months, if any, will now be included in the public disclosure of MPs.

In accordance with established practice at the time, the Disclosure Summary signed by Minister Toews on May 31, 2006 did not include any information concerning income to be received in the next 12 months. Pension rights are not subject to public disclosure.

An annual review of Minister Toews’ compliance arrangements next took place starting in November 2008 and was completed in March 2009. Due to an administrative oversight on the part of our Office, the documents sent to Minister Toews for his review did not reflect the information he had provided to our Office with respect to the receipt of pension income from September 2007 onward, although they did make reference to pension rights from the Government of Manitoba. Minister Toews returned the documents to our Office without an annotation concerning the receipt of pension income. A Disclosure Summary was prepared by our Office and signed by Mr. Toews on March 5, 2009.

In summary, although Minister Toews could have corrected the deficiency in the documents, the Office did have the information on file that pension income had been anticipated. Not including it in the Disclosure Summary for his signature was an oversight on the part of the Office. An annual review of Minister Toews’ compliance arrangements is currently underway and a new and updated Disclosure Summary will be signed and deposited in our Public Registry once the review is completed.”

Chris McCluskey, the aforementioned spokesman for Minister Toews posted the following comment on the Winnipeg Free Press’ story,

The reporter requesting comment, Mia Rabson, was advised by e-mail from the Office of the Minister of Public Safety yesterday afternoon at 2:56PM EST that the statement expressed in this article is false. Her question, and our response, were as follows:

“Q: We would like to know why the pension income is not listed in his disclosure summary. Was it in fact disclosed? If not why not?

A: As confirmed by the Office of the Ethics Commissioner, Minister Toews disclosed the existence of Government of Manitoba pension income in 2006.”

In spite of this, the editors of the Winnipeg Free Press went to print with a news item containing a statement which they knew to be false. The Minister’s Office has requested a retraction. We have been waiting for an acknowledgement of this request since 3:30PM EST this afternoon.

The statement released by the Office of the Ethics Commissioner is clear:


We continue to wait for confirmation of receipt of our e-mail to the Winnipeg Free Press, accompanied by a reasoned answer as to why the article containing false statements was intentionally printed. We believe the readers of the WFP deserve no less.

The comment still does not appear on the story and is currently being held in moderation (McCluskey emailed me a copy). The WFP story still appears on their website despite information that they have received from Toews’ office and from the Ethics Commissioner.

CNN fires senior editor and on-air personality over pro-Hezbollah tweet

From Mediaite:

In the latest case of new media (or oversharing) gone wrong, CNN’s Senior Editor of Mideast Affairs Octavia Nasr is leaving the company following the controversy caused by her tweet in praise of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah

Mediaite has the internal memo, which says “we believe that her credibility in her position as senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs has been compromised.”

Nasr tweeted this weekend: “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah… One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

Maybe Nasr will go to Al Jazeera?

It’s nearly midnight in Doha, and we are in a cafe on a pier jutting out over the shoreline of the Persian Gulf. The cafe is empty and the night air quiet—except for the insistent ring of mobile telephones. Al-Jazeera Managing Director Mohammed Jasim Al-Ali takes a call from an American TV network executive. The airstrikes are well underway, and the Qatar-based satellite news channel, by now well known to TV audiences and Washington decision-makers alike, is the only TV presence in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Washington, in early October, asked Qatar to rein in the satellite channel, claiming it fans anti-American sentiment. American broadcasters, though, want Al-Jazeera to make them a deal.

Across the table from Mr. Al-Ali is Octavia Nasr, CNN senior international editor. She’s on a mobile too, with an Arabic-language satellite channel which is wooing her in the same way that Western networks have been courting Al-Jazeera over the last several weeks. But a deal has been made between the giants of English-language and Arabic-language TV news, and both sides say they would be hard-pressed to find another partner that could serve them better.

The politics of paternalism

The big news this week was the bombshell interview given by CSIS director Richard Fadden to CBC’s Peter Mansbridge on The National where Canada’s spy chief alleged that a number of cabinet ministers in provincial governments are under foreign influence. Red flag, or McCarthy smear?

Early last year, a mid-level diplomat named Richard Colvin rocked Ottawa when he alleged before a Commons committee that Canada was turning a blind eye to Afghan torture and some therefore argued complicit in torture and guilty of war crimes. Whistleblower or troublemaker?

The reaction to both events is very telling of our national psychology and perhaps of the psychology of western democratic citizens. The condemnation of Fadden was swift and there’s even talk that those around the Prime Minister are considering his hasty ejection while Colvin was romanticized as a small guy with a big message. Perhaps Fadden’s biggest miscalculation was that he wasn’t so small. Imagine the inverse of the outcome if Fadden had juvenilized himself in the equation by alleging that big bad daddy Stephen Harper knows that there are Chinese elements within provincial governments and that he’s covering it up. Of course, this would have been a different sort of career mistake for Fadden, but he would have found himself with the backing of the Canadian media rather than round condemnation. A modern folk hero standing up against the order! Instead Fadden is the perceived order and the order is trampling on smaller people.

When the west was entangled in a ideological and proxied military struggle with the Soviet Union, there was a external threat to our way of life, who we were as free citizens and our freedom to choose our future. When America emerged from the cold war as the world’s remaining superpower it suddenly found itself to be the only adult in the room. While an anti-establishment movement was growing within its borders, it was small and kept out of the mainstream because most were focused on the external threat, the structured order that sought to gain control.

As students of history tell us, the good guys won. The West did not wash away with the red tide of communism that lapped its shores for half a century. But now, the West is the order without threat. What are freedom-wired folks supposed to do without an external threat to their freedom?

Australia just got its first female Prime Minister. Most of us outside of Australia don’t know what she’s about but we surely know that its a good thing because we’re told that she succeeded in world that told her that she couldn’t. Same for Barack Obama; hope and change were simply code for tearing down the perceived societal order which was believed to be unbalanced. However, during the election, Barack Obama was America’s boyfriend. Now, that he’s president, he’s their father. That hope and change? More of the same. And those hopeless anti-establishment romantics? They throw bricks at the G20.

In Canada, Liberals have been the establishment for the overwhelming majority of the last 100 years. This establishment party has always had a knack for the gosh-gee little guyism. Anti-americanism was the Liberal stock and trade because in the politics of paternalism, America was the larger external threat to our way of life. We even had to regulate what Canadians could watch on television to protect them from this ordered systemic threat designed to subjugate us. The p’tit gars de Shawinigan? The desperately disordered Paul Martin? These men were forgiven because, well, they’re we just doing the best that they could against a bigger and meaner entity.

Stephen Harper finds himself in a world without personified threats to the Canadian way-of-life. Instead, he has trouble tapping into the politics of paternalism on both sides of the equation. First, he is paternalistic. He’s described as being calm, collected, calculative, “always three chess moves ahead”. Though he comes from the middle-class, it is a challenge for him to be perceived as the guy that fights with us rather than the guy that tells us what to do. On the other hand, the external challenges that would have buoyed his brand in the past have taken up an amorphous form. From the asynchronous challenge of the Taliban to the black-shirt anarchists at the G20, there’s no face to what menaces Canadians. And those that menace our ways of life? They are trivialized and get our arrogant sympathy. Some in this country view allegations of complicity of torture against the Taliban to be small people hurting small people while the big guy is uncaring. G20 protesters get more coverage from the media than the policy determined at the conference because the perception is that small people are sidelined while the establishment makes the rules.

A father figure is one that denies abortion or a gay marriage while a mother figure just loves you for who you are. Stephen Harper has smartly understood that Canadians eschew these elements of the paternalistic state yet he struggles with the maternal. The “nanny” state is one that tells us that we must, rather than mustn’t. We must “share our toys” according to maternal governance. Paternalism dominates in “our dad can beat up your dad” situations (ie. when external threats are perceived). In the absence of external threat, our defender is perceived as he who denies us. Currently, the children are upset about global warming, globalization, and fake lakes. Better that than red balloons and gulags, I suppose.

What is Stephen Harper to do? He cannot hope to re-raise us as well-balanced adults can he? In order for Harper to safely navigate the politics of paternalism he needs to be seen as smaller man fighting with us smaller people against the bigger world that threatens our way of life. Canada is the most sea-worthy vessel on the stormy seas of the global economy but there is no personification of the threat that surrounds us. Who is the Gorbachev of the global bank tax? Whom do we fight as we fight for small business and for the ma’s and pa’s that sell things in small towns? Who is the face of the looming union pension bubble that is about to burst?

Why do we as Canadians, and perhaps more broadly we in the west, tend to put more stock in the words of those that fight the establishment tell us rather than believe what we’re told by the establishment? How do we sort out what benefits us from that which disrupts? We are innately freedom-seeking people. In the absence of something external that threatens us, we turn our attention within. The ultimate expression of freedom surely isn’t anarchy and it certainly isn’t socialism, but without form those that romanticize this challenge to the order as mischaracterized expressions of freedom will continue to push these notions, often violently. And those of us who think one’s size and challenge are the only moral yardsticks will only continue to enable disorder at our own expense.

Now, more than ever

There’s an old adage that says that one is judged by the company they keep. While I think that this may be a bit too simplistic at times, I find that time and time again, the comments sections some of the media “of record” in this country reflect a readership at home.

Take for instance, this top comment at the CBC:

and this attempt at the Globe and Mail:

Those thumbs up/thumbs down votes are telling of the state of Canadian media these days. CBC and the Globe sing to the choir and the applecart of comfortable thought remains unturned.

Is there a market for Sun TV News? Fox News in the US has the most politically diverse audience (Republican/Democrat split) and I believe the same will be true for Sun News. Conservatives will find a home there to be sure, but left-wingers will also clamour to fight back the threatening barbarians climbing the gate of their mainstream, of their order now challenged.

Do you think there is a market for Sun TV News?

KoryTV application form leaked

Kory Teneycke made news last week regarding his project to launch a “Fox News Canada” with the backing of Quebecor who owns Sun Media. News of reporters already being snatched up by Sun is circulating wildly and already includes David Akin and Brian Lilley as new recruits to the TV venture. We’ve obtained (no, not really) a copy of the application form that reporters, eager to work for the new network, are filling out to apply for work.

And unlike a lot of Ottawa reporting, the correct answer here isn’t all that nuanced.

Related topic: The Toronto Star and the Atkinson principles

The Canadian media on Stephen Harper and the global bank tax

The Toronto Star (June 4):

Is the shine coming off Stephen Harper’s summit spotlight?

As with the economy, a host of other issues appear to have conspired to take the shine off Harper’s role at the upcoming summits in Huntsville and Toronto.

Despite trying for months to defuse the hot-button issue of a global bank tax, Harper still finds himself at odds with Obama, Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Le Devoir (translated from June 5):

Harper returned empty handed from Europe

After London, Paris refused to waive a tax on banks

Paris – If the objective of the whirlwind trip that Stephen Harper was finished yesterday in Europe to persuade London and Paris to abandon their proposed tax on banks, it now appears as a failure. Like his British counterpart had done the day before, the French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, said yesterday that France had no intention of abandoning its intention to tax the banking business in order to establish a fund for emergencies. …

Back from 48h to London and Paris, Harper is so isolated on this crucial issue because the proposed tax on banks is supported by both the European Union, the United States and the International Monetary Fund. The project is also likely to take shape fairly quickly in Europe.

So about that failure of the PM to fend off a global bank tax?

Canwest and Reuters (June 5th):

Finance ministers scrap plans for global bank tax

In the face of fierce opposition from Canada and several other countries, finance ministers from the Group of 20 have axed plans for a global bank tax
giving individual nations more freedom to decide how to make banks pay for any future bailouts.
The ministers ended a two-day meeting in Busan, South Korea, on Saturday that was held to review progress on a string of initiatives aimed at making the financial system safer in the wake of the last year’s global collapse.

A bank tax, a measure pushed for by the United States, Britain and France, would have imposed a levy on all global financial institutions. All three countries spent billions of taxpayer dollars to rescue their largest financial institutions after the fiscal crisis of late 2008.

Questions about Frank Graves

There’s a bit of chatter about today’s Ekos poll, but a lot of it has been about its pollster Frank Graves. As with anything in politics, there’s a problem when the messenger becomes the story rather than the message they are delivering.

A few press gallery flacks were all a-twitter at a new meme they perceived to be emerging from the Liberal benches during Question Period: “The Conservative Culture of Deceit”. Obviously more of a play on Stephen Harper’s “Culture of Defeat” remark about Atlantic Canada than the Justice Gomery’s remarks of a Liberal “Culture of Entitlement”.

The “Culture of Defeat” written for Harper in 2001 posed problems for the Conservative brand in Atlantic Canada and what made it particularly damaging was a bit of history on uncouth remarks about the region by another member of one of the Conservative’s legacy parties, the Canadian Alliance.

Back in 2000, Alliance pollster John Mykytyshyn went adrift in some turbulent seas when he remarked “[Atlantic Canadians] don’t want to do like our ancestors did and work for a living and go where the jobs are. Probably, the Alliance won’t go over as well there.”

Indeed, after these comments, the Alliance did not “go over” well in Atlantic Canada and it has taken years to climb back from these words.

Mykytyshyn told me, “as an unpaid volunteer, I was subjected to 13 days of media coverage on this based on an offhand comment that I apologized for, and the CBC did a 10 minute special on the incident.”

Fast forward to today, where we learn that the CBC’s EKOS pollster is also advising the Liberal Party of Canada giving the party strategic direction on the sentiment of the electorate.

Among Graves’ advice?

“I told them that they should invoke a culture war. Cosmopolitanism versus parochialism, secularism versus moralism, Obama versus Palin, tolerance versus racism and homophobia, democracy versus autocracy. If the cranky old men in Alberta don’t like it, too bad. Go south and vote for Palin.”

Start a culture war? I remember years and years of Liberal criticism about Conservatives dividing Canadians, “pitting region against region”. The Liberal Party branded itself as the party that “unites” Canadians rather than divides. The only thing the Liberal Party is not known to divide these days are leadership debts and the cheque at Carmello’s — someone else will pick it up.

But the CBC’s attachment to Graves is particularly conflicted since it erupted when Mykytyshyn made those unfortunate and divisive remarks, driving it home to every east-coaster watching or listening to Canada’s state-funded broadcaster. And now? Our tax dollars pad Graves’ bottom line as he advises the Liberals on how to “stop worrying about the West” as Lawrence Martin reports him saying. Further, the CBC is using him to provide objective, research-driven advice on party politics yet he is giving advice to one party.

Division does work in politics. But when the Conservatives own the right side of the entitled vs. ordinary split what’s left? Demonization of entire constituencies, provinces and regions of people is the politics of desperation. It always fails.

UPDATE: Kory Teneycke unloads on Graves on CBC’s Power & Politics. Teneycke pointed out Graves’ donation record to the Liberal Party. The Sun points out donations totaling $11,042.72 to the Liberal Party including the leadership campaigns of Ignatieff and Rae with just $449.04 going to a Tory candidate in Ottawa-Vanier.

I emailed Richard Stursberg, the executive VP of CBC/Radio Canada about this:

Here is the CBC’s reply,

And my reply to Jeff,

and the subsequent reply,

The Sun story includes comment from Paul Adams, executive director of EKOS:

“EKOS has never polled for any political party or been retained as a client by any political party,” he said in an e-mail Thursday night.

“Mr. Graves did give an interview to Lawrence Martin, the Globe columnist, in which he offered the Liberals hypothetical advice, just as he might to any other political party in the course of an interview.

“To the extent that the Globe article may have implied that Mr. Graves had previously proffered this advice directly to the Liberal Party, it was a mistaken implication.”

From EKOS’ website, we learn about Paul Adams:

Prior to joining EKOS, Mr. Adams had a distinguished career as a journalist. He covered mainly political stories as a correspondent for CBC television’s The National and later as Parliamentary Bureau Chief for CBC Radio. In 1999, he joined the Globe and Mail as senior parliamentary correspondent and later served as the newspaper’s Middle East correspondent.

Small world.

UPDATE 4/23: Graves has apologizes for his remarks and wants to set the record straight:

H1N1, issues management and disaster response

Would it surprise you, gentle reader, that every morning (early morning!) a senior staffer from each ministry gathers with their peers from other ministries at Langevin to discuss the issues of the day and what fallout — both actual and political — may come from events that have either happened or may transpire?

If this doesn’t surprise you, it may indeed shock you (ok, it probably won’t) that issues management has a greater concern about political fallout and much of this focus is centred upon not so much the opposition’s line of attack on an issue but the media’s distillation of what the government of the day is doing about it?

Let’s put this in perspective and consider a real failure in this approach as it informs not simply the shuffling of public funds, but of a nation’s emergency response to potential disasters.

Remember H1N1?

Back in the fall it was all the rage. Bodybags sent to native reserves, an opposition raising a five-alarm fire for the government’s vaccines on order to the President of the Liberal Party describing H1N1 as “Harper’s Katrina”.

And one of the shallowest measures and glibly tangible critiques of the government? A comparison of spending on those “clandestinely partisan” (critics say) ads telling Canadians that — good-golly-gosh — the economy is going to get better and that government is leading the way, with the government effort on those “sneeze in your arm, not on your hands, you yob” adverts.

Here is a Liberal blogger’s summary of her party’s critique of the whole episode,

After being publicly embarrassed by the media, the Harper Conservatives have said they will act on H1N1 television advertising. After the CP report on the government’s spending five times more on its economic action plan ads than H1N1 preparation loudly made the rounds Sunday afternoon, the Conservatives started the damage control Sunday night. It’s not a tough concept to grasp, after all. Nobody likes a government spending money in its own interest to the detriment of a major public health issue

Issues management kicks into high gear! Bruce Cheadle of the Canadian Press, a wire reporter turned impassioned advocated for the commercially unbalanced, did indeed take a swipe at the governing party over their ‘too blue’ and ‘too Harper’ website on the Economic Action Plan and found that spending on economic ebullience was taking precedence over pandemic placation.

I remarked on this fallacy at the time,

Another criticism highlighted in the CP story is that the latest round of Economic Action Plan ads cost the government $5 million compared to $2 million spent on H1N1 ads.

Here are two issues that have a psychological component.

For economic stimulus, a large part of its purpose and success is affecting consumer confidence. As for H1N1, handwashing and vaccine readiness helps but fueling hysteria does not.

Now that we’ve had a chance to see the virulent dust clear, we have word that the government…over-reacted?,

The federal government spent $37-million on advertising and other communications around the H1N1 flu pandemic, more than it devoted to anti-viral drugs or managing the outbreak combined, according to newly divulged cost figures.

A prominent critic of government response to H1N1 said much of that ad blitz came after the epidemic had peaked, urging Canadians to get flu shots at a time when they were virtually pointless.

“If it’s well spent for a legitimate medical emergency, that’s fine,” said Dr. Richard Schabas, Ontario’s former chief medical officer of health, who has repeatedly argued that public-health agencies over-reacted to the pandemic.

“It was the persistence of the immunization program, the persistence of the advertising after the outbreak had passed that really I find most offensive.”

Digging up a Liberal press release,

Last week, the House of Commons adopted a Liberal motion calling for the allocation of the $400 million in pandemic response funds to help the provinces deliver vaccines to Canadians, plus additional planning support, and the diversion of partisan Economic Action Plan advertising funding towards a large-scale H1N1 awareness campaign.

Dr. Schabas’ position is alluded to without specific reference to his actual view in the press release dated November 10th of last year. The Liberals advocated for a massive diversion of funds into an awareness campaign “as Canadians grow increasingly concerned that they won’t be vaccinated until well after the peak of the H1N1 flu”.

Our mothers always said that it’s better to be safe than sorry, but Schabas is actually criticizing the over-response and wasted spending on H1N1 advertising! Misallocation of H1N1 funds, needled into the wrong place, could have had a disastrous effect.

I’d argue that this is a way in which politics and media sensationalism hurts good and measured public policy informed by the most pressing facts. Issues management became a reaction to political fallout at the expense of a good and measured response. To be sure, the worst case scenario would have been if for some reason the politics had skewed the response in the other direction and the event had been much more pronounced.

How do we safeguard our consideration of real and informed concern when it faces an unhelpfully loud and very present sensationalism motivated by unrelated selfish considerations?

A real issue to manage. Unfortunately, it’s apolitical.

Chiefs of Staff pick their misplay of the week

Every week, the government’s chiefs of staff gather to meet to discuss everything from emerging crises and challenges to staffing issues. This high level meeting of chiefs is among the other regular classified gatherings including senior communications and issues management meetings. Save extenuating circumstances, every ministerial chief of staff is expected at the meeting.

Last week, I learned that among the pressing issues of state, the chiefs are now taking a weekly poll at the boardroom table to award an Ottawa-based reporter a dubious honour who they believe “got it wrong” that week. I’m told that the inaugural recipient of the Chief’s (dis)honour is Mike Blanchfield who wrote a puzzling piece on the Prime Minister’s YouTube experiment:

Pot, Palin and prorogation: Harper gets grilled on YouTube

OTTAWA – After being called a “pansy” by a cartoon Sarah Palin, Stephen Harper’s experiment with YouTube might yet leave him pining for the parliamentary press gallery.

The response to the prime minister’s pitch this week to hear from Canadians via the popular video website hasn’t exactly been overwhelming. By mid-afternoon Friday, just 69 people had weighed in.

But they hit on a wide variety of topics, including many Harper likely won’t be eager to address – like legalizing marijuana and 9/11 conspiracy theories.

It often wasn’t so much what they asked – it was how. Many did Marshall McLuhan proud, using the medium of do-it-yourself video to ask tough questions, while lampooning Harper with stinging messages. His controversial prorogation of Parliament was a prime target.

“You are what we call in Alaska, a pansy,” said a digital cartoon of ex-Alaska governor Sarah Palin in one posting.

“Is it a Canadian tradition for Canadian leaders to run away and hide? If a president did what you did, there would be rioting in the streets? How did you get away with it?”

Another appended Britney Spears’ video “Oops, I Did It Again,” to ask Harper whether he would ever again break his own fixed-election date law and call another snap election like he did in 2008.

Others were serious and direct, especially when it came to climate change.

One B.C. questioner challenged Harper’s conduct at December’s global climate-change meeting in Copenhagen: “I’m interested to know why Minister Prentice and yourself addressed the climate-change issue in such a way that Canada suffered an international embarrassment as the winner of the Fossil of the Day Award.”

Another questioner attached a 29-minute video of a Bill Gates presentation to buttress a question on how Harper planned to fund his maternal and child-health program that he plans to push through the G8.

On the economy, bald and goateed Martyman500 from Markham, Ont., looked straight into the camera and asked the prime minister why he was bringing in the Harmonized Sales Tax: “Why do you let big companies hire and fire workers so they have to avoid paying benefits?”

Harper has been criticized for avoiding the national media – and its tough questions – by taking his message directly to Canadians through advertising or local media.

There appeared to be few, if any, filters on his YouTube channel – based on what was posted Friday.

The prime minister has said he will answer the YouTube questions Tuesday.

Ignore the opinion writing and obvious corrosive slant on the wire service for a moment and consider Blanchfield’s barometer on YouTube participation.

Some facts from the YouTube Q&A:
At the time of this writing, the Prime Minister’s interview received:
1,897 ratings

as for the participation:
170,000 votes were received for almost 1,800 questions submitted according to Google’s Public Policy Blog.

We expect fact from our news reporters and opinion from our columnists. Of course, at some point, 69 people had weighed in (also true: at some point just one person had weighed in). But let’s make sure facts are relevant. Blanchfield’s article suggests the PM YouTube experiment had underwhelmed. According to the raw metrics, this is not true.