Tsk tsk Hedy Fry

The following is an email received by hundreds of staffers and MPs on Parliament Hill today:

From: Fry, Hedy – M.P.
Sent: April 18, 2006 2:33 PM



Members and Staff are invited to attend the birthday party fundraiser for Alex Munter who is running for Mayor of Ottawa as he is almost 40! Please see the attachment for more information, and feel free to contact me or call the number on the invite for tickets.

See you there!

<<Members&Staff Invite.doc>>

Bryn Hendricks
Special Assistant
Office of the Honourable Hedy Fry, P.C.,M.P.
Vancouver Centre
583 Confederation Building
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
tel. (613) 992-3213
fax. (613) 995-0056

Now, sending out birthday party invitations via your work account is generally acceptable (even to hundreds of people as the case may be — however this may be reaching spamming proportions!). Staffers use their Blackberries to send personal messages all the time. Perhaps this is not the best use of public resources, but staffers are like you or me. Who hasn’t sent a personal email from their work account? You’ll notice that the email is labeled NWR meaning “not work related”. Besides, it’s nice to see that there is friendly relations accross the aisle as Fry’s assistant emailed not only Liberal Members and Staffers, but also those from the Conservative and New Democrat Parties. Shockingly, no love for the Bloc…

However, the advertising of a political fundraiser is not something that the the taxpayer’s Parliamentary email system should be used for. Hedy Fry is considering a run for the leadership of the Liberal Party. Was this email the result of her directive?

UPDATE: Bryn Hendricks gives some more details and offers an apology in the comments section: “I am the STAFFER who sent that message out. I would like to clarify a couple points. FIRST: I recieve several emails a day with respect to “housing” or “resumes” or “candidates running” for one thing or another. This email was sent out ONLY as an offer to attend an event that is happening. Not only that, I sent this message out without consulting Dr. Fry because of the massive amount of messages I receive in a day to the same effect. After consulting with Dr. Fry, she would have recommended that I not send this message out, but it was only as an over-enthusiastic person that I thought I would send it out. I appologize if that created an issue for taxpayers or Canadian’s, but assure you it was not with the approval of Dr. Fry, and not with any ill-intentions. I think there are larger issues to concern ourselves over than what a Hill-staffer choses to send out over his lunch-break as it was not meant as anything other than a point of notification just like the MANY other things that are send over the exact same email loops. My appologies.

Thanks Bryn.

I thought musicians were supposed to be original

Look over there, it’s another artist railing against George W Bush and the establishment. Yawn.

According to the UK’s Independent:

Could Neil Young, a cultural lodestone for a generation of country rock fans, really be turning his attention to President George Bush and the war in Iraq? Now Young himself has confirmed it. Not only has he recorded an entire album about the conflict, but in one of the songs he spells out who he thinks is to blame for the ongoing chaos and violence and what the consequences for that person should be. That track is called “Impeach the President”.

I attended a few shows last year including K-os and Billy Talent. During these shows, the crowd was subjected to political lectures of the leftist persuasion. Each artist is entitled to his or her view, however, I always found it somewhat ironic for Canadian musicians to their message to us on the issue of George W Bush. As Canadians, we certainly can’t vote Democrat and I’m certainly not going to take political advice from the likes of K-os (the socialist “revolutionary” who is laughing all the way to the bank).

I enjoy a good show, but I often have to stand through the obligatory and ironic two minute rant about how capitalism and excess are damning our society and how that, to my surprise, war is “bad” (well, thanks… I understand now). Political activism by musicians against the establishment always seemed disingenuous to me and I have often laughed at the imaginary prospect that a punk band might one day address the crowd between songs:

“S%*t, we’ve got something to say about George f@%*ing W Bush! … Stay the course! Make the tax-cut permanent!”

We’ve seen rants against the establishment conservatives in Canada as well (yet, the Liberals were the establishment for 12 years). During previous election campaigns, we’ve seen artists such as Avril Lavigne and Sam Roberts join the campaign to “Stop Harper”. In fact, I caught Roberts’ drunken show on Parliament Hill last year as he dropped the subtext and just went for it as he lectured the crowd by song with a track called “Socialism”. Being a rebel has always had a certain romance to it, however, when the establishment is Liberal and the rant unoriginal, there lacks a certain political cogency. Moreover, Canadian musicians ranting against the American conservative establishment are rebels without a constituency and are rather rebels on the sell.

Anyways, Neil Young’s hardly shocking unoriginal pronouncement reminded me of an article that was written in 2004. Currently unavailable online and originally submitted as a blog post on FatPipeRadio.com the article is still relevant for today’s music industry, which should be desperately seeking originality. The article was written by punk-enthusiast and current Minister of Health Tony Clement, whom is much more versed in the world of punk music than me:

Like the return of flare pants or narrow ties, once every few years rock n’ roll aspires to be overtly political in a big way. All around us, musicians are demanding “fair trade” (Coldplay concerts regularly distribute brochures and advertise website destinations), urging foreign debt relief (Bono being the most prominent advocate) or illuminating the teachings of the Dalai Lama as they inform us of the current state of Tibetan-Chinese relations (Adam Yauch and the Beastie Boys).

Indeed, this kind of political advocacy is not new. From Bob Dylan’s folk songs, themselves following in the footsteps of Woody Guthrie’s depictions of the downtrodden, to Bob Geldof’s Live Aid efforts in the 1980s, rock n’ roll and social conscience have mixed quite well, thank you. That is the way it should be. Rock as a musical form has always been about breaking social and political conventions. Its birth was as a direct result of black and white fraternization. Established society considered it lascivious “Negro music”, which only heightened its allure for young people in the 1950s, and guaranteed its popularity among white suburbia. When Jack Black’s character lectures the school kids about standing up to “the Man” in the movie “School of Rock”, it was and is the truth.

Today, the biggest growth industry for protest is, of course, George W. Bush. Here, the entire entertainment industry has something to say. After the shock of 9/11, much of popular culture was silent. Soon, however, artists found their voices. Bruce Springsteen’s haunting “The Rising” is a fine example of post-9/11 mourning and reflection. Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”, although conceived prior to the terrorist attacks, has lyrics and themes that evoke as well.

This year, however, most of the commentary has a more direct target: George W. Bush. Compilations like “Rock Against Bush” are getting shelf space. Thoughtful groups like Radiohead are getting into the act. And you know a cause is a cause when Moby wants to add his two cents’ worth. The Democrats’ Presidential nominee, John Kerry, is using rock n’ roll to maximum effect. He has held several fundraisers, raising $10 million at a time, featuring stars as varied as Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Mary J. Blige and Jon Bon Jovi. And so on and on.

Do I have a beef with this? Yes and no. No, in the sense that this is business as usual for rock, as described already in this column. It is, I believe, the business of rock to challenge beliefs and attack establishment figures. But yes, because there is something wrong with this picture. For some time I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I knew it had nothing to do with the political bent. If you like rock, be it pop, punk or folky, you get used to the left-of-centre bias. It comes with the territory. Here’s the issue: to me, it is the establishment position of Hollywood, and the entertainment industry in America generally, to be clearly anti-Iraq war and anti-Bush. That’s the consensus. The jury is in and the verdict is unequivocal: artists and entertainers want Bush out.

So, as an artist, as a rock n’ roller who wants to make a statement, how hard is it to agree with the anti-Bush side? It’s what practically everyone, except a few rockers like Kid Rock, are saying, singing and writing right now. Anti-Bush: how predictable. How mainstream! I almost have more time for the iconoclastic few that defy this consensus. Is Kid Rock more of a rebel than Michael Stipe, just by daring to back American troops in Iraq? Closer to home, are Billy Talent just aping an unthinking consensus when they cheered the defeat of Stephen Harper, as they did unabashedly at Toronto’s Edgefest just after the June 28 federal election?

By having such a consensus position, rock artists do themselves a disservice. I suspect that they end up preaching to the converted, rather than swaying public opinion. Polls in the United States back this up: even “Fahrenheit 9/11”, a huge commercial success, is making no ripple in the US presidential race because its polemics do not sway undecided voters, the Holy Grail of the campaign.

So what’s my suggestion? Merely this: if rock n’ roll artists want to be truly relevant on issues like Iraq, Bush and war, be more diverse in the opinions that are offered to the audience. Don’t be monochromatic. Have different views. Have a real debate. Rock out with Bush, not just against Bush! If that’s simply too much to ask, be more welcoming of other opinions, within the audience and throughout society as a whole. As Green Day is singing about these days in “American Idiot”, censorship is the key vice to avoid, even if the censorship comes from the oppression of groupthink.

In the meantime, enjoy the music–and think for yourself!

Shameful question of the day

NDP Youth and Families critic Olivia Chow held a press conference yesterday to outline her party’s position that the Conservative $1200 daycare allowance should instead be offered as a tax credit.

Elizabeth Thompson of the Montreal Gazette is introduced by the press theatre moderator and she first contrasts “working mothers” with stay-at-home moms and the differences in benefits each would receive under the Conservative plan.

Thompson, not getting the answer she wanted instead prompts Chow:

“A stay at home mom doesn’t have any income of her own, outside of the $1200. I guess the point that I’m trying to get: to what extent does this system, sort of, perhaps encourage women to stay at home with their kids, which is something some elements of the Conservative Party tends to advocate?

Chow chuckled off the sexist question and to her credit did not give Thompson the point that she was trying to get: that the Conservative Party advocates that a woman’s place is at home with her children.

Of course, this is not the Conservative position as the Conservative plan is not explicit about stay-at-home moms or stay-at-home dads. The factor outlined in the plan is income (which in fact was the point of Chow’s presser).

Unfortunately, some reporters have deeply held biases. A reporter should never allow these biases to affect their work. Here we see Thompson’s bias against women (as the default stay-at-home parent) and against Conservatives (as sexists). (see the update)

Watch the video of Thompson’s question

(Firefox users, right click and save as…)

UPDATE: Elizabeth Thompson responds in the comments: “Those who know the media and how it works know you should never mistake a reporter testing to see just how far someone’s position goes (and just how much of that rope they may want to use to hang themselves) with the reporter’s personal views. The question I asked jibed with the views of many NDP supporters and was the logical extension of what she was suggesting – I just wanted to see whether Olivia Chow was prepared to go that far.

“As for the dispute with the press gallery – fewer press conferences means less to distract us from finding out and reporting what a government is really up to. I just wonder how long it is going to be before the people who dreamed up the strategy realize they are actually in the process of losing control of the agenda.”

Fair enough. I guess I’m still getting to know the media. Was Ms. Thompson baiting Chow? Perhaps. I’m not willing to withdraw my assertion that some reporters have deeply held biases, but I will give Thompson credit for providing a logical response and will give her the benefit of the doubt.

In cases such as these, reporters’ questions only go on the record if the person questioned makes the error of taking the bait. As a result, it is the politician that is held responsible rather than the reporter. Granted, if Ms. Chow had latched onto the question, this post would have been about her instead. My apologies to Ms. Thompson for accusing her of bias on this exchange with Chow.

Now, the second half of Thompson’s response is interesting as well: the limited number of press conferences (or PPG accessibility to cabinet) will actually damn Harper’s camp because reporters will have more time on their hands to dig up the real answers? That’s the first time I’ve heard of this angle on the issue and Thompson is likely in the minority POV in the PPG on this. It will be interesting to see if it does indeed play out this way. Will Harper’s communications team’s attempt at order lead to disorder? The strategy is keep discipline among cabinet ministers (so that they aren’t hanged by the rope that the media is so willing to provide) so I’m not convinced. The PPG may have more time to ask staffers, opposition MPs and “anonymous sources” more questions, but keeping discipline among the high level credible sources is an understandable facet of the PMO’s self-preservation strategy.