Weekend in Ottawa

I just got back from an educational weekend in Ottawa where I was blessed to see some old friends and make some new ones at the 10th annual Civitas conference.

Now, while the details of the discussions and presentations at the conference cannot be revealed, I will say that the state of conservative intellectualism in this country is strong.

Citizen scribe and PPG executive Elizabeth Thompson scored an easy story while violating certain principles. You see, Civitas is a private gathering of conservatives to discuss politics and ideas without the inhibitive hind-thought of media scrutiny. Without this scrutiny, anyone is free to discuss the concepts that are controversial, the ideas that confound the ignorant, and the thoughts that are at the mere stage of incubation.

Thompson violated the conference attendees and the conference itself by drawing back the veil. The organizers of the conference had asked that members of the media keep discussions and presentations off-the-record to protect the free and uninhibited discussion of ideas. I’d suppose that I’d now be wary of going off-the-record in a future conversation with Elizabeth Thompson. Do other reporters still respect this principle?

Her story teased her humble and polite audience with the favourite Canadian horror story of Republican infiltration into Canadian politics. One would perhaps more honestly frame the American strategist as an affable fellow that shares the small c conservative philosophy that is common among freedom-loving, big government-despising political intellectuals regardless of their borders.

So give Elizabeth Thompson some credit for scoring an interesting story but I would argue that it may have come at the expense of some cherished media and intellectual principles.

UPDATE: This, however, was fair-game. Vellacott talked to a reporter outside of the conference (while at the hotel that hosted Civitas) and decided to say something silly. While Vellacott likely believes what he says, it’s safe to say that he does not represent the views of the government on this issue. Judges are independent and Vellacott’s comments are unfortunate and hurt this independence.

UPDATE: Elizabeth Thompson replies in the comments.

UPDATE: I have received opinions on this matter from both sides of the argument and from many people that I respect. The issue is certainly grey in a few areas and one is likely to come down on the side that influences their biases. After more consideration, I’ve come to the following conclusions.

Was Elizabeth Thompson within her rights to cover this as a story given the fact that conference organizers didn’t ‘close the door’ on a private meeting? Certainly.

If she had been present in the room and reporter/recorded the speech by Luntz, would she have been trespassing in a private meeting? I think so.

It seems that there’s a threshold of a door vs. public space distinction here where the private meeting spilled out into the public space.

Did other media reporters/columnists violate a commitment to their readers by neglected to report the details of a private meeting? No, no and no.

If Thompson knew the bylaws of Civitas, and as a reporter (and non-member) chose to ignore the spirit of these bylaws, is she ‘wrong’ for doing so? No.

Was she polite for doing so? No. (but it’s not her job to be polite)

I still maintain that a private meeting, where people are free to discuss issues and thoughts without hind-thought of media scrutiny, is important to intellectual and academic discourse (even on the topic of small c conservative politics and policy). It is the same reason that academic professors are given tenure; tenured professors can conduct research without the fear of losing their jobs for following unpopular theories or testing controversial hypotheses as deemed by the ignorant.

If we cannot be allowed the freedom to discuss and develop ideas, then philosophical development will be hindered.

Often, many of our significant problems in this country exist due to a want for developed ideas and honest debate. If we (from all parts of the political spectrum) cannot even nucleate novel approaches to solve these problems due to media scrutiny that dissuades discussion, then Canada will be lacking the best solutions to carry it forward.

That’s where I see the grey area. Where Thompson didn’t have to, she didn’t. But she could have, in respect for the academic and intellectual freedom that we sought.

Perhaps we should have just closed the door.