11.06.2014 05:55 PM

In Friday’s Sun: Conflicted Broadcasting Corporation

What’s a conflict of interest, anyway?

A conflict of interest happens when a person has multiple interests, and one of those interests could compromise – or corrupt – something the person has been asked to do.

At the risk of sounding like a lawyer (guilty as charged), a conflict of interest happens when a secondary interest unduly influences a primary interest.

It’s important to remember that the conflict need not actually happen to be a problem. It merely needs to be a risk – a possibility – to be a problem.

The CBC’s investigation in the Jian Ghomeshi case, then, raises the possibility of a conflict of interest. The Liberal Party’s request for a House of Commons investigation in the case of two former Liberal MPs does not.

For starters, the public broadcaster’s Ghomeshi probe looks illegitimate before it even begins. Justin Trudeau’s request that the Speaker of Commons investigate MPs Scott Andrews and Massimo Pacetti, meanwhile, is a good example of how to avoid a conflict of interest problem.

The contrasts could hardly be more stark. The CBC has retained Janice Rubin, an employment lawyer, to write two reports arising out of the Ghomeshi sexual misconduct allegations. One report is aimed at preventing “similar issues from arising in our orgnaization in the future,” CBC staff were told in a memo. The other report will apparently be about Ghomeshi-related complaints.

But there is a problem: Rubin, while respected and knowledgeable, is in a perceived conflict. She has appeared on CBC radio and television shows many times. She is a regular contributor to CBC programming, arguably like Jian Ghomeshi was.

Rubin is not a CBC employee. CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson promptly responded to a request about whether has been paid in the past for her contributions. His answer: yes. Rubin was paid once, “a nominal amount,” many years ago, by the same CBC Radio that employed Ghomeshi.

Rubin’s guesting on CBC is not the only perceived problem, however. Another is this: Rubin’s terms of reference, her mandate, have already been set by the CBC itself. So, the organization that is being investigated has already decided what should be investigated.

That’s more than a potential conflict of interest, it’s outrageous. And, combined with Rubin’s past appearances on the CBC, it potentially renders the whole “investigation” a joke.

A very senior former CBC reporter sent this writer a note about all this on Wednesday. The Rubin probe “has the appearance of a whitewash already,” this person wrote. What, this person queried, about sexual harassment/oppression cases which don’t involve Ghomeshi? (I personally know of at least three such cases, involving former CBC TV luminaries. In one case, the woman was physically attacked in an elevator by the CBC star, who was called “The Octopus.”)

My anonymous correspondent noted that, if the CBC’s human relations department has “already been involved in disposition/settlement of harassment claims,” it would have no desire to reopen cases it “had previously ignored or burried with compensation.” Another conflict.

Contrast all of this with what Trudeau did in the Andrews and Pacetti cases. He didn’t hire a Liberal to investigate – he referred the mess to the Speaker, who happens to be a Conservative MP.

He didn’t bring in someone who had done paid work for the Liberal Party in the past.

And, most critically, he didn’t tell the Speaker what the terms of reference were. He didn’t attempt to limit the scope of the probe. He asked the Speaker to examine whatever he saw fit to investigate, however he saw fit to investigate.

That is how you do it. Not the way the CBC has.

That’s always the case – but it’s particularly the case when we are (finally) examining the pestilence that is sexual harassment. It is a very serious problem, and it needs to be treated seriously. Justin Trudeau is doing that.

The CBC, meanwhile, is not.


  1. James Smith says:

    WTF is Angry Tom making this a partizan issue?!!!
    He looks like an ass rather than wanting to weed out the evil he only makes it worse.
    Add to this the S-Storm on Twitter between Jennifer Ditchburn & Mylène Freeman of the NDP on the subject makes me sick.
    This is why people don’t like politicians, the moment one does something that makes sense, we get jerks, well, being jerks.
    I’m a sophomoric partizan Grit. But if these 2 MP’s are guilty, they should be charged and removed form the House.
    Mr T’s zero tolerance is a good (late) first step.

  2. Sam M. says:


    Sharon Danley ‏@personalmastery, tweets: “#PnPCBC [Power and Politics] YES Trudeau did have to go public. Until there is complete safety for complainants, anonymity is a MUST.”

    As the running gun battle in the halls of the House of Commons between the security services and an attacking Jihadist dramatically showed, there is, sadly, no “complete safety” in this land. One of the simultaneously best and most irritating interviews Jian Ghomeshi ever did was with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Ghomeshi seemed at pains to emphasize that she was living “often under the threat of death.”

    Ali, as a lion, is one of the world’s greatest complainants; nor is she anonymous, nor will she shut up or tone things down as her detractors, including Ghomeshi, would like. She accepts that not only is there no “complete safety” but that she is at war with Islam, tactically (she requires 24-hour armed guard) and ideologically. She accepts the danger, the risks, because the alternative – submission and silence – is to lobotomize oneself, to become a servile slave. If women at the CBC or MPs in the House of Commons (n.b., Ali was an MP in Holland) want out of oppression, look to Ali as a guiding light. Fight!

    Trudeau did not have to “go public.” He purged two democratically elected MPs from the Liberal caucus and evidently cut out rot equaling 6% of his seats. They are still MPs. They may not be MPs come next election. This is of course is Trudeau’s prerogative. He is the leader of his party. He can purge anyone if he believes their transgressions – alleged – warrant it. The Liberal Senate is now Senate liberals – demoted to lowercase. Evidently, the Liberal Party struggles with maintaining even the most basic level of impulse control and self-discipline. According to Ivison, “copious amounts of booze” make these scenarios “guaranteed.” Time to make the LPC a dry town?

    Tactically, the Liberals and NDP should have joined forces a long time ago. As it stands, the “progressive” vote is further fractured four ways. Pretty bad odds. According to the NDP, the lecherous Liberals are to be shunned in favour of another Conservative government. Stephen Harper as staunch feminist. Who knew?

  3. Steve T says:

    On a somewhat related matter, I see the NDP is complaining about the Liberals bringing the sexual harrassment charges to light, by suspending the two MPs. The cynic in me says the NDP are most upset that the Libs stole their ability to create an embarrassing moment. They wanted to cue the outrage, make a big stink, and then “demand” that the Liberals suspend the MPs. Justin stole their thunder, and they are angry about it.

    • Robin says:

      Remember, the NDP are the party that voted with Stephen Harper to defeat the Paul Martin government six months before Martin had time to pass a federal budget that would have included $5 billion to fund the Kelowna Accord, a federal-provincial-territorial and Aboriginal approved initiative to raise the standard of living for most Aboriginal people closer to the national average and it would have included funding for a federal-provincial-territorial national Child Care program negotiated by Hon. Ken Dryden (yes, our hockey hero turned lawyer turned federal Liberal Cabinet Minister).

      Any party that would put purely partisan political interests (preventing the Liberals from getting credit for implementing such progressive and essential social programs) ahead of assisting Canada’s most disadvantaged population and single parents and low income families with children are capable of ANYTHING. Now they want to make political points with workplace sexual harassment allegations by their own MPs. Something is really fishy and Trudeau took the high road and spoiled it for them. So, I would ask: who really cares about women? Trudeau or the NDP who stopped a national child care program by Martin.

      I dare say, Jack Layton’s true legacy is: forget the needs of Aboriginal people and children living in low income and less than ideal circumstances, winning more seats for the NDP is more important even if it results in a Harper Government.

    • Elisabeth Lindsay says:


    • Merrill Smith says:

      I find my self leaning in the same direction as you Steve. I think Mulcair was trying to set a trap for Trudeau and it has backfired.

      • Terry Quinn says:

        Totally agree… Mulcair is a political animal who ply thinks about votes….Harper lite wit not a purely honest bone in his body

  4. terraderma says:

    That would indicate that the LPC is still run by the LPC while the CBC is now run by the CPC.

  5. Ian Howard says:

    With the amount of press this case has received and the number of women coming forward it seems unlikely that the CBC will be able to prevent the truth from coming out. There are too many incidents and separate investigations to believe that a coverup will go unnoticed. You would think that people in the news media would have learned that alleged crimes may cost individuals their jobs, expose them to criminal proceedings, but a coverup could end what is still a valuable institution.
    Stephen Harper is waiting to gut what is left of the CBC and it would be a shame to lose a show like “The Current” because Ghomeshi’s behavior was ignored by the people in charge.

  6. Robin says:

    Someone please help me understand why Meagan Leslie is disappointed with the way Liberal Leader, Justin Trudeau, handled the allegations that were brought to him. Someone, please.


    • davie says:

      Here is a possibility:

      A couple of MP’s figured they were being unfairly or wrongly treated by a couple of MP’s from another party. They spoke to leadership in their own party saying they just wanted the bad treatment to stop. That leadership decided to go with the complainants’ request that the whole thing be kept on the qt, – but they wanted the harassment to stop.
      The leadership, whip, got in touch with the whip of the party of the accused MP’s. That whip also tried to keep to the wishes of the two complainants and deal with it through the Speaker’s chair.

      But the leader of the party of the two accused MP’s was told about it, noted public reactions to the Ghomeshi accusations, and he decided that this would make a good photo op. He relied on volunteer work during his college days to cover his butt from criticism, went public to show himself as firm, decisive, Harper type LEADER, and played coy with what he knew and what he would reveal, to pretend he was protecting the identity of the complainants.

      The two MP’s who complained, suddenly saw themselves on the cusp of public spotlight, something they did not want for themselves, – and possibly did not want for the accused MP’s (otherwise they would have gone public from the get go).
      The complainant’s wish to simply have the harassment stop is now trashed…by an opportunistic fellow who politicized the whole thing for self aggrandizement.

      Does that seem like a possibility…(except to a Lib partisan) ?

      • sezme says:

        Yes, that seems a likely scenario to me. Not everyone wants their workplace complaints to be public. Many of the comments here seem to be viewing the issue through grit-coloured glasses.

      • Robin says:

        Davie, if your possibiliy has merit, then wouldn’t a more plausible scenario be that the two alleged victims would have simply informed the accused perpetrator MPs that they have spoken to their Whip and the Leader of their party, the incidences have been recorded, and if their conduct doesn’t change they will file a formal complaint publicly?

        Since the alleged victims and perpetrators are all adults and elected MPs, wouldn’t that been sufficient to stop the misconduct? It would seem so; if not, then going directly to speak to the Leader of the Liberal Party, as one alleged victim apparently did, put Mr. Trudeau in a position where he had no choice but to give these Honourable Members of Parliament the benefit of the doubt and to act accordingly.

        Mr. Mulcair, as the alleged victims’ Leader, also had a duty to act. However, it appears he apparently preferred the old “tried and true” Old Boys Club approach of silence publicly in order to deal with it quietly behind closed doors. However, given the heightened public concern about misconduct by people in authority recently, isn’t there a higher standard that is expected, in fact, needed. Fortunately, Mr. Trudeau’s handling of the affair has now put this on the agenda for Parliament and will hopefully result in establishing a fair, independent, third-party process for receiving and adjudicating allegations of misconduct by MPs, Parliamentary staff, and other workers on Parliament Hill. This is a good thing.

        Perhaps Mr. Mulcair, if he was sincerely concerned about the allegations of his Caucus members would have taken steps to initiate an independent process for handling the allegations, such as, going with Mr. Trudeau to the Speaker to discuss it; however, one of the alleged victims decided to approach Mr. Trudeau directly with the allegations. Once that was done, Mr. Trudeau did the only thing he could do; he respectfully gave the alleged victim the benefit of the doubt and acted.

        It’s called “Leadership”.

        Mr. Mulcair failed to act effectively or his Caucus colleague wouldn’t have felt the need to approach Mr. Trudeau directly; or, Mr. Mulcair instructed his Caucus colleague to do so in order “see what happens”; either way Mr. Mulcair failed to show leadership.

      • Robin says:

        Worth repeating for your benefit specifically, Davie: Mr. Trudeau did not reveal the names, gender, or party affiliation of the alleged victims when he made his public announcement. The NDP did that.

        Now, the Conservatives and the NDP will have to decide how to handle this.

        Over to you.

        • davie says:

          My experience suggest that the MP’s who felt wronged just wanted the misconduct to stop, and did not want to make a big case, a rationale for a ‘process, ‘ and, especially, did not want a public row with the certain descent into partisan politics.

          It sounds to me that the approach to the Lib leader was very informal, not a request for anything, just a heads up. He and his insiders decided to go public and show himself as the noble defender of vulnerable people. His not mentioning names of the accusers was just a butt covering, ‘see-how-sensitive-I am’ act.

          I figure the two whips were dealing with this, that Mulcair was respecting the accusers wanting to deal with it, but deal with it between the two parties and out of the public eye. The Liberal whip was doing her job, cooperating with the NDP whip. The Lib leadership group shafted them all, the accusers, the NDP whip, and his own whip.

          Putting the two fellows out of caucus until this was dealt with was not necessary, but it made a big splash with a media, and harnessed the public attitudes about the CBC thing to the Lib election campaign.

          I appreciate the NDP Lib’s comment that the two accusers are furious with the Lib leader for betraying their trust. I suggest a whole whack of people now know how far to trust this guy, pretending ethical superiority by re abusing people who say they have already been abused. This action reminds me of what the leader of the governing party often does.

  7. smelter rat says:

    See Steve T’s comment above.

  8. BobbyB says:

    Why would one of the NDP people in questioin go to Trudeau? Why would they not go to Mulcair about what they were thinking to do first? Then Mulcair would not be blindsided by his own people or Trudeau. Perhaps Mulcair needs to make sure his people know thta he is an understanding and compassionate person and would take any such discussions seriously and hold them in complete confidence. Perhaps the NDP staffer that approached Trudeau was hoping that Trudeau would do something about what had happened to them because they were not sure what their own leader would do. Perthaps Mulcair needs to have a review with his staff to make sure they know the first place to take their concerns of this nature is to their own leader and also ensure that his team knows that he, as their leader, would do something about it.

  9. patrick says:

    I’ve always been suspicious of CBC. Always a bit too smooth and closed mouth about itself. A bit too self important. And a suspected communist sympathizer goes the rumours. So the CBC not handling sexual abuse properly is not a surprise. Personally I hate to rush to judgement of the CBC since we have only passed peripherally at the occasional party and have never had a chance to talk. Obviously many people have and have much better knowledge of what CBC is about and are able to know how of CBC’s failings of judgement and character and politics. I suppose we have allowed CBC to get away with much and it is time to put a stop to it’s moral failings. And one more thing, I have to say that none of this would have happened if people had been involved.

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