Categories for Musings

Questions for CBC about personalities other than Ghomeshi

Sent from a former senior CBC person I know and respect. It wasn’t just Jian, seems.

Warren, I just read your piece about who knew what and when at the CBC and one of its reporters who is on the fast track to oblivion. Great piece. And I have my suspicions! Indeed, there are some lingering questions:

i. Will the external investigators limit the scope of their enquiry to complaints related to Jian? What if employees come forward with complaints about other CBC on-air persons?
ii. Has the CBC entered into contractual arrangements involving financial compensation for employees who have departed the corporation due to workplace harassment or improprieties on the part of high-profile on-air personalities including but not limited to Jian?
iii. If so, how much money have taxpayers spent on making amends for such workplace improprieties and have any offending employees maintained their positions, if not Jian?

Those are the questions I would be asking were I covering the story…


I don’t know what is going on – Twitter is never a good place to look for context or truth – but I’ll say this: Jaime Watt is one of the best at what he does. If you ever got in trouble, you’d be grateful to have him in your corner.

In Friday’s Sun: I didn’t know

[I’m posting this early because I’m starting to think my first reaction – disbelief – was wrong. Really wrong. Time will tell, etc., but here is my stab at trying to understand this.]

What did they know, and when did they know it?

That’s a question that has its origins in the Watergate scandal, forty years ago. What did the President know, and when did he know it?

In the intervening years, in respect of assorted real and perceived scandals, it’s a question that you hear a lot. Most of the time, it’s reporters asking The Question about politicians.

In the past few days, the roles have been reversed. Lots of political people are asking The Question of media people: when did they know about Jian Gomeshi, and what did they do about it?

The sordid details are ubiquitous, now. Jian Ghomeshi – who, full disclosure, I knew and liked – is accused of multiple cases of abuse by at least eight women. Most of the complainants are anonymous, but at least one has gone on the record.

None of the allegations have resulted in charges. But all of the allegations have certainly resulted in nausea. As in, it is enough to make one want to throw up.

In the first few hours of the Ghomeshi story, quite a few of us felt that the state broadcaster had no place in the bedrooms of the nation, and said so. But as more details oozed to the surface, quite a few of us started to reconsider.

I sure did. And then I remembered something, from long ago.

In 1984, I was president of the student council at Carleton University, and a journalism student. I wasn’t very good at either, but that’s what I was when a good friend and fellow journalism student called me.

She was crying. She said that she had made the mistake of trusting a very senior reporter with a major TV network. When she didn’t agree to go out with him, this reporter started to threaten my friend. He told her she would never work in TV news, ever, if she didn’t do his bidding.

I’m a bit of a hot-head. I’m a walking Irish bar fight, a pollster friend once said, and it’s true. My friend was scared, and I was thoroughly pissed off. So I found out who the reporter’s boss was, and I called him up.

The boss received my complaint without evincing the slightest degree of empathy for my friend. Zero.

He said he’d look into it.

Here’s what happened next: (a) my female friend was being shunned (b) the reporter was being promoted (c) the reporter and the network were going after a Liberal candidate I was helping out.

I know this because, as I was squiring the candidate around some event in Ottawa, the very senior reporter walked in. “Ah, the famous Warren Kinsella,” he said, and proceeded to put together a hatchet job of truly epic proportions.

What happens next to Jian Ghomeshi is mostly up to the courts. What happens next to various alleged victims is mostly up to the victims themselves.

What interests me, mostly, is what happens next to the CBC. What did they know, and when did they know it?

The allegations were myriad, and had been well-known for months, we are now told. So, did the CBC investigate? Why not, if not?

And if they did, why did they not act sooner? It’s The Question, and it’s one to which the CBC had better have a damn convincing answer. (If it wants to survive, that is.)

Oh, and my friend? She went on to success after success, and is now one of the top PR folks in the country. The very senior reporter, meanwhile, is facing a criminal trial – on an unrelated matter – in the Fall.

And three guesses where he worked? First two don’t count.

You got it.

The CBC.


I was up very, very late last night, on air, with the charming David Akin and the brilliant Michael Diamond, discussing Ontario municipal results and Alberta provincial results. It was a blast. Those two are the best.

Tonight, however, I will be at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus – to speak to political science students and staff about last night’s Toronto outcomes. If you are in the neighborhood, come on by and sling some gluten-free buns at me.

(Oh, right: in the new Instruction Centre (“IC”) building, room 220, at 5:15.)

In Tuesday’s Sun: enough of the wannabe police, already

Keeping church and state separate is important. Keeping the state and the police separate is equally important.

We all got to see why, last week, when Stephen Harper – and one of his senior ministers – summarily changed their job descriptions. Last Monday, the Prime Minister assigned himself the role of federal Chief of Police. Then, last Wednesday, Employment Minister Jason Kenney did likewise.

On Monday, as every Canadian will recall, Armed Forces warrant officer Patrice Vincent was assassinated in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu by an avowed ISIS sympathizer, a pathetic loser who does not deserve to be named.

Vincent’s murder became political fodder, and within minutes.

The parking lot where Vincent was killed was still a crime scene when the Prime Minister’s Office instructed a Conservative backbench MP to ask a puffball question about a “possible terror attack.” He did so, and used those words.

The Prime Minister of Canada stood up and told the Commons: “We are aware of these reports and they are obviously extremely troubling. First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.” He then sat down.

All of this would be fine – it would almost be routine – were it not for one thing: Harper spoke about the killing before many hours before the police would do so.

An RCMP release would only come much, much later. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s Office deputized itself as the Mounties’ PR department, and issued a release that grandly elaborated on Harper’s statement in the Commons.

Two days later, yet more horror, and yet another Conservative politician elbowing aside the police. On that sad day, as all recall, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was shot while he stood guard at the National War Memorial by another extremist.

The shooting took place before 10 a.m. Thereafter, an entire nation wondered for more than two agonizing hours about Cirillo’s status. Until just before 1 p.m., that is, when Jason Kenney – not police, not a hospital, not Cirillo’s family – announced that the soldier was dead.

“Condolences to family of the soldier killed, & prayers for the Parliamentary guard wounded,” Kenney’s tweet read. “Canada will not be terrorized or intimidated.”

All of which was true. Every word.

But this is true, too: politicians aren’t the police. They should always leave the investigation of crimes to the police. They should always adhere to their clearly-defined constitutional role, and keep their lips zipped about what the police do (and vice-versa).

Canadians should be profoundly uncomfortable, therefore, that any politician would be speaking about these tragedies – or assigning motive, or telling us a soldier has been murdered – long before the police. That is not the way our system works.

As every school kid knows, our Constitution stipulates that the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches must operate separately. It’s all right there, in black and white, in parts three, four and five.

Messrs. Harper and Kenney’s insistence on breaking the news about the deaths of Vincent and Cirillo was unconstitutional, full stop. It also raises the unattractive possibility that, one, Harper and Kenney were willing to reduce two soldier’s tragic deaths to political talking points. And, two, that the Conservatives are willing to usurp the role of the police, if they see any political advantage in doing so.

If that’s the case, then we are piloting through some very dangerous waters, indeed.

The constitutional obligation of any Minister, any Prime Minister, is to (a) let the police do what they do, without interference (b) ensure that we have peace, order and good government – by ensuring that public opinion isn’t needlessly inflamed (c) resist the temptation to politicize something that should never be political.

By all accounts, Vincent and Cirillo were good men, and good soldiers. They bravely did their jobs.

Harper and Kenney should do theirs, and leave police work to the police.

Communications, job interviews, and Toronto’s mayoralty

If elections are just great big job interviews (and they are) then communications – how you communicate, when you communicate, what you communicate – ultimately determine whether you get the job or not.

There are exceptions to that, of course. (There are always exceptions in politics.)  In Toronto’s municipal campaign, there were three big things that affected the race.

• The New Democrat brand was in decline. In B.C., Nova Scotia, Ontario, New Brunswick, in federal by-elections: pretty much everywhere, these days, the NDP are struggling. That hurt Olivia Chow – the doyenne of the NDP – the most.

• Rob Ford (unexpectedly) went into rehab for two months, and then he (unexpectedly) came back. He raised hopes that Ford Nation would disappear, and then he dashed them. At that point, the election – which had always been a referendum on the Fords – became even more so. The anti-Ford coalition started looking for the candidate who could beat Ford(s), and not necessarily the best one.

• The biggest issue in Toronto is how to get around. As everyone who lives here knows too well, the city is a Hellish mess. No one with a brain believed that any one candidate had the solution – but they wanted to hear ideas about how to fix it. John Tory’s transit plan wasn’t a smart track, it was a laugh track: it promised to send heavy-rail trains on right turns through churches and homes. It had no way to pay for itself. It treated some parts of the city as more equal than others – and it reflected Tory’s core belief that white privilege doesn’t exist. But Tory at least talked about transit. The others didn’t, not nearly enough. And when they did get around to it, it was too late.

Those three big things aside, elections are – again – great big job interviews. They are all about communications.

For years, Tory was a serial loser mainly because he couldn’t communicate. Then, he got hired as a radio talk show host, and he spent four years learning how to communicate better.

He was a liar, of course. He donated thousands to the Fords, and defended them on his radio show, and then pretended he didn’t do either. He supported LRT, then reversed himself on it.  He said he had a Number One Priority that wasn’t. But John Tory was after redemption, and he figured he could easily beat the overweight crack addict and the Chinese socialist.

Doug Ford was – for Etobicoke and Scarborough, the boroughs where Ford Nation remains strong – the perfect candidate. He was the tough fiscal conservative, without the crack. He was bigger than life.  He was a maverick, and Toronto likes maverick mayors. But he came into the race too late. He would have won if he’d been Ford Nation’s candidate a lot sooner – because he is a much better communicator than John Tory.

He’s also a better communicator than Olivia Chow. But, really, who isn’t?

Our last memory of her, before she ran, was the stoic, dignified, quiet widow, standing beside Jack Layton’s casket. Then she disappeared into the maw of Ottawa, and nobody really saw her again until she ran for mayor.

She was the frontrunner, at the start, because voters thought she was still the woman they remembered from Jack’s funeral. But she wasn’t.  She’d changed.

She was, instead, an unremarkable person who couldn’t communicate her way out of a wet paper bag. She was hard to understand. She was dominated, easily, but the slick former radio host and the talking points machine.

She didn’t speak English at home, and that is what hurt her the most, in the end: in debates, in scrums, she always sounded like she was translating something from Chinese into English. It was fatal, in fact.

In a real election campaign, advertising can help a candidate overcome their inability to communicate well. But the Toronto mayoralty wasn’t a real campaign: it’s an unmitigated joke, with 60 debates, millions of voters, a province-sized area to cover – and only $1.5 million to do it all.

It can’t be done. You can’t effectively advertise, over that much time, with that many voters, with that ridiculously-small budget. Can’t be done.

So, you need to rely on the news media to cover those interminable debates, and show clips of you looking and sounding like a mayor. Olivia Chow, however, never looked or sounded like a mayor. She looked like what she was: an unremarkable person who struggled to communicate. Who was consistently dominated by her two main opponents. Who didn’t have a big idea to sell, who didn’t have a clear message.

She also, as I experienced personally, wasn’t a particularly nice person. She wasn’t likeable.

When she tossed me under the proverbial bus – for doing what we had all agreed we would do, which was point out the white privilege at the heart of John Tory’s main plank – she lied. She lied about me being one volunteer out of “thousands.” She lied about meeting with me – she had met me many times, and regularly, too (even at her house!). She lied.

Reporters knew it, and some voters sensed it. She looked like a stammering, yammering deer in the headlights. And a person who doesn’t tell the truth.

I’ve written a book about the need for progressives to work together to defeat conservatives. My involvement with Chow grew out of that – coupled with my desire to rid the city of Rob Ford.

I don’t really believe in that unite-the-left stuff, anymore. Olivia Chow beat it out of me. A lot of New Democrats, I’ve come to accept, believe winning the bronze is their lot in life. They’re almost uncomfortable with the idea of winning the gold. That certainly is the case with Chow, who looks more content in third place (as she is now) than being in first place (as she was at the start).

Communications. That’s what these things are all about. Tory and Ford could, Chow couldn’t. Simple.

What will the next four years be like? Gridlock, dithering, indecision, elitism, scandal, lies.

The usual, in other words.