StarPhoenix says no to letter critical of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada; think tanks receive special treatment
“Democracy cannot be maintained without its foundation: free public opinion and free discussion throughout the nation of all matters affecting the state within the limits set by the criminal code and the common law.”On Dec. 6 a viewpoint critical of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada, was submitted to The StarPhoenix for consideration of publication.
– The Supreme Court of
, 1938. Canada
The letter was in response to the Dec. 5 anti-coalition editorial Gov. Gen. Jean made best choice from ugly options and focuses on comments that Harper, then the Opposition leader, made in Sept. 2004, when he floated the idea of defeating the Liberal minority government with the help of the Bloc Quebecois and New Democratic Party of Canada.
At the time, the Liberals held 135 seats, the Conservatives 99, the Bloc 54 and the NDP 19, with one Independent member.
The piece also discusses an inflammatory email that was sent by the Conservative’s on Dec. 3.
On Dec. 12, an editor with The StarPhoenix advised that the viewpoint would not be published. The reason:
“Most of the points you are making in this proposed viewpoint have been made by other commentators and letter writers since this mess began to unfold. While it’s your style to carefully document dates and times of certain speeches or opinion pieces presented by someone over the years and then to use that person’s latest utterances as a demonstration of their perfidy, it does happen that people change their minds or are, especially in politics, forced to back track on earlier positions simply to survive - to wit, Harper and the Senate appointments.
“While you have every right to comment on contradictory positions taken by public figures, I don’t have the space to devote to this minute examinations and parsing of positions while people deluge us with letters pertaining to the same thing during breaking news events.
“By all means, send in your comments in a 250 word letter and I’ll be happy to consider it. As for the last viewpoint, sorry. It’s a no go.”
A search of The StarPhoenix archives from Nov. 28 to Dec. 12 shows that approximately 76 letters to the editor were published. Only one mentioned the 2004 agreement between the Harper Conservatives, the Bloc and NDP, but then only briefly. During the same time period 13 editorials were published, but none raised the issue. Just two articles, Harper on the attack (Dec. 3) and PM buys time (Dec. 4) seem to broach the subject, but only in passing, providing no meaningful details. None of the articles talked about the nasty email and its contents. The excuse that the points made have already been covered by others appears to be weak at best.
Viewpoints from average, everyday
The newspaper generally publishes viewpoints on Thursday and Friday. A search of The StarPhoenix archives for those two days from Nov. 13 to Dec. 12 shows there were approximately 61 editorials, columns and viewpoints published. Of those, how many do you think were from run-of-the-mill Saskatonians? Try none. The closest appears to have been a Nov. 28 piece by a retired economist for the provincial government.
The breakdown of the 61 items is as follows:
13 – Editorials from other CanWest newspapers
10 – Editorials
5 – Murray Mandryk, Leader-Post political columnist
5 – Doug Cuthand, StarPhoenix columnist
5 – Gerry Klein, StarPhoenix columnist
3 – Manning Centre for Building Democracy
3 – Frontier Centre for Public Policy
1 – Don Martin, National Post columnist
1 – Barbara Yaffe, Vancouver Sun columnist
1 – Lee Harding, Canadian Taxpayers Federation
1 – Larry Hill, Canadian Wheat Board Chair
1 – David Orchard, federal Liberal candidate in
1 – Dr. Alan Casson,
1 – Dave Pettigrew, IBM Canada Ltd. (
1 – Marvin M. Bernstein, Saskatchewan Children’s Advocate Office
1 – Kashif Ahmed, Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations
1 – Will Bauer, Canadian
1 – Joe Jeerakathil, retired economist for the provincial government
The StarPhoenix policy for viewpoints is that they must be no more than 750 words and, as is the case with letters, people are discouraged from writing more than one a month. The rules are supposed to apply to everyone including think tanks and academics.
However, in the 30-day period from Nov. 13 to Dec. 12 the newspaper published a total of 10 viewpoints from three right-wing, free market think tanks headquartered in other provinces: Canada West Foundation (
The word count for viewpoints by the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, IBM Canada Ltd. (
This isn’t a recent phenomenon. When it comes to think tanks The StarPhoenix appears to have been ignoring its viewpoint policy for nearly two years.
In 2007, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy had approximately 19 viewpoints published. That number has risen to 23 so far in 2008.
The Canada West Foundation had approximately 27 viewpoints published in 2007, and has about 24 so far in 2008.
By rights both organizations should be allowed only 12 viewpoints per year, but instead The StarPhoenix seems to be granting them twice that.
Relatively new is the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, founded in 2005, that has had eight viewpoints published in 2008. Five of these exceeded the 750 word limit, with two surpassing 900.
All three think tanks are run by people with conservative political roots.
Peter Holle, the president of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, was a senior policy analyst in Grant Devine’s Tory government where he was closely involved with regulatory reform and the privatization of government services and assets. [
Holle is currently a director of Civitas, a secretive organization that brings together people with an interest in conservative, classical liberal and libertarian ideas. He also serves as a member of the council of advisors to the Manning Centre, which includes former Saskatchewan Party Leader Elwin Hermanson, Conservative Industry Minister Tony Clement and former Ontario Progressive Conservative Party president Tom Long.
Roger Gibbins is the president & CEO of the Canada West Foundation. Previous to that he was a professor of political science at the
In 1991, Gibbins was an adviser to Constitutional Affairs Minister Joe Clark in Brian Mulroney’s Tory government. [
Preston Manning needs no introduction. He was the only leader of the Reform Party of Canada, which evolved into the Canadian Alliance.
The StarPhoenix claims to receive more letters and viewpoints from local residents than it can publish, but seems to have more than enough space available to satisfy the needs of lobby groups and out-of-province conservative think tanks.
As George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”
It should be noted that The StarPhoenix is owned by CanWest Publishing Inc., a subsidiary of CanWest Global Communications Inc. The private company’s flagship daily, The National Post, has endorsed Conservative Leader Stephen Harper for prime minister in three straight elections. It also supported Tories Mike Harris and John Tory for premier in
The following is the viewpoint (686-words) that was submitted to The StarPhoenix on Dec. 6, 2008:
The editorial Gov. Gen. Jean made best choice from ugly options (SP, Dec. 5) failed to mention the hypocrisy of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s appalling decision to shut down Parliament to avoid certain defeat in a confidence vote.
On Sept. 9, 2004, Harper, then the Opposition leader, held a joint news conference with NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Quebecois chief Gilles Duceppe to outline plans they said would make Parliament more democratic and give the combined opposition far more clout that has been traditional.
Harper warned the Conservatives could vote against the Liberal minority government if its throne speech didn’t serve Canadians well.
“It is the Parliament that’s supposed to run the country, not just the largest party and the single leader of that party,” Harper said in a National Post story the following day.
The trio had sent a letter to then-governor-general Adrienne Clarkson requesting that she turn to them if Paul Martin’s newly elected government were defeated in the Commons.
“We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority,” the letter stated.
In the Globe and Mail on Sept. 14, 2004, Harper is quoted as saying “We’re acting as the majority… We do represent the majority of the population both in
Later, in an interview with Montreal Le Devoir, Harper said he was under no obligation to co-operate with Mr. Martin’s minority government and would bring it down if it’s in the interests of the country.
“I will give my caucus a mandate to vote in the interests of the country,” Harper said in a Sept. 30, 2004, Canadian Press Newswire story.
“If that means defeating the government, then that’s what will happen.”
Harper said that he wanted the Parliament to work, “but our constitutional role as the official opposition is to be ready to replace this government.”
“The reality is that [Mr. Martin] is in a minority situation, and his government has to create a functional majority (in Parliament).”
Referring to the letter sent to Clarkson, Harper said “The Governor General does not have to follow the prime minister’s wishes… She must ensure that [Mr. Martin] has the House’s confidence, that’s all.”
Harper met with Clarkson on Sept. 28, 2004. Now, four years later, he is hypocritically railing against the very system he once touted and was prepared to take advantage of.
On Dec. 3 the Conservative Party of Canada sent an inflammatory email across the country with the subject line ‘Stand Up for
The Conservatives said the coalition was “an attack on
The Conservatives are trying to sell the public a false view of how our system of government works. They did not “win” the recent election. What the Conservatives in fact won was a minority of seats in the House of Commons, 143 out of 308.
Our system of government, known as “responsible government”, means that for a minority to hold office it must enjoy the confidence of the majority of the House. The Harper government does not have this.
Saskatchewan Conservative politicians aren’t helping the situation either.
Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar MP Kelly Block, who avoided all debates during the election, said the “separatist coalition” are “attempting to overturn the results of the last election” while Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, who was in hiding for much of it, said they are trying to “steal” them.
In reality, what has been inexplicably stolen from Canadians is its Parliamentary system, and for that we have Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada to thank.