Monday, April 07, 2008

Premier Brad Wall helped encourage participation in video; Sask. Party & media called for resignations over Hermanson cartoon, but not now

Premier Brad Wall & Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski in 1991 video

A double standard appears to have emerged in how the media has handled two separate incidents both of which were offensive.

On Oct. 13, 2003, when the Saskatchewan Party released e-mails containing a cartoon produced by the NDP depicting then-Saskatchewan Party Leader Elwin Hermanson as a military official checking a list and sending away “NDP sympathizers” in box cars, it wasn’t long before the party brass and media started calling for resignations – and lots of them.

Carlo Binda, a Regina consultant that drew the cartoon, and was acting manager of communications for the NDP election campaign, resigned the same day. He had believed the picture “would only be shared with a close circle of friends” and acknowledged it was “offensive” and “in bad taste.”

NDP Premier Lorne Calvert apologized to the Jewish community and he apologized to Hermanson. He apologized again, this time publicly, at a news conference on Oct. 14 in Saskatoon.

“It is entirely inappropriate that the Holocaust be trivialized, including in what some may see as a satirical drawing. It is equally inappropriate for Mr. Hermanson to be caricatured in this way even if it wasn’t intended for public consumption,” Calvert said. [NDP official resigns: Senior consultant steps down over cartoon (Leader-Post, Oct. 14, 2003)]

On Oct. 14 the Leader-Post reported that Dave Degenstein, a ministerial assistant to the minister of highways, was fired for an e-mail he circulated to NDP party members on Sept. 26 suggesting a drawing be made with implicit Holocaust references.

But Saskatchewan Party campaign chair Harry Meyers said the firing was not nearly enough. He wanted more senior government officials to be held accountable.

Meyers said Ed Tchorzewski, deputy chief of staff to the premier, and Mike Dalrymple, a ministerial assistant to the minister of community services, should resign or be fired for not putting a stop to the cartoon.

Meyers also said Judy Samuelson, cabinet secretary and executive council clerk, Craig Dotson, deputy minister, department of learning and Debi McEwen, manager of strategic communications, justice, should be held responsible.

“These people all need to either resign or Mr. Calvert has to ask for their resignation…if he doesn’t do that, then he’s every bit as guilty as the rest of this lot,” said Meyers.

“Nobody tried to stop this. Nobody said anything until they got caught,” said Meyers. “Our government is supposed to protect us from this kind of hateful material.” [NDP fires official for role in cartoon (Leader-Post, Oct. 15, 2003)]

Leader-Post columnist Murray Mandryk called it a “sorry and disgusting issue” and a “tastless and mean-spirited exercise.”

“And it speaks volumes that loyal New Democrat supporters would get on the open-line talk shows all day Tuesday to try and convince us that the cartoon was either no big deal or, far worse, that this kind of crap during an election campaign or any other time is somehow justifiable,” said Mandryk. [NDP campaign tank runs dry (StarPhoenix, Oct. 15, 2003)]

The StarPhoenix editorial board called the picture “offensive” and said “the mindset behind the creation of the cartoon should be of some concern to people. If nothing else, it demonstrates a lack of discipline within the party and an ability to learn from mistakes stretching back some years.”

“However sincere the premier’s apology and no matter how many other resignations are proffered by senior New Democrats who saw Binda’s puerile attempt at humour but failed to reprimand him, there’s no doubt the NDP campaign has suffered a body blow.” [Odious cartoon damages NDP (StarPhoenix, Oct. 15, 2003)]

The Leader-Post editorial board said the cartoon “defies belief” and that “there is no excuse for this repulsive act.”

“What is even more unbelievable is that such an act could involve anyone associated with a mainstream political party. Yet that’s what has happened.”

“The cartoon should never have been drawn. And anyone in the employ of the NDP who had anything to with the idea behind the cartoon or its circulation should resign,” said the board. [A shameful incident (Leader-Post, Oct. 15, 2003)]

By Oct. 16 Meyers was still calling for firings over the cartoon.

“It’s just unconscionable that senior people and all those other senior people…they all got that thing and not one of them stepped up to the plate and said ‘this is wrong, we shouldn’t be doing us,’ [sic] nobody said anything until they got caught,” said Meyers.

StarPhoenix columnist and ex-Conservative MP John Gormley said the cartoon “confirms a long held suspicion that some hard-core NDP supporters are into the politics of hate.”

“For these people, if you are their political opponent you’re not merely wrong, off-side or disagreeable but you are bad, evil and morally degenerate because you don’t share their viewpoint.

“This type of hate takes politics to a place it just doesn’t belong. It isn’t healthy to hate this much. And people who do cannot claim any moral legitimacy to govern,” said Gormely. (Cartoon exposes intolerance infecting NDP (StarPhoenix, Oct. 17, 2003)]

Now fast forward to April 3, 2008, when the Saskatchewan NDP released a scandalous 1991 Sask. Progressive Conservative videotape featuring Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski making hateful homophobic remarks and Premier Brad Wall disgusting slurs about former premier Roy Romanow’s ethnic background.

The NDP apparently found the tape, along with the camera used to record the incident, when it moved into its Opposition offices after losing the provincial election last fall.

Lukiwski and Wall’s offensive remarks were made during the 1991 provincial election campaign at a booze fuelled gathering at the Progressive Conservative headquarters. Lukiwski, at the time, was a provincial Tory organizer and Wall a ministerial assistant.

“Well, let me put it to you this way,” Lukwiski begins.

“There’s A’s and there’s B’s. The A’s are guys like me, the B’s are homosexual faggots with dirt on their fingernails that transmit diseases.”

Lukiwski apologized shortly after the tape was released.

“I just want to publicly say that I am truly, truly sorry. I’m ashamed for the comments,” Lukiwski told reporters in Ottawa.

With that the Conservative Party outrageously tried to say the issue was over.

“We believe that Mr. Lukiwski has made an unequivocal apology for those comments and indicated clearly that he does not hold those views,” Government House Leader Peter Van Loan said in a telephone interview. “We welcome that quick and unequivocal apology and consider the matter is now closed.”

As for Wall he is seen on the tape participating in a mock interview. His current executive director of communications, Kathy Young, is holding a paper cup like a microphone.

Wall takes aim at Roy Romanow, who was leader of the Saskatchewan NDP, imitating a farmer with a thick Eastern European accent. Romanow is of Ukrainian heritage.

“Roy Romanow’s got his head up his ass,” Wall says. “I don’t even know how he walks upright with his head so far up his ass.”

Wall offered an apology as well. He said he was only imitating one of his friend’s uncles and was in no way trying to offend Ukrainians.

Young, who also apologized, is involved in a joke about sending a letter bomb to a union leader – Barb Byers then the president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour.

“Clearly we were just joking and kidding around,” Young said.

Another unidentified person takes an offensive shot at Romanow and then-Liberal leader Lynda Haverstock when asked for his opinions on the campaign debate.

“I predict that Grant Devine will smash the living dog shit out of that spineless political playboy and kick the balls right off of the hard-headed slut Lynda,” the man says. [Tories stand by MP who made homophobic remarks (Toronto Star, Apr. 3, 2008)]

In the article The video that shocked (Leader-Post, Apr. 4, 2008) Van Loan said Lukiwski would not be disciplined by the government.

Incredibly, Wall said he didn’t remember the evening but knew from reviewing the video that he was doing an impression of a friend’s accented uncle. Go figure.

Wall said Lukiwski’s comments were “unacceptable” but didn’t say whether he should resign. Lukiwski is a former general manager of the Saskatchewan Party.

Young claimed she didn’t remember the evening either. [Groups speak out against tape’s hurtful comments (StarPhoenix, Apr. 4, 2008)]

Of course no one forgot to make sure that the tape was carefully packed away with the camera and stored at the Saskatchewan Party office for more than a decade. Just how many people viewed the tape during that time or knew of it remains unknown.

In the same article Ed Lysyk, president of the Saskatchewan branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, said Wall’s contention he was imitating someone else is no excuse and the tape is no laughing matter for the organization.

“Our position . . . has always been that we don’t approve of anybody mocking somebody on the basis of their ethnic identity. In Saskatchewan, people have come a long way in their fight against racism, discrimination and intolerance. We hope this represents the ignorant attitudes of 16 years ago that perhaps don’t exist today,” he said in a telephone interview from Saskatoon.

“We call them nation-builders in Saskatchewan, Romanow, Hnatyshyn, Sylvia Fedoruk, Stephen Worobetz, Justice Bayda. Ukrainians have built Saskatchewan.”

Nathan Seckinger, executive director of the GBLUR Centre for Sexuality and Gender at the University of Regina, said Lukiwski’s remarks are “very close to hate speech and shouldn’t be considered funny under any circumstances.”

When compared to the 2003 incident reaction to the video by the right leaning media in Regina and Saskatoon seems quite different. Noticeably absent are calls for multiple resignations and condemnation of those in charge at the time for failing to put a stop to it.

In a column for the StarPhoenix right wing talk radio host John Gormley’s advice for conservatives is “Don’t fool around with a video camera and then leave the embarrassing tape where it can be found by people who hate you.”

“Wall’s participation is fairly innocuous. Lukiwski has more to explain and apologize for,” Gormley said.

According to Gormley, Wall’s role in the “amateur hour debacle” was “very little.” If he’s guilty of anything it’s “bad acting, insulting ex-premier Romanow and offending people who have eastern European accents.”

Gormley actually tries to spin the shame for the disgusting video back onto the NDP by calling MLA Pat Atkinson “righteously indignant” for releasing it and for taking “apparent delight in throwing around the name of Premier Brad Wall as being associated with these excesses.”

He described Atkinson’s actions as “sleazy” and a “drive-by smear against Wall.” [Tasteless tape sparks tacky outrage (StarPhoenix, Apr. 4, 2008)]

Gormley says he’s known Wall since he was a kid in high-school.

Well, the tape is evidence that Wall does not seem to be the person Gormley thinks he is. In fact, at one point in the video Wall helped encourage someone to participate saying “Filmed for posterity so please look at the camera.”

In 2003 Gormley called the Hermanson cartoon “politics of hate” and said those involved “cannot claim any moral legitimacy to govern.” It appears Gormley does not feel that the video made by his fellow conservative friends in 1991 deserves the same treatment.

Leader-Post columnist Murray Mandryk seems to think that only one person should walk the plank over the incident.

“Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre MP Tom Lukiwski needs to do the honourable thing and resign,” said Mandryk.

As for Wall, Mandryk is content to let him off the hook chalking up his offensive conduct as “frat-boy behaviour,” a “minor indiscretion,” and “political correctness gone awry” that was “boorish and childish.”

No doubt there are groups out there that would argue otherwise and find Mandryk’s words insulting and.

To his credit Mandryk does say that Saskatchewan Federation of Labour former president Barb Byers and Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union former president George Rosenau are owed “big apologies” as does former Lieutenant-Governor Lynda Haverstock. [Lukiwski's only option to resign (StarPhoenix, Apr. 4, 2008)]

But apparently Mandryk won’t go so far as to say that anyone else involved that still belong to the party or are in government should resign.

In 2003 Mandryk blasted loyal New Democrat supporters for trying to convince people that the Hermanson cartoon was “no big deal” and “that this kind of crap…is somehow justifiable.”

Where is Mandryk to call loyal conservative supporters on the carpet for doing the very same thing now with the videotape?

The StarPhoenix editorial Contrite words don't make up for harm caused (StarPhoenix, Apr. 5, 2008) focuses mainly on Lukiwski and mentions Wall only once as if an afterthought.

The editorial board called Lukiwski’s remarks on the tape “vile” and “hateful” but wouldn’t use the word resign to suggest what his next step should be:

“The apology might be enough for the Conservative party, but it shouldn’t be enough for either Lukiwski or the province he purports to represent,” the board said.

“If Lukiwski is sincere in his contrition for the shame he has brought to his home province, his first order of business should be to give the people of Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre an opportunity to choose a new representative.”

The Leader-Post editorial board topped that by saying Lukiwski should only “consider” resigning his seat to seek re-election.

Like the StarPhoenix, the Leader-Post let Wall skate with hardly a mention. [Let voters judge (Leader-Post, Apr. 5, 2008)]

Neither newspaper said that anyone else should resign or be fired. All that seems to be required in this case are apologies.

In 2003 the StarPhoenix accused senior New Democrats that saw Binda’s cartoon of failing to reprimand him and the Leader-Post said “What is even more unbelievable is that such an act could involve anyone associated with a mainstream political party” and that “anyone in the employ of the NDP who had anything to with the idea behind the cartoon or its circulation should resign.”

Yet in 2008 the same sentiment is absent. Nobody said anything until they got caught.

Among the most interesting, useful and insightful comments about the videotape are those from Bernard Schissel, a sociology professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

In the story Comments offensive at any time: professor (Leader-Post, Apr. 5, 2008) Schissel said societal attitudes haven’t changed since 1991, making the scandalous comments made by two Saskatchewan politicians just as disturbing now as they would have been 17 years ago.

“The values back then are the values now,” said Schissel.

“We just don’t like to see anyone in positions of leadership engage in that kind of conduct because it influences. It influences young people. They’re held up as sort of the standards for conduct and to do that back then or now, I think, is just bad form.”

Schissel explained that despite the years in between, Lukiwski’s comments in the video would have been just as offensive back in 1991 as they are now, because people’s values and attitudes towards diversity have not changed. The sociologist believes both men’s comments are equally offensive.

“The strong language that Lukiwski used probably makes it more offensive to people. But when you imitate someone’s ethnicity and disparage them because of their ethnicity, I don’t know what the line between racism and homophobia is but in my opinion they’re both offensive behaviours,” said Schissel.

“You’re demeaning people on the basis of who they are and that’s unacceptable in terms of our Charter for sure and our standards of good conduct.”

Age is not an excuse for such comments by Wall, added Schissel, explaining a person’s value system is basically set by the time they’re 25 and will usually carry those core beliefs for the rest of their lives.

Wall was nearly 26 years-old at the time the video was made and Lukiwski was 40. Case closed.

Speaking of core beliefs the one person that seems to understand this important concept is Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president Larry Hubich.

In the article Videotape exposes Sask. Party ‘anti-union attitude’: Hubich (StarPhoenix, Apr. 5, 2008) the labour leader said comments on the video speak to the Sask. Party government having an “anti-union attitude” as a core belief.

On the video shot inside PC headquarters during the 1991 provincial election, campaign worker Kathy Young makes joking remarks about sending death threats to union leaders of the day.

Young is now the Sask. Party government’s executive director of communications.

“Although this incident happened years ago, we can see the connection between those attitudes and the government’s actions today,” Hubich said at a news conference on Apr. 5.

On John Gormley’s radio show in 2005 Brad Wall made it clear that his party would take on unions by “going to war” with them.

As premier in Dec. 2007 Wall kept that promise when his new government introduced two pieces of anti-labour legislation. Wall’s core beliefs on that subject remain intact.

Then there are the core beliefs of the columnists and editors at the StarPhoenix and Leader-Post and their owner CanWest Global. Its flagship newspaper the National Post twice endorsed Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper for Prime Minister. It endorsed Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory for premier in that province’s Oct. 10, 2007, election and were elated when the Brad Wall-led right-wing Saskatchewan Party was elected on November 7, 2007.

Lukiwski’s comments were too nasty to ignore but as for Wall the media seem to be bending over backwards to downplay his role in the scandal and are doing their level best to give him as much of a free pass as possible without seeming obvious. It took the Sask. Party ten long years to get into power. The conservative dailies in Saskatchewan clearly don’t want to see that jeopardized.

Click here for transcript of videotape.