No F in ‘CBC’, but one in ‘Fail’

14 Apr

Vaughan MP Julian Fantino at a recent media scrum in Woodbridge. CBC reporters sourced local activists to advance a story suggesting impropriety about VHCC funding caused Conservative departures.

That’s not Igg the CBC has on its face today, though a mindless story it hurled onto the Web on Wednesday, suggesting resignations from the Conservative riding association here were based on impropriety by Vaughan incumbent Julian Fantino, moved along the viral trail all the way up to Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who found the lure irresistible.

That’s egg, and it drips rather well, considering they got suckered by a combination of activist zeal and questionable journalism.

But enough about them. The story is a problem for Vaughan’s image — more so than for Fantino’s, I would wager — because it presented the national media with the something-smarmy-in-Vaughan-politics story they expected to find in this campaign. And given the viral nature of the Internet, and some media outlets’ desire to grab and repeat rather than produce original content, away it went.

The story named two prominent community activists — Richard Lorello and Tracey Kent — who told the reporters they resigned from the riding association due to moral outrage about who may stand to get their hands on some of the $10 million in federal funds Fantino attracted for the Vaughan Health Campus of Care project.

Well, actually, Kent had already resigned, due to a self-confessed conflict about Fantino accepting the endorsement of former Liberal rival Tony Genco. At least a week earlier I was in receipt of her “open letter” of resignation (which seems to be the popular way of bowing out around here this year).

“Due to the recent undertaking with Liberal Tony Genco, I can no longer be a member of the Vaughan Conservative Association,” she said in the letter, dated simply April 2011. “My values do not shift overnight, nor can be compromised. So it was with great disappointment to see my own riding association and representative, take advantage of a man who is clearly in personal distress about his true values, and use it for political spin.”

The CBC story failed to point out that both the subjects and the primary sources for the story are, in fact, the same activists who happen to be intimately engaged and very publicly active in keeping watch over who is doing what in regards to the development of a new hospital in Vaughan. They are not impartial witnesses. Anyone with a Twitter account and a #vaughan hash tag — or a Vaughan driveway that receives weekly Metroland drops — would have known that those sources have vested interests.

Lorello takes issue with the fact that two men connected with the VHCC — Michael DeGasperis and Sam Ciccolini — also worked as fundraisers for Fantino’s successful byelection run in November. That’s fair. A resignation in the absence of wrongdoing having yet occurred strikes me as a little extreme, but I get his point.

However, at the time of the funding announcement Fantino was up front with Vaughan Today reporter Tristan Carter, and I presume other news outlets that contacted him, about it being earmarked for VHCC infrastructure, and not the hospital itself. And as far as I’m concerned, finding out now that he has had dealings with people involved in the project is not the same as having made a breathtaking discovery of some new racket going down. What are we expected to do — insist that a medical development we’ve desparately needed be put on hold until we can elect a politician who can both a) attract government funding, and b) demonstrate that he has had no previous associations with any of the players involved in the development?

Vaughan has a formidable army of watchdogs who can follow the money. Lorello is not the least among them. In fact, he might even be the best. He has the tools, the drive and the understanding to hold people accountable. And he exhibits a willingness to be held accountable for anything he says and does himself. I have every confidence that he could follow the $10 million from start to finish, knowing all the while whether the rules are followed, and if the plans and schedules are on target. (Or, if they’re off, by precisely how much!)

That Fantino has had relationship with persons connected to projects for which he has just attracted government funding is not a news story. Not for us. Not for the CBC. Not for the Toronto Star. It is simply the way the process works — here and everywhere else, regardless of the riding, regardless of who the Member of Parliament may be and regardless of which party happens to be in power. Perhaps Lorello was quick to blow the whistle, because no wrongdoing has taken place merely on the basis of the funding having arrived. It’s when the money starts to disappear, or when nothing has appeared by the project’s due date, that you have a problem.

That the CBC has taken this story, spun it oddly and deceptively, and run with it — all the way to Ignatieff — disappoints me greatly. It is especially disconcerting in light of their inability to get either Mario Ferri, who is the local Liberal candidate in this race, or MPP Greg Sorbara (also a Liberal) to even mention any perceived impropriety in their comments.

The recklessness continued today. I cringed when I saw how they exposed a potential prime minister (Ignatieff) by soliciting comment on a thin story he could not possibly validate on the spot. Unlike Fantino, who had handed them their hats, Ignatieff took the bait.

“The fact that someone resigned from his inner campaign circle indicates, you know, real doubts within the Conservative camp as to the appropriateness of this bit of government largesse to help a Conservative candidate,” Ignatieff responded, as one might expect, to a CBC reporter.

You didn’t know Vaughan was so readily on the minds of the nation’s leaders, did you? I would expect that, until Fantino’s name was invoked in the leaders’ debate on Tuesday night, the CBC didn’t, either.

I am affronted both as a citizen of Vaughan and on a professional level. In spite of the optics, though, this may not be an agenda-driven story. It could very well be just a matter of lazy reporters not bothering to dig beyond the easy source. In fact, if I had to make a call based on examining the story as evidence, I would lean toward sloppy reporting being the genesis. But in journalism, laziness is as lethal as venom.

The one word I can reach for without effort to summarize the CBC job is this: Fail.

— Dan Hoddinott

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One Response to “No F in ‘CBC’, but one in ‘Fail’”

  1. ed April 25, 2011 at 9:49 PM #

    VHCC a not-for-profit run by known developers & known campaign supporters for Fantino just received $10mil of taxpayer money!!! This is a CONFLICT OF INTEREST, if this goes on all the time then we need to change the system entirely because it’s not right!

    It’s not a stretch to be suspicious of some of that money going back to Fantino to support his current campaign, or that DeGasperous will get a more than healthy profit when VHCC hires his company to develope the land.
    ..Leave a Reply

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