Tag Archives: CBC

So this is the way it would end

5 May

MP JULIAN FANTINO’s softer side was seldom portrayed in media coverage of his often-stoic, no-nonsense campaign. Vaughan Today photographer Agnes Ramos captured this moment as Fantino campaigned door to door in Woodbridge.

The federal election just past is one for the history books. What started out as an expensive exercise no political party seemed willing to take responsibility for spawning — not to mention having no readily apparent aim, drive or direction — ended up rewriting the electoral map in Canada.

It was not without its drama, either. Not insignificant were some garish examples of major media outlets (CBC with the bogus Conservatives-fleeing-Fantino-camp tale in Vaughan; the Toronto Sun with its tawdry story masquerading as a Jack Layton exposé in Toronto) that blurred the lines between reporting and activism.

As it turned out, neither of the stories had much beyond the accusatory headlines, and neither Julian Fantino nor Layton were any the worse for wear in the end. In fact, Fantino won the Vaughan riding with a whopping 56.3 percent of the vote, and became part of the story of the night on Monday as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives rolled to their first majority. Layton survived to lead a breathtaking orange onslaught that vaulted the NDP into the position of official Opposition.

The adage that all politics is local didn’t hold true any better here than it did in most ridings across Canada. Incumbent Conservatives Fantino and, in Thornhill, Peter Kent were no doubt buoyed by the Blue Wave that swept 167 seats into the Harper fold. And their respective Liberal challengers, Mario Ferri and Dr. Karen Mock, surely lost ground on two fronts they could not possibly have fought: the national apathy toward the Liberal party and the impossible late-campaign NDP surge that impacted races everywhere.

The NDP phenomenon ballooned the perennially third-place party’s take to 102 seats, delivering a plethora of unlikely MPs in ridings across Canada. It was particularly felt in Quebec where it decimated the Bloc Quebecois, leaving that separatist party with a mere four seats.

In Vaughan, it manifested itself in no-show NDP candidate Mark Pratt collecting an astonishing 7,950 votes. Not bad for a media-shy candidate who provided no contact information, put in no appearances, posted no election signs and handed out no literature! In Thornhill, Simon Strelchik finished a distant third, as he did in 2008, but this time he almost doubled his vote count, getting 7,106.

So what lessons did we learn from the exercise? Beyond the obvious one that pistol-whipped Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe learned about being careful what you wish for, that is!

The once-proud Liberal party, complete with its understood divine right to rule, was reduced to a mere shadow of itself (34 seats). Its lock on the riding of Vaughan, which Fantino first broke in a narrow November byelection victory, is clearly a thing of the past. Perhaps Ignatieff did the right thing in stepping down after the drubbing his party took on Monday night (and losing his own seat in the process), but to blame him for the result is to give no credit to the parties that did win.

I did not sense, based on the couple of stops he made in Vaughan, that Ignatieff was doing such a terrible job connecting with the people. Ferri and Mock were both credible candidates, and the faithful who turned out to the rallies I dropped in on were as vibrant and enthusiastic as you’d expect from a Liberal crowd. I don’t see the result of this election, then, being a matter of the people saying no to one party and its message as much as it was saying yes to another.

The Conservatives succeeded in selling their message, plain and simple.

Harper showed nowhere near the social flair of an Ignatieff (or Layton) at campaign stops. Where other leaders blew into town pumped, in a party mood and ready to get down with the people, Harper made an entrance. And though he didn’t whip the faithful into a giddy frenzy, from his mouth flowed streams of flawless data that, even in the absence of resonance, seemed to compute.

Fantino very much reflected his party’s stoic image. While the media and the public alike looked to see more personality, what we saw for the most part was absolute focus on what he deemed to be priorities. Like his party in general, he soldiered on with his message and would not be sidetracked by grenades lobbed at him or barbs from a media that wasn’t always private in its discomfort with his rigid personality.

Nonetheless, I found the sheer efficiency of the Conservative campaign admirable, even if I was not a fan of its austerity. We won’t know now whether Ignatieff as prime minister would have created a kinder, gentler climate, but I wouldn’t argue very enthusiastically that Harper is not, of those available, the best CEO we could have chosen to run the business of the country.

The NDP didn’t exactly come from nowhere to supplant the Liberals as the official Opposition. Under Layton’s dynamic leadership they were going to be players anyway, even in third place. Where their fortunes turned, though, was in the French-language leaders debate. Quebec voters have traditionally gone after carrots en masse. Layton, who is no stranger to charm or to fantastic promises, was able to articulate it well enough in French to dazzle the electorate right out from under Duceppe, whose own promises were not going to be coming to pass any time soon.

And then the Greens won a seat, with party leader Elizabeth May finally finding a province, a riding and an occasion that was just enough this side of impossible to win.

Yes indeed, it’s been one for the history books. I can’t imagine what kind of story would have to develop to see the fall provincial election in Ontario top that!

— Dan Hoddinott

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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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