BC Liberals

C of C head suffers annoyance and anger

REPLAY, first posted Sept.15, 2011

This piece below from months ago came to mind when I thought about certain prominent reporters who are travelling this week. According to Bill Good, it’s their way of learning concerns from around the province. An example of keeping one’s ear to the ground, no doubt.

Mind you, it’s a rather limited survey of issues and people since they’re on another paid appearance before the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce AGM, an event not open to ordinary citizens.

The issue is obvious. When paid appearances by journalists depend on goodwill of the province’s businesses, that brings into question the bias, or lack of bias, in their regular work.

Within the article you’ll find words that need no change, including these:

It was widely known that Bill Good, Vaughn Palmer and Keith Baldrey had taken their “Edge of the Ledge” silliness on the road, not to high schools and universities but to well financed industry events of proponents that happened to be at the centre of public controversies over issues such as independent power production, fish farming and HST.

When taking aim at individuals on this blog, I try to avoid false assertions. Readers may argue with my analyses and opinions but I intend those to be based on verifiable data. In comments, fairly wide range is allowed because readers know to be wary of mostly anonymous statements. However, I block contributions that are indefensibly crude or libellous.

Public figures are due minimal protection from justified disrespect, for obvious reasons. If a person chooses to be in the public eye, they can hardly expect absolute privacy although judgement and denunciations should relate only to public lives and public business, not private.

I don’t want my efforts or opinions to be readily tossed aside by thoughtful and reasonably objective people so that means extensive research and consideration goes into what I write. Usually, anyway.

Lately, I’ve written harsh criticism of certain journalists and it’s been too easy. Yet I have terrific respect for the profession. I cry to see it so abused in the these days of corporate managers focused more on  economic performance than on quality journalism and public interest. Passion and idealistic vision are too often absent. In this quote from my article Truth is not subjective, Mark Heisler, pushed out of the LA Times after 32 years, gives a picture of newspapers in modern times:

…it was harder to work there daily, as if Someone Up There was saying, “You’re lucky you’re still here—and here’s what else you’ll have to do to stay.”

Of course, that Someone Up There had Someone Even Higher, telling him the same thing.

Unfortunately, compromising what we did was so entrenched as a way of life, we barely remembered things were ever different, while learning we would be making new, bigger compromises.

In this day and age, a corporation troubled by examination seldom plans to have the brass stand before the public to be accountable. No, they hire fixers and PR people. The first to ask the highest levels of media companies for shielding and the second to organize spin campaigns.

I don’t know the full extent of compromises demanded of journalists in B.C today but I hear stories of them being substantial. With a tame media serving mostly puffball inquiries, the business hierarchy has grown soft and overly sensitive.

Many years ago, I knew an industrialist whose organization had come under scrutiny of broadcasters and the press. Senior executives feared the questions that were inevitable but no one thought to call a publisher or the manager of a broadcast “cluster” to have the examination stopped or controlled. Management knew the media was not an ally there to promote business, it was a formidable agent of public interest, hungry to expose wrongdoing.

In 2011, when a business leader is asked an uncomfortable question, he suffers annoyance and anger. How dare such a question be asked!

Here is a sample from my experience this week.

It was widely known that Bill Good, Vaughn Palmer and Keith Baldrey had taken their “Edge of the Ledge” silliness on the road, not to high schools and universities but to well financed industry events of proponents that happened to be at the centre of public controversies over issues such as independent power production, fish farming and HST. Since I planned to connect the BC Chamber of Commerce with this roadshow, I thought I’d seek a reaction from John Winter, CEO of the C of C. Here is the email exchange with no content edited:

N. Farrell to J. Winter, Sept 13, 2:01 pm

Do you agree there is a potential conflict of interest involved when professional journalists receive fees and expenses for appearances at closed meetings of the Chamber of Commerce? I have in mind examples such as Bill Good, Vaughn Palmer and Keith Baldrey attending the 2008 and 2011 AGMs of your organization.

J. Winter to N .Farrell, Sept 13, 9:30 pm

No conflict. These journalists/commentators have been a part of our Annual Conference for several years to help us understand the political landscape. We are an advocacy organization and our efforts are enhanced (we hope) by the insight they provide. And by the way, not all of those you name are paid to appear. And, they appeared in 2009 and 2010 Conferences as well. Hope this helps.

N. Farrell to J. Winter, Sept 13, 10:30 pm

If you offer a categorical statement that Good, Baldrey and Palmer are not remunerated for appearing at Chamber of Commerce events by the Chamber or a sponsor, I would be happy to publish your statement at Northern Insights.

J. Winter to N. Farrell, Sept 14, 8:08 am

Please don’t publish anything of mine. Most journalists of a reputable nature would have identified themselves at the outset. You will not be hearing from me again.


N. Farrell to J. Winter, Sept 14, 9:24 am

I look forward to hearing from you again. Look at my earlier messages. The ID is exactly the same on each; you have not been blindsided or treated unfairly. I have not quoted you publicly and even gave you opportunity to consider and clarify what you were saying to me.

Your response now seems a little strange. How have I treated you inappropriately by doing no more than politely posing a question?

Mr. Winter claims I should have identified myself at the outset. This is the look of my first email to him. I did not misrepresent myself in any way.

19 replies »

  1. It appears on the face of this that the only annoyance for this person was the fact that he failed to read the email correctly.
    But true to the nature of the elite crowd how can he be responsible for any of that?


  2. This is another excellent post, Norm; I'm actually floored by it. I too remember a time when it was taken for granted that journalists served the public interest and officials, industry captains, etc., expected to be scrutinized and held to account. That just seemed the Natural Order of Things. It was a healthy tension and like many I was complacent in the belief that it would always be that way.

    The past few years have been a horrible wake-up call. Still, I sense that people everywhere ARE waking up. It cannot happen too fast.

    Mr. Winter's response to your queries is a good example of just how far things have declined. You were civil and your questions are fair. His first response seems evasive. His “final” response is unreasonable and doesn't reflect particularly well on him.

    When public figures offer this type of answer to queries red flags immediately go up. That was where journalists used to enter the picture. But not anymore, it seems.

    Scrutiny and holding to account has devolved mostly onto unpaid private citizens, and it entails a lot of work.

    I thank you and your fellow bloggers, Norm, for the work you do.


  3. ” Most journalists of a reputable nature ” I hope he's not referring to the likes of Baldrey etc.
    Keep it up Norm…. your reputation is excellent.

    Guy in Victoria


  4. Actually Dan, it seems to me that he did NOT want to answer any questions. I think he read the email just fine, he was just pissed off that someone would have the nerve to question him on the subject.


  5. Ohmygod! I told something to a journalist that we're not paying money to! I thought I was just PR-spinning to some random unimportant plebe, not someone doing investigative reporting!


  6. A person of “reputable nature” wouldn't have to worry about what story he was telling or to what audience. He would just tell the truth straight up every time and wouldn't have to worry about it. I wonder why Mr. Winter has to worry about who he is talking to?


  7. I wonder what Mr. Winter wants to hide, obviously by his demeanor, he is hiding something.

    Maybe he is trying to hide “cash” deals”, which because of the HST has become common at all levels of society?

    Maybe he is hiding the fact that journalists and even entire radio stations can be bought and sold like a penny stock?

    Maybe he is just hiding the fact that the BC Chamber of Commerce is cheap and don't pay at all? Mmmmmmmmmmmm – no I doubt that, they seemed to have deep pockets for the HST vote.


  8. When seeking comments for publication, it is standard practice to identify yourself and your publication.

    When approaching people via email, I always identify myself in the opening sentence: “I write a human-interest column for the B.C. edition of the Globe and Mail…,” or “I am preparing an article for TheTyee.ca, an online magazine based in Vancouver …”

    I suggest bloggers should adopt the same practice out of courtesy and fairness. It will also avoid misunderstandings. You cannot expect the people you are contacting to be familiar with your blog, or its name, or your own, no matter how many readers you have. Nor can you expect them to click on a link. As we demand transparency of others, so must we exhibit it ourselves.


  9. A good practice and a good suggestion although I believe that Mr. Winter's responses should be frank, clear and respectful for any question posed about topics of public interest. The answers should be the same, whether answering an interested citizen or a person involved in traditional journalism.

    “For traditional media to avoid irrelevance…” journalists need to accept that habits of the audience have changed. So do spin masters like John Winter. People that want to influence the public on behalf of their paymasters had better learn to deal with the changed audience. Global, Postmedia and Corus may have been pleasantly captive conveyors of bafflegab but the world of information distribution has changed. The Fraser Institute can pump out their formulaic crap and Postmedia can publish it uncritically but they will speak to an ever reducing choir.


  10. I think there are many BC people who realize, the media are a disgrace to their professions. How can the citizens, not see the bias? It's in our faces obvious that, the media has not given the BC people any support what-so-ever.

    I have not one lick of respect for the media. I have canceled my newspapers, and I never watch the news on TV anymore. The Campbell/Clark BC Liberals blatantly lie. The media supports their lies, and spread them all over the provinces and the country. The BC media are the worst in all of Canada. They have no credibility left.


  11. Norm,
    Calling a spade a spade or quite frankly being honest and on the up&up are not what people like the Winters and Goods of this world are use to. Their days are filled by spin, lies and deception.
    My take on his response is that is was so far out of his realm, the truth you were seeking, that he was simply at a loss. Pathetic!
    Great post Norm!
    Don F.


  12. Umm!

    It seems to me the key to this little conundrum lies in Winter's categorization of his little group as being in the business of advocacy.

    What seems strange is the idea that 'journalists' (I use the term loosely) who agree to provide 'help to understand the political landscape' would be willing to do so in a forum that's closed to the public.

    Mr Winter seems upset that his 'advocacy' group might get caught out for paying 'working journalists'; or at least that seems the reason behind the abrupt end of your communication with him.

    I'm actually more troubled that he somehow thinks it's appropriate to be soliciting free (or paid) ADVICE from so called impartial members of the fourth estate in a forum from which the public (and presumably other professional journalists) are being excluded.

    To me, his abrupt sign-off to you, Norman, indicated he's somehow 'ashamed' of being frank – something he apparently is not prepared to do 'on the record'.

    As Tom Hawthorn notes, this may be tantamount to 'gotcha' journalism – but, given the current state of the media in this country, I think it may be time for a little more of that and a little less of the kind of 'noblesse oblige' that constitutes relationships between the Ledge Guys and groups like the Chamber.

    I like Tom Hawthorn's pleasant memoir pieces about people and places – but they lack the kind of hard-hitting analysis the public sorely needs in the current climate.

    Keep it up Norm – only people who have something to hide are afraid of going 'on the record'.


  13. Fair enough Anon8:51;

    On the face of it if you look at the screen capture of what Norm sent along it clearly states who he is and clearly has his web site link provided below the text. For myself this is satisfactory identification T.Hawthorn’s observations notwithstanding….

    It seems to me in the responses listed, Winter does not realize who he is communicating with until such time as he is asked for a statement be published. If one looks at the timeline of the emails all communication stops after the evening of the thirteenth, until early on the fourteenth, which would have given the respondent time to review the file and have a look at this web site. It is then that the second terse response is received.

    For myself I always have a good look at emails previous to sending a response. I am, presuming this but I don’t believe Winter looked closely enough at who he was communicating with. So instead of taking responsibility for his lack of thoroughness he attempts to shift the blame by stating;

    “Most journalists of a reputable nature would have identified themselves at the outset”

    In a weak attempt to shame the writer. The response that comes to mind immediately is;

    “Most professional people read letters in detail previous to sending a response.”

    Reading and comprehension……apparently one of the shortcomings of this business professional.


  14. Thanks for comments here. G. West is correct to state,
    “I'm actually more troubled that he somehow thinks it's appropriate to be soliciting free (or paid) ADVICE from so called impartial members of the fourth estate in a forum from which the public (and presumably other professional journalists) are being excluded.

    However, the prime onus is on putative journalists to avoid compromising their professionalism. The Chamber supported Campbell's Liberals and continues to support Clark's government. Actions of the Chamber demonstrate them to be highly partisan in favour of one party in the Legislature and most journalists or commentators claiming independence would not take remuneration from them in situations lacking transparency. Presumably journalists wouldn't take payments directly from the Liberal Party, (nor should they from the Liberal Government, although some have) and they should not take payments from Liberal proxies.


  15. Precisely correct Norman – and I think that's why Mr Winter was so irate when you asked him if he'd go on the record.

    As for the 'standards' of the three principals in your example?

    Really, what more needs to be said: Birds of a feather flock together.


  16. Chambers of Commerce used to worry about how to help the town survive not how to beat it out of tax dollars. A healthy town meant a healthy business, good wages meant spending money. This is why I have been known to boycott CFIB stores. If the sign Canadian federation of independant business sign is on the door tell them you do not support their aim to cut wages, benefits, pensions and whatever else their customers need to live.


  17. When the fight BC HST was on, some businesses took the C.O.C. membership signs, out of their windows. Businesses realized, people were far more important, than the C.O.C. could ever be. What did the C.O.C. do for the businesses, that were forced to close their doors because of the HST? We just had two more stores that closed.

    The C.O.C just hasn't caught on….when citizens have their money thieved by corrupt politicians, we can't support any businesses. And, it's getting worse. People who never thought they would never have to use the Food Banks, are now depending on them. Hydro, heat, MSPBC, ICBC, food costs, gasoline, everything has had another round of taxes placed on them. The C.O.C. has no logistics, what-so-ever. No money, no spending.

    I fail to see what good the C.O.C. is?


  18. The Chamber of Commerce of British Columbia, the provincial body, is no friend to small business. It is an instrument of the largest companies and they have a tight relationship with the Liberal Government.

    CoC promised that consumers would benefit from HST through lower prices. They did not.

    Now, CoC promises that consumers will suffer through elimination of HST. They will.

    It's the coin tossing game: Heads they win, tails you lose.


  19. If John Winter and his corporate mates want some insight into the political landscape, why don’t they just pick up a newspaper, listen to the radio, or watch television? Good, Palmer and Baldrey are advertised as providing that insight to the public aren’t they? Why isn’t their normal “work” not good enough for the Chamber?

    What Winter seems to be saying is that the three amigos have special political insight for the Chamber that they won’t share with the public and it’s so special it’s worth paying for year after year. I believe the Chamber represents and is headed by smarter business minds than that.

    I also believe it’s clear the three amigos and far too many of their journalistic peers are the ones receiving the message. And it shows.


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