Transcript: Allan Gregg on Politics, Media and the Public Good | Apr 14, 2001

The Parliament of Canada is shown at night. Canadian flags flutter in the wind and bells chime.

Then, a slate with two Doric columns reads "Alan Gregg. 'Politics, media and the public good: A cautionary tale.'"

[applause]

Alan Gregg stands behind a wooden lectern on a tiny stage and addresses an audience. A banner on the lectern reads "Carleton University." Alan is in his late forties, with short brown hair and a goatee. He's wearing a gray tweed coat and a black tee.

He says THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
AS PLEASED AS I AM
TO BE HERE TODAY
AND TO BE BACK IN OTTAWA,
I HAVE TO CONFESS
THAT THIS TIME OF YEAR
THE MIND OFTEN DRIFTS
TO MOST THE SUBLIME OF
PASTIMES; NAMELY, GOLF.
AND THAT, IN FACT,
WHEN I WAS WORKING
ON THESE REMARKS, I KEPT
ON THINKING OF A STORY
I'D HEARD SOME TIME
AGO WHILE A STUDENT
AT CARLETON ABOUT YOUNG
MAN, VERY EARNEST,
WORKING ON HIS GAME AT
THIS TIME OF YEAR
BEFORE THE GOLF COURSE
OPENED WOULD GO OUT
AND HIT BALLS ON
THE SHORT PAR 3,
8TH HOLE ON HIS
COURSE.
AND ABOUT FOUR BALLS IN,
HIGH ARCING SHOT WITH
A 7-IRON, BOUNCED ONCE
RIGHT INTO THE HOLE.
THOUGHT THIS WAS A
WONDERFUL OMEN
FOR THE SEASON TO COME,
SO HE SCAMPERED DOWN,
RETRIEVED THE BALL.
AS HE PULLED IT OUT OF THE
HOLE AN APPARITION APPEARED
AND ANNOUNCED THAT THIS
WAS THE GENIE OF GOLF
AND ANY WISH WAS
HIS COMMAND.
NOW AS I SAID, THIS FELLOW
WAS VERY EARNEST AND
WELL MEANING AND HE THOUGHT THAT
THIS WAS A REAL OPPORTUNITY,
A CHANCE TO REALLY
MAKE A DIFFERENCE
IF HE COULD HAVE
ANY WISH GRANTED.
AND SO HE ASKED THE GENIE
IF IT WAS ALL RIGHT.
HE DIDN'T WANT TO
MAKE AN IMPERTINENT
OR EXTEMPORANEOUS REQUEST
BUT HAD TO THINK.
HE WANTED 24 HOURS.
THE GENIE SAID,
NO PROBLEM.
YOU KNOW WHAT
THE ROUTINE IS.
JUST COME BACK, HIT
THE BALL IN THE HOLE,
AND WE'LL START
THIS AGAIN.
SO THE NEXT DAY AT
THE CRACK OF DAWN,
VERY ANXIOUSLY HE CAME,
AND IT TOOK HIM
A LOT LONGER TIME, HIS
HANDS WERE BLISTERED.
BUT FINALLY ANOTHER HIGH ARCING
SHOT BOUNCED INTO THE HOLE.
HE RUSHED DOWN, PULLED IT
OUT AND THE GENIE APPEARED.
THE FELLOW PULLED FROM HIS
BACK POCKET A MAP AND SAID,
GENIE, HE SAYS, I DON'T HOW
MUCH YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS,
BUT HE SAYS, BUT THIS -
THIS RIGHT HERE IS ISRAEL
AND THIS IS SYRIA AND
THE GOLAN HEIGHTS,
DOWN HERE IS YEMEN.
HE SAYS, THIS ENTIRE AREA
IS A CAULDRON OF RELIGIOUS,
ETHNIC TENSION AND HATRED,
AND IT'S JUST A SHAME AND
FOR MY WISH I WANT PEACE
IN THE MIDDLE EAST.
AND THE GENII KIND OF
FURROWED HIS BROW
AND HE SAID,
WELL, HE SAYS,
I GUESS I DIDN'T
MAKE MYSELF CLEAR.
PEOPLE WHEN
THEY COME HERE,
THEY USUALLY ASK FOR
A MILLION DOLLARS OR
CADILLACS OR, HE SAYS,
I CAN'T, YOU KNOW,
CHANGE THE FACE
OF GEOPOLITICS.
YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE TO
ASK FOR SOMETHING ELSE.
WELL, HE SAID, I HAD MY
HEART SET ON PEACE
IN THE MIDDLE EAST HERE
AND I HAVEN'T THOUGHT
OF ANYTHING ELSE.
COULD I HAVE
ANOTHER 24 HOURS?
NEEDLESS TO SAY, IT WAS
GRANTED AGAIN AND
THE ROUTINE REPEATED ITSELF
AND THE GENIE APPEARED
AND SAID, I AM THE
GENIE OF GOLF.
WHAT IS YOUR
WISH NOW?
HE SAID, WELL, I
THOUGHT ABOUT IT.
I WANTED PEACE IN THE MIDDLE
EAST BUT I'VE DECIDED
INSTEAD I WOULD LIKE TO BE
A REALLY WELL-RESPECTED
POLITICIAN WHOSE
ACCOMPLISHMENTS
WERE LAUDED BY
THE PRESS.
THE GENIE LOOKED
AT HIM AND SAID,
GIVE ME BACK THE MAP
OF THE MIDDLE EAST.

[laughter]

Allan continues THE STORY ACTUALLY DID HAVE
A BEARING ON THE RATHER
SMALL TOPIC I'VE CHOSEN
TODAY: POLITICS,
THE PRESS, AND THE
PUBLIC GOOD.
BECAUSE THERE'S NO QUESTION
THAT OVER THE LAST
TWO DECADES WE HAVE SEEN A
WHOLESALE LOSS OF FAITH
IN TRADITIONAL AUTHORITY
IN THIS COUNTRY.
WHILE THE TENDENCY HAS
LAID VICTIM THE LEADERS
OF ALL INSTITUTIONS, FROM
ORGANIZED RELIGION,
TO LABOUR, TO BIG BUSINESS,
NOWHERE HAS THE LAST
TWO DECADES OF DEFIANCE
BEEN MORE PROFOUND
THAN IN THE SPHERE
OF POLITICS.
A SHORT TIME, 17
YEARS AGO, IN 1984,
A STUDY WE DID SHOWED THAT
58 PERCENT OF CANADIANS
HAD AT LEAST A SOMEWHAT,
IF NOT FAVOURABLE,
RATING OF POLITICIANS.
TODAY, MORE PEOPLE BELIEVE
THAT ELVIS IS STILL ALIVE
THAN HOLD POSITIVE VIEWS
OF ELECTED OFFICIALS.
THAT CHANGE, WHILE KIND
OF FUNNY ON THE SURFACE,
HAS RADICALLY ALTERED
CANADIAN POLITICAL CULTURE.
IN FACT, DEFERENCE
TO AUTHORITY,
COUPLED WITH THE PRAGMATIC
APPRECIATION OF THE ROLE
OF GOVERNMENT IN THE
ECONOMY, BUSINESS SECTOR AND
IN EVERYDAY LIFE HAVE BEEN
PUT FORWARD AS PROBABLY
TWO OF THE MOST
DISTINGUISHING HALLMARKS
OF CANADIAN IDENTITY.
FROM OUR COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY
FOUNDING
TO OUR LAW-LED SETTLEMENT
OF THE CANADIAN FRONTIER,
TO SOME OF THE MOST
FUNDAMENTAL INSTITUTIONS
AND POLICIES THAT
HAVE DISTINGUISHED
OUR COUNTRY, ESPECIALLY
IN COUNTERPOINT
TO THE UNITED STATES,
FROM MEDICARE TO THE CBC.
THESE HAVE ALL BEEN
ATTRIBUTED TO OR SEEN
TO HAVE GROWN OUT OF THESE
PARTICULAR UNIQUE TENDENCIES.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Allan Gregg. Politics, Media and the Public Good."

Allan continues INDEED, THE MOST
DISTINGUISHABLE ATTRIBUTE
OF OUR POLITICAL SYSTEM;
NAMELY, AN INDIGENOUS,
LEGITIMATE, DEMOCRATIC
SOCIALIST MOVEMENT IN
A RED TORY TRADITION, BOTH
OF WHICH EMPHASIZED
THE PRIMACY OF THE COLLECTIVITY
OVER THE INDIVIDUAL,
HAVE ALSO BEEN CITED AS
MANIFESTATIONS OF THESE
SAME TWIN CHARACTERS
OF CANADIAN CULTURE.
AND IF YOU NEED ANY
FURTHER EVIDENCE
OF THE VALUE CANADIANS
HAVE PLACED ON STABILITY,
OR THE FAITH WE HAVE VESTED
IN AUTHORITY TO MAINTAIN
CIVIL SOCIETY, LOOK NO
FURTHER THAN THE FACT
THAT THE SINGLE MOST POPULAR
INITIATIVE BROUGHT FORWARD
BY GOVERNMENTS IN THIS
COUNTRY IN MODERN TIMES
WAS NOT ENSHRINING THE
CHARTER OF RIGHTS,
OR EVEN WRESTLING
THE DEFICIT DOWN,
BUT WAS THE IMPLEMENTATION
OF THE WAR MEASURES ACT.
IN THE SHORT PERIOD BETWEEN
OCTOBER 1970 AND NOVEMBER 1980,
THE POPULARITY OF
THE ENCUMBERED LIBERAL
GOVERNMENT AT THE TIME JUMPED
19 POINTS, FROM 39 PERCENT
TO 58 PERCENT, AS AN
EXPRESSION OF THE SUPPORT
OF WHAT AT THE END
OF DAY AMOUNTED TO
THE COMPLETE ABROGATION
OF CIVIL LIBERTIES.
BUT IT WAS IN THE
NAME OF STABILITY.
SO THERE'S A STRONG CASE TO
BE MADE THAT THE LOSS OF FAITH
IN AUTHORITY ACTUALLY
HAS BEEN MORE ACUTE
IN CANADA AND CONSEQUENTLY
THAT IT HAS ALTERED
OUR OUTLOOK IN A MORE
PROFOUND WAY THAN ELSEWHERE.
THAT CONCLUSION,
HOWEVER, IS NOT NEW.
IT HAS BEEN
NOTED ELSEWHERE.
LESS FREQUENTLY
ASKED, HOWEVER,
IS THE OBVIOUS QUESTION OF
HOW DID THIS COME ABOUT?
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
WHERE DID THIS LOSS OF
FAITH EMANATE FROM?
BASICALLY, THE RESEARCH
THAT WE'VE CONDUCTED OVER
THE YEARS SUGGESTS THAT THAT
BREAKDOWN IN THE TRUST
OF AUTHORITY HAS AT ITS ROOT
A GROWING SENSE AMONG
THE PUBLIC THAT TRIED AND
TRUE SOLUTIONS INCREASINGLY
WERE SEEN NOT TO BE
WORKING IN MODERN TIMES.
CANADIANS CAME TO
THAT CONCLUSION,
NOT AS A CONSEQUENCE OF A
SHIFT IN IDEOLOGICAL OUTLOOK,
BUT AS A PRAGMATIC
RESPONSE TO THE EVIDENCE
THEY SAW AROUND THEM;
NAMELY, THAT OLD SOLUTIONS
WERE BEING APPLIED
AT THE SAME TIME
THAT PROBLEMS EITHER
ENDURED OR WORSENED.
AND WHERE THAT
CONTRADICTION BECAME
MOST PRONOUNCED WAS IN
THE CLASH BETWEEN,
ON ONE HAND
POST-WAR VALUES,
AND ON THE OTHER
SOMETHING WE COULD CALL
A PRE-MILLENNIAL
EXPERIENCE.
THE DOMINANT ETHOS OF
THE POST-WAR PERIOD,
THE POST-SECOND
WORLD WAR PERIOD,
BASICALLY REVOLVED AROUND
A WIDESPREAD SENSE
THAT PROGRESS WAS NORMAL.
THE NEXT HOUSE
WAS TO BE BIGGER,
THE NEXT CAR WAS
TO BE FASTER,
THE NEXT PAYCHEQUE
WAS TO BE FATTER.
THAT GENERAL SENSE WAS
ACCOMPANIED BY AN ENTIRE
AND INTRICATELY WOVEN
SET OF VALUES THAT
LED CANADIANS TO AGREE
TO PROPOSITIONS SUCH AS
IF YOU WORK HARD AND
PUT YOUR MIND TO IT,
YOU CAN BE ANYTHING YOU
WANT IN THIS COUNTRY.
MY CHILDREN HAVE THE RIGHT
TO EXPECT MORE THAN I HAD
WHEN I WAS GROWING UP.
A GOOD EDUCATION IS THE KEY
TO SUCCESS IN THE FUTURE.
IN THE 1970s THROUGH
BACK TO THE 1950s,
WE HAD UPWARDS OF 95 PERCENT
OF CANADIANS AGREEING
TO PROPOSITIONS
LIKE THAT.
BASICALLY BELIEVING THAT
PROGRESS WAS INEVITABLE
AND IMMUTABLE.
AND THE VERY FACT THAT
THESE VALUES WERE SO
UNIVERSALLY HELD PROPELLED
US FORWARD AND BRED A STABLE,
CIVIL CULTURE, FOR THE
ACCOMPANYING CONCLUSION
WAS THAT ALL PROBLEMS
COULD BE OVERCOME;
IF NOT ALONE BY
MYSELF, THEN CERTAINLY
AS A COLLECTIVE AND MOST
CERTAINLY WHEN ASSISTED
BY GOVERNMENT.
THIS INGRAINED SET OF
BELIEFS WAS CHALLENGED
INITIALLY IN THE LATE
1970s AS INFLATION
FOR THE FIRST TIME BEGAN
TO ERODE REAL INCOME.
AT THAT POINT IN TIME,
CANADIANS WEREN'T ABLE
TO IDENTIFY AND
ARTICULATE PROBLEMS.
THEY DIDN'T BELIEVE
THAT THEY DIDN'T EXIST.
THEY SAW THEM THERE, BUT
THEY VIEWED THESE PROBLEMS
ESSENTIALLY AS ABERRATIONS
AND IMMINENTLY SOLVABLE.
PROBLEMS THAT WE NEED NOT
HAVE AND PROBLEMS THAT
COULD BE DONE AWAY WITH.
BY THE 1980s, THAT CONFLICT
BETWEEN THOSE BELIEFS
AND THE EXPERIENCE WAS
HEIGHTENED AND EXAGGERATED
BY THE STAGNATION OF THAT
DECADE WHEN CANADIANS
WITNESSED A MORE
ACTIVIST GOVERNMENT,
BUT SAW PROBLEMS NOT ONLY
PERSIST BUT NOW WORSEN.
THE ACCUMULATION OF
GOVERNMENT DEFICITS,
THE UNWORKABILITY OF
GOVERNMENT DERIVED
SOLUTIONS LED CANADIANS
INCREASINGLY TO CONCLUDE
THAT THEIR EXPECTATIONS FOR
PROGRESS WERE NOW
FOR THE FIRST TIME GOING
TO HAVE TO BE DELAYED,
NOT ABANDONED,
BUT DELAYED.
IT WOULD TAKE LONGER
TO ACHIEVE PROGRESS.
FINALLY, BY THE 1990s,
WE SAW SOMETHING
COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.
WE WITNESSED THE EVOLUTION
OF A CEMENTING DESPAIR,
A DEEPENING SENSE THAT
OPPORTUNITIES WERE ACTUALLY
DIMINISHING FOR MANY AT THE
VERY SAME TIME THAT WE WERE
EXPERIENCING UNPRECEDENTED
POVERTY - I'M SORRY,
UNPRECEDENTED PROSPERITY.
INDEED, AT THE VERY POINT
WHEN WE HAD UNPRECEDENTED
NUMBERS OF CANADIANS
DESCRIBING THE ECONOMY
IN POSITIVE TERMS, THEY
WERE ALSO IDENTIFYING
A GROWING GAP BETWEEN
HAVES AND HAVE-NOTS.
THAT WHILE PROSPERITY
WAS CLEARLY AVAILABLE,
IT WAS NOT BEING
SHARED EQUALLY
BY ALL SEGMENTS
OF SOCIETY.
THIS EXPERIENCE
CONTRADICTED AND CHALLENGED
THE DOMINANT
POST-WAR ETHOS.
AT THE SAME TIME IT ALSO
ALTERED THE POPULATION'S
VIEWS OF THE ARCHITECTS
OF THE STATUS QUO.
AND FINALLY, IT LED TO THE
REJECTION OF SOLUTIONS
WHICH HAD BEEN APPLIED
TO MOUNTING PROBLEMS
AS BARRIERS TO INEXORABLE
PROGRESS INCREASINGLY
WERE SEEN TO BE
PERMANENT.
AND SO IN PARALLEL,
CANADIANS CAME TO ACCUMULATE
A SET OF CONCLUSIONS
ABOUT GOVERNMENT,
POLITICIANS,
AND POLICIES
OVER THE PERIOD OF THE
LAST TWO DECADES.
IN THE 1970s, THE VIEW WAS
THAT IT WAS GOVERNMENT'S
PASSIVITY THAT LEFT THEM
UNABLE TO GUARANTEE PROGRESS.
CANADIANS CONTINUED TO
BELIEVE THAT GOVERNMENTS
HAD THE POWER AND WHEREWITHAL
TO SOLVE PROBLEMS,
BUT INCREASINGLY FAILED TO
SHARE THE PUBLIC'S
PRIORITIES AND
THEREFORE LEFT PROBLEMS
UNATTENDED TO
GROW EVEN LARGER.
BY THE 1980s, THAT VIEW HAD
MUTATED TO A BELIEF
THAT GOVERNMENTS WERE SEEN
NO LONGER TO BE PASSIVELY,
BUT NOW ACTIVELY
CONTRIBUTING TO THE
POPULATION'S FAILED
EXPECTATIONS AS A RESULT
OF STEADFASTLY CLINGING
TO SOLUTIONS LONG AFTER
THE PUBLIC HAD REJECTED
THEM AS UNWORKABLE.
AND THEN IN THE 1990s, WE
SAW WHOLESALE LEAP AGAIN
AS GOVERNMENTS CAME TO BE SEEN
AS THE ACTUAL PERPETRATORS
OF INEQUITIES AND
DIMINISHED OPPORTUNITIES
BY PURSUING AN AGENDA AND
POLICIES THAT EMPHASIZED
THE ECONOMY AT THE EXPENSE
OF THE SOCIAL SAFETY NET
INEVITABLY BENEFITING
THE FEW OVER THE MANY.
AS A RESULT OF THE PRESENCE
OF ESCALATING BARRIERS
TO THE ATTAINMENT OF PROGRESS,
AND THE ATTENDANT CASCADING
DECLINE IN THE PERCEIVED
EFFECTIVENESS OF THOSE
WHO PRESIDED OVER THE
SHRINKING OPPORTUNITIES,
TRADITIONAL AUTHORITY
FIGURES AND POLITICIANS
IN PARTICULAR BECAME
PART OF THE PROBLEM
AND FOR MANY BECAME THE
ENTIRE PROBLEM ITSELF.
IN THE END, BY
THE YEAR 2000,
GOVERNMENTS AND POLITICIANS
HAD BECOME PERILOUSLY CLOSE
TO BECOMING
IRRELEVANT FOR HALVES
AND SEEN AS ANTAGONISTICS
BY HAVE-NOTS.
AND EVEN IF YOU
BUY THAT ANALYSIS,
IT STILL BEGS ANOTHER
INEVITABLE QUESTION.
WHY SHOULD WE EVEN
CARE ABOUT THIS?
WHO REALLY WANTS AT
THE END OF THE DAY
TO RETURN TO THE BAD OLD TIMES
OF EXCESSIVE GOVERNMENT
INTERVENTION AND
DECISION MAKING
BY ELITE ACCOMMODATION?
QUESTIONS CONTINUE,
ARE WE NOT BETTER OFF?
MORE EFFICACIOUS?
SELF-RELIANT?
LESS DELUDED BY COMING TO
THE REALIZATION THAT WE
HAD MISPLACED OUR FAITH IN
AUTHORITY AND INSTEAD BEGAN
TURNING TO A NEW-FOUND
RELIANCE ON OURSELVES?
THAT'S NOT ONLY A SIMPLE
CONCLUSION TO REACH,
IT IS THE NATURAL
CONCLUSION AND BYPRODUCT
OF THE VERY LOSS OF FAITH OF
WHICH I HAVE BEEN DISCUSSING.
IF YOU HAVE NO
FAITH IN AUTHORITY,
THE LOSS OF RELEVANCE IS
REALLY NO LOSS AT ALL.
INDEED, THAT IS THE ANSWER
IF THE QUESTION IS POSED
MERELY IN A VACUUM WITH
LITTLE CONSIDERATION
FOR THE LARGER
SOCIETAL IMPLICATIONS
OF HOLDING THESE VIEWS.
PUT IN A BROADER CONTEXT,
THE INESCAPABLE FACT
IS THAT WHEN POLITICS AND
POLITICIANS BECOME IRRELEVANT,
OR SEEN AS A
NEGATIVE FORCE IN SOCIETY,
WE WEAKEN THE VERY
FOUNDATIONS OF DEMOCRACY.
TO CLAIM THIS DOES NOT MEAN
OR PLACE DEMOCRACY
IN THE NARROW CONFINES OF
VOTING OR MERELY CHOOSING
POLITICIANS TO
SERVE PUBLIC OFFICE,
BUT RELATES TO THE HIGHER
RATIONALE OF WHY WE GO
THROUGH THIS EXERCISE
IN THE FIRST PLACE.
PERHAPS AMERICAN PASTOR AND
THEOLOGIAN REINHOLD NIEBUHR
MADE THE POINT BEST WHEN HE
SAID: MAN'S CAPACITY
FOR JUSTICE MAKES
DEMOCRACY POSSIBLE,
BUT HIS INCLINATION
TO INJUSTICE
MAKES DEMOCRACY
NECESSARY.
WHEN WE PUT ASIDE OUR
FASHIONABLE CYNICISM AND
TAKE A STEP BACK AND ASK WHY
WE ENTER INTO CIVIL SOCIETY,
WHY WE INSIST ON
THE RIGHT OF DEMOCRATIC
FRANCHISE, AND WHY WE PLACE
OUR TRUST IN RULES,
ORDER, AND YES
INVARIABLY POLITICS,
IT BECOMES CLEAR THAT
THE STAKES IN THE GAME
WE ARE PLAYING
ARE VERY HIGH.
THIS PERSPECTIVE WHILE
SEEMINGLY TOO HIGH-MINDED
FOR SOME MODERN
SENSIBILITIES,
STARTS WITH A
NUMBER OF PREMISES:
FIRST, THAT THE BASIC
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN
THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE STATE
BEGINS WITH THE PRINCIPLE
THAT IN ORDER TO ESTABLISH
A FRAMEWORK WHERE ALL
HAVE THE ABILITY TO
EXERCISE CERTAIN RIGHTS,
THE CITIZEN MUST GIVE UP
SOME OF HIS UNBRIDLED FREEDOM.
WE DO THIS OUT OF THE
BELIEF THAT COLLECTIVE
STABILITY IS MORE
VALUED THAN UNBRIDLED
INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM.
AND BEFORE THIS
INSULTS ANYONE,
LET ME REMIND YOU THAT
WE TACITLY ENDORSE THIS
PROPOSITION OF GIVING UP
OUR FREEDOM EVERY DAY
IN OUR OBEDIENCE TO THE
LAWS WHICH EMANATE
FROM OUR POLITICAL
SYSTEM.
IN NATURE, IN THE
ABSENCE OF THE STATE,
WE ALL HAVE THE COMPLETE
UNFETTERED RIGHT TO DRIVE
OUR CARS AS FAST AS WE
WANT, ANYWHERE WE WANT.
WE CHOOSE TO GIVE
UP THAT RIGHT,
TO STOP AT STOP SIGNS AND
TAKE MUCH LONGER TO GET
OUR DESTINATION IN ORDER
TO HAVE SAFE STREETS,
STABLE SOCIETY,
AND CIVIC CULTURE.
SECONDLY, THAT WE TASK
DELEGATES AND THROUGH
THE DEMOCRATIC FRANCHISE
ENTRUST THEM TO SET
A BALANCE BETWEEN FREEDOM
AND OUR RIGHTS ON ONE HAND
AND ORDER AND STABILITY
ON THE OTHER.
OFFSETTING THIS
GRANT, HOWEVER,
WE RESERVE THE RIGHT TO
WITHDRAW THIS TRUST
IF THERE IS ANY EVIDENCE
THAT IT'S BEING ABUSED
OR THAT THE BALANCE WE
SEEK IS BEING JEOPARDIZED.
INDEED, OUR ABILITY AND
WILLINGNESS TO WITHDRAW
THIS TRUST IS AS INHERENT A
PART OF THE DEMOCRATIC PACT
WE STRIKE, AS IS THE
GRANTING OF THE TRUST
IN THE FIRST PLACE.
INDEED THE REASON FOR THIS
CHECK ON THE POWER OF THE STATE
AND OUR DELEGATES IS AS
PROFOUNDLY IMPORTANT
TO THE PRESERVATION OF THE
FREEDOMS THAT WE EXCHANGE
FOR ORDER; NAMELY, IN THE
SAME WAY THAT DEMOCRACIES
THAT WE HAVE DEMOCRACIES
TO PROTECT THE RIGHTS
OF THE FEW FROM THE
INJUSTICES OF THE MANY,
SO TOO WE REMAIN THE RIGHT
TO REVOLT BECAUSE THE CAPACITY
OF THE STATE TO
DO EVIL IS EQUAL
TO ITS CAPACITY
TO DO GOOD.
THIS IS NOT JUDGMENTAL,
BUT A CENTRAL FEATURE
OF THE POLITICAL PROCESS
AND ALL POLITICAL SYSTEMS.
RICK VAN LOON TAUGHT ME THAT
OUT OF THE POLITICAL SYSTEM
FLOWS THE ABILITY TO
AUTHORITATIVELY ALLOCATE
SCARCE RESOURCES, TO HELP THOSE
WHO CANNOT HELP THEMSELVES,
BUT ALSO TO DENY THAT WHICH
IS RIGHTFULLY EARNED.
THE POLITICAL SYSTEM
UNIQUELY ALSO ENJOYS
THE ONLY MONOPOLY ON THE
LEGITIMATE USE OF VIOLENCE,
THE ABILITY TO SERVE AND
PROTECT THE SAFETY
OF THE MAJORITY FROM THE
LAWLESSNESS OF THE MINORITY,
BUT ALSO, ON THE
OTHER SIDE, TO ENSLAVE,
IMPRISON, AND ULTIMATELY
EVEN TO EXTINGUISH THOSE
WHO MIGHT BE LEGITIMATELY
EXERCISING THEIR RIGHT
TO REVOLT WITHIN
THE RULE OF LAW.
AND IN OUR SYSTEM, IN A
PARLIAMENTARY DEMOCRACY,
FOR GOOD OR ILL IN THE END,
PARLIAMENT IS SUPREME.
PARLIAMENT CAN MAKE MEN
WOMEN IF IT SO CHOOSES,
SUCH IS ITS POWER.
THE POWER WE GRANT OUR
ELECTED OFFICIALS THEREFORE
IS A NECESSARY PREREQUISITE
AND CORNERSTONE
OF CIVIL SOCIETY, BUT AT
ONE AND THE SAME TIME,
IT CLEARLY IS FAR
TOO DANGEROUS,
POWERFUL AND IMPORTANT TO
BE LEFT WITHOUT VIGIL.
CONSEQUENTLY IN THE CONTEXT
OF THE ENTIRE DEBATE
OVER CYNICISM TOWARDS
THE POLITICAL PROCESS,
WE MUST ASK OURSELVES NOT
MERELY WHETHER OUR LEADERS
ARE HONEST OR DISHONEST,
OR CAPABLE OR INCAPABLE,
OR TRUSTWORTHY OR
UNTRUSTWORTHY,
BUT MUCH MORE IMPORTANT,
CAN WE AFFORD TO IGNORE
OR UNCRITICALLY DISDAIN THOSE
WHO WIELD THIS POWER.
EVEN MORE FUNDAMENTALLY,
ARE WE DOING EVERYTHING WE CAN
TO ENSURE THAT THOSE WE
ELECT ARE THE MOST HONEST,
THE MOST CAPABLE, THE
MOST COMPASSIONATE
THAT SOCIETY HAS TO OFFER.
AND WHERE DOES THE VIGIL
COME FROM IN THE MODERN STATE?
THE PRESS.
NOW I KNOW IT'S EQUALLY
FASHIONABLE TO BE CYNICAL
AND NEGATIVE
ABOUT THE PRESS.
RECENT RESEARCH WE ARE
CONDUCTING ON BEHALF
OF THE CANADIAN
JOURNALISM FOUNDATION
MADE THIS CYNICISM
ABUNDANTLY CLEAR.
DURING A SERIES OF FOCUS
GROUPS CONDUCTED ACROSS
THE COUNTRY WITH VOTERS,
THE BILE DIRECTED
TOWARDS THE MEDIA WAS
VIRTUALLY PALPABLE.
ALLEGATIONS OF SUCCESSIVE
SENSATIONALISM, BIAS,
AND SUPERFICIALITY WERE THE
NORM AND FOUND VOICE
IN ALL SEGMENTS OF SOCIETY
AND ACROSS ALL REGIONS
OF THE COUNTRY.
BUT THEN WE DID A VERY
INTERESTING THING.
WE INJECTED A HIGHLY
IMPROBABLE AND HYPOTHETICAL
PROPOSITION INTO THESE
DISCUSSION GROUPS.
WE ASKED VERY SIMPLY TO
THESE HOSTILE NEGATIVE PEOPLE.
WHAT WOULD YOUR WORLD
BE LIKE IF THERE WAS
NO MEDIA OR NEWS?
WELL THE CHANGE IN
THE TONE, TEMPER,
AND DEMEANOR IN THE
DISCUSSION WAS ELECTRIC
AND IMMEDIATE.
THE CYNICISM, THE
VITRIOL DISSIPATED.
THERE WAS SOLEMNITY
OVER THE ROOM.
PEOPLE SAID THINGS,
USED WORDS LIKE, WELL,
WE WOULD BE ISOLATED,
WOULDN'T WE?
WE WOULD BE VULNERABLE.
HOW WOULD WE EVER FIND OUT
IF THINGS WERE BAD FOR US,
FOR OUR HEALTH,
FOR OUR CHILDREN?
WE WOULD BE IGNORANT,
WOULDN'T WE?
AND MOST IMPORTANTLY,
WE WOULD NOT BE FREE.
OUR RIGHTS COULD BE
TRAMPLED BY THE POWERFUL.
WHAT BECAME CLEAR WAS
THAT BENEATH THIS SURFACE
CYNICISM ABOUT THE MEDIA,
THERE WAS A DEEP AND
PROFOUND APPRECIATION OF
ITS ROLE AND ITS IMPORTANCE
IN ARMING THE PUBLIC
WITH THE TOOLS THEY NEED
TO PROTECT THEMSELVES.
AND EVEN MORE
FUNDAMENTALLY,
THE TOOLS THEY NEED
TO FUNCTION
AS CITIZENS
WITHIN SOCIETY.
AS THE DISCUSSIONS
PROGRESSED,
IT BECAME APPARENT THAT
THESE RESPONDENTS ACTUALLY
HAD A DEEP AND ABIDING
UNDERSTANDING OF THE ESSENTIAL
RATIONALE OF WHY
WE HAVE A FREE PRESS
AND WERE ABLE TO ARTICULATE
THOSE REASONS WHY
IN JEFFERSONIAN-LIKE TONES.
THEY WERE ABLE TO
ARTICULATE FOUR DISTINCT
BENEFITS THAT INDIVIDUALS
IN SOCIETY EQUALLY SHARED
AS A RESULT OF A FREE
AND FUNCTIONING PRESS.
THE FIRST THEY IDENTIFIED
WAS THE UTILITARIAN PURPOSE,
BELIEVING THAT
THE PRESS SATISFIES
INTELLECTUAL CURIOSITY
AND PROVIDES KNOWLEDGE
THAT CAN BE CAPITALIZED
FOR PRACTICAL PURPOSE.
IT LETS ME FIND
OUT THINGS.
IT ALLOWS ME TO
DO THINGS.
IT ALLOWS ME TO
DO IT BETTER.
THE SECOND WAS A
WATCHDOG FUNCTION.
A BELIEF THAT THE PRESS
KEEPS GOVERNMENT AND OTHER
POWERFUL BODIES IN CHECK
AND HELPS TO PROTECT ME
IN A DANGEROUS WORLD.
PEOPLE SAID, WHAT WOULD
HAPPEN IF THE PRESS
WASN'T UP IN
WALKERTON?
WE WOULD HAVE NEVER
FOUND OUT ABOUT THAT.
THAT COULD HAPPEN HERE.
THE THIRD WAS AS A
COMMUNITY CREATOR,
A BELIEF THAT THE PRESS
CREATES EMPATHY AND BUILDS
COMMON GROUND ON WHICH
WE BUILD COMMUNITIES
OF INTEREST AND COMMUNITIES
OF GEOGRAPHY,
THAT IT HAS THE ABILITY
TO JOIN US WITH
A SHARED PERSPECTIVE,
SHARED KNOWLEDGE,
AND SHARED INFORMATION.
AND FOURTHLY, THEY
WERE ABLE TO IDENTIFY
A CITIZEN FUNCTION.
A BELIEF THAT THE PRESS
HELPS ONE FORM OPINIONS
ON IMPORTANT ISSUES AND
PROVIDES THE RAW
ESSENTIAL FUEL FOR
SOCIAL INTERACTION.
THESE ARE BIG
RESPONSIBILITIES.
THEY MAY NOT AMOUNT TO A
MONOPOLY ON LEGITIMATE
USE OF VIOLENCE, BUT THESE
FUNCTIONS ASSOCIATED
WITH THE PRESS REPRESENT REAL
POWER IN THEIR OWN RIGHT.
THE COROLLARY OF COURSE IS
THAT WHEN MISUSED OR LEFT
UNATTENDED, THAT POWER CAN
ALSO LEAD TO THE OPPOSITE,
A SOCIETY THAT
IS ILL INFORMED.
ONE THAT LEAVES THE
POPULATION OPEN
TO THE VULNERABILITIES OF
ARBITRARY AUTHORITY,
WITH LITTLE SENSE
OF COMMUNITY,
AND WITHOUT THE TOOLS TO
MAKE MEANINGFUL DECISIONS
ON MATTERS THAT HAVE
A DIRECT BEARING ON
THE CITIZENS' ENTITLEMENT TO
FULL SOCIAL PARTICIPATION.
WITH THE BENEFIT OF
THIS PERSPECTIVE,
IT ALSO BECAME CLEAR FOR
THE FIRST TIME WHY THESE
SAME PEOPLE ALSO HELD
SUCH NEGATIVE VIEWS
ABOUT THE PRESS
INITIALLY.
BECAUSE EVEN IF IT WAS
BELOW THE SURFACE,
THEY SENSED THE INNATE
IMPORTANT OF THE MEDIA
TO THEIR CITIZENSHIP AND
INDEED TO THE PUBLIC GOOD.
THEY RECOGNIZE THAT THE
PRESS TRULY CONSTITUTES
A FOURTH ESTATE IN SOCIETY,
THAT IT IS A CENTRAL PART
OF AN INTERWOVEN FABRIC
THAT MAKES UP
A CIVIL, STABLE AND
FREE SOCIETY.
MORE PERSONALLY, THEY ALSO
ACKNOWLEDGE HOW IMPORTANT
THE PRESS IS TO THEIR
FULL PARTICIPATION
IN THE COMMUNITIES
WHERE THEY LIVE
AND THE VALUES
THEY REPRESENT.
THE MEMBERS OF THE CANADIAN
JOURNALISM FOUNDATION WHO
WATCHED THESE GROUPS WERE
STUNNED THE EXTENT TO WHICH
THE AVERAGE SCHMO WAS
ABLE TO ARTICULATE AND
UNDERSTAND THESE THINGS.
BUT THAT ALL WAS ON THE
POSITIVE SIDE OF THE LEDGER.
BECAUSE WHAT THESE
DISCUSSION GROUPS MADE
EQUALLY CLEAR WAS THAT THE
PARTICIPANTS ALSO FELT
THAT THE PRESS, THROUGH
THEIR BEHAVIOUR,
EDITORIAL DECISIONS,
AND REPORTAGE,
OFTEN DEMONSTRATED
THAT THEY, THE PRESS,
DO NOT HOLD THEIR OWN
PROFESSION IN THE SAME
HIGH ESTEEM THAT WAS
BEING ARTICULATED
BY AVERAGE CITIZENS.
AND THAT EVEN
MORE DAMNINGLY,
WHEN THE PRESS FAILS TO LIVE
UP TO THOSE LOFTY STANDARDS,
THE POPULATION
SEES THEIR DEFENCE MERELY
AS, WELL, WE'RE JUST GIVING
THE AUDIENCE WHAT THEY WANT.
IN SHORT, DISMISSING
THEIR READERS, VIEWERS,
AND LISTENERS LARGER
NEEDS AS CITIZENS,
AND THUS DIMINISHING THE
POPULATION'S ABILITY
TO FUNCTION AS CITIZENS.
THEY WOULD SAY,
YOU ARE RIGHT.
THEY'RE GIVING ME
EXACTLY WHAT I WANT,
BUT LET ME TELL
YOU WHAT I NEED.
I NEED MORE THAN
WHAT I WANT.
AND THE PRESS HAS
A RESPONSIBILITY.
WHILE THEY MAY NOT HAVE
BEEN ABLE TO ARTICULATE
THEIR FEELINGS IN
PRECISELY THIS WAY,
YOU GOT THE SENSE THAT OUR
FOCUS GROUP PARTICIPANTS
WOULD HAVE BEEN NODDING
THEIR HEADS IN EAGER AGREEMENT
TO WALTER LIPPMANN
IF HE WAS IN THE ROOM
AND HAD CHIMED IN WITH
HIS FAMOUS QUOTE.
NO AMOUNT OF CHARTERS,
DIRECT PRIMARIES,
OR SHORT BALLOTS WILL
MAKE A DEMOCRACY
OUT OF AN
ILLITERATE PEOPLE.
SO WHERE AM I GOING
WITH ALL THIS?
THAT THE PRESS DESERVES
WHATEVER PUBLIC
APPROBATION THEY RECEIVE?
THAT THE MEDIA ARE TO BLAME
FOR THE LOW REGARD IN WHICH
OUR POLITICIANS AND
POLITICAL PROCESS ARE HELD?
NO.
INDEED, I HOPE I HAVE MADE
IT CLEAR EARLIER IN MY REMARKS
THAT THE LOSS OF FAITH IN
AUTHORITY IS DEEPLY ROOTED
IN THE VERY FABRIC OF
AN ALTERED CANADIAN
POLITICAL CULTURE,
AND IS PART OF A LARGER
SOCIETAL TREND THAT HAS
BEEN TAKING SHAPE
OVER THE LAST
TWO DECADES.
I HOPE I MADE IT
EQUALLY CLEAR, HOWEVER,
THAT IF WE SIMPLY EMBRACE
CYNICISM AS AN ACCEPTABLE
AND INEVITABLE PART OF
MODERN DAY SOCIETY,
THEN WE RUN THE PROSPECT OF
PAYING AN EXTREME PRICE
AND THE STAKES ARE NOTHING
SHORT OF AN INFORMED
AND DYNAMIC DEMOCRACY.
THE POINT IS THAT WHILE IT
MAY BE DEBATABLE AS TO HOW
BIG A ROLE THE PRESS MAY
HAVE PLAYED IN CREATING
THIS PROBLEM, THERE IS NO
QUESTION, IN MY MIND
AT LEAST, THAT IT IS MOST
CERTAINLY PART OF THE SOLUTION.
THE EXTENT TO WHICH THIS
PROBLEM HAD BECOME ENDEMIC
AND INGRAINED IN OUR WHOLE
SOCIETY BECAME CRYSTAL CLEAR
TO ME DURING ONE
EPISODE IN PARTICULAR
IN THE 1993 FEDERAL
ELECTION.
MANY OF YOU
WOULD RECALL IT.
WHEN KIM CAMPBELL WAS ASKED
TO MAKE HER FORECAST ABOUT
THE FUTURE, SHE OFFERED HER
VIEW THAT THERE WAS VERY LITTLE
PROSPECT FOR ANY
IMPROVEMENT IN UNEMPLOYMENT
UNTIL THE END
OF THE DECADE.
I AT THE TIME WAS
ONE OF HER ADVISERS.
MY FIRST RESPONSE WANT TO
SMACK THE PALM OF MY HAND
INTO THE MIDDLE OF MY
FOREHEAD, SAYING,
OH, MAN, IS THAT
OFF STRATEGY!
TO GROANS WITH ALL
MY COLLEAGUES.
THE OPPOSITION WRUNG
THEIR HANDS WITH DELIGHT.
THEY HAD A HUGE OPENING.
THE PRESS PRONOUNCED THAT
THE TORIES HAD CREATED
A HUGE TACTICAL BLUNDER
AND WE DID FOCUS GROUPS
THAT NIGHT.
PEOPLE SAID, WELL,
YOU KNOW, HAH,
SHE'S NOT MUCH OF A
POLITICIAN, IS SHE.
THEN WE TOOK A STEP BACK
AFTER WE LICKED OUR WOUNDS
IN THE 1993 CAMPAIGN AND
I THOUGHT ABOUT THAT.
ME AND MY COLLEAGUES,
THE ADVISERS WHO THOUGHT
THIS WAS NOT ON STRATEGY,
WHEN ASKED; IS THAT TRUE?
WE SAID YES, THAT
PROBABLY IS TRUE.
SHE WAS TELLING
THE TRUTH.
WE ASKED OUR FRIENDS IN THE
OPPOSITION WAS WHAT
SHE WAS SAYING TRUE,
WHO BELIEVED THAT NOW
THEY HAD A HUGE OPENING.
BLOOD WAS IN
THEIR MOUTH.
THEY WOULD SAY,
YES, THAT'S TRUE.
IF YOU ASKED THE PRESS
WHO HAD DECLARED A HUGE
TACTICAL BLUNDER HAD BEEN
CREATED IN THE CAMPAIGN
IF WHAT SHE WAS SAYING IS
TRUE, THEY WOULD SAY YES,
AND YOU KNOW WHAT, WHEN
WE ASKED THE FOCUS GROUP
RESPONDENTS WHETHER SHE
WAS TELLING THE TRUTH,
THEY SAID YES.
SO HERE WE HAD A SITUATION
WHERE ALL ELEMENTS
OF SOCIETY, POLITICAL
PARTIES, PRESS, PUBLIC,
HAD DECLARED SOMEONE
HAD DONE SOMETHING
HORRENDOUSLY STUPID BY
VIRTUE OF TELLING THE TRUTH.
WE TALK ABOUT THE
RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PRESS,
ESPECIALLY IN
RELATION TO THIS
ESCALATING CRITICISM.
I THINK WE HAVE TO LOOK AT
HOW SOME OF THE PRACTICES
OF POLITICAL REPORTING HAVE
CHANGED IN RECENT YEARS.
THERE'S BEEN A HUGE SWING IN
THE ACTUAL AMOUNT OF COVERAGE
THAT IS AFFORDED TO THE
ACTUAL SUBJECT OF NEWS.
A STUDY RECENTLY SHOWED
THAT THREE DECADES AGO
APPROXIMATELY 80 PERCENT
OF NEWS TIME WAS DEVOTED
TO THE SUBJECT OF
THE NEWS SPEAKING.
TODAY THAT PERCENTAGE
IS DOWN TO 20 PERCENT
AS THE ADDITIONAL 80 PERCENT,
THE RECIPROCAL 80 PERCENT
IS NOW DEVOTED TO EDITORIAL
AND JOURNALISTIC COMMENTARY
ON WHAT THE INDIVIDUAL
WAS SAYING.
SECONDLY, WE KNOW IN
NO SMALL MEASURE
THE CONSEQUENCE OF
INCREASING PROFESSIONALISM
AND THE EMPHASIS OF
JOURNALISM SCHOOLS THAT
OBJECTIVITY IS THE CLARION
CALL OF JOURNALISTS.
THEY ARE NOT TO GET TOO
CLOSE TO THE SUBJECTIVE NEWS,
SO THAT THEY CAN REMAIN
DISPASSIONATE AND DISTANT.
AS A CONSEQUENCE, PUBLIC
FIGURES ARE NOT KNOWN
TO JOURNALISTS TODAY.
THEY ARE NOT REAL.
THEY ARE NEWS ITEMS WITH
SKIN WRAPPED AROUND THEM.
YOU TAKE THESE TWO
THINGS TOGETHER,
ONE, THE TENDENCY TOWARDS
INCREASING EDITORIAL
COMMENTARY, TOGETHER
WITH OBJECTIVITY,
AND YOU HAVE A SITUATION
WHERE PRESS ARE INCREASINGLY
COMMENTING MORE ON PEOPLE
THAT THEY DO NOT KNOW
ABOUT AS PEOPLE.
AND THEN YOU HAVE
A THIRD TREND,
WHICH IS THE PRIMACY AND
PREMIUM NOW PLACED ON
INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING AS
VIRTUALLY ALL JOURNALISTS
HAVE WOODWARD AND
BERNSTEIN ENVY.
AND WHAT IS THE MOST
PRIZED COMMENTARY?
THE MOST PRIZED COMMENTARY
IS ON CHARACTER,
TO BE ABLE TO UNVEIL
AND REVEAL CHARACTER.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED,
KNOWINGLY OR UNKNOWINGLY,
IS THAT THE PRESS IS OFTEN
USURPED OR AT LEAST
SERVED AS A FILTER ON THE
TRADITIONAL RESPONSIBILITY
OF ELECTED LEADERS TO
COMMUNICATE TO THE ELECTORATE.
THE MODERN PRESS SEES
ITSELF, RIGHTFULLY,
AS A WATCHDOG,
AND NOT A LAPDOG.
AND CONSEQUENTLY FEELS
NO COMPUNCTION SIMPLY
TO TRANSMIT THE LEADER OR
POLITICIAN'S MESSAGE
TO ITS INTENDED
AUDIENCE.
INSTEAD, THE PRESS CHOOSES
TO OFFER ITS OWN EDITORIAL
COMMENT AND THE COMMENT
WHICH IS MOST VALUED
WITHIN THE JOURNALISTIC
PROFESSION TODAY FOCUSES
NOT SO MUCH ON THE
CONTENT OF THE MESSAGE,
BUT WHAT THE MESSAGE
IMPLIES ABOUT CHARACTER.
CONTENT, PUBLIC POLICY,
EXCESSIVE DETAIL IS BORING.
CHARACTER, PERSONALITY,
STRATEGY IS EXCITING.
THE GAME SAYS THIS IS
WHAT THE PUBLIC WANTS.
THIS IS WHAT WE
SHALL GIVE.
NOW IT'S BEEN SAID THAT
NOTHING WHICH IS
MORALLY WRONG CAN EVER
BE POLITICALLY RIGHT.
THINK ABOUT THAT.
NOTHING WHICH IS MORALLY
WRONG CAN EVER BE
POLITICALLY RIGHT.
IMPLICIT IN THIS NOTION IS
THAT THERE IS A BALANCE,
A BALANCE BETWEEN
MORALITY AND POLITICS
THAT IS SELF-CORRECTED.
THE MORALITY IN POLITICS
MAY BE OUT OF BALANCE
TEMPORARILY BUT OVER TIME,
THIS NOTION SUGGESTS,
IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR
THE IMMORAL TO GOVERN.
WHY?
BECAUSE AN INFORMED
AND ENGAGED POPULATION
ULTIMATELY WILL RISE UP
AND THROW OUT
THOSE WHO GOVERN
IMMORALLY.
BUT THINK BACK TO THE
KIM CAMPBELL STORY.
WHILE MERELY HUMOROUS TO
SOME OR EVEN EMBLEMATIC
OF RAMPANT AND SHARED
CYNICISMS TO THE MORE ALARMED,
IT SUGGESTS MUCH
MORE DEEPLY THAT WE
MAY BE WELL AT THE POINT
WHERE BEING MORALLY RIGHT,
TELLING THE
UNVARNISHED TRUTH,
HAS BECOME
POLITICALLY WRONG.
BAD POLITICS.
IF THIS IS THE CASE, IT IS
NOT SIMPLY REGRETTABLE,
BUT IS AN EXTREMELY
DANGEROUS STATE OF AFFAIRS
WHICH SHOULD GALVANIZE ALL
WHO CARE ABOUT SOCIETY
AND ITS MOST IMPORTANT AGENT,
THE POLITICAL PROCESS.
FAR FROM GALVANIZED,
HOWEVER, THE ASSUMPTION
OF INHERENT WRONGDOING,
CORRUPTION, AND BREACH
OF PUBLIC TRUST
SEEMS TO HAVE BECOME
THE ACCEPTED NORM RIGHT ACROSS
ALL ESTATES OF SOCIETY.
FOR NOW WE SEE THAT WE ARE
TREADING ON THE SAME
GROUND TODAY IN THE
SO-CALLED GRAND-MERE AFFAIR.
ON THE SURFACE, THE PRESS
AND OPPOSITION ONCE AGAIN
HAVE PERFORMED THEIR
RIGHTFUL DUTY AND SOCIETAL
ROLE AS PUBLIC WATCHDOG
AND HAVE HELD
THE PRIME MINISTER
ACCOUNTABLE FOR HIS ACTIONS.
BUT IT IS ONE THING
TO BE A WATCHDOG.
IT'S QUITE ANOTHER TO GO
ABOUT SAVAGING THE MAILMAN
AS HE GOES ABOUT HIS
LEGITIMATE BUSINESS.
IT'S THE SAME BEAST.
THEY ARE BOTH DOGS.
BUT ONE BEHAVIOUR
CONTRIBUTES TO THE SAFE
AND ORDERLY WORLD, WHILE
THE OTHER BREEDS CHAOS
TO THE NEIGHBOURHOOD AND
HARM TO THE INNOCENT.
SO LOOK AT THE FACTS OF
THIS SO-CALLED SCANDAL,
RATHER THAN THE SPORT
THAT WE SEE GOING ON
EVERY DAY WITH IT.
THE PRIME MINISTER HAS
PRODUCED A BILL OF SALE
FOR WHAT WAS ESSENTIALLY
ILLIQUID PROPERTY
WHICH HE DISPOSED OF
BEFORE HE TOOK OFFICE.
THE PRICE OF THIS
TRANSACTION WAS FIXED
ON THAT DOCUMENT BUT
WAS NEVER PAID.
IF WE ACCEPT AT FACE VALUE
THAT THIS PURCHASE AND SALE
AGREEMENT IS A LEGAL AND
LEGITIMATE DOCUMENT,
WHICH IS KIND OF NOT AN
UNREASONABLE ASSUMPTION
BY ANY NORMAL MEASURE
SEEING WE'D ACTUALLY
SEEN IT PHYSICALLY
PRODUCED,
THEN WE SHOULD CONCLUDE
THAT Mr. CHRETIEN DID NOT
NEED TO STRONG-ARM THE
BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT BANK
OF CANADA TO PROTECT
HIS INVESTMENT.
WHY?
THE PRICE WAS
ESTABLISHED.
THE PAYMENT WAS
PRESCRIBED.
AND SOMETHING THAT IS
HARDLY EVER TALKED ABOUT,
HE HAD FULL RIGHT TO SUE IF
THE TERMS OF HIS PURCHASE
AGREEMENT WAS NOT MET.
THESE ARE THE
INDISPUTABLE FACTS.
IF WE TAKE JEAN
CHRETIEN AT HIS WORD,
THEN THAT IS THE
END OF THE CASE.
NOT TO TAKE HIM AT
HIS WORD, HOWEVER,
IS TO SUGGEST THAT
SOMETHING FAR MORE SINISTER
LURKS BELOW THE SURFACE
THAT HAS BEEN PROVEN
PUBLICLY THUS FAR.
THE PRINCIPAL UNANSWERED
QUESTION CONSUMING THE PRESS
AND PARLIAMENT RIGHT NOW
IS WHY WAS CHRETIEN
NOT PAID AND WHY DID HE
NOT EXERCISE HIS RIGHT
TO SUE TO RECEIVE
THAT PAYMENT?
ONE ANSWER MIGHT BE THAT
BECAUSE OF HIS OFFICE
AND THE SCRUTINY THAT
COMES WITH THAT OFFICE,
THE PRIME MINISTER OF
CANADA HAD NO STOMACH
FOR MESSY LITIGATION OVER A
TRANSACTION THAT PREDATED
HIS OFFICE, HIS
TAKING OFFICE.
IF THIS IS TRUE, THEN
CHRETIEN'S INNOCENCE
IS DOUBLY RE-AFFIRMED.
NOT ONLY WAS THERE NO
WRONGDOING BUT IN HOLDING
PUBLIC OFFICE THE PRIME
MINISTER ACTUALLY
HAS PAID A CONSIDERABLE
PRICE BECAUSE THE COURTS
WERE REMOVED AS A PRACTICAL
MEANS TO SEEK REDRESS
AND EXERCISE RIGHTS THAT ARE
AVAILABLE TO EVERY OTHER
CITIZEN IN THE COUNTRY, BUT
THAT HE DENIED HIMSELF.
THAT IS ONE PLAUSIBLE
EXPLANATION,
BUT WE'VE HEARD VIRTUALLY
NOTHING ABOUT THAT
AS A PLAUSIBLE
EXPLANATION.
BUT THERE'S A FAR MORE
TROUBLING ANSWER TO THE QUESTION
OF WHY THE PRIME MINISTER DID
NOT RECEIVE PAYMENT.
AND THAT HAS ALREADY BEEN
ALLEGED IN BOTH THE HOUSE
AND MANY TIMES IN THE PRESS
AND THIS IS THAT CHRETIEN
HAD ABSOLUTELY NO INTENTION
OF SELLING THE SHARES,
THAT HE MERELY DEPOSITED
THEM WITH A CONVENIENT FRIEND,
AND THAT THE ONLY
REASON THE QUESTION
OF MONEY EVEN CAME UP WAS
BECAUSE ONCE DISCOVERED
THE MATTER OF PAYMENT
BECAUSE A NECESSARY RUSE
TO COVER UP THE ORIGINAL
NEFARIOUS REASON
FOR THE TRANSFER.
NOW THAT'S EXCITING.
THAT'S EXCITING
CONJECTURE.
IT MAKES FOR ANIMATED
DEBATE IN THE HOUSE
AND PITHY MATERIAL
FOR THE PRESS.
IT IS THE GAME
WE PLAY.
BUT I'M HERE TO TELL
YOU IT IS NOTHING MORE
THAN PURE CONJECTURE.
NO ONE IN THE HOUSE OR IN
THE PRESS HAS PRODUCED
ONE SHARD OF EVIDENCE TO
SUPPORT THIS ALLEGATION.
YET THE ALLEGATION HAS BEEN
MADE AND IT HAS BEEN MADE
WITHOUT ANY HUE AND CRY
FROM ANY OTHER QUARTER
OTHER THAN THE ACCUSED.
AND IF IT WAS THE MOST
NORMAL THING IN THE WORLD,
INDEED, A RESPONSIBILITY OF
THE PRESS, POLITICIANS,
AND ANYONE ELSE WHO WISHES
TO THROW THEIR TWO BITS'
WORTH IN, TO MAKE STUFF
UP ABOUT WHAT MIGHT HAVE
HAPPENED REGARDLESS OF
WHETHER ANYONE KNOWS
IF IT HAPPENED OR NOT.
THIS GOES BEYOND THE
PRESUMPTION OF GUILT.
IT IS THE FABRICATION
OF EVIDENCE.
AND IT IS THE
FABRICATION OF EVIDENCE
THAT HAS BEEN GIVEN AS MUCH
CREDIBILITY AND LEGITIMACY,
INDEED IN SOME QUARTERS EVEN
MORE LEGITIMACY THAN REAL
TANGIBLE HARD EVIDENCE
THAT HAS BEEN OFFERED
IN SUPPORT OF INNOCENCE.
SO THINK ABOUT THE ENORMITY
AND IMPLICATION OF THIS
SET OF CIRCUMSTANCES RATHER
THAN SIMPLY VIEWING THIS
AS AN INTERESTING BLOOD SPORT
FOR ALL OF US TO CONSUME.
THESE NEW ALLEGATIONS
SUGGEST THAT NOT ONLY
IS THE PRIME MINISTER GUILTY
OF BREACHING CONFLICT
OF INTEREST GUIDELINES, BUT
THAT HE WAS PARTICIPATING
IN AN OUTRIGHT ACT
OF DECEIT AND FRAUD.
IF THIS IS TRUE, THEN
A SCANDAL OF MAJOR
PROPORTIONS IS
TRULY UNDERFOOT.
BUT IF IT IS NOT TRUE, THEN
POLITICIANS AND THE PRESS
HAVE HEINOUSLY BESMIRCHED
THE INTEGRITY OF AN HONEST MAN
WHO HAS DEVOTED THE
MAJORITY OF HIS LIFE
TO SERVING HIS COUNTRY,
WHO ALSO JUST HAPPENS
TO HOLD THE HIGHEST AND
MOST IMPORTANT
AND POWERFUL OFFICE
IN THIS LAND.
NOW UNDERSTAND ME, I AM
NOT DEFENDING
THE WAY JEAN CHRETIEN HAS
HANDLED THIS ISSUE.
BUT THE FACT IS, NO ONE
IN ANY OTHER PROFESSION
IS SUBJECT TO THIS
YARDSTICK OF CONDUCT.
AND NO OTHER PROFESSION
WOULD ALLOW THIS MEASURE
TO BE USED TO JUDGE
THEIR INTEGRITY.
QUITE SIMPLY, THERE IS NO
OTHER PROFESSION FOR WHICH
THIS TYPE OF SPECULATIVE
ALLEGATION WOULD EVER
EVEN BE MADE PUBLIC.
YOU THINK ABOUT IT.
THE SO-CALLED SMOKING
GUN IN THIS AFFAIR -
THIS IS THE
SMOKING GUN.
HERE IT IS, FOLKS - IS
THAT THE PRIME MINISTER
DID NOT GET PAID.
YOU KNOW, IF YOU DID NOT
GET PAID FOR SOMETHING
YOU LEGALLY SOLD,
WOULD YOU FEEL GUILTY?
I PERSONALLY WOULD
FEEL LIKE A VICTIM.
IF I NEVER INTENDED TO GET
PAID AND DOCTORED A PHONEY
BILL OF SALE, THEN I'M
A FRAUD AND A CROOK
AND DESERVE TO BE
THROWN IN JAIL.
THAT IS WHAT IS BEING
SUGGESTED ABOUT
JEAN CHRETIEN AND
NOTHING LESS.
IF TRUE, THE IMPLICATIONS
ARE ENORMOUS.
BUT IN ORDER TO BE TRUE,
IT MUST HAVE HAPPENED.
AND IN TURN,
IF IT HAPPENED,
IT MUST BE PROVED
TO HAVE HAPPENED.
AND TO SUGGEST THAT THE
PRIME MINISTER'S A FRAUD
AND A CROOK, WHETHER IN
PARLIAMENT OR IN THE PRESS,
WITHOUT THIS PROOF
IF NOTHING SHORT
OF IRRESPONSIBLE.
IT CROWDS OUT COVERAGE OF
OTHER AFFAIRS AND IT ADDS
TO THE CORROSIVE AND
DELETERIOUS FORCES WHICH
DRIVE THE LEADERS AND
THE LED IN OUR SOCIETY
FURTHER APART.
NOW MAKE NO MISTAKE.
THIS IS NOT A
ONE-WAY STREET.
POLITICIANS THEMSELVES HAVE
BECOME EQUALLY CULPABLE
IN SETTING A STANDARD OF
CONDUCT THAT BREEDS
A SPIRAL TO THE BOTTOM.
NEGATIVE ADVERTISING,
UNSUBSTANTIATED
ALLEGATIONS,
CHARACTER INNUENDO,
HAS NOT ONLY BECOME
A NORM IN POLITICS,
THESE ARE NOW CONSIDERED TO
BE THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAYS
OF GAINING POLITICAL GROUND.
YOU THINK ABOUT IT.
IF I WAS BURGER KING AND I
WANTED TO TAKE MARKET SHARE
AWAY FROM McDONALD'S,
YOU KNOW WHAT I'D SAY?
McDONALD'S HAS BOTULISM.

[laughter]

Allan continues AND PEOPLE WOULD COME
RUNNING TO MY DOOR.
AND THEN WHEN
McDONALD'S SAID,
BURGER KING HAS E. COLI,
PRETTY SOON NO ONE
WOULD BE EATING FAST FOOD
HAMBURGERS ANYMORE.
THEY WOULD DESTROY
THE CATEGORY,
WHICH IS WHY THEY KNOW THAT
IS NOT HOW THEY GO ABOUT
THE GAME OF GETTING THEIR
COMPETITOR'S BUSINESS.
THE SAME IS NOT
TRUE IN POLITICS.
AND HOW THE PRESS
COVERS POLITICS,
AND IT CANNOT
CONTINUE.
WE RUN THE RISK IN
POLITICS AS BURGER KING
AND McDONALD'S WOULD OF
DESTROYING THE CATEGORY,
AND IF WE DESTROY
THE CATEGORY,
WE CREATE A VACUUM
WHICH INVITES TOTALLY
UNACCOUNTABLE FORCES
TO SHAPE SOCIETY.
YOU KNOW IT'S BEEN SAID
THAT THE TRUE ART OF POLITICS
IS NOT MERELY TO
LISTEN TO THOSE WHO SPEAK
BUT TO HEAR
THOSE WHO DON'T.
IF THROUGH CASCADING CYNICISM
WE DRIVE OUT THE BEST,
THOSE WHO MOST
VALUE THEIR CHARACTER,
WHO HAVE ACCOMPLISHED THE
MOST AND THUS HAVE
THE MOST TO LOSE, THEN SURELY
WE WILL ATTRACT THOSE
WHO AGREE THAT THE PROCESS
IS INHERENTLY FLAWED AND
CORRUPT AND THOSE WHO
HOPE TO BENEFIT
FROM ITS FLAWS AND
CORRUPTION AS A CONSEQUENCE.
IF THERE IS A CAUTION
TO MY TALE, IT IS THIS:
WE HAVE TOO MUCH AT STAKE
TO LET THIS HAPPEN.
AND PERHAPS REMEMBERING
THAT ONE SIMPLE FACT,
WHAT WE HAVE AT STAKE,
MAY BE THE FIRST STEP
IN ADVANCING THE
PUBLIC GOOD.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

[applause]

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A production of TVOntario. Copyright 2001, The Ontario Educational Communications Authority.

Watch: Allan Gregg on Politics, Media and the Public Good