Appeared in the North Shore News – September 14, 2012
UNLESS you are very, very sweet, the following must have occurred to you, especially when a reporter scores what used to be called a scoop:
Does friendship, partisanship, old family or business, school, religious, ethnic or other ties, or drinks after the day’s work – in plain words, cronyism – twist the reporter’s story, shape the columnist’s opinion, distort what’s really happening, misinform the public, and leave history to sort out the truth, if any?
Cynics will say it’s naive to even ask. The reporter who cultivates the most friendships – cronies – harvests the most inside stuff, scoops, right?
I try to avoid raising questions without answering them. But the fact is: Although I’ve been in paid journalism 21,552 days and counting, I can’t speak for others. Imagine trying to dig out the data. Would journalists tell? Talk about giving away trade secrets. Talk about indiscretion. Talk about valuable contacts vanishing, if names are named.
There is only one journalist – I prefer the term newspaperman, but let it pass, and it has – who will volunteer to answer, but only for himself. Me, you will have guessed.
My experience is that personal friendship with politicians is exactly the opposite of the cynic’s belief. Friendship doesn’t grow a source. It extinguishes it.
Other, better journalists – and the better politicians too – may readily separate friendship from occupation. They do not exploit the personal tie. The one keeps a dignified distance from the other. In public, they do not cease to ask hard questions on the one side, or to answer (or dodge) them on the other.
If they exist, they are marked for sainthood.
Which brings me, with laboured step, to a classic current example: British Columbia’s newly minted minister of state for seniors and member of the Legislative Assembly for West Vancouver-Capilano, Ralph Sultan.
Sultan (pronounced like the raisin) and I meet occasionally for lunch. I warmly look forward to these meetings. We chat. We speak generally about political happenings. Nothing deeper than like thousands of other people over lunch. No secrets sought or offered. Relaxed. Just a couple of old guys sayin’.
Busily resting a week or two ago, and on a small island with weak communications, I mused that if at home I would have playfully asked Sultan for any thoughts he had about Premier Christy Clark’s about-to-be-shuffled cabinet. In fact I had a hunch he’d be in it. When this proved correct, I wondered how he would have responded. He couldn’t have breached secrecy. And now Sultan is a cabinet minister. More secrecy.
I sent him an email last weekend. I dutifully asked what vision for seniors he had. Offered congratulations, of course. But the subject line tipped the personal issue. It was: “What Henry Adams said.”
Puzzling? The email’s last words explained: “Ah, and what did Henry Adams say – in his excellent The Education of Henry Adams, an autobiography quirkily written in the third person? You may well have run across the book, fine 19th-century reading.
“What Henry, a member of the distinguished American family, said was: “‘A friend in office is a friend lost.'”
And lunch with Ralph will never be quite the same.
. . .
Agent 650fgTy, one of my ablest operatives, advises that the city of Penticton and the local of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) have signed a four-year contract providing increases of 0.75 a year, eliminating 31 of its 280 employee positions (11 per cent of the workforce), and reducing the number of its $75,000-plus employees from 75 to 59.
Wow. Tells more about the wimpiness of the economic recovery than a faculty of economists. This led my Agent 90Kple3 to note that West Vancouver council begins its own contract discussions this month. Any urge to imitate? Mayor Mike Smith, you’re on:
“In West Van there was no tax increase this year and I would personally not support one next year, as I think we need to challenge ourselves to find other revenue sources besides property taxes,” Smith responded.
For years municipal employees have won settlements “well above inflation, particularly in police and fire. Unfortunately both these services have arbitration rights under the provincial Police and Fire Act. I have personally, as has our council, lobbied the province for changes to this act” – unsuccessfully.
Smith made a none-too-subtle reference to Metro municipalities that bargain with CUPE, a major contributor in their elections, “but thankfully not in West Van. We have the West Vancouver Municipal Employees Association, and it is my hope that we will have respectful bargaining with them.”
It will be a tough test of Smith’s public sector frugality. He talked against raising council pay this year. But he didn’t walk the walk. He caved in, to make council support for their pay raise unanimous. Not Smith’s, or councillors’, finest hour.
© Trevor Lautens, 2012