CBC blurs line between journalism and Liberal ‘pamphleteering’
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has big plans.
Garnett Genuis is the Conservative MP representing Sherwood Park–Fort Saskatchewan in Alberta.
One of the most important and formative experiences for me on the road to getting into politics was competitive debate—in both high school and university. I would strongly recommend this activity as optimal preparation for anyone considering the same path.
Competitive debaters compete to defend a point of view. They very often will defend a point of view that is not their own.
Every competitive debater is taught early that an essential characteristic of good debate is something called “clash”. Clash is when arguments are made to directly counter the arguments made by the other side—to show that, even on their own terms, the other side’s arguments fail. The alternative to a good debate characterized by clash is a bad debate which resembles two ships passing in the night—essentially, debaters doing their own monologue without much reference to what others are saying.
Debate in the Canadian Parliament has come to be characterized by the near complete absence of meaningful clash. MPs deliver prepared speeches one after the other that cast arguments on their own terms and play to their own social media following. It is extremely rare that an MP would use his or her speech to deconstruct the arguments of a previous speaker.
Clash is essential in good political conversations, though, because a neutral listener has a hard time weighing out who is right and who is wrong if meaningful refutation and deconstruction of arguments does not take place. If we are to be what Edmund Burke thought Parliament should be—the “deliberative assembly of one nation”, then we must talk to one another and about one another’s arguments.
In the same speech, Burke told voters in 1774: “Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.”
It is very important for all members of the newly constituted 43rd parliament to reflect on the importance of clash and on Burke’s advice. If we are going to work together, then we must first be able to talk together, and disagree substantively, while seeking to persuade each other to change our perspectives. People who cannot argue together well will generally struggle to work together well. We must also denominate our conversations in terms of the common good, not the narrow particular interests of one group over another.
There are a few reasons why this will be particularly difficult in the 43rd parliament. The third largest political party exists explicitly to advance the interests of one region of the country over the interests of the rest of the country. The Bloc cannot be expected to seek to advance the national interest of a nation that they seek to break apart. Though less explicitly, the governing party has and will likely continue to pursue a strategy of ignoring the development needs of western Canada. When parties run regional instead of national campaigns, they are talking past some parts of the country they think they can ignore, and only talking to parts of the country that they think they need.
It has always been interesting to me that Justin Trudeau briefly did competitive debating as a student as well. However, he stopped competing early on, noting: “I discovered I had a serious limitation for either a debater or a lawyer. I wasn’t able to argue for something I didn’t passionately believe in.” Unfortunately, an inability to dig into, understand and defend views that are not yours is not just a limitation for a debater or a lawyer—it is also a limitation for a parliamentarian and for a leader. In the privacy of one’s own mind or as an intellectual exercise, one should be able to defend things that one does not believe in order to understand and argue against those same things later. A nation as diverse as Canada particularly needs leaders who are capable of understanding and responding to different modes of thought than their own.
I hope that we will be able to raise the quality of clash in upcoming parliamentary debates, but I worry that there are a variety of cultural factors, as well as institutional ones, that are working against us. We live in an age of social media filtering, where people easily get only the information that confirms their pre-existing biases. But more broadly, our culture has for a long time lacked a common understanding of what constitutes the common good—and so we generally treat political opinions as if they were expressions of individual emotive preferences as opposed to substantive deductions about facts. There are no short-term solutions to these problems but treating opinions as opinions instead of as feelings would be a good start.
For Conservatives, we can take some pride in the fact that our support grew across the country, and that we tried to speak in terms of national ideals and projects. Inevitably those ideals and projects were more popular in some places than in others. In this new Parliament, Conservatives must maintain a truly national orientation. I will defend the interests of my own riding, but I will seek to do so in terms that are persuasive to people in other regions and in other parties. Pursuing an idea of separatism in the west, which will never come to fruition, is not a good way to be persuasive to people in other regions. It is especially dangerous in an environment where our primary complaint is the land-locking of our resources.
I am not particularly optimistic about the amount of meaningful clash that will be on display in the next Parliament, but I hope to be pleasantly surprised.
During a meeting in Ottawa, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister gave some “friendly advice” to Justin Trudeau. Pallister told Trudeau that there was growing frustration in western Canada has towards Ottawa, according to the CBC.
In their meeting, the two leaders discussed a range of issues that came up during the election campaign. This included climate change and indigenous issues, as well as western alienation. Speaking to the CBC, Pallister stated that “there’s some great frustration with the lack of progress, not just on pipelines, but on other things.”
After the election, a deep frustration with Ottawa turned quickly into a separatist movement. This was blamed on the Liberal party, who due to a series of policy decisions, did not pick up a single seat in Alberta. Parts of British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba have also been vocal in their frustration with Trudeau’s government.
Pallister was critical of Trudeau’s carbon tax and other policies designed to hinder the Canadian oil and gas sector. This has been a deeply contentious topic in the prairies, especially due to the recession that was triggered as a result of Trudeau’s pipeline bungle.
Unlike the Saskatchewan and Alberta premiers, Pallister has not threatened to rip up the equalization agreement.
Amidst calls for proactive measures on the global “climate crisis”, 11,258 scientists from 153 nations agreed with the findings in a recent BioScience publication. They warn of “untold suffering due to the climate crisis”.
Unless we commit to reproducing less, “transition” from fossil fuels, cut meat from our diets and end deforestation, the effects will only worsen, according to the publication.
The Liberal Party dogma echoes these sentiments. From using Inuit Canadians as props to giving fictitious sympathies to the prairies (having labelled them as “climate change deniers” in the past), the false moral platitudes undermine attempts for rational discourse.
When that discourse sours to the received wisdom being beyond reproach, and media mix education with indoctrination, society suffers as a result.
Yes, climate change is just that–a serious issue trumped up by alarmist rhetoric.
Like health care, education, and yes, even climate change, contentious issues such as these require honest debate, realistic goals, and a plan to achieve said policy aims. Combating climate change can occur without alienating large swaths of the population or moving to “phase out” entire industries.
While it is no secret that Albertans are the least receptive to coercive climate action, the backlash from a recent poll demonstrates how divisive mere inquiry can be. Suggesting an alternative to the carbon tax even constitutes the label of climate change denier.
Therefore, if it is true that “Scientists have a moral obligation…to ‘tell it like it is’, then, perhaps, the demonizing of one’s opponents, as the political left often does, is not how we save the world from the pending apocalypse.
Effectively, the climate change issue has become a means by which tragedy is politicized, opponents mischaracterized, and the genuine need to educate gone with the wind. It’s all about centralized control, increased taxation, and not the freedom to choose.
The recent High Level fire was not caused by climate change, but arson
The CBC pinned the devastating fire this summer near High Level and Chuckegg Creek on climate change, using wire copy from Canadian Press reporter Corlette Derworiz with the misleading headline “Alberta wildfires linked to climate change, scientist says”.
Despite the fires still raging, the CBC article began by spinning the story in service of the climate change narrative, before the smoke had settled and the cause of the fire was even established.
We now know from the release of the RCMP’s investigation that the largest of the fires around Chuckegg Creek and High Level were caused by arson, something that was made public on Oct. 22.
Of course, climate change will result in more wildfires. Nobody would contend that warmer weather makes for drier conditions, but in this case, the reporting was dishonest. Emphasizing a single factor without acknowledging other causes, including arson, was irresponsible.
The premier’s response at the time included the need for more context as to why this fire season may be worse than others, including but not limited to climate change.
“‘I accept the science on anthropogenic climate change,’ Kenney said in a news conference. “But, in this particular instance, I can tell you we are on the five-year average for forest fires in Alberta… The large one right now is happening in an area where there has not been a fire for 80 years, and so, regardless of other factors, it was due eventually for a large wildfire.’”
In our interview with the CP reporter, she said, “Kenney’s comments aren’t wrong, but fire scientists say they don’t tell the whole story,” which is ironic, given the original story included misleading quotes from the scientist she interviewed.
It all seemed quite strange that the quotes from Dr. Mike Flannigan, who has a Ph.D. in Plant Sciences, and who specializes in fire’s interaction with climate, would give such a lopsided take on the northern Alberta wildfires. His quotes, peppered throughout the article, read like climate change propaganda, which, now having talked to him, are deeply misrepresentative of his views.
A quote like “We are seeing climate change in action,” makes it sound like Dr. Flannigan is speaking on the northern Alberta wildfires, and like other quotes, are lacking in context, suspiciously short, and do not reflect something a respected environmental scientist would claim while a wildfire is still burning.
When we called Dr. Flannigan to ask why he seemingly had attributed the fires solely to the increased risks from climate change, the ensuing discussions pointed our concerns back to Derworiz’s piece that the all-too-credulous CBC published because it fit the public broadcaster’s confirmation bias.
Upon questioning him, it was soon evident that Dr. Flannigan is very detailed in the way he handles the issue of forest fires. The quotes included were tailored down to meet the CP’s and CBC’s climate change narrative.
As Dr. Flannigan put it:
“Media like sound bites of ten to thirty seconds, where, unfortunately, you can’t get into all that you know, but you try and hammer home the major points and often I do try. But it doesn’t always make it because things get cut, that the amount of human activity in northern Alberta has increased significantly. And so we’re seeing more impact because more people are living and working in the forest as compared to 40 years ago. So that’s why we’re seeing more Chuckegg Creeks, Slave Lakes, and Fort McMurray. It’s because there are more people there, and they’re starting fires.” Dr. Flannigan
When we followed up with the CP reporter to question the editorializing in her news article, she said it was unfair to expect her to get the cause of the fire correct as she had less information when she wrote the article. This misses the point entirely.
The issue is that CP wrote a story about the northern Alberta wildfires and linked them to climate change before having all of the evidence. Even if the cause of the major fires around Chuckegg Creek and High Level had been strongly linked to climate change, it would still not be correct to write the story before confirming that as factually accurate.
If you don’t have the information, then you don’t write the story. That’s how journalism works.
On the call, the reporter pivoted her position from climate change being linked to the fires to climate change, generally making wildfires worse, which is a palatable position, but not one that was portrayed in her article.
She deflected criticism of the information she presented back at Dr. Flannigan, stating, “I’m not giving you different information. The prof is the expert. He’s the guy that you should talk to.”
Dr. Flannigan told us, “I don’t usually like to go to individual events and say, yes, that’s a direct result of climate change.” That contradicts the premise of the article which broadly links all the fires, including those close to Chuckegg Creek and High Level, to climate change.
Again Dr. Flannigan had said that he doesn’t just give soundbites nor link causes or factors to fires while they are still burning. He will provide extensive information to anyone who comes looking for his expertise.
“Media wants a hook, and the more sensational, the better. So, I can sometimes talk for 40 minutes, and it will be reduced down to thirty seconds or twenty seconds, and they [only] take snippets. And sometimes it’s out of context, or at least it’s not complete. It’s incomplete. And yeah, I mean, it’s a very complex issue, and to reduce it to one point is–yeah.”
The CP reporter responded to us when asked if it was okay to run a story before getting in all the evidence, saying, “Well, I don’t think that is any different than Premier Kenney making statements about what he thinks caused the fire at the time.”
Having mentioned Premier Kenney’s response to the fire, she claimed her article was a response to his “strong statements.”
“I believe that is why we did that story at the time,” she states.
Though the author isn’t wholly to blame, the CBC is dogmatic on the climate change issue and gladly publishes alarmist rhetoric on their website regularly. Those opposing the so-called “climate crisis” are ex-communicated as “deniers”, while Greta Thunberg is given sainthood.
Based on this editorial trajectory, it isn’t a shock that the CBC has set up an incentive structure that could result in a biased, inaccurate piece being published without sober second thought.
It doesn’t seem to matter to them that a misreporting of the issue could impact the lives of people living in northern Alberta. People need to know accurate information on what caused a fire to be able to make an informed decision on continuing to live in the area or not.
For the record, the CBC never updated the original article or made any retraction of the information provided within.
Since CBC receives well over a billion dollars of taxpayer money annually, it would be nice if Canadians could rely on accurate information, especially in stressful situations like wildfires or extreme weather events where evacuations occurred.
While CBC and CP mislead Canadians, The Post Millennial provided quality coverage of the region, even before the fires
The importance of shining light on underreported issues with a large platform or spotlight is crucial—especially so as we make concerted efforts to mend historical injustices.
And speaking truth to power, including the mainstream, is vital for the free press to do so consistently, and to do right.
During the Conservative caucus meeting Wednesday, the CPC Members of Parliament have chosen not to remove incumbent leader Andrew Scheer from his leadership position. The meeting started at 1:00 PM and lasted for well over three hours as the CPC caucus struggled to solve structural problems from within the party. One of the four questions the caucus had to answer was whether the MPs should give themselves the power to launch this leadership review.
The CPC MPs voted in favour of electing a caucus chair. They have also voted in favour of forming a method to kick MPs out of caucus. Finally, they then decided to vote against having choosing an interim leader due to their rejection of the leadership review.
Despite Conseravtive MPs rejecting to trigger a leadership review today, Scheer will still have to face a mandatory leadership review in Toronto this April.
According to well-connected figures within the party, both Erin O’Toole and Peter Mackay were preparing to leadership bids, with O’Toole eyeing up a possible no confidence challenge during the caucus meeting. For the confidence vote to be triggered, at least 25 MPs would have been needed to sign the notice.
When The Post Millennial approached Mackay with these rumors, the former Harper minister vehemently denied them. MacKay, however, did aggressively criticize Scheer, telling reporters that issues like abortion and immigration “hung round [Scheer’s] neck like a stinking albatross.” MacKay added that Scheer’s failure to defeat Trudeau “was like having an open net and missing the net.”
In the Ottawa airport on Tuesday, Hamish Marshall, who is Scheer’s campaign manager, was confronted by CBC journalist Katie Simpson. When Simpson asked Marshall about the caucus meeting, Marshall responded that “it was none of her business.”