A cabinet official yesterday dismissed disclosures the Prime Minister’s Office boasted of being able to “line up” newspaper editors and columnists to write Liberal-friendly commentaries. Cabinet in its March 19 budget has proposed to detail a half-billion subsidy program for media deemed reliable.
“Did they suggest there were appropriate ways in which the actions that could be contemplated could be communicated to the public? Absolutely,” said Senator Peter Harder (Ont.), Government Representative in the Senate.
Jody Wilson-Raybould in February 27 testimony at the Commons justice committee recounted the boast by the Prime Minister’s Office seeking to quash a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. The former attorney general cited a remark by Katie Telford, chief of staff to the Prime Minister, at a December 18, 2018 meeting: “If you are nervous, we would of course line up all kinds of people to write op-eds that what she is doing is proper.”
The names of agreeable journalists on the Liberal list were not disclosed. Senator Linda Frum (Conservative-Ont.) yesterday in Senate Question Period questioned the reach of the Prime Minister’s Office into newsrooms.
“Is that a common practice of the Prime Minister’s Office, to instruct pundits and editors to write and publish favourable op-eds for the government?” asked Frum. “She will know from her acquaintance with the journalism profession that those attempts are rarely successful,” replied Senator Harder.
“This government is ready to hand out half a billion dollars to so-called qualified media outlets, and now we have the Prime Minister’s right-hand woman openly bragging about her ability to use those same favoured media outlets for political cover,” said Senator Frum: “How can Canadians be confident that this promised aid to the media is not a way for the Trudeau Liberals to buy themselves political cover?”
“The honourable senator will know by the criteria with which funding for media is being contemplated, that any direction from ministers would be impossible to achieve,” said Harder.
No criteria for subsidy seekers have been detailed. Cabinet in a November 21 Fall Economic Statement proposed a $595 million, five-year bailout of news media with a government-appointed “independent panel of journalists” to determine criteria, take applications, and “define professional journalism and determine eligibility” for aid.
“It is insulting to think that journalists can be bought off,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau told the Commons last November 22. The Prime Minister said November 28: “The Conservatives think Canadian journalists can be bought. We do not. We know their work is essential to democracy.”