Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A sad day for us all

By Jim Mosher
Sadly, there’s nothing new in the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s penchant for shutting out criticism — often using deplorable tactics.

It’s impossible for an ordinary citizen to change this ‘new normal’ in Canadian federal politics.

However when my MP appears to work from the same script, I must speak.

Selkirk Record reporter Jill Winzoski was fired Oct. 19, the day after her paper’s owners received an e-mail from her MP, Selkirk-Interlake MP James Bezan. Winzoski is a boots-on-the-ground reporter. She is not a columnist or editorialist.

(I have lived in Bezan’s riding since 1986, though he was only elected in 2006. I have worked at two newspapers here in Manitoba, though there was a four-year hiatus (1996-2000) when I was founding and only editor of a newspaper in Kenora.)

Mr. Bezan’s e-mail contained a message Winzoski had sent to him and others regarding her personal opinion about a looming investment deal between China and Canada. It’s a deal, one should note, that has been the center of a protracted if truncated discussion across this country.

Winzoski, to her credit, had signed an online petition, changing only the subject line of the pre-written petition. She replaced the petition’s anaemic subject line with one of her own. She wrote, simply, that she ‘opposes this deceptive government’. Tens of thousands would agree.

Winzoski’s bold change in a subject line should be considered fair criticism, one would have thought — from a concerned citizen. Maybe she’s a Conservative, maybe an NDPer. It does not matter.

One would have thought this strong and engaged woman’s e-mail (subject line changed) would have been treated as a private message to, in this case, her MP. 

(It appears, however, that MPs can share correspondence with anyone of their choosing, unless it bears the letterhead of a parliamentarian, in this case Mr. Bezan. It should be noted that the recipient of the petition, with its uniquely changed subject line, was the PMO, and copied to other MPs, including Mr. Bezan, Ms. Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada and a few others.) 

Winzoski reported with distinction at the Selkirk Record for more than two years. Her writing was growing in maturity and was, in any event, superb.

(I should note, for the record, that Winzoski is not only a colleague but a close personal friend.)

Mr. Bezan has chosen to forgo advertising in newspapers in his riding, notably the Interlake Enterprise and the Selkirk Record. Instead, he advertises in Interlake Publishing newspapers, owned by Quebec-based Sun Media, an outlet that is stridently pro-Conservative.

Mr. Bezan indicated in his e-mail to Winzoski’s employers that he would have nothing to do with the Selkirk Record, apparently because of Winzoski’s criticism of the Harper government’s handling of the Canada-China  Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPPA). 

The Canada-China FIPPA is at the center of a heated national debate, in part because parliamentarians have not had an opportunity to discuss the agreement in the House of Commons. We are told it will happen, but it will be a brief, if briefly lively, debate.

The Canada-China FIPPA was tabled Sept. 26. It will be put to a vote soon.

That opposition politicians will not have a chance to fully debate the agreement is, arguably, moot because the governing Harper Conservatives have a majority of the seats in the House.

Winzoski has a right to express her views as a private citizen in a democracy — or what used to be a democracy before Mr. Harper strode to his coveted majority — the pretext he needed to advance his flawed neo-conservative programme.

The prime minister once famously said that Canadians would not recognize their country once he was finished — that to a gaggle of American businessmen, but let’s not lose the point. We are getting it, nevertheless.

For his part, Mr. Bezan has every right to advertise where he pleases. It may not be surprising that he chooses to advertise in newspapers that do not disparage or criticize the Harper government.

Journalists should not inject their political views into news stories. But that does not trump the right of those journalists to express their views as private citizens, corporate ‘ethics’ policies notwithstanding. 

(It should be noted that Winzoski’s employers have never provided such a policy nor, it appears, does one exist; though, one suspects, it will be hurriedly written soon.)

We should recall that in a democracy we require a clash of ideas to ensure robust discussion of matters of moment. Government policy — particularly the policies of a majority government — should be subject to open and full debate in our country’s parliament — by everyone, corporate and citizen media included.

My newspaper — though I do not now speak on its behalf — has carried and will continue to publish criticisms and praises of Mr. Bezan and Mr. Harper. We all have a right to speak — and speak openly.

That is the more important as we near Remembrance Day, a sometimes over-wrought affair, full of platitudes and so forth. But a day the more meaningful for me because both my parents served in their respective militaries in England and Canada — my mother in the WAF in intelligence, my father in the RCAF on the Burma Front.

We have lost yet another passionate voice for the truth in Winzoski. She may never write as a journalist again. One can only hope that, as a diarist perhaps, she will chronicle the wrong that was done to her — and all of us.

If there is a spark left in our democracy, we must speak against what has become a banana republic, a totalitarian regime of corporatists and money lenders.

There is a way out of our political morass. We should all figure that out, each for ourselves.

One thing is clear. The way out does not include, involve or invoke the government of the present moment.

We may be conservative in our way of approaching the challenges this world faces, but the Harperism that has befouled Canadian politics is about as far from any sort of thoughtful conservatism as one can get.

As a reporter, I recall Mr. Bezan, addressing an otherwise celebratory crowd in 2010, when he announced a federal contribution to Gimli-based Evergeen Basic Needs, a non-profit that does good works for the less advantaged in Manitoba’s East Interlake. And I recall how the MP remarked that he had to read from a statement prepared by minions of Mr. Harper, the vaunted PMO.

We recall that moment with some regret — precisely because Mr. Bezan had always, theretofore, spoken openly and as a true representative of his constituents.

Lately, Mr. Bezan is muzzled as indeed are all who may have the temerity to criticize this country’s latest, perhaps first, autocracy — one ruled without regard for decency and principle by a chap named Stephen Harper.

Had Mr. Bezan ever interceded to have a reporter fired before?

Mr. Bezan said in an interview with me Nov. 2 that he had, as he deemed appropriate, spoken with newspaper editors and managers when he felt he had been “slagged in an way”.

Tellingly, he said about his dealings with the Selkirk Record: “I haven’t ever had to go this far before, no.”

He did go that far — and it precipitated Winzoski’s ignominious departure.

No worries. It was the right thing to do — or so the minority of Canadians who elected the PM may think.

I just think about the hell storm my parents would have raised. But that was a different day.


  1. Of all the articles I have been reading online on this topic, its refreshing to finally read a well written one. Thank you for presenting the story in a readable order without the sensationalism found elsewhere. Instead of sparking outrage, you have made me think. You have raised many valid points and actually had contact with people on both sides of the issue. Bravo for balanced journalism!

  2. Thanks, Anon. I was fired today for this piece and others.

    It's a new world.

    I will never give up. Love rules. And the greater ethic is truth.

    Share your thought.

  3. We need more principled citizens like you, Mr. Mosher. My condolences for your job loss.

  4. Excellent and refreshing. Oh how I long for the days of an independent and open media that took a stand, invested in real journalists and funded real investigative reporting in the public interest. Corporatist media simply serve their investors and ignore us, the true stakeholders.

  5. I am reading Ronald W. Clark's Einstein: The Life and Times today. I read it many years ago — and the reconnection with my core, as a youngster, is refreshing.

    Einstein was 'duped' into signing petitions, some of which he never fully read. But, at his 'core', Einstein, the young man and great theoretician, felt somehow obliged to respond to the crazy world that swirled around him. He would pay dearly.

    Clark's book is telling. It's a sort of precursor to Orwell's 1984.

    Einstein was not a political animal, but world events of his day forced him to wade into those already muddy waters.

    Were that we understood our own history. I didn't. I was slavish and looked only for the paycheque, as Einstein's colleagues at the University of Berlin did during the First World War: inventing mustard gas and working so blindly for the Fatherland.

    Einstein forgave.

    Can we?


    But we, simple people that most of are, should at the very least engage.

    So, yes, Tom Baker, we cannot give up, though my experiences of late have suggested the alternative strategy of just plain shutting up.

    I won't. But, even as some of my friends have said, I should.

    Sad day.


    1. Never shut up, my friend, we need your voice

  6. If I understand correctly, the facts are:
    You wrote this article here, on your blog, which is certainly your right to do, under Canada's Charter. The newspaper for whom you worked did not print it, but they fired you for writing it.

    Your friend Jill wrote a petition, on her own time, and got fired.

    MP Bezan doesn't even advertise with either publication.

    Where the hell am I? (looks around for Canada)

    I wish you both the very best in future endeavors, whatever they may now be. As the Portuguese say, when one door closes a big gate opens. :-)

  7. My concern jim and am reluctant to use my name for the following reasons. Does this just start with reporters or does Bezan take his vindictive petty revenge out on those of us who write letters, take opposition lawn signs, answer wrongly when phone canvassed or are targetted as the result of an online petition.If I have a Bezan/Harper friendly boss could I find myself fired or tipped over to rev can to further inspect taxes. When does opposition to or the simple questioning of this government feel safe.Reminds me of the old saying next they will come for you.In a world where print media is on life-support threats of ad revenues from the feds matter.

  8. Jim, I think we all play a role in good government. In many ways the media plays the most important role of all. The press is a powerful force in forming public opinion. But, with that power comes great responsibility. I think the USA is in the mess it's in because the media has shaken this responsibility and formed battle lines on the left and the right. The media has the loudest voice, so when fox news screams, the right listens, politicians have no choice but to react in ways to control the media in hopes that a "fair message" can get out. But alas to many feel all governments are corrupt. This leads to cynicism which leads to lower voter turn out, which leads to people electing a governent like harpers.
    The world has more than enough conspiracy theorists, what it's lacking is intelligent well informed journalists.

  9. Jim, you are on the right side of history. I am very upset about yours and Jill's situations. I have chosen to not be indifferent. I believe many many Canadians are also not indifferent, but simply do not know what to do in the face of such widespread abuses and intimidation. I really hope this story does not grow cold. It cannot grow cold. I believe our democracy needs our help on this one.

    I am organizing a small planning meeting to see how many folks are interested in beginning an organized campaign to hold someone like James Bezan accountable.

    Nov. 21, 2012
    Red River Community Centre (Murray and Main in Winnipeg)
    7 - 9 pm

    email with questions to victor@indep.ca or call 474-2228

    I would very much appreciate any ideas or input or comments you may have on the topic. Of course, if you are in Winnipeg next Wednesday Jim, you are welcome to attend the meeting! (I will save you a seat.  )

    I am not a journalist, just a consumer of the news I read and hear. I prefer it to be organic, and not modified, least of all by politicians.

    Many thanks

    Victor Andres, RN BN
    Independence Incorporated
    Rehab & Return to Work Consulting Services Inc.

  10. Jim, I was shocked to read that James Bezan would interfere with the so-called "independent press" that led to the firing of reporter Jill Winzowski. These Harper Conservatives, they just don't seem to 'get' democracy! And they don't understand the role of criticism within a democracy, either. And they certainly don't 'get' what 'freedom of the press' is all about. I am also thinking of how they have demonized environmentalists as "radical extremists" funded by "outside interests" who have some kind of nefarious agenda against Canada.

    And I am thinking of the Conservatives' threats and attempts to use Revenue Canada to revoke the charitable status of many charitable organizations for their advocacy work, and a new Orwellian take on 'political' activities which is far broader than merely showing outward support for one party or another, but now seems to include even speaking critically against any government policy. The Executive Director of "Imagine" (an umbrella group for all sorts of not-for-profits and charitable organizations), wrote an eloquent piece last February or March, detailing how the advocacy work of not-for-profits has been so beneficial to our society, bringing us, for instance, anti-smoking legislation. He spoke of how narrow and limited in scope the work of charitable organizations would be, if they could not advocate for policies affecting the purpose of their organization.

    That government scientists (among others) cannot speak truth to power on their research findings, but must have a 'minder' accompany them to scientific conferences to ensure they tow the government line and don't say anything that may be construed to be against government policy is not only outrageous: It is beyond belief that this is the case in any modern democracy.

    I first read about Jill being fired in "The Vancouver Observer". I have not read about her firing nor yours in the Winnipeg Free Press, which I find strange. Surely this story of federal political interference in a local Manitoba newspaper deserves attention in the Winnipeg Free Press. For the record, the story about Vic Toews' cutting funding to the non-Christian prison chaplains -- which made the front page of several other newspapers outside Manitoba -- was buried on the "Faith" page of the Winnipeg Free Press, and had an underwhelming Title: "Part-Time Prison Chaplains Cut". Unless someone read the whole article, they would not realize that virtually all non-Christian prison chaplains were part-time.

    I will be attending the meeting coordinated by Victor Andres on Wednesday. I hope the citizens of the Interlake, and all Manitobans, hear about the firing of you and Jill, and are as outraged about this situation as I am.