Ina truly bizarre column published in the Globe and Mail during the 2013 Christmas season, Preston Manning tried to blame the Parliamentary Press Gallery for the Senate mess. Manning got his hands on a copy of the gallery’s small handbook, which mostly instructs new Hill reporters about things like parking policies and where pictures can be taken. Manning seized on the rule that a journalist can be expelled from the gallery if “such member uses his membership or the facilities of the Gallery to obtain a benefit other than by journalism …” Duffy, Manning said, had been lobbying for the Red Chamber for many years before Harper put the broadcaster (along with Pamela Wallin, who had been a member of the press gallery in the late 1980s) into the Senate. So, in Manning’s world, the press gallery should somehow have stopped Duffy.
Manning ignored several key facts. The most glaring one was that, while Duffy did make his availability known to various prime ministers, both Tory and Liberal, craving a Senate seat is hardly unethical or cause for firing from any job. (Manning’s own father had been appointed to the Senate). The other hole in Manning’s argument was that somehow Duffy had used the Press Gallery’s resources to win the job. The only “resource” of any value that Duffy may have co-opted was his job as a host on CTV NewsNet, since it was that employment that put him face-to-face with politicians. It was up to CTV, not the press gallery, to discipline its employees if they crossed the company’s ethical policies.
Manning, who certainly knew more facts about Senate appointments than he let on, was certainly aware that journalists had been appointed to the Senate since Confederation and some had served with distinction. Globe and Mail editor Richard Doyle had been appointed by Brian Mulroney and became one of the hardest-working legislators in the chamber. As members of the Senate’s justice committee, Doyle and Senator Gerard Beaudoin, the former dean of the University of Ottawa law school, had scoured legislation that normally would have been rubber-stamped by the Senate and found many foul-ups and bad law. Jean Chretien had appointed, among other journalists, Joan Fraser, who had been pushed out of her job as editor of the Montreal Gazette because Conrad Black, who owned the paper, thought she was too liberal.
Manning was trying to somehow make the Press Gallery “wear” the Duffy scandal, as though the Press Gallery could somehow bar one of its members from accepting a Senate seat or prevent one from being offered. In the real world, it’s probably a bad idea for journalists to leap from the media into any kind of government service. It may be profitable for the journalist, but it is likely hurts the press gallery or any other association of journalists to be a steno pool for people looking for more secure or better-paying work.
But while Duffy and Wallin were members of the Press Gallery, they had the backing of their employers, were popular with their colleagues, and had, unlike most Hill journalists, they had fans across the country. Duffy made a lot of money on the paid speakers’ circuit, and, when he was appointed to the Senate, he simply continued that work to raise money for the Tories. In the Press Gallery, he had a reputation as an honest man. The 2013 allegations of improper expenses – broken by members of the Press Gallery -- were surprising to many journalists who knew Duffy. Author Stevie Cameron described him, during the Mulroney years, as one of the gallery’s few stars and, in a piece of prophecy that would turn to irony, wrote that none of Duffy’s colleagues would be surprised or dismayed if he was appointed to the Senate. Duffy was a gregarious man, much more friendly and generous with his time than most high-profile TV journalists, many of whom are outright snobs. I worked near him for many years and found him to be interesting, friendly and considerate. I visited him at his Prince Edward Island home in the summer of 2009 and found the Senate had not changed his personality, though he was more sharply partisan. I also defended him on the Internet when trolls tried to smear him. Like many of his friends, I felt shock, pity and sadness when details of the Senate scandal emerged.
In his Globe piece, Manning told Globe readers: “It is in their (the press gallery’s) interests especially that action be taken by the gallery to ensure that their reputations and the reputation of their institution are not unjustly tarnished by the unethical behaviour of the few.” But what was this behavior? Impressing and befriending politicians? Being ideologically in sync with the government? Letting or encouraging a prime minister come to the conclusion that you’d accept a Senate seat? And just how would journalists enforce this on their peers? Yank their credentials and bar them from Parliament Hill for seeming a tad too friendly to politicians? At any given time, there are journalists, many of them paid to write their opinion, who agree with the Liberals, the Tories, the NDP, or the Greens. If we were to audit enough consciences and put windows into some souls, we probably would find a few who agree with some very fringy ideologies. And it will stay that way as long as Canada is a free country.Manning might have dropped into the Prime Minister’s office and asked, say, Harper’s speechwriters about the ethics of moving from media into political service. Some had been press gallery members. One had been the editor of the Ottawa Citizen. Yes, Ottawa is an incestuous little place, whether the Tories or the Liberals are in power. But blaming Mike Duffy’s colleagues in the media for the senator’s supposed transgressions is absurd. Stephen Harper had appointed Duffy, Wallin, and Brazeau to the Senate. (Jean Chretien had appointed Mac Harb, the fourth senator caught in the 2013 scandal.) Conservative senators had tried to control the damage of the Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin allegations. Stephen Harper’s office had been involved in what may well prove to be obstruction of justice. His staffers, and perhaps the Prime Minister himself, had lied to Parliament and the Canadian people. No one in the press gallery had made Harper and his team make those choices. Manning’s weird column was just a sad attempt to blow smoke and shift blame. Members of the Press Gallery have many faults and have committed many sins, but appointing Mike Duffy to the Senate, fiddling with his expense accounts and arranging a cover-up are not among them