The Hate Brigade returns

The dyspeptic Hate Brigade was back in front of town hall last night, stirred into another mindless frenzy by misleading media stories, innuendo, and conspiracy theory. (Okay: they don’t have an official name, but it was that or Brian’s Bullies…)

Last term Brian Saunderson and Steve Berman were the Hate Brigade’s leaders; now Saunderson is deputy mayor, so the public aspect of the dirty work falls to the slovenly mooch, Berman. 

BFFsSaunderson made his cunningly timed appearance, entering the building to the anemic cheering of supporters; none of them apparently aware of how they’ve been duped over and over this term. Remember his promise of no sole-sourcing? Or public engagement in all major decisions? Now just shards among his many broken promises. Ah, the emperor was wearing his new clothes – at least to those of us with unblinkered eyes.

As expected, the abydocomist CBC released another story. That will be used to further the campaign efforts of those council candidates the CBC swears aren’t “friends” of anyone in the corporation. But CBC stories are looking more and more like the yellow journalism of Fox than actual journalism these days. Sad.*

The purpose of the Hate Brigade is not simply to protest any perceived wrongs: it’s to bully, intimidate, shame, insult and harass. These are tactics well-honed by both Saunderson and Berman last term. Followers are encouraged to wave poorly-written signs (who can forget Deb Doherty’s partner’s “inpeach council” sign last term?) and to send nasty or threatening emails to elected representatives and town officials.

For example, this one was recently sent to the mayor and copied to all of council and the CAO, from a fundraiser for Theatre Collingwood, who is also on the board of Collingwood Minor Hockey Association:

Given all the information that is now public – the Integrity Commissioners’ findings of your multiple conflicts of interest, the article below exposing corruption and the significant OPP investigation, you should resign as Mayor.
You have failed your councillors as a leader, you have been grossly negligent regarding your responsibilities and you have disgraced this community. You exploited your Mayoral position, denying an honest, democratic and transparent process to every resident of Collingwood. You should be ashamed.
Please do the right thing and hand in your resignation.
Jennifer Knight
Resident of Collingwood

 

Uli Rath – a well-known Saunderson supporter – was pictured waving a sign that was sort of readable (in a crayonish way). Saunderson’s bulldog, Mike Lewin, was there too. John Brown – the former interim CAO and arguably the most disliked person who has ever sat in the CAO’s office here – was in the crowd. Little wonder: Brown was the Palpatine Emperor to Saunderson’s Darth Vader. Saunderson voted to extended Browns’ contract twice – at more than $200,000 a year cost to taxpayers. Coming out to support the mob seems a small payback for Saunderson’s slavish support all those years. Jamie Berman – the longtime breadwinner in that household – was there chatting amiably to Brown.

All this over a four-year-old police file that doesn’t say the mayor did ANYTHING wrong. She’s hardly even mentioned. But it’s full of the sort of juicy allegation – all of it unproven, some of it demonstrably wrong – that the Hate Brigade feeds off. They’ve been told to hate the mayor’s brother, that he must be guilty of something even if none of them can identify just what. Doesn’t matter that the OPP didn’t charge anyone in five years, and are not going to. Haters gotta hate.

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Innuendo, not guilt, in CBC story

False allegationsBy now I expect you’ve read the scurrilous CBC story written by Dave Seglins or at least one of its local spin-offs. For me, the best line in the CBC piece is the description of Seglins by David O’Connor, a “veteran criminal defence lawyer,” who called Seglins a “… f—— sleazeball.”

Eloquently said, and certainly an opinion shared by others in town. I would have added a few other expletives, but I already stand guilty of egregious verbosity, so I’ll let the description stand on its own merit.

It’s a story full of allegation and innuendo, but not guilt. The story cunningly tells you some of the details from the 219-page OPP report, just enough to make readers think someone was guilty without actually saying so. And what it does say is couched in language that seems designed to further the interests of a group of council candidates, the unemployed Steve Berman in particular. (Berman has long been the easily-duped catspaw for others who also have interests in the upcoming municipal election).

In their book, The Elements of Journalism, third edition (2015) authors Bill Kovach and Tom Rosensteil say the purpose of journalism is “to provide people with the information they need to be free and self governing.” Well, this story doesn’t even get close to that lofty goal. They add (p. 9) that the first of ten items journalists need to fulfill this task is, “Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.” Not selective truth, not opinion, not sly innuendo or unfounded allegation: truth. Another miss, it seems.

Start at the top with the headline. It’s misleading and incorrect, but it sets the oleaginous tone for the rest of the piece: “Ex-MP received ‘secret’ cut of $12.4M deal in resort town run by his sister, OPP probe alleges.”

Sandra Cooper is mayor. She isn’t a mafia boss. She doesn’t “run” the town: council and the town administration do collectively. In fact, Sandra voted against many of the initiatives of Lord Voldemort Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson and his marionette Block minions, including sidelining the hospital redevelopment, privatizing our electrical utility without public consultation, twice extending the contract of the much disliked interim CAO, calling for a judicial inquiry that could cost taxpayers $6 million or more, and the last two budgets. All of which passed because of The Block’s unanimous votes.

Yes, that’s right: they mayor voted AGAINST the town’s budget and pretty much all of Saunderson’s initiatives. But they passed anyway. So how can she be said to “run” the town? You’d think a reporter would ask those questions. But maybe the CBC doesn’t follow that sort of journalism these days.

And, no, the OPP probe doesn’t allege anything about the mayor. The story makes it guilt by association.

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Corruption, Saunderson and the CBC

J'accuse!It’s a seven-year old story about the abuse of power, of corruption, of personal ambition thwarted, of an insatiable sense of entitlement, a craving for attention, and a clique of ruthless people determined to exact vengeance for a perceived slight. And it’s still being told today.

It began in 2011 after the former council refused to build Brian Saunderson’s proposed $35 million “Taj Mahal” rec centre with public money and give it to the YMCA. Instead, an alternate staff plan was approved: two new, state-of-the-art rec facilities were erected at a fraction of the cost, and kept in public ownership. That annoyed Sanderson  began a seven-year vendetta against everyone involved. Street protests were organized with Saunderson as their loudly vocal spokesperson. Deborah Doherty’s partner paraded in front of a town hall with a sign demanding officials “inpeach” council (Doherty is now on council).

And in 2014, several election platforms were built on stories produced by one reporter at the CBC.

CBC reporter Dave Seglins, is back in town, sniffing around for another story that will no doubt again discredit those associated with that 2011 decision, plus others who have been targets of various council motions and actions this term (the airport, the sale of Collus, the judicial inquiry, for example).

In between is our sordid tale about revenge, and a determined smear campaign using taxpayer-funded resources. Corruption is defined as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” Who stands to gain by any of this? Look to the council table.

The story that Seglins is writing will rehash what he published in 2013; pieces that discredited incumbent politicians, residents and town staff without anything even resembling evidence of any wrongdoing. (more on that, below).

The question you need to ask yourself is when reading this is: Cui Bono? Whose good? Who benefits from these stories and the harassment? Whose campaigns will wave them about in the municipal election and without a hint of the hypocrisy, decry this “corruption”?

Seglins has approached at least five people here in the past week, alleging he has “court documents” about some of them. These include Mayor Sandra Cooper, former MP Paul Bonwick, former Deputy Mayor Rick Lloyd, former Collus utility CEO Ed Houghton, and myself. There may be others who have not contacted me about it. 

All but Cooper are all private citizens, not politicians or public servants today. To date none of these people have told me they have seen the alleged documents, nor been contacted by the police for any wrongdoing or investigation, nor served documents for court appearances. Their lawyers, I’m told, have not seen them, either. Are we going to get another story based solely on unfounded allegation and innuendo? 

In Canadian justice, an accused has the right to know the name and see the face of the accuser. Not, apparently, in the CBC: anonymous attackers can discredit and smear their opponents from the shadows. 

Where is the accountability?

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Please preserve the CBC: no more cuts!

Huffington PostCanadians who care about media content, journalistic integrity and fair reporting are anxiously watching for tomorrow’s federal budget announcements. Big cuts to the CBC are expected, according to this Huffington Post story:

Cuts to CBC funding expected in the upcoming federal budget could have dramatic implications, touching everything from popular television programming to foreign news bureaus and eliminating hundreds of jobs, observers predict.

The CBC’s own story about the predicted cuts doesn’t mention the CBC, but it does say, “…many public servants in Ottawa are bracing for staffing cuts, which may not arrive through relatively painless attrition or early retirement packages”

The CBC has been the target of numerous Conservative governments since Brian Mulroney, and suffered successive budget cuts under the Conservatives ever since. The once-vaunted Radio Canada International was reduced from an internationally acclaimed, award-winning short-wave service that was the voice of Canada for millions of listeners worldwide, to little more than a repeater service for the CBC, thanks to budget cuts.

Cuts have crippled the CBC for almost three decades, ever since Mulroney (a humourless, mean-spirited prime minister if ever there was one; he rapidly sank to being one of the most unpopular politicians in Canadian history, in part because of his attack on the CBC).

Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, a media watchdog organization, took up the fight to save the CBC last year. A Globe and Mail story from last fall begins,

The CBC is stuck in a “stranglehold” as Conservative MPs attack the broadcaster and threaten to end or decrease its funding, a broadcast watchdog says.

On the Friends website, the latest story says, “New opinion research shows that 6 in 10 Canadians want the Harper Conservatives to keep their election promise to increase or maintain funding to the CBC.”

Majority opinions have never caused Harper to change his mind or his direction. He’s from the west where the CBC has been demonized as the “Communist Broadcasting Corporation” by the uber-right. One can hardly expect him to have any more sympathy for non-sycophant journalists than Rick Santorum showed for the New York Times recently.

For the right, especially for the American right, media is a tool of the party, not for journalistic truth or objectivity. Worse is that the CBC in the guise of comedic shows like This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Royal Canadian Air Farce and Rick Mercer Report have actually dared to tease and make fun of Steven Harper. Well, they have a long history of poking fun at all parties and all politicians, but some – like Harper – seem to take it very personally.

Instead of growing a thicker skin, he cuts their budget. Harper and Mulroney share some unfortunate personality traits in that.

As the Friends website notes, Harper’s cuts are not just cost savings, but rather a strategy to cause the public support for the CBC to dissipate because it won’t be able to provide what Canadians expect from a national broadcaster:

Further cuts would be to the bone and make it impossible for the CBC to effectively fulfill its mandate, leaving our national broadcaster open to increased criticism that it’s wasting taxpayer money, unfairly competing with private broadcasters for advertising dollars and calls for dismantling. There is no more room for efficiency; every dollar has to come out of programming – off the air, off the screen.

Budget cuts have been stripping Canadian content from the CBC for the last 30 years. It’s become more and more American in almost everything it does, while Canadian content and culture suffers from a shrinking venue for exposure of our own material. Harper and his allies seem to prefer American programming – the slavishly sycophant Fox and its ilk – to Canadian programming, but then they also seem to prefer American-style attack politics, so that’s no surprise. No wonder Sun media has a place in their hearts.

CBC is ESSENTIAL to continue to connect Canadians from coast to coast. We need to continue to support and increase funding for the CBC to create more Canadian content.

The HuffPost noted,

In addition to prime-time programming, sources familiar with the file told HuffPost the upcoming cuts may lead to the closing of some foreign bureaus and will necessitate employee layoffs.
Barry Kiefl, head of the independent Ottawa-based firm Canadian Media Research Inc. (CMRI), cautions against “taking it for granted that there’s going to be a 10 per cent cut,” before details of the budget are revealed on Thursday. But he maintains a trim of that magnitude could result in the elimination of 1,000 jobs.

Jobs will not only be lost in the BCB itself, but in Canada’s cultural industry: independent filmmakers, producers, directors, script writers and others will have no place in Canada to work:

In addition to stoking concern among CBC employees, (Mary) Darling says the possibility of significant belt-tightening is contributing to widespread uncertainty among the legions of independent producers, such as herself, who create the network’s English language dramatic programming.
“People are beyond tense. This is our livelihood. This is how we make our living and send our kids to school,” said Darling, who alongside husband Clark Donnelly runs Toronto-based Westwind Pictures, the company behind Little Mosque.
Currently in its final season, the sitcom won’t be affected by looming cuts. But if the rumours are true, Donnelly predicts the network won’t pick up similar programs in the future, putting several programs Westwind is currently developing in peril.
(Mary Darling is executive producer of the network’s hit TV show, Little Mosque of the Prairie.)

The CBC provides us with a stronger national identity. Without it, we would be little more than the 51st state of the USA. Without it, we would have no bulwark against American culture.

It will be a tragic day for Canadian journalism, Canadian culture, Canadian media, Canadian unity and Canadian values if the Harper Conservatives do any more economic damage to the CBC than they have already done over the past three decades. But I suspect they won’t rest until the CBC is gutted and dead.