There are four print journalists in Vancouver’s daily newspaper market, who I really enjoy and admire: David Baines, Vaughn Palmer and Miro Cernetig of the Vancouver Sun; and Michael Smyth of The Province.
Smyth this week opened my eyes once more to how far he stands above the current sad state of political reporting in B.C. In a column titled “New Universities a smokescreen”, Smyth recalled Premier Gordon Campbell decision a few days earlier “to snap his fingers and magically convert five colleges into full-fledged universities.”
I remembered reading about that story in the papers and seeing it covered on television. In fact, in my April 23 web article (click on April to find it) entitled ”Local TV News: Dumbing Down British Columbians” I lamented the puff piece media coverage of the premier that day … without what I would view as a single really probing question or any counterpoint from the Opposition leader or any critic.
Smyth’s column May 11 notes that only days before that media love-in on universities “the government quietly cut the operating grants to colleges and universities by an average 2.6 per cent.”
Good journalism work, Michael!
This should have been a HUGE story; I believe it sure would have been had an NDP government done it! Smyth went after Campbell and his government on this: but no one else seems to have done the same.
Post secondary institutions have long been struggling under inadequate funding, despite senior government burgeoning surpluses. In the past year, those pressures on colleges and universities, like every other business and the rest of us, have been exacerbated by rising costs, especially for energy … and, in fact, every piece of goods or supplies that they order, thanks to huge increases in delivery costs.
And yet ..they get CUTS in their operating grants .. and that gets minimal or no coverage!
I believe it’s all part of Gordon Campbell’s free ride from the major media … and he has been rolling along like that for far too long.
I recall back in 2001, after the newly elected Campbell. tore up legally-signed and, many thought, legally binding labour agreements between the provincial government and about 40,000 provincial health care workers, members of the Hospital Employees Union.
Thousands lost their jobs in the rush to privatization; patients suffered through reduced hospital staffing levels; there were many complaints about declining food quality; and there were also many reports of declining cleanliness at health facilities.
Personally, I have always believed in the rule of law and respect for legal contracts. Seemingly, Gordon Campbell did not … politically ripping them up and imposing his government’s own agreements on the angry workers, without any negotiations.
I believed it was a horrible abuse of power. So when I had the opportunity, I put to Campbell a blunt Harvey-style question “Are you going to be a Premier or a dictator?”
Campbell was not happy with that one! He uttered his oft-repeated defence of his government’s actions, citing difficult times facing the province and insisting the government was within its legal rights to do what it did. But he was clearly not pleased with my question!
However, I was the one who was vindicated: the Supreme Court of Canada ruled his government’s actions ILLEGAL.
It took six years … but the unions were vindicated in their struggle: the Court ruled the BC government, in Bill 29, had violated the Canadian Charter of Rights. And in negotations that followed the ruling, the governmernt last January was forced to pony up more than $85 million in a settlement!
But Campbell was given a very easy ride.
Can you imagine the media frenzy that would have followed Glen Clark or Mike Harcourt or Bill Vander Zalm, if their government, while they were premier, was found to have acted ILLEGALLY in this way, and the taxpayers had to shell out more than $85 Million in a settlement.
More than $85 MILLION IN A SETTLEMENT!
But it was Campbell’s Health and Labour Ministers who took the heat, giving puffy answers to puffy questions … and then it was all quickly left behind. Campbell should have been chased down the halls, forced to answer for his actions … over and over again … and the huge settlement costs. But if that happened anywhere, I sure didn’t see or hear about it. Did you?
No, there has clearly emerged a gentler media approach to the Liberals and Gordon Campbell that any former NDP or Socred premier were always denied. And I believe the public interest suffers for the tired, bored state of much of ther political reporting in the major media.
As for me, I believe Campbell never forgave me for that tough question: as he walked away from that scrum, he turned, and said to me “Nice question, Harv. Nice question.” But there was no smile to go with his words!
I had known and covered Campbell since 1973, when I covered Vancouver City Hall for The Vancouver Sun and he was Executive Assistant to Mayor Art Phillips. We had always had a pretty good working relationship; but on that day I believed I asked a tough question Campbell would not forget.
The BCTV cameraman working with me that day, told me Campbell mentioned it more than once afterwards; his political skin is apparently not as thick as many people believe …. even though the Supreme Court decision, in my view, backed not his, but my view of his actions.
When I retired in 2006, after 38 years in the news business, and about 34 years working with/around Campbell at the municipal, regional and provincial levels … he (unlike many others) NEVER called or wrote a note to Congratulate me on my award-winning career, to thank me for my public contribution to the media in B.C. or just to wish me well.
That kind of told me that my question “Are you going to be a Premier, or a dictator?” really hit a nerve … and showed Gordon that with this reporter, at least, there would be no free ride.