Thursday, September 1, 2011

Columnists unethical, and oily on the facts.

When a news reporter gets a fact wrong, it’s usually an honest mistake they’ll happily correct if notified. But when a columnist gets the facts wrong, no-one seems to care. Their output is treated as opinion, and who can correct an opinion? Yet that is no excuse for printing outright false information when they really should know better. Even if the error serves their political bias.

Attacks on Ontario’s McGuinty government provide easy examples. I’m not a big fan of the premier, and I don’t support his party, but I don’t attack him with lies, either. So when I read in Christina Blizzard's February 16th column that “Wind and other renewable energy programs are largely responsible for soaring energy costs”, I rolled my eyes. Wind is barely 2% of our electric supply, and solar is so small it’s not even on the charts. Between them, they barely nudge our electric prices. Blame high bills on nuclear overruns and long-overdue grid upgrades. Since neither of those provide ammunition to fire at “the Dalton Gang”, the lies come out.

But things took a turn for the morbid this week, as Ezra Levant dumped on the accolades paid the late Jack Layton (“Funeral that became an NDP rally”, Aug 30). You might know Levant from his book declaring our tar sands operations to be “ethical oil” because they harm the Earth more than they harm humans.

I had my differences with Jack and don’t support his party, either, but I wouldn’t deny reality as Ezra has. First, he laments that Jack didn’t even sit for a day as Leader of the Opposition. Actually, he sat for several weeks in June, including a major filibuster. Did Levant miss that? He also opines Jack didn’t deserve a state funeral, not having achieved successes to “transcend our national divides”. Um, just who wiped the Bloc from the House? But the most damning claim is that eulogists could only talk of Jack’s opinions, not accomplishments, because “he really had none”. Well, tens of thousands of Torontonians begged to differ, honouring Jack’s many achievements as city councilor and committee chair.

Levant attributes this supposed lack of accomplishments to Jack’s never having “held executive office,” merely being opposition leader. Levant needs a better understanding of Canadian civics. Our Prime Minister is not our ruler – he sits as first among equals, and must have support of the House. And in 7 years of minority governments, many motions only passed with the support of Jack Layton’s NDP, for better or worse. Any accomplishment of the House of Commons is shared by all members, or at least those voting in favour; to take those from Jack is to rob the dead. Unethical, or just oily?

UPDATE: Mr. Levant has proven me wrong (sort of), by publishing a correction of his mis-statement on Jack's non-sitting as Leader of the Opposition. Now, can anyone find another source who pointed out Levant's error? Because I can't, which makes me believe his retraction is a direct response to my article/blog. So all welcome my new reader, Ezra Levant!

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

Published in my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "To dismiss Layton's feats is to rob the dead"

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