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For sure, not everyone is happy with the slow pace of reconciliation

By Sheila Copps      

But no one can deny that Justin Trudeau has been more committed to action than any predecessor.

Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott, pictured April 3, 2019, on the Hill after speaking with reporters. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade
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OTTAWA—There has always been a love-hate relationship between politicians and the media.

As a young reporter for The Hamilton Spectator, I was accused of going over to the dark side when I resigned to run for office.

Reporters and politicians need each other, but there is a chasm of skepticism that separates the two.

I say that because it has been my distinct recent impression that some journalists are lining up to shape the outcome of the next federal election.

Take a recent, screaming front page Globe and Mail headline on April 24, saying that the government used partisan lists to screen judicial appointments.

The article claimed that one-quarter of judicial appointments had been party donors in previous years.

That meant three-quarters of appointees to the bench had not supported the party.

Statistically speaking, there was no story there. The headline was so misleading that an associate professor of psychology wrote a letter to the editor, saying: “Clearly, the facts overwhelmingly supported the statement by Justice Minister David Lametti’s office that political leanings were not taken into consideration for judicial appointments. Your article’s tone and presentation, however, present quite a different picture.”

It is highly probable that Liblist, the party tracking tool, screened out candidates who had been big donors to the government, for fear of a public backlash.

All donations are a matter of public record and, of course, parties use every tool at their disposal to avoid criticism about appointees tied too closely to the government.

That explanation does not square with The Globe narrative that the Liberals are improperly tinkering with the justice system.

The story also appeared to breathe life into claims by former minister Jody Wilson-Raybould that PMO had improperly handled files within her jurisdiction.

The former Liberal made The Globe front page again on April 25, taking direct aim the government’s reconciliation agenda at a gathering of British Columbia First Nations.

Why is a one-sided speech from a former minister a front-page story?

In a lengthy article that largely repeats her speech verbatim, the former minister accuses colleagues of “a pattern of trying to quote, manage the problem with Indigenous peoples and make incremental and limited shifts rather than transforming the status quo.”

Many believe the former minister’s dissatisfaction with the reconciliation agenda was the real reason she quit cabinet.

When Philpott resigned in solidarity, she claimed her only disagreement with the leader was on the deferred prosecution agreement. Philpott repeated that statement multiple times.

But last week, she too, joined her friend in the attack on the government’s Indigenous agenda. She accused Canada of needing adjustment in “moral compass” if it could not fund a Grassy Narrows treatment centre.

As Indigenous services minister for almost three years and then head of Treasury Board, Philpott herself could have funded the Grassy Narrows project.

In 2017, she promised in writing to do so but her promise came with zero funding.

As Treasury Board president, she wrote Canada’s cheques. So if the country’s moral compass has been compromised, she bears some responsibility. How does she square her criticism with previous public statements that her sole disagreement with the prime minister was the SNC-Lavalin file?

In the 20-paragraph Globe story, only one paragraph provided a viewpoint critical of the pair.

For sure, not everyone is happy with the slow pace of reconciliation. But no one can deny that Justin Trudeau has been more committed to action than any predecessor.

A week earlier, The Globe published a scathing op-ed rebuke of Wilson-Raybould, written by the founding chair of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers.

Past president of the Criminal Lawyers Association Brian Greenspan, wrote: “The reputation and integrity of the administration of criminal justice in Canada has recently been challenged by critics who betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the responsibilities of key participants in our justice system. Regrettably, these misconceptions have been fuelled by our former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould. The attorney general’s power to superintend prosecutions is an important aspect of our system. The former attorney general treated the director of public prosecutions (DPP) as essentially unreviewable. Politically accountable oversight in ensuring that the public interest is properly taken into account isn’t anathema to the rule of law. The attorney-general’s power to superintend prosecutions is an integral part of our justice system.”

This criticism comes from someone with deep knowledge of the criminal justice system and zero political agenda.

Politicians usually blame media when things are going badly. But when front-page news is so blatantly one-sided, they may not be wrong.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. 

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