Editor’s Corner article

Finally, some good news!
CHRIS MacLEAN  |  May 15, 2019

It’s no secret that governments in power don’t enjoy having their every move scrutinized by the press. After close to 10 years of an increasingly tight strangle-hold on what was allowed to be shared to the press, or who was allowed to talk to whom, I was guardedly hopeful (though as skeptical as ever) to have a new party at the helm in late 2015. I anticipated a loosening of what I saw as extreme message control, and possibly a move towards the so-called “transparency” that everyone in the federal government pretends to hold so dear.

I could not have been more wrong. It didn’t take long, less than a month in fact, for the proverbial mess to hit the fan as “someone” advised the press that the new Cabinet was considering putting the recently signed contract for an interim replenishment ship on hold – and the Prime Minister called in RCMP investigators to find the leaker.

A year later, as the young government progressed through the Surface Combatant file, Murray Brewster broke the story that the government forbade all bidders from speaking to the press: “Neither the bidders, nor any of their respective subcontractors, employees or representatives shall make any public comment, respond to questions in a public forum or carry out any activities to either criticize another bidder or any bid – or publicly advertise their qualifications.” As a small publisher dependent on advertising revenues, this could spell the end. I wrote about it online and reached out to then-Minister Judy Foote’s office at PSPC. Two weeks later, ADM Lisa Campbell informed us that the offending clause had been amended wherein bidders could not discuss the outcome without Irving’s consent, and certainly not before announcement of the selected bidder. Somewhat better, but it still didn’t exude transparency.  

A recent national survey by the Canadian Journalism Foundation found that 40% of respondents have “little to no confidence” in their own ability to differentiate between factual and false information in media reports – so why would a government shut out the legitimate agencies? The information void, created by the very government that pledges transparency, opens the door to speculation, innuendo, and yes... possibly, fake news.

But I did start off saying there is good news, didn’t I? As David Pugliese wrote on 3 May, “The federal government is retreating on the media ban it brought in on defence-related purchases totalling billions of dollars, acknowledging that its actions go against claims it wants to be more open and transparent about how tax dollars are spent.”

This is the first bit of refreshing news I’ve heard in a long time. Repeated news coverage of the various gag orders finally had an effect. “That news coverage,” Pugliese wrote, “forced a change in direction and the government will no longer prevent firms from discussing equipment projects with reporters.” According to the reporting, Andre Fillion, assistant deputy minister for defence and marine procurement at Public Services and Procurement Canada, told Postmedia that they had “looked at some of the clauses we’ve been using and were erring way too far on the side of caution of protection of information at the expense of being open and transparent.”

After facing progressively more restrictive “message control” going on 14 years now, I must admit I was so ready to throw in the towel. I suddenly have new hope for the future, and by that I mean for the reader, for the taxpayer, for the concerned citizen. This is important, it’s a good start.

It’s impossible to say if it’s related, but this may be the very reason why you can read the article by Capt Myers in this edition. I was floored when the word came back that we’d be allowed to publish it. Now maybe I know why.

Chris MacLean