Andrew Cohen: Our indispensable ‘lickspittle’ media

Her imperishable judgment: It’s the media, stupid.

LeBreton, the government leader in the Senate, is embarrassed — or should be — that three of the four senators under scrutiny were appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

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Two of them, national broadcasters both, were appointed for their celebrity. Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy (“Old Duff,” as he calls himself) were asked to raise money and campaign for the Conservatives.

At the time of her appointment, Wallin said that she had asked to sit in the Senate as an independent. “That’s not on, Pam,” she says Harper told her. Like Duffy, she became a partisan. Now both make an art of avoiding the nosy, troublesome, irresponsible media that begat them.

LeBreton is also uncomfortable that the prime minister said little to caucus before decamping for Peru, where reporters had the temerity to question him on domestic politics. Canadians turn on their televisions to see the nightly tableau of two prominent politicians — Duffy and Wallin — running down corridors, fleeing the very people they once were.

In frustration, LeBreton delivers her exquisite “J’accuse!” When in doubt, blame the media.

“I know more than most that — around this town populated by Liberal elites and their media lickspittles, tuttutting about our government and yearning for the good old days — that we are never given the benefit of the doubt and are rarely given the credit for all the good work that we do,” she thunders.

The heroes of this story are, in fact, that lickspittle media. It is reporters on Parliament Hill who have followed the leads, worked their sources, done the legwork. More than anyone else in this unseemly episode, they have forced the revelations that have forced the allegations that have forced the resignations from caucus and the PMO.

Lickspittle media? Without them, Canadians would know nothing about this imbroglio. Who else would have exposed it?

The Senate? Its credibility is in shreds today, after the Conservatives used their majority to whitewash the report of one of its committees — see the “before” and “after” versions — following an apparent demand from the PMO to go easy on “Old Duff.”

The ethics commissioner? Why, it could be months before that office completes its investigation, upholding a venerable tradition of justice moving glacially in Canada.

The New Democrats and the Liberals? They shake their fists in indignation in the theatre known as question period. But they’re following this story rather than advancing it.

Here are two related stories we are not hearing about.

First, there are conscientious senators who have broken with their parties in the past. So it was with the courageous Janis Johnson, a Conservative from Manitoba who was appointed by Brian Mulroney in 1990 as one of several “GST senators.”

Four years later, she opposed the Conservative government over a seemingly minor bill to merge the Canada Council with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. She thought the bill was flawed in substance and political in purpose. The decisive votes against were cast by her, Finlay MacDonald, Norman Atkins and other Conservatives. The bill died.

An angry Mulroney revoked his invitation to Johnson to join him that week for his farewell gala at the Conservative convention. “He doesn’t realize that I have a mind of my own,” Johnson said at the time.

Second, Canada can and should have an adult conversation about the future of the Senate. By way of example, consider the spirited debate taking place in Ireland over its upper house, or Éireann Seanad.

Like Canadians, the Irish are unhappy with an unelected chamber filled with self-interested partisans. They may choose to abolish it or reform it, and their debate has been heated.

The Irish are expected to vote on the matter in a referendum later this year. Unlike us, they’re not just complaining about their broken democracy.

Andrew Cohen is a professor of journalism and international affairs at Carleton University.

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