I have a real problem with journalists making the leap to politics. I have an even bigger problem with veteran journalists — and, for the sake of this argument, I will concede that TV talking heads can be considered journalists — being appointed to plum political posts without benefit of election.
This happened today in Canada. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, having narrowly averted a governmental collapse, just appointed 18 new senators to our upper house. Yes, appointed. That’s the way it works here. Technically, Harper doesn’t appoint them; our governor-general, Michaelle Jean, representative of the Queen, appoints them. But he appointed her. And she is really just a ceremonial figure, and does as she’s told.
Harper’s Conservatives are at a disadvantage in our unelected Senate. Senators serve until age 75, and many of them were appointed during the Liberals’ 13 years in power throughout the 90s and into the 21st century. Now, with a Conservative minority in the Commons and the potential for a three-party allied opposition attack on Harper’s government, the PM has stacked the deck upstairs to make sure more of his ideas make it through.
The new senators are the usual suspects: longtime Tories and Tory supporters. One is an MP who was defeated in the last election, in October, leading to a lot of questions about democracy and Harper’s view of it. And yes, that bothered me a bit. But what really bothered me were two surprising names on the list: Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy.
Wallin is a former TV anchor who left the media a decade ago to become a diplomat for the Liberal government. That raised eyebrows. Now she’s a Tory senator … that should raise even more eyebrows.
But Mike Duffy? CTV has marketed Duffy, a jovial, roly-poly TV reporter, as “the most trusted name in the news” for as long as I can remember. He’s a fixture on Parliament Hill, the face you always see after a political crisis, a vote or a big announcement. And I have to admit it: I do trust him. He’s never been smooth, he’s never been urbane. He’s never had that ridiculous TV hair, because he doesn’t have any hair. And he presented political news in a fair, accessible fashion. He was one of us. He was Duff.
All that’s out the window.
I’ll just tell him straight up:
Dear Mike (I can’t call you Senator Duffy, sorry), as a veteran journalist myself, I am shocked that you would take this post. It reeks of opportunism, not responsibility. You and I and thousands of other reporters, photographers and editors across this country have an obligation to Canadians. We are a spoke in the wheel of democracy, the voice of reason, of information and of truth. We hold governments accountable and we challenge them to do what’s right for our friends and families. And we document our days for history. It is a sacred role.
You blew it.
How can any of us take anything you’ve ever reported seriously now, knowing that you were willing to make the leap to the Senate as soon as you were asked? Really?
At least you’re in good company. Your old pal Jim Munson, another TV reporter, was sent to the Senate years ago after working for the PM as a communications flak. And Pam, well, she knows her way around one-day work weeks and big expensive perqs, so you two can hang out.
More and more, I wish I could somehow reactivate my family’s dormant U.S. citizenship. It can’t be worse than this.
Note: All that being said, Mike, if you’re actually reading this, I need work. Can you put in a good word for me with the PM? Thanks.