OTTAWA - There is no doubt the union that represents me certainly put one on the tee for Conservatives everywhere.
It wasn’t enough we were already a wedge issue for the federal government in Ottawa. Now my own union has tainted me?
Well, no. There’s a bigger picture here and it deals with journalistic professionalism and the rights of unions to take political stands.
Conservatives have already bemoaned a Canadian media “cartel” that “has greatly complicated our Conservative party efforts to present the unfiltered facts and foundations behind our policies for economic growth, our faith in family values and our commitment to jobs, free trade and prosperity,” according to a party fundraising appeal to deep-pocketed donors.
They did it straight-faced as newspaper after newspaper endorsed Stephen Harper in 2011 (except this one) and most reprised the performance in endorsing Tim Hudak provincially in 2014 (except this one).
Then the union that represents 2,600 editorial and other media workers at this newspaper (the Toronto Star), as well as the Globe and Mail, Toronto Sun, Hamilton Spectator, Ottawa Citizen and tens of other media outlets across the province, took the unprecedented step of wading into Thursday’s Ontario election, asking us not to vote for Hudak.
“Journalists’ union enters Ontario election fray,” sneered Treasury Board president Tony Clement. “In other news, commentators insist they’re not biased.”
“Journalists’ union picks sides in Ontario election . . . but we’re told to believe there’s no such thing as liberal media bias,” said Employment Minister Jason Kenney.
Reaction was also angry and swift from rank-and-file union members and one didn’t have to go far to find it. A stroll through this office sufficed.
The president of the Unifor local, Paul Morse, a Hamilton Spectator reporter, has heard complaints from members, but not a scintilla of direct support.
He understands the principles of journalistic neutrality and objectivity, but he is also paid to protect the interests of his workers and he believes those interests would be hurt by a PC government.
The members he represents are not independent journalistic entrepreneurs, but they are paid to act independently. Nobody has ever sat down at a keyboard wondering what their union would think of their story.
The majority of the senior membership of the union that made the decision, it is worth noting, count themselves as working journalists.
An important question emerging from a bitter provincial campaign is what unions have the right to speak out on behalf of their members during the most important moments in our democracy.
Before the journalists, there were the cops.
When the Ontario Provincial Police Association told its members a Hudak government would be bad for its unionized rank and file, it was, like the journalists’ union, breaking new ground in political intervention.
Hudak counterattacked, charging backroom deals between Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne and the union leadership.
Others suggested they had no right to protect hard-fought bargaining wins. They already earned enough, we were told.
But then it emerged, just days before Thursday’s vote, the OPP had served a court order to Queen’s Park staff for key records relating to deleted emails on the gas plant scandal and had interviewed former premier Dalton McGuinty and the PCs weren’t complaining about the provincial police any more.
Firefighters back the Liberals but they don’t check party affiliation before answering a call.
Journalists, as professionals, will continue to do their jobs regardless of union pronouncements.
I listened to the union video and ignored it, just as I have noted over the years whom the management of this newspaper has endorsed for public office and ignored that.
No one from management has ever asked for my views before they endorse a political leader. Nor should they. More importantly, no one from management has ever asked me to tailor a column to fit an editorial view.
No one from my union leadership would ever be sufficiently asinine to question anything written by its members. Just as I don’t wear the Star’s editorial endorsement, I am free to toss my union’s political views to the curb, and I do.
Conservatives will always play the media bias argument, the louder the bleating, the better the fundraising. They ignore the fact that they are subject to tougher scrutiny because they are the government and it is the media’s job to hold governments accountable, regardless of political affiliation.
I told my union that, as a journalist, I am ignoring its political missive. But I respect it has a view on protecting dwindling media jobs. That’s what it’s there for, and it has the right to speak out, even if it has made our jobs tougher.