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Mass Disruption

Mass Disruption

Thirty Years on the Front Lines of a Media Revolution
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Power, Prime Ministers, and the Press

Power, Prime Ministers, and the Press

The Battle for Truth on Parliament Hill
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One: At the Beginning
On Wednesday, November 6, 1867, official Ottawa was abuzz with excitement. A 19-gun salute from the Ottawa Field Battery greeted Viscount Charles Stanley Monck, the 48-year-old Governor General, as he arrived to preside over the first session of the new nation’s Parliament. After the formalities of swearing in MPs and the cabinet ended, Sir John A. Macdonald, the 53-year-old prime minister picked by Monck for the role, moved the appointment of the first House speaker. Seconding the motion was Macdonald’s seatmate, Sir George Etienne Cartier. Then, Joseph Dufrense, the Quebec Conservative MP from Montcalm, rose in his seat and, addressing the House in French, protested the election of Hon. James Cockburn of Northumberland West. In the words of the Toronto Globe the next day, Dufrense complained, “the gentleman could not speak the French language. He thought it was to be regretted that, at the inauguration of the new system, greater respect was not shown to Lower Canada in this matter. He looked upon this as a matter of national feeling.” Without further discussion, the House then went about its business in English. Along with the report, the Globe, a partisan Liberal outlet in its day, used an adjacent column in the November 7 paper to condemn Macdonald for using the Speakership as a reward for a loyal but unpromising follower.
So much for a smooth start for the first Parliament.
The Globe report was significant: it affirmed the vital role of the Press Gallery in national affairs, since there were no official records of debates — known as Hansard — until 1875. Indeed, the Parliamentary Press Gallery is as old as Confederation. While the great fire of 1916 that razed the Parliament buildings destroyed most of the official records, the first volume of the House of Commons Journals mentions the “reporters’ room.” In fact, pre-Confederation reporters covering the Parliament of Upper Canada actually worked out of the still-under-construction Parliament Buildings in 1866 — an anniversary the Press Gallery marked with the publication of a retrospective, Sharp Wits & Busy Pens, in June 2016.
The tradition of covering legislatures dates back to the colonial days. John Bushell published the first issue of his Halifax Gazette in 1752. Quebec’s pioneering paper, the Quebec Gazette, appeared in 1764. Journalists had reported on political debates in Quebec City since 1792 and established la Tribune de la presse Québécoise on November 18, 1871 . Étienne Parent, the young intellectual who was the guiding spirit of the nationaliste paper Le Canadien, later served as a senior cabinet official for the Province of Canada, moving as the seat of government shifted among Kingston, Montreal, Toronto and Quebec between 1843 and 1859 — and submitting occasional articles to his paper. Other pre-Confederation journalists led the fight for press freedoms and reform. William Lyon Mackenzie, destined to mount the Upper Canada Rebellion against the Family Compact, wrote in his Colonial Advocate: “Wherever the press is not free, the people are poor, abject, degraded slaves.” Halifax editor Joseph Howe of the Novascotian, George Brown of The Globe and Parent were among the influential journalists who later played strong, controversial political roles in shaping Canada. Of the 98-member Province of Canada delegation attending the Charlottetown Conference in 1864, 23 were journalists. As educator George Grant observed in 1828, “At this time in the history of the world, it was almost impossible to be an editor without being a politician also.”
And how the members of the Press Gallery could play politics. Thomas White Jr., called “the Father of the Gallery” by the Canadian Illustrated News in 1875, bought the Hamilton Spectator and The Gazette in Montreal before getting elected and becoming Macdonald’s influential minister of the interior. Another Macdonald backer was erudite Alfred D. DeCelles of the influential La Minerve who ultimately became the Parliamentary Librarian. Henry Bourassa left Laurier’s cabinet and founded Le Devoir in Montreal and turned over direction of the paper to a Gallery veteran, Georges Pelletier. In the 1900s, two English giants of journalism — friendly with the party in power — graduated from the Press Gallery to become editors of powerful newspapers: John Willison of The Globe in Toronto and John Dafoe of the Free Press in Winnipeg. In almost a direct line, Dafoe’s figurative descendants over the decades continued the close association and influence with Liberal governments, including Grant Dexter of the Free Press, Bruce Hutchison of The Sun in Vancouver and Blair Fraser of Maclean’s. For the Conservatives, there was the irrepressible Grattan O’Leary, who rose from poverty in the Gaspé to the editorship of the Ottawa Journal and was a confidant of three Tory leaders. In an era when there was no Twitter, SnapChat or email these were men who wrote diaries and exchanged letters with leaders and each other, providing a trove of archival material for historians about their thinking and their actions.
From all of that, we know that early Press Gallery members were a highly partisan lot. Indeed, the seating plan mirrored the one on the floor of the Commons below. London Free Press editor Arthur Ford, who covered his first Parliament in 1907 for the former Winnipeg Telegram, recalled in his memoirs: “When I first went to the capital, the Liberals were in power and sat, of course, to the right of the Speaker. The representative of the Liberal press sat in the Press Gallery also to the right.” When the Conservatives won the 1911 election, the Tory reporters swapped with the Liberals and moved over to the speaker’s right. So-called “independent” journalists were relegated to the cheap seats.
Until Laurier’s time, governments ladled out information — even including election calls — as patronage only to their friends in the Gallery, the “ministerial press” as they were known. Willison, who started in Ottawa in 1886 as a correspondent for the Liberal-leaning Globe, complained about his Tory-leaning rivals having access to official documents before they were tabled in Parliament. “Their dispatches would be in the telegraph office before less favoured rivals could examine the reports.” Ford acknowledged: “It was one way a grateful ministry paid newspapers for their support.”
And what support. Ford recalls that one of his freelance gigs was filing to the Fredericton Gleaner, then owned by a rabid Conservative, James Crockett. Prime Minister Borden had just finished outlining his proposals for the controversial naval assistance bill to provide England with cash. Wilfrid Laurier’s response was highly anticipated, given the opposition in his party ranks and the anti-Imperial furor in Quebec. Laurier happened to follow Sir Douglas Hazen, a Conservative cabinet minister who was a close friend of owner Crockett. When Ford asked his Halifax desk how much copy they wanted on Laurier, the response came back: “Ignore Laurier entirely. Send Hazen verbatim.”
That was the way it was, mainly because the parties owned the major papers. Macdonald invested his own money in repeated newspaper ventures that supported Conservative policies, including the Mail and then the Empire in Toronto. So did Laurier who worked to assure the welfare of Liberal-leaning papers, especially including Le Soleil in Quebec and La Presse in Montreal. At one point Laurier intervened personally to prevent a scheme by Conservatives to take over La Presse. Laurier did attempt to change the channel on access by offering off-the-record sessions with reporters from Conservative as well as Liberal papers. Revealingly, a Globe Ottawa correspondent protested, urging Laurier to maintain the previous practice of partisan publicity. He did not — on the advice of the reporter’s boss, Laurier’s friend Willison of the Globe.
From the beginning, journalists were active players in the government of the day, forming an intricate interlocking directorship between press and politicians. One season they might work in the Press Gallery, another time they would be in cabinet or the back room. Quebec journalists would bounce between federal and provincial politics and the Gallery. White, a respected Parliamentary reporter, got Macdonald’s help in his takeover of the Spectator in Hamilton. Later White and his brother Richard bought the Gazette in Montreal and turned it into the leading Conservative voice in the new country — helping Macdonald to secure his hold on Quebec. From that base, Thomas White won election to Parliament and became known for his prodigious work as Macdonald’s confidante and, until his death from pneumonia in 1888, a possible successor.
Likewise, lawyer-turned journalist Ernest Pacaud encouraged Wilfrid Laurier to get into politics in1874. Laurier, in turn, designated his friend as editor of L’Électeur, the newspaper the prime minister established with his wealthy friends as a counterpoint to Le Canadien, then run by Conservative journalist/ideologue Joseph-Isarël Tarte. Tarte later became Laurier’s public works minister. In 1896 Tarte and fellow Liberal MP Henri Bourassa were the federal negotiators in the settlement of the Manitoba schools crisis.
In the beginning, reporters would travel to Ottawa for the sessions, returning home after three or four months. In the dusty old lumber town, liquor flowed with the political gossip at the legendary Russell House on the corner of Sparks and Elgin streets, a favourite lodging for the “sessionals” who could afford it that pre-dated the Chateau Laurier. Stained-glass versions of provincial coats-of-arms graced a dome over the opulent rotunda. Liveried servants discretely worked the dining room to the dulcet strains of the house orchestra. Paul Bilkey, the Toronto Telegram correspondent at the turn of the century, noted in his memoir: “It used to be said that the Dominion was governed more from the lobbies and rooms of the Russell House than from the ministerial offices or from the House of Commons.” Journalist Augustus Bridle assured female readers of The Canadian Magazine, “Here you are more likely to discover the man you want than almost anywhere else in Ottawa, except up at Parliament.” Indeed the Russell was the temporary abode of senior politicians and bureaucrats, including Laurier, who penned letters from his bed-sitting room to his beloved Mistress Emile Lavergne. Lesser mortals settled into cramped rooming houses with no running water.

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Punching and Kicking

Punching and Kicking

Leaving Canada's Toughest Neighbourhood
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No Heavy Lifting

No Heavy Lifting

Globetrotting Adventures of a Sports Media Guy
also available: eBook
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“Running with the children the other morning . . . I’ll be touched and remember forever.”

— Steve Montador, a few days after visiting school kids in the Serengeti, June 2007



Steve Montador was a guy who took a lot of punches. He wasn’t the most successful hockey fighter but he was always a willing participant. Willing to stick up for any teammate, willing to drop the mitts at the appropriate time. He would best be considered a middleweight who often fought heavyweight enforcers. He also fought stars, shit disturbers, and grinders. According to hockeyfights.com, in his career “Monty” fought fifty-one different NHLers, nine of them multiple times, and based on the visual evidence, he lost the majority of his fights.

But whether he won or lost at fisticuffs meant little. A hard-working defenseman, he played the game the right way and was cherished by any man wearing the same sweater.

He was also freaking hilarious.

The longest, hardest sustained laughter I have experienced as an adult occurred while listening to Montador tell a story about laser hair removal in a sensitive area of his body, and the interactions with the older woman who was removing it. We were sitting at dinner on the shores of the Indian Ocean, north of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, at a remote resort restaurant with Andrew Ference, his former teammate in Calgary and at the time a Boston Bruins defenceman; as well as Mark Brender, then Canadian Deputy Director of the humanitarian sports organization Right To Play; Patrick Gamere, our videographer from New England Sports Network (NESN); and our local cab driver, whom we invited to sit and join us despite the fact he spoke only Swahili.

The cabbie didn’t need to speak English to know that Monty’s story was outrageously funny. Simply watching Monty’s non-verbal gestures and the rest of us doubled over, the cabbie was laughing, eyes watering, as much as the rest of us.

It was one of the many times the man had us in stitches during a trip that had its fair share of very serious moments. Like when the machine-gun-toting Tanzanian cop decided whether or not he was going to let our van pass through his checkpoint; when we almost stepped on not one, but two, very deadly green mamba snakes in the Serengeti; when some remote villagers may have taken exception to us not buying any of their handmade goods after they had welcomed us like kings; and when we regularly realized just how amazing the local children were, despite the fact they were dealing with crushing poverty, AIDS, and abuse.

Monty was there on a mission with Ference to learn firsthand about the work of Right To Play in East Africa, and to pass that knowledge and experience along to potential supporters back home. I was helping that effort by producing and hosting an hour-long documentary on their almost week-long adventure for NHL Network TV and also a couple of half-hour versions for NESN.

They were long days full of smiles, enlightenment, and inspiration while playing games with Tanzanian children, followed by deeper reflection on a nightly basis. The reality of the kids’ living conditions and lifestyle was humbling and confounding.

Montador actually committed to the trip just a week before it began, after another NHL hockey player, Georges Laraque, then of the Penguins, backed out due to a summer training injury. On day two, Andrew described his appreciation for Monty’s effort.

“It’s pretty cool that a guy can come with six days’ notice for a big trip to Africa, so there’s not too many guys around that would do that but . . . let alone come with the enthusiasm and understanding in such a short time about what Right To Play is all about. Really kind of just opening his arms to what we’re seeing here, and the culture here, and what we’re all about.”

Right To Play uses games and sports in places like sub-Saharan Africa to expose kids to life lessons they normally wouldn’t get. Not only do children show up to school in greater numbers during these RTP activity days, so do more teachers. Among other things, the activities teach the kids about avoiding malaria, protecting themselves against HIV, and treating others, especially girls and women in this otherwise very patriarchal landscape, with respect.

Ference and Montador flew overnight from London to Dar es Salaam, met us at the Peacock Hotel City Centre, and within an hour were in a van heading to the first venue, an orphanage, or dogo dogo (“little” in Swahili), somewhere in the middle of the city. We had no idea where we were going; we relied on a full-time Tanzanian guide named Leila Sheik, hired by the local Right To Play office to get us everywhere.

She got us past the cop, she made sure our meals and hotel rooms were taken care of, she negotiated with villagers, and she basically saved our asses whenever we were clueless or potentially in trouble. (I was happy to see Leila pop up on Twitter in June 2015. After our trip in 2007, we thought she might literally have been killed off. She was a pretty mouthy, female anti-government activist, who at one point told a hotel manager to “go F himself.”)

Leila referred to Andrew and Steve, these athlete ambassadors, as “her stars.” “Whatever my stars want, my stars get.”

On day one they got a dose of reality. The dogo dogo was a part-time school, part-time recreation centre, and a housing facility, full of abused kids and AIDS orphans. The country has millions of them. Half of the population lives below the poverty line; most adults earn the equivalent of about $200 US dollars a year.

Issac, literally the first kid we met, was wearing a white t-shirt with a photograph on the front of Steve Yzerman hoisting the Stanley Cup after the Detroit Red Wings won it in 1997. Isaac didn’t know Steve Yzerman’s name, nor would he know Wayne Gretzky or Gordie Howe. He wouldn’t know a hockey puck if it hit him in the head. He had no idea what the shirt meant, it was just a nifty article of clothing from America.

I’m thinking: pretty freaking cool, this kid is wearing a Red Wings t-shirt. Even more freaking cool was that a donation dropped in a box somewhere in North America reached its intended target, a kid in Africa who needed clothes.

The children held our hands and guided us through a shantytown to a clearing they used as a soccer field. It was a mix of grass and dirt and littered with old tires, which the kids used in inventive ways as toys. The soccer ball was made up of torn pieces of t-shirt sewn tightly around a couple more balled up shirts. Andrew and Monty watched the informal match, played with the children who weren’t involved with the soccer game, and listened to them sing. They hugged the kids, they high-fived, they ran around and laughed.

“You go in and you kind of get their bio, they’re orphaned by AIDS, running away from abusive families, they’re young kids with only other orphans as family,” explained Ference. “So if you kind of go in with that and guess what you’re going to run into, you’d think, ah, kids fallen on hard times. But what we ran into were sharp kids . . . studying during their vacation time . . . really doing whatever they could to better themselves with whatever available resources they had.”

“Another thing that is remarkable is the fact that a lot of them come from impoverished areas and very challenging circumstances,” added Montador, “and yet they have hope in their eyes and they’re happy and they’re enjoying themselves with the things that they do. Their feet are so tough to be running on uneven grass mixed with dirt fields, kicking soccer balls, bumping into each other and getting up with a scrape and just continuing on. I mean, they’re tough.”

That afternoon we went to another dogo dogo, this one on the northern outskirts of the city. A group of eight eighteen-year-old orphan boys, in their final year in the program (as the director stated, “they will leave to decide their own fates”), put on a musical performance for us. High-energy interpretive dance and singing accompanied drumming on eight individual drums the teenagers had made themselves from wood and animal hides. The music included anti-war and anti-genocide messages and also focused on the natural beauty of their country. Aside from the artistic element, there was a practical side to the effort. They sold each drum for the equivalent of eight US dollars.

“That’s another thing that these schools do in such a great way,” Monty said. “There are songs and dance that talk about being free and staying resilient through war and tough times.”

It was the first day of a week dominated by smiles. Genuine, beaming African smiles that make you laugh from smiling. For all of day one, day two at a primary school, two days in the Serengeti, another primary school in a remote village, meeting a family in their compound literally in the middle of nowhere—smiles as sincere as you’ll see your entire life.

“Their lives are filled with, compared to North American kids, a lot of hardships,” Andrew pointed out. “You would never guess that by their attitudes. They’re the first ones to run out in the street and wave to the mzungu (white skin) and hold your hand. Just very affectionate and happy and real, nothing pretentious about it.”

By day two our eyes and minds had adjusted to our surroundings. The utter novelty wore off and we gradually acclimated to the social environment and the mission. Monty, the late addition, was all in—a chance to play more games and a chance to shake his booty.

“Music and dance are a part of this culture like no other culture that I’ve been around, and it’s nice because I can dance around with these kids, and though I know I suck, it doesn’t matter, ha ha,” Monty said on day two. “Because it’s just having a good time and shaking your hips and expressing yourself that way. Music and dance are just such a great expression of the culture here and it’s awesome to see 200 kids or 100 kids dancing in unison or singing in unison. It’s just quite remarkable.”

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