The enduring allure of the written word - Macleans.ca
 

The enduring allure of the written word


 

And so it turns out that the assistant who sent out Garry Breitkreuz’s colourful press release also wrote a letter to the editor of a smalltown newspaper without identifying his professional association.

The press release was sent to reporters by Breitkreuz’s parliamentary assistant Brant Scott. Scott, last fall, sent a letter to the editor of an Ottawa-area newspaper arguing against the gun registry but did not identify himself in that letter as a member of Breitkreuz’s staff … Scott’s letter does not mention Breitkreuz and, in the letter, he makes the case to dismantle the registry using several arguments Breitkreuz has often used.

Scott, on Wednesday, said he was acting “as a private citizen” when he wrote the letter and “did not see the connection” that he ought to have identified himself as Breitkreuz’s employee.

That letter is here. And since the press release, strangely, seems to have disappeared from Mr. Breitkreuz’s website, we’ve made it available here.


 

The enduring allure of the written word

  1. I don't think this is the same thing as the Guergis staffer letters. Brant wasn't trying to hide his identity, and he wasn't trying to promote his MP — he's just arguing about an issue he obviously feels very strongly about. Should he have identified his job title when he wrote the letter? This isn't an editorial in the Globe, it's just a letter to a small town newspaper with a few thousand readers.

    • Doesn't matter – should still identify himself (although this isn't quiet as bad as Guergis).

      However, there should be some onus on the newspapers. The New York Times, I assume, always asks letter writers their profession, affiliation, etc. They do this whether the writer is a foreign head of state, or if the writer is a teacher commenting on an education story. It's all about context .

      Newspapers should get a little more info before publishing a letter.

      • He wrote a letter to the Ottawa Citizen in 2008, about house league hockey rules. He didn't mention his job in that letter, either. A news search reveals that he has a long history of writing letters to the editor, about things like composting, preventing drunk driving, minor hockey, etc.. None of those letters are political.

        • And your point is what?

          • Self-evident.

        • great. this one clearly is. hence he, like the Guergis staffers, should have been transparent.

    • I wish I could say the degree of ethical vacuity these days is surprising, but it real isn't, especially when you have people like the above commenter ready and willing, at a moment's notice, to make your excuses for you.

      • C'mon, Tiggy. When the Guergis staffer letters surfaced, I condemned them unequivocally. This really isn't the same thing. He's not pumping an MP, he's just expressing his views on an issue he feels strongly about. Given the fact that the letter writer has a history of expressing himself in print going back to 1987, I don't think he was trying to do something unethical here.

        • Stop making excuses for these people. They're not teenagers.

          It is a routine matter to declare your interests to avoid even the perception of conflict of interest. I'm pretty sure, somewhere in the back of his mind, was a little voice telling him he should add "Full disclosure…" but chose to ignore.

          Of course, we'll never know for sure, since these people lie like the rest of us breathe.

        • C'mon, Crit. You're in a losing battle with folks who just cannot believe that individual citizens might have opinions of their own, especially if these opinions are pro-freedom & anti-registry.

          But I agree with you. Pumping up your boss, without saying she's your boss, is worthy of scorn. Expressing your own opinions, deeply held, is, well, not.

          • If he worked for the house league rules committee, the ethical thing to do would have been to mention that fact in his letter. Not to do so is evidence that either the possibility of the appearance of impropriety did not occur to him, or that it did and he chose not to; in either case it reflects poorly on his judgement, especially given what he does did for a living.

          • So, because I have a boss I am not entitled to express my independent opinion? Or is that only if I happen to agree with my boss that I am not entitled to express my independent opinion?

            Maybe, just maybe, I choose to work for a particular MP because he or she has the same policy aspirations for the country as I do, and I will work like crazy to help achieve them. Maybe I even feel more strongly about the issue than my MP boss does. I can't share my own thoughts with a local paper, in a letter to the editor? I don't want to live in that country. Neither, I would hope, would anyone else.

            I guess it's better to stay quiet to avoid exposure to these nonsensical rants. But it's a shame we've come to this.

    • I agree, but I do note how freaked out the PMO got when an unidentified OLO staffer was interviewed by CBC during the whole H1N1 thing even though he didn't even say anything about the federal government. He was called a plant, proof of collusion between the media and liberals to attack the Cons, etc.

    • as he is getting paid by a person who espouses the same position he should have identified his bias. Not surprising that the Cons are still up to this trick.

  2. Re:
    'Scott, on Wednesday, said he was acting “as a private citizen” when he wrote the letter and “did not see the connection” that he ought to have identified himself as Breitkreuz's employee.'

    So, Mr. Scott hasn't learned anything from Ms. Guergis' assistant doing exactly the same thing, and then getting pilloried for it? That's reassuring. The new slogan for the Conservatives could be: "Doing dubious, unethical things until we're caught!"

    • Aah, I see Scott sent the letter last fall so maybe this was just a standard strategy recommended by the PMO's war room? Have your MP assistant send letters to the editor of the local paper to show how those big, bad Liberals are ruining it all for everybody but don't bother mentioning you work for the Conservative MP. That approach worked really well, eh?

      • Did you read the letter? He didn't even mention the Liberals, or any other party for that matter. It's an issue-focused letter, not a partisan letter.

        • "The long-gun registry was created by a former federal government that was desperate for a response to the heinous mass murder at L'Ecole Polytechnique 20 years ago. That government tabled feel-good legislation, and by its own design, it has not saved the life of a single Canadian."

          That seems like a pretty direct swipe, to me.

          I agree with you that this isn't a big deal. One of those morally suspect, but technically accpetable things. It's not much different from parties stacking protests or rallies with arranged supporters.

          • It seems like the letter writer was trying to avoid a direct swipe, by taking pains to not mention which "former federal government" it was.

          • And who knows who that "former federal government" that "created" the longgun registry as a "for a response to the heinous mass murder at L'Ecole Polytechnique 20 years ago" was.

            Any ideas? Anyone?

          • Again, if the letter writer intended the reference to the "former federal government" as a partisan swipe, he probably would have made it much more obvious.

          • This seems to me just a hair shy of pointing out that an article entitled "The Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada is a big do-do head" doesn't actually mention Michael Ignatieff, and then arguing that if the author had meant the article as a partisan swipe he would have made it more obvious who he was talking about.

            Honestly, what he was doing in not using the word Liberal was attempting to get all of the partisan points without making it SEEM overtly partisan (arguably it was part of his "make a partisan point without letting on that you're a Tory staffer" plan). I agree that it's not actually that big of a deal that he didn't identify himself as a Tory staffer (though the way he wrote that line makes me wonder if HE thought it would be a big deal were he to be identified as a Tory staffer) but I can't buy your argument that this is an "issue focused letter, not a partisan letter". It's CLEARLY a partisan letter, though I agree that that's just fine.

          • If the letter writer was one of the anti-registry NDPers or Liberals, would you still call it a partisan letter?

            He said that the former federal government tabled "feel-good legislation" as a "desperate response" to the Polytechnique shooting. That's a far cry from your "do-do head" example. He obviously despises the registry; I read that sentence as an attempt to explain how the legislation came to be, rather than a veiled partisan swipe.

          • He said that the former federal government tabled "feel-good legislation" as a "desperate response" to the Polytechnique shooting. That's a far cry from your "do-do head" example.

            It's also pretty much a historical fact, although I might quibble with the editorial use of "desperate." Feel-good legislation? Check. Response to December 6? Check. Desperate? Uh, no. Opportunist, maybe, but not desperate.

          • "It seems like the letter writer was trying to avoid a direct swipe…"

            …which seems to indicate a deliberate attempt to be a little cagey about his affiliations.

          • I wonder if would be perceived as "desperate" that a government "would table "feel good legislation" invoking the name Homolka, and whether or not it would save the "life of a single Canadian".

        • I'd love to see what would happen if a Liberal staffer wrote a letter to the editor criticizing the "current government" for passing "do nothing, feel-good legislation" that should be repealed, without mentioning that he is a Liberal staffer (but also without mentioning the Conservative Party of Canada by name). I'd like to think we'd have the same number of people calling it an "issue-focused, non-partisan letter", but I have a feeling that THAT letter writer would be demonized as a liberal plant of the MSM.

          • "I'd like to think we'd have the same number of people calling it an "issue-focused, non-partisan letter", but I have a feeling that THAT letter writer would be demonized as a liberal plant of the MSM."

            Of couse that would happen. And everyone deriding THIS letter writer would defend THAT letter as an "issue-focussed, non-partisan letter".

          • LOL

            Maybe so.

        • Last time I checked C_R, pretty well every issue is made to be hyper-partisan by the Conservatives. For e.g., see Mr. Breitkreuz's comments about Ignatieff. Classy.

  3. Have to say, I'm not at all sure I see what the deal is with a staffer not identifying himself as a staffer in a letter to the editor. If there was use of some underhanded inside information or full of attacks on the Liberals, maybe. But not just a defence of a policy position.

    Since when did the rest of us adopt the conservative view that the messenger is more important than the message?

    The press release, on the other hand, was appalling behaviour by an MP.

    • "Since when did the rest of us adopt the conservative view that the messenger is more important than the message?"

      Because the messenger could possibly (and almost certainly does) have inherent biases that impact the context of the letter to the editor. Biases that readers should be made aware of. Just as we should be advised who is paid to lobby for who, when lobbyists are interviewed in the media.

      • Sure it matters, sometimes, but the lobbying legislation that requires it is trying to address an entirely different concern.

        This letter is a matter of persuasion of opinion to the general public, at least the readership of this paper. I think we focus too much on the who and not enough on the spurious, wrong arguments he makes.

        And that is a very conservative habit that I don't like and so I don't like it when it is done against them either.

        • I agree. When the letter is about an issue, and not an employer, where the person who wrote it works isn't terribly important, as it can be pretty much assumed that if you write to the editor of the paper about an issue you have a bias.

          The difference between this issue and Guergis' staffers is that they were directly praising her which could be seen as a result of — or in the cause of — bettering their own personal position/employment.

      • Oh please! Everyone has inherent biases. Disinterested, perfectly objective people – if they even exist – don't write letters to the editor on any topic.

        • If someone is trying to convince me that chicken is healthier than beef, it is relevant to me to know whether or not s/he is a poultry farmer (especially one who bears a longstanding grudge against the beef farmer across the road).

          • You're taking disclosure to a ridiculous extreme. Before I consider your opinion, I need to know who you work for, who you voted for, what charities you support, what church you attend , if any, and I also need to see your tax returns for the last seven years. Just so we know where you're coming from, you understand.

            The man made an argument, under his own name, in a local penny-saver newspaper. The argument was less partisan than 90% of the posts made in this or any other message board. If he was making an argument supporting or defending his employer (as was the case with Ms. Guergis' boosters) then his position would be relevant. In this case, not hardly.

    • In this case the message was the truth! The gun registry should die a quick and painful death and the Police Chiefs should get their heads out of their collective asses and solve some crimes!

  4. Where to the Conservatives find these staffers? Among former collections agency workers who were fired for breaching that profession's rigorous code of conduct?

    • Jonestown?

      • I thought this koolaid tasted fu—

  5. Just got proof from Breitkreuz's office which proves, beyond any shadow of a doubt, how the nefarious Liberal plot/cult to take over the world one confiscated gun at a time is proven.

    See indisputable proof in this proven chart.

    • Um that is a classified document and by posting the link you may have just compromised the security of our troops. How did you get an unredacted version anyway?

      Obviously since you made it public you must be in favour of killing orphans and force feeding their remains to baby ducks so that Latte Sipping Hybrid Drivers can feasts on engorged duck livers.

  6. As long as CPC staffers keep writing these letters, without acknowledging their political affiliations, they will keep embarrassing the PM.

    So to all these CPC staffers, keep up the good work!

  7. Guergis was a good start. It's time for Canadians to take control from Harper and start cleaning out the rest of the sleaze in his caucus.

    • So basically you mean start from scratch? I'm ok with that.

  8. With all due respect to the anti-Harper crowd (of which I consider myself a member in good standing), this is a non-issue. People who work for MPs are also allowed to be private citizens.

    Rather than insist all letter writers declare all political affiliations, I think MPs should be required to publically list on their website the names of people who work in their office. Then if you think a letter is suspect you can check it out yourself and draw your own conclusions.

    • Excellent idea!

      • Oh. *blush*

        Thanks for pointing that out Matlock.

        • Ah, no worries – in your defense, I don't think the government really goes out of it's way by any means to advertise to the public this directory exists (its most common use is for public servants to find contact info for other public servants).

  9. You can differentiate between your business life and your personal life, but you do need to draw some boundaries.

    So you work for an MP. You're still free to express your views on any number of subjects to your local paper: the new stop sign on main street, the poor play of the local junor b hockey team, whatever.

    But when it comes to topics that directly relate to your employment — say, defending your boss a la Guergis, or writing about an issue that your boss is one of the most prominent advocates of, a la Garry Breitkreuz, then you need to exercise caution. Because your personal and work lives are coming into collision, and you know it's going to be scrutinized.

    So given that this is an issue is boss is prominently tied to, it's near impossible to argue he was writing the letter as Joe Citizen. To accept that, you'd also have to accept that he could have taken a "gun registry is awesome" position and not taken flack. Do you think the Joe Citizen argument would have flown then?

    • I still don't think it is a big issue given where it was written – just a letter to the editor – but I take your point.

      Certainly we know who Harper and co. screamed bloody murder when it turned out some of the people in Martin's "1000 Reasons to Vote Liberal" ads were, not staffers, but known Liberals!

      And when a OLO staffer was interviewed by CBC last year while he was in line with his little kids to get the H1N1 shot, it was deemed by the PMO itself as highly unethical, conspiratorial, etc. Nevermind that all the staffer said was that the line for that provincially run clinic was longer than he expected. It was an Outrage!

  10. There is also that bit about them writing under false names.

  11. I have no idea where you found that argument in my comment. Perhaps you can underline it?

    It should be pretty clear that my statement was about transparency, not muzzling.

    • Your argument is that to fail to "demote" your own opinion with the "transparent" tag line "but so-and-so is my boss" appears improper and/or is poor judgment.

      Buttering up Guergis without the disclosure that she is your boss is indeed suspect. Stating what you as a citizen honestly believe in a policy matter, not so much.

      So, if anyone has evidence that the correspondent did NOT truly believe in the argument he sent under his own name, I will eagerly join you in heaping scorn. And the "black and blue" phrase is dumb, dumb, dumb. But engaging in debate by putting forward your own arguments? Last I checked, that's democracy.

      • "Demotion" is one of those eye of the beholder things, I guess.

      • Well said, myl.

  12. P.S. I'll also need to see three pieces of ID, Mr. Override.