Issues raised by ethnic press essential reading for government, Kenney says

OTTAWA – Scanning summaries of stories in the ethnic press is the most important reading he does, the immigration minister said Friday.

But Jason Kenney says he’s too busy during an election campaign to follow the clips.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press show that Kenney’s department spent close to $750,000 over three years keeping tabs on ethnic media sources.

The monitoring continued during the 2011 federal election, raising questions about whether the information gathered could have been used for partisan political purposes on the taxpayers’ dime.

The Conservatives have made no secret of their aggressive courtship of the ethnic vote.

But Kenney said the monitoring was carried out by his department through an annual contract.

“They don’t write into the contract that the monitoring will stop during a writ period,” he said Friday after meeting in Toronto with provincial immigration ministers.

“But I’ll tell you I was so busy in the election I didn’t have time to read any press clippings.”

Kenney said the money that’s been spent by the government on ethnic media monitoring is a good investment because it has given the government insight it wouldn’t otherwise have.

He cited several issues, including marriage fraud and furor over the Chinese Head Tax, that the government may not have been aware of otherwise.

“The most important reading I do in the morning is the ethnic media scan and frankly very few other people in government are as focused on that,” he said.

“I’m picking up stories, issues, voices and perspectives there that are often not reflected in so-called mainstream media and I think that’s very valuable.”

Kenney said the Conservatives substantially increased their budgets for ethnic media monitoring after coming to office in 2006 for precisely that reason.

Recently, the Privy Council Office signed a two-year contract for its own ethnic media monitoring, worth $463,300.

The office, which provides bureaucratic support to the prime minister, said it circulates those reports around government.