Earlier this year, Conservative MP Scott Reid (left) put the following question on the Commons Order Paper:
Q-104 2 — October 17, 2006 — Mr. Reid (Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington) — In each of the fiscal years 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005, did any government department, agency, or Crown corporation enter into a professional services contract with a vendor whose name matches a name on the current public list of members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery published at http://www.gallery-tribune.ca , and, if so, for each contract of each vendor: ( a) to which department, agency, or Crown corporation were the services to be provided; ( b) what type of service was to be provided; ( c) what was the start date and final end date of the contract; and ( d) what was the total amount of payments made to the vendor?
After I saw that question on the Order Paper, I called Reid’s office several times to ask what it was he was interested in. Reid never returned my call.
The civil service did what they are required to do when an MP puts any question on the Order Paper: They moved heaven and earth to answer the question.
Glen McGregor, a reporter with the Ottawa Citizen, was the first I saw to filea story on the response given to Reid:
OTTAWA — Amid the ongoing hostilities between the Prime Minister's Office and the journalists who cover him, the Harper government has released a list of parliamentary press gallery members who received contracts from the federal government they report on.
The list of journalists receiving government money includes several prominent writers from the Globe and Mail who took speaking fees or honorariums, including national affairs columnist Jeffrey Simpson, (left) who was paid $2,400 for two speeches through the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
… There are no rules explicitly prohibiting press gallery members from getting paid by the government they are supposed to cover, but the gallery's constitution does not allow journalists to use their membership for their own “benefit.” Journalists have been tossed out for using their gallery membership to win government work in the past.
The records show that Lawrence Martin, a Globe and Mail columnist, was paid $2,500 by the Department of Justice to speak to a group of managers on the topic “Leadership in the New Canada” in October 2005. Martin is the author of a biography of former prime minister Jean Chretien and now contributes two columns a week for the Globe.
He also received $4,000 for a February 2005 speech to the Canada School of Public Service, a training centre for senior public servants.
…. Simpson's former colleague, Hugh Winsor, was paid $1,070 by Western Economic Development Canada for a speech in 2004, a year after he retired from the Globe and Mail. Before he left the paper, Winsor wrote a column on politics and the senior public service. He continues to write freelance pieces for the paper occasionally. He said he recalls recycling one of his lectures from a course he teaches at Queen's University for the speech.
And, following that, Macleans.ca writer Philippe Gohier also filed a piece:
The question was inspired, according to Reid, by a 2004 column by Don Martin (left) that appeared in the National Post. In it, Martin was addressing what he called “the exodus of senior national press-gallery reporters defecting to the dark side, pulling down serious coin to serve as flacks on the federal government's payroll.
“[I]f, as seems likely, most of [them] knew about their career change before their media resignation,” Martin wrote, “any pretense of professional neutrality was clearly sacrificed on the altar of a paycheque-boosting conflict of interest.”
Reid's request led to the federal government's ministries, agencies and crown corporations spending an apparently inestimable number of hours compiling the list of contracts handed to people who are members of the parliamentary press gallery. Unfortunately, the list also includes people who appear to simply share a name with someone in the gallery, which is less than helpful in assessing whether there really is an issue here.
Don Martin himself is cited in the report – for a day's work as a security guard. CTV News' Roger Smith is confused with someone who was paid by the federal government for “photographs of macrofungi and [a] presentation about mushroom photography.” Somebody named “J. Simpson,” apparently mistaken for Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson, has a contract to do elevator maintenance. And either the CBC's Robert Jamieson has a namesake who rents out portable toilets, or he has a very unusual side job.
Today, Yves Malo, the Ottawa bureau chief for French-language television network TVA, distributed this open letter to Reid:
Back in October, you wanted to know more about the members of the Press Gallery. Why? No doubt to get to know and understand us better. You wanted to know, for years 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005, whether any government department, agency, or Crown corporation entered into a professional services contract with a vendor whose name matched a name on the list of members of the Press Gallery.
This is the first drafting error. While every member of the Press Gallery is a unique individual, it is likely that someone else in Canada has the same name. Your list contains 66 names. 39 of the 66 names on this list are homonyms of the names of Press Gallery members. Therefore, 59% of these names must be struck. 6 of the 66 (9%) are honorary members; in other words, retired and it is no one’s business how they make ends meet. 5 were awarded contracts before becoming members; 1 after becoming a member. 7 people could not be reached.
This leaves 8 people who won contracts, mainly f
or giving a speech or taking part in a panel. 8 out of 370 members of the Press Gallery, or 2.1%. We will be sure to check whether these contracts comply with Gallery rules.
Thank you Mr. Reid.