Category Archives: CBC Articles

CBC Must Halt Conflict Of Interest Between Govt & Advertorials

By @MsAmyMacPherson

December 11, 2020

 

 

This is an open letter to the Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault, the Prime Minster of Canada Justin Trudeau, the Deputy Prime Minister of Canada Chrystia Freeland, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) regarding the dangerous decision to pursue ‘branded content’, also known as ‘paid content’, ‘sponsored content’, and/or ‘advertorials’.

 

 

I’m a former CBC reporter who covered federal and provincial politics at CBC News and CBC.ca, as well as elections and economic segments for the Connect with Mark Kelley show. I will be forever indebted to them for providing my first shot at investigative journalism, before budgets were drastically cut to unsustainable levels that brought my craft to its knees. Over the years I’ve watched several intrepid reporters trying to come to terms with the effect of those cuts, as we found ourselves and the facts replaced by a stronger emphasis on editorial opinions. It’s true that fact-checking costs money and requires a strong cadre of producers with dynamic experience to support original content, but this death by a thousand cuts has finally hit rock bottom to the point that it will destroy the CBC.

 

 

I won’t waste everyone’s time banging the identical drum as www.stoppaidcontentoncbc.ca, though I do support every last word they’ve said. I believe I have a unique and legal angle to contribute that the Canadian government must thoughtfully consider. I believe it so deeply that I’m writing this despite recovering from eye surgery, because I became legally blind during the pandemic unexpectedly. I’m attempting to work through complete double vision as an artificial transplant begins to settle and this is my first experience with dictation software. The white computer screen is still overpowering and I won’t be healed until February, so please forgive any typos or grammatical errors. But let that sink in that I would accept these consequences to share my counsel with you before I’m truly able to be back on the scene.

 

 

The open letter signed by a growing number of past and present CBC staff soundly explains the problem with CBC Tandem from a journalist’s perspective regarding trust and reputation issues. It makes reference to fake news, leveraging the CBC’s reputation to benefit advertisers, and confusing the public by letting ads masquerade as articles that mimic the news. (1. original / archive)

 

 

Plenty has been written about the damage caused by advertorials, but in the era of digital revolution and disruptive innovation, most mainstream media executives care very little when tasked with finding a magic wand to resolve the logistics of collapsing revenue streams. The situation is so dire that it gives new meaning to the slur presstitute. Fear has chipped away at integrity enough that we can sell our souls to put food on the table, or deal with toxic workplaces for taking a stand in the name of truth and transparency. We were once paid for our integrity but now it’s becoming somewhat of a liability in the battle against fake news and profit margins. For context, it’s considered scandalous that so many CBC journos would speak out publicly against the Tandem project that it’s a news story in itself. (2. original / archive, 3. original / archive, 4. original / archive, 5. original / archive, 6. original / archive)

 

 

In any event, I made similar complaints in a Twitter thread that focused on selling the CBC’s reputation. I further condemned advertorials as blatant fake news because their entire purpose is meant to trick readers by hiding the fact that it is an ad behind the veneer of a news article. If advertorials weren’t meant to mislead anyone, then why do they to pretend to be something they’re not?

 

 

Letter continues below…

 

 

I didn’t have much space to elaborate on my concerns about the conflict of interest element that was introduced by CBC Tandem and I will do so now, because it’s dangerous to the Government of Canada in countless ways that even threaten our democracy. CBC is a Crown corporation and despite arms-length firewalls, it is funded by the government and public tax dollars. For better or for worse it’s a representative of the government and when anything goes wrong, blame is directed toward the prime minister. The board that oversees the CBC is appointed by the Governor in Council as well. (7. original / archive)

 

 

That sets up a formal legal relationship between CBC and the Government of Canada, with appointees swearing an oath to the Crown. Despite everything we’ve done in our democratic landscape to insulate the CBC to achieve press freedom, the rest of the world still views it as a state broadcaster. In that vein we’ve also done everything possible to distance ourselves from other state broadcasters such as Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea that are captured by political masters.

 

 

Our love was never for sale, at least until the CBC Tandem division was created. Now anyone can purchase the CBC’s integrity and by extension, that of its journalists. But that still isn’t the biggest problem confronting the government as a result of this development. The dark corner I’m trying to illuminate is much more ‘insidious’ than anyone’s reputation.

 

 

As an investigative reporter I spend ninety percent of my time researching and only ten percent of it actually publishing. In the bulk of my work I’ve discovered severe issues that are threatening western democracies, disorienting the public, and skewing the development of public policy. It would be impossible for me to recount the number of times I’ve come across opinion editorials (OpEds) insufficiently referenced in government studies on any given issue. So long as someone can get their viewpoint printed in the news, it’s assumed to be factual as a footnote that nobody verifies from a mountain of consultative submissions the government merely itemizes in transcripts and final reports.

 

 

There is no label to distinguish OpEds from bona fide news in our research systems and much of the public can’t tell you the difference between a columnist and a reporter. Even if a politician understands, the public isn’t taught to be skeptical about these footnotes because telling voters to be wary of government decisions based on that very material would weaken faith in our democracy and the process by which we evaluate issues. With no intention of being partisan, I came to understand this during the Harper administration. What I’m about to say next is motivated only by experience and the time frame any cobwebs of naïveté were being swept away from my vision.

 

 

In all my investigations during Conservative rule, I kept stumbling on right-wing organizations that held campaigns and competitions to flood Canadian media with OpEds in support of their various causes. Some of them even paid activists if they could manage to get published, so a politician could cite the opinion and present it to a House of Commons or Senate committee with the same effect as something factual. This happened on multiple issues, including but not limited to Indigenous rights, pro-choice rights, gay rights, gun rights, and climate change. This tactic of inorganic manipulation was successful and responsible for repealing human rights that used to protect Canadians against hate speech. (8. original / archive)

 

 

Since I discovered that deficiency in 2014, I watched the practice become adopted by left-wing organizations that sought to fight fire with fire. It’s quickly becoming a standard practice for various groups to pre-write letters of complaint and OpEds that supporters only have to sign and click to send through an agency’s automated system. Fake news was already automated in Canada before the term was coined or widely understood. It also taints nearly every government report on ideological wedge issues.

 

 

In addition to grassroots being harnessed to deceive legislators on an industrial scale, we also have partisan think-tanks that have grown more audacious. They too are spreading false information through Canadian media that becomes cited as fact, to form the basis of public policy on matters so integral to government as income tax. (9. original / archive, 10. original / archive)

 

 

Advertorials must be outlawed by the CRTC as a matter of false advertising. We already have tools to deal with it because it’s an unabashed and purposely misleading product. Even if the message is true the medium is not, inverse of ‘the medium is the message’. Something that isn’t fact-checked news should not be made to appear as if it is.

 

 

No democracy can afford the steep cost of advertorials becoming the basis of public policy. We don’t even have the manipulation of OpEds under control and this practice of influence deception will explode if given another avenue. Corporate retailers aren’t the only advertising clients and to ignore the rest would be worse than foolish, regardless of which side you might find yourself on pertaining to any issue. This will remove the science from poli-sci and turn back time to govern by folklore. If you have trouble believing, then enquire with climate scientists who spent the last decade contending with this exactly. Instead of making progress on carbon emissions we ended up with a new generation of flat-earthers and Creationism being taught in public schools again.

 

 

On that basis then consider that foreign governments are advertisers too. The Digital Cold War is upon us and most developed countries have entire units that pursue influence campaigns throughout the military-intelligence complex. Years ago I might have hesitated to make that statement and contemplated a more moderate description, but Canada was compelled to set up a task force to monitor that threat during the last federal election and it played a role in undermining Brexit in the United Kingdom, as well as a past election in the United States. None of us has devised a perfect solution yet and advertorials are set to open the floodgates.

 

 

If that wasn’t enough to give you pause for thought, then weigh the CBC’s relationship with domestic political parties and triangulate it with the government. From experience I can tell you how hard it is to avoid accusations of political bias at a Crown corporation. An inordinate amount of social media vitriol is hurled at CBC journos by partisans of every stripe, because tax payers sense their ownership of Crown reporters and they’re emotionally driven to have their own views reflected by them. As the line between advertising and journalism blurs, it further complicates this sticky wicket by lowering the bar for professionalism and respect. Most of us have received the odd death threat, a few of us have actually been assaulted, and female reporters have heard everything that would turn your hair blue about their sexuality and sometimes their children. Allowing political parties and/or fronts for political parties to purchase CBC advertorials will exacerbate these symptoms and increase the fever pitch.

 

 

Letter continues below…

Source: Michael DeAdder, Twitter

 

 

Advertorials present a tantalizing opportunity for dark money in politics, but even on the surface it creates a curious conflict of interest with registered partisan entities. Whether it’s the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, Greens, or Bloc, they could theoretically skirt advertising limits by using operatives to place advertorials on their behalf. Elections Canada doesn’t have the resources to police clandestine party spending and it would technically be subsidized by the Government of Canada because it’s the government that funds the CBC. I will leave that part for legal scholars to hash out, but I know enough to be sure that it doesn’t pass a sniff test. At the very least no sitting government would wish to subsidize an opposition party’s partisan propaganda. I’m not sure the public would be fine with paying taxes so the CBC could publish counterfeit news articles on behalf of anti-vaxxers either.

 

 

In the best case scenario, CBC Tandem is inviting public controversy every time it has to make a decision to run an advertorial related to any issue. They’ll be hauled in front of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal if they decline pandemic hoax pieces, anti-abortion pieces, anti-Indigenous pieces, anti-Muslim pieces, anti-immigration pieces, anti-climate pieces, anti-science pieces, or any of the opponents on the pro side. One way or another, one of these clients would be in a position to at least claim discrimination, often related to a religious belief. A Charter challenge could also result regarding the freedom of expression and Canada lacks a full skeleton of precedents to clearly define what press freedom is. What we do have though is a handful of constitutional activist organizations that prowl for opportunities to file cases like these, in the longstanding effort to shape our legal rights in the direction of libertarian ideology. The way journalism dealt with this problem is ‘both-sidesing’ everything, but that option isn’t available in the purchased marketing scheme.

 

 

Advertorials have no business defining Canadian law and the Canadian identity, but that’s exactly what they’re poised to do irrespective of the media agency that initiates open season on our Constitution. It doesn’t seem wise for CBC to become that brand new battleground that is muddled between journalism and advertising, or to waste its lean budget on successive legal challenges. It already can’t afford to perform regular, substantive, investigative journalism anymore, because the type of work that I do is cost prohibitive when it requires a small team of lawyers to vet it. I’ve been sitting on a major data breach investigation because everyone is constrained by budgets and adopting advertorials is not the path to pay for it. On the contrary and due to being in everyone’s political crosshairs, it could be a way to eventually bankrupt the CBC. I’m curious if there was a risk analysis performed for the Tandem project and if these perils were appraised holistically.

 

 

It would do no good to implement an advertorial policy that blanket-banned issues advertising in favour of retail products only. That’s because products are related to lifestyles and lifestyles are related to social issues. Take for example the gun. The morning after pill. Religious books and courses. Bicycles. Oil stocks. Green energy products. Indigenous cigarettes. Kotex. Natural medicines. The list goes on. So is CBC prepared to be the site of protests when those items are politically weaponized? And do executives believe it will boost the credibility or safety of its journalists?

 

 

It remains to be seen what the ramifications of advertorials might be from another perspective still. Based solely on retail products, who bears the legal onus when a consumer is harmed by a dangerous item that was misrepresented by what appeared to be a CBC article to a 65-year-old audience member? If the CBC was to indemnify itself in advertorial contracts, would it also not be jeopardizing the collective reputation of all reporters? After all,

 

 

CBC Tandem promises corporate clients they can “leverage” the CBC’s reputation by aligning their message with the “trust Canadians have in our brand”. (11. original / archive)

 

 

It’s also CBC staff that would write or collaborate on the counterfeit article, with final approval that lacked legal fact-checking to verify the claims made by a Crown corporation on behalf of its private ad clients. In essence that further implies government confidence in the client, even if tacit to a layperson. It creates stark inequality between company divisions as well, despite products that appear to be identical as articles except for a miniature sticker that says ‘branded content’ in a diminished corner. For that matter the term ‘branded content’ is deceptive and it’s meant to soothe the reader’s skepticism by avoiding words like ‘paid’ and ‘advertisement’.

 

 

This is a concept that hasn’t been legally tested and I was all for CBC setting journalistic standards, until this development posed a risky gamble to everyone who is still working there. If something looks too good to be true it usually is, and trying to take this easy way out of a funding shortfall is a catastrophe waiting to happen. There are no easy answers to the ripple effects of COVID-19, just as there are no simple steps to combat disruptive innovation in a digital revolution. These are both once-in-a-lifetime challenges that no echo chamber in a boardroom can solve by putting lipstick on a pig. I applaud CBC for its general open-mindedness but respectfully and with great concern, this Tandem advertorial venture needs to be put on ice.

 

 

I stress this is not a problem unique to the CBC and while they must cancel this project to maintain their own house, the government and/or CRTC must also act swiftly to prohibit the use of advertorials by any media organization in Canada. It must be a level playing field and one that is based on principles of the Fourth Estate, instead of a product that by its definition is masquerading as something it’s not. To put it plainly, advertorials are promoted and sold as counterfeit news articles, when the real news is in the fight of its life to save its own reputation and viability. Talk about inviting a ‘FOX’ into a henhouse.

 

 

May my letter greet you well and please don’t take it personally. This is just so important that it needed to be addressed frankly, as the implications of ignoring these impacts could cause irreparable harm on a grand scale. The startling and vast majority of Facebook users already can’t tell the difference between journalism and fake news. Neither can students. At the end of the day we need everyone to comprehend the facts to develop sound public policy, more than anyone needs a shot at quick money to make the business of journalism an easier ride. If we value our democracy we will have to commit to defending it with tax dollars to fund the CBC away from temptation and the advertorial mirage. (12. original / archive, 13. original / archive, 14. original / archive, 15. original / archive)

 

 

In closing, I kindly leave you with a sample of public sentiments to assist with your deliberations.

 

 

 

Yours very truly,

Amy MacPherson

The Occupy Movement, A Detailed Explanation

(This was previously published by CBC when I was an Occupy Toronto correspondent.  All Occupy related articles have since been migrated to the archives section.  A live link is no longer accessible and the original would need to be sought by request from the broadcaster.)

 

It’s a widespread, global phenomenon; the greatest revolution of our time – and yet no one can seem to put their finger on it.  The participants haven’t summarized the problem in three weeks’ time and the media isn’t sure where to begin.  So what’s this Occupy Movement all about?

 

On Saturday, October 15th, I will join with citizens from every nation in what is set to be a record breaking event, with the Toronto chapter.  Representatives for 99% of the world’s population are intent to be heard, uniting their voices as one.  This movement now spans every continent except Antarctica.  But is this for teachers, pilots, unionists, the unemployed, middle class, impoverished… or is it a bunch of communists as some corners have suggested?

 

The first question that begs answering is who are the 99% and how did they get that way.  They are you and me and everyone we’ve ever known.  Unless you’re part of the 1%, you’re part of the 99 and it’s just that simple.  The middle class has a tendency to view themselves separate from the woes of common man, but rest assured the consequences apply to them too – especially them, in fact.

 

Ultimately the occupation results from “trickle down economics”, to put a very complex set of circumstances in a single nutshell.  According to the Conference Board of Canada, the gap has been growing between rich and poor for more than two decades.  The disparity grew by the greatest proportion in Canada, where average incomes remain stagnant with levels of the 1970’s.  After factoring inflation and debt, our value from wages has actually decreased 10%.   The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives paints a stark contrast for the top 1%, who happened to increase their value 219 times greater than any of us.

 

The score is -10 versus +219.  This kind of disparity hasn’t been seen since the Great Depression and even then society’s wealthiest only controlled 8% of income growth, whereas they control an entire third today.  In response to that historic calamity, governments were forced to respond with public policy that addressed fair taxation and wages.  The goal was to redistribute prosperity even-handedly to prevent another collapse of the country.  Presently however, they control as much as 42.5% of our wealth and government has insisted on lowering their taxes, again to levels not seen since the Depression.  It’s apparent those lessons have been forgotten and astute historians are intent on getting the message out before lines under Salvation Army signs quadruple.

 

The theory to cut taxes for the 1% says this will result in trickle down benefits for the other 99.  It’s supposed to create jobs and cause the market to remunerate us properly based on natural forces.  It’s supported by both the IMF and OECD in the global view of financing.  Except all data shows the benefactors continue to pocket the overwhelming profits and fail to invest in our workforce.  They’reinvesting 40% less in their businesses than they were before the gift of major tax reductions.  That means our so-called stimulus is filtered straight to their bank accounts and they’re taking even more from profit margins.

 

This is like asking us to ignore an elephant in the room.  There have been 11,724 foreign takeovers of Canadian companies in the last 25 years and all our jobs are exported with them.  It was thought through even distribution of global competition that we could replace these countless industries.  But we’ve been forced to reckon with the inability to maintain a system of minimum wage, health or safety regulations and remain competitive with countries that don’t have them.  We’ve already cut costs at a detriment to safety and felt the repercussions through Walkerton and Maple Leaf.  The utilization of employment agencies and repeated attempts at union busting already serve to decrease our wages or any access we had to benefits.  All in the name of shining us up, so we look our best for the 1%.

 

In another bid to win their favour, our governments are deregulating everything from banking to trade, takeovers, wheat, power, food and pharmaceuticals.  Canada has been undergoing a personality makeover to morph into the US and it’s been a harsh battle to keep our social network balanced with the shift toward total capitalism.

 

The FIAT monetary system also bears mention.  At the same time a gap defining rich from poor was allowed to establish, so too was this currency adopted.  No longer was money gold-backed and instead it became traded on the stock market based on debt, wars, ability to repay, GDP, employment rates, investment and poverty.  Since debt is now factored into dollar value, governments have found themselves printing money without the ability to repay it and as a result cause hyperinflation.  The history of FIAT currency has ended in complete failure, without exception, since the beginning of money in 800 AD and bureaucracy only turns to this method of calculating wealth in times of trouble to artificially pad their value.

 

But the moment of truth has arrived and 99% can no longer afford to live within reason.  We’re not making enough to afford inflation, depreciation of wages, or repayment of a deficit to cushion the elite.  We can least afford the cuts to public services that are sacrificed to maintain this pretense of funny-money in our time of suffering.

 

Financial industry employment already outnumbers public sector jobs by 4% to 0.82% respectively.  By the year 2023 they are predicted to control the majority of employment across Canada, should present trends continue.  For every doctor, teacher, police officer, fire fighter, social worker, EI counselor, garbage collector and soldier –  there are four stock brokers, insurance agents and bankers to steer our agendas and speak for our needs.

 

This is how pressure becomes placed on our governments to accommodate deregulation that increases prices, again in an effort to pad the 1% at our expense.  They’re the folks who do the advising, they approve loans for governments in trouble and they fund a majority of major political parties.  Talk about a conflict of interest!  And yet the current Canadian federal government is making laws to end subsidy based on votes and force every party to embrace financing from the 1%.  They also do what they can to prevent unions representing public interests from participating.

 

When that wasn’t enough, the deregulated markets took up the art of speculating.  For those who don’t understand, speculation is the process of buying something (in large quantities) without the need or perhaps intention to sell it.  This artificially manufactures shortages and drives up prices for the 99%.  You’ve watched the result of this activity unfold at the gas pump increasingly throughout the years.  We’re paying the same price per barrel of oil today, as we were when it cost 79 cents at the gas station.  The price has only risen to $1.30/litre now, specifically because of speculation.

 

Since middle class incomes haven’t risen effectively for more than a quarter century and the cost of living has gone through the roof, we also lost our buying power – which is essential to keep a capitalist system functioning.  We were thoroughly supported by manufacturing to meet our own demands, but can only need so many TVs, cars or new clothing patterns and our ability to purchase them on a whim has diminished.

 

So enters the business of speculation and commodities.  We still must eat, drive and light up our homes.  Again through deregulation and privatization, we’ve seen hydro, insurance and interest only climb and once those avenues were saturated they started tinkering with our food.  The 1% is now gambling with our ability to eat, the same way they did with hedge funds and everything else that bubbled over.

 

Global markets are now speculating on corn, grains, sugar and water – the basis we need to make all else.  Like clockwork it’s already doubled our prices at the grocery store, the same as they did with oil.  The 1% has run out of things to increase their incomes beyond the 220% benchmark and they haven’t stopped at anything to maintain their status quo.

 

Further complicating matters is the logistical problem with 1% holding everyone’s wealth.  We’re told they’re “too big to fail” and have to cover their tab for unbridled, vicious grabs at even more of the economy.  They created the internet bubble, housing bubble, finance bubble, food bubble and oil bubble, but the system is set up so they continue to benefit no matter what they’ve done to the economy while you and I are forced to pay for it – WE, the 99%.

 

Last but not least this eats into our tax base, as they lobby governments for deeper cuts and fewer regulations still.  The bulk of our services like health care, child care, education, pensions, EI and housing are on the chopping block because we can’t afford to provide public services while covering the debts of the rich.  The 99%’s debts are forever owed to the 1% and the 1% shift their debts to the 99%.  It might be brilliant if it wasn’t so blatant.

 

The result of these high stakes experiments is the disappearance of a middle class.  It’s predicted for 2025 in Toronto and most cities around the world are similar.  I don’t think there’s any coincidence between financial markets dominating the workforce by 2023 and the collapse of families on its heels 2 years later.

 

I hope this explains why we’re the 99% and everyone needs to support this movement, no matter which path they take to get there.  Ultimately you’re not protesting the people who work on Bay Street, or the police for that matter (they’re the 99% too)!  The financial district was chosen as a symbol of capitalism gone awry, without the courage of governments to control them in the best interests of their people.  And make no mistake; while Canadian banking is more regulated than our counterparts, the entire act of trading, speculation, lending and borrowing is still done on the same global playing field, to the same rules and repercussions.  The attitude of governments is how to become a bigger player in that game, as opposed to moderating the Billionaires Gone Wild before we’re manipulated to ruin.

 

The Occupy movement is not asking for “a” program.  They’re not asking for “a” tax rebate.  What they’re asking for is fundamental change within our system and readdressing priorities like our forefathers had to do in times of disparity past.  This is no easy task on a global scale, but it’s precisely why we elect governments and it’s their job to enter an open discussion in favour of solutions.  The gig is up and 99% of us are ready to take our balls home – or stare through windows in every financial district until they have the courage to notice.

 

This isn’t a fringe group of radicals or anyone holding a grudge from the G20.  This is Grandma, Grandpa, Mom and Dad; Suzy, Bobby and Rufus too.  The most people ever documented in history will be joining together to begin a dialogue with their governments on Saturday.  We can’t afford what amounts to trickle down economics to support the 1% anymore.  Two thousand new entries were made on the critical housing list in Toronto just last month.  40% of our food bank users are now children.  A full third of many communities are already dining there.

 

When situations were radically unfair and unmanageable in the 1960s, our families united and led the way for reluctant governments then too.  Call them hippies, call them whatever you like.  But I call them honest and courageous, agents of positive change.  No one in history will argue they didn’t do something necessary that shaped our future for the better.  The time has come for us to show the same care to our children.

 

***Added February 13, 2014 for educational value.  Please see this fantastic animation that makes the economic situation crystal clear.

Part 1/5 – Privatization of Health Care – The Backgrounder

CBC News Politics

Wasaga Beach: Privatization of health care – Part 1

April 27, 2011 12:07 PM

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canadavotes2011/myelection/yourtake/2011/04/wasaga-beach-privatization-of-health-care—part-1.html

Region: Ontario Topics:

The backgrounder

By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, ON)

 

amy-macpherson-hs-2.jpg  I couldn’t have picked a more complicated beast to wrestle and it’s no wonder we don’t see health care in the headlines very often, but I humbly plead for your patience as I attempt to explain our conundrum. This impacts the Simcoe-Grey riding more than anyone realizes, because our voters may play a large role in deciding the fate of this truly dear, Canadian treasure.

We’re already familiar with challenges to our public health system. Private surgery clinics and medical facilities in British Columbia have admitted to double billing the government and patients (see Cambie Clinic); as well as privately billing convenience fees that allow patients to jump the queue. Up to five provinces (including Ontario) allow this transgression, resulting in a culture of for-profit health care. Although this practice is illegal according to the Health Canada Act, under the Harper government these clinics are not being prosecuted.

In fact, Stephen Harper has taken every opportunity to promote the privatization of health care since his early days with the NCC:


This position was maintained throughout previous elections and includes the 2011 Leaders’ Debate:


That’s the easy part out of the way, but you’ll have to bear with me through the next stage of explanation. As it might not be readily apparent, the following are facts you’ll need to navigate through Part ii.

Dr. Kellie Leitch is our official Simcoe-Grey, Conservative Party of Canada candidate. Her arrival on our scene was also a source of ruffled feathers. The local riding president teed off with the PMO over having Leitch “parachuted” into their meetings. These are not my words; they’re from the party itself. At the time it was all the talk around town, as many were demanding answers for Guergis – and still are.

In an act of solidarity the riding president quit at the onset of elections, as did many others in the local executive. The split doesn’t appear to be amicable, as they went public with their opinions and didn’tmince any words. On a positive note however, this left the association free to re-establish itself with new support at the helm.

This wasn’t the only divisive controversy though. For weeks a saga dragged on between the mayor of Wasaga Beach and Dr. Leitch’s election campaign. On every local radio station the mayor gave interviews. On television and in newsprint the battle continued. It was a he-said, she-said dispute about the legitimacy of candidate endorsements. Leitch defended herself in turn and after a month of bickering, the two camps finally compromised.

The good doctor endured a challenging welcome upon unveiling to locals, but she’s remained steadfastand generated a swelling of support to her credit. Dr. Leitch continues to dominate our front page on consecutive weeks with visits from high profile Conservatives. Senator Hugh Segal attends consistent events; Defense Minister Peter MacKay was the guest of honour last week and former OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino has most recently joined the Simcoe-Grey campaign alumnae.

Needless to say when national personalities frequent the back woods, there’s a ripple effect amongst residents. Waiting in line at the convenience store can lead to chatter. So too can the gas station. The coffee shop, gymnasium, pharmacy, grocery store and dog park are a list of places you can share your two cents worth. Our townsfolk are still debating whether Helena Guergis should have been kicked out of her party and the majority I’ve spoken with are sympathetic to her plight. You could say there’s been a tug-of-war between loyalty and star-power either way.

Now you have the basis of how we came to meet Dr. Kellie Leitch. She is greatly esteemed in her craft and was appointed as Health Canada Advisor on Healthy Children and Youth. In Part 2, I’ll elaborate on the pertinent, professional contributions that tie our local flavour to the title of the story. Thanks again for your patience.

– Part 2

Part 2/5 – Privatization of Health Care – Dr. Who?

CBC News Politics

Wasaga Beach: Privatization of health care – Part 2

April 27, 2011 12:07 PM

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canadavotes2011/myelection/yourtake/2011/04/wasaga-beach-privatization-of-health-care—part-2.html

Region: Ontario Topics:

Dr. Who?  By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, Ont.) 

amy-macpherson-hs-2.jpg  To look at the players in this movement to privatize health care, we need to examine Kellie Leitch, our Simcoe-Grey Conservative candidate. Again, these are just the facts that constitute pieces of the puzzle our riding has been fumbling with.

Leitch, a pediatric surgeon, holds numerous professional positions, and I applaud her courage to take on so many projects.  She is a professor at the University of Toronto; regular adviser toHealth Canada; board member of Genome Canada; trustee at Dundee REIT; chair of pediatric surgery at Children’s Hospital of Western Ontario; assistant dean at the University of Western Ontario’s school of medicine and dentistry; pediatric -orthopedic  surgeon at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto; and chair of the UWO business school ‘s Centre for Health Innovation and Leadership. She maintains part-time medical practices in at least three different regions.

LeitchDebate_AmyMacPherson.jpg  If only I could squeeze that many hours in my day, I would begin to feel a deeper connection with Wonder Woman. (I borrowed that line from a dear colleague because I could certainly relate.) Clients of community resources must often rely on assistance from elected officials to work out some of their difficulties.  It might involve expediting a birth certificate, advocating grants for a women’s shelter, managing relations with Veterans Affairs or trying to obtain information about income tax.

If you’ve ever tried to call a government office and sat on hold for two hours, you should understand how valuable an MP’s time is. Can Leitch really juggle so many responsibilities at the same time? At the onset of campaigning, she sought additional hospital privileges in our area and promised to run a clinic out of Orillia, Ont., as well. If she made the leap to politics, we could lose the precious services of a doctor.

Throughout the course of our riding debates, however, constituents changed sentiments. The public is a finicky bunch. Once the crowd accepted she would remain engaged in health care delivery, they began to pressure Leitch on her role as parliamentarian. Her response at recent events has changed to say she will now be a full-time MP. Depending on your point of view, some groups would have to be disappointed with her decision. Regrettably, no one can be all things to all people.

As Kirk Whitlock, a newly graduated teacher, says, “I am concerned how a professional with such extensive external demands elsewhere (volunteer, chairperson, dean, director and surgeon) can truly commit to being our full-time MP.”

Prior to Leitch’s bid for office, she advised Health Canada, helping the Conservative government develop their proposed fitness tax credit. It’s unfortunate this benefit won’t be expanded until the deficit is eliminated, but it shows her good relationship with the party.

Sitting on the board of directors at Genome Canada, another of her positions, is no small feat. They’re working on human DNA, genetically modified fish, plants and food. Some locals are particularly curious about this endeavour, and it doesn’t help that their questions have gone unanswered. Kirk told me his “queries have been dismissed and I confess it makes me uncomfortable.”

But it’s Leitch’s position at UWO’s Centre for Health Innovation and Leadership that concerns us most, and I’ll address it next.

Photo above: Kellie Leitch at 2011 candidates debate in Collingwood, Ont. (credit: Amy MacPherson)– Part 3

Part 3/5 – Privatization of Health Care – The Know How

CBC News Politics

Wasaga Beach: Privatization of health care – Part 3

April 27, 2011 12:08 PM

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Region: Ontario Topics:

The know how

By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, Ont.)

 

amy-macpherson-hs-2.jpg  Leitch’s post at UWO’s Centre for Health Innovation and Leadership, an institution that seeks to provide health care professionals with a degree in business health, has seen her become a driving force in translating entrepreneurial pursuits to the realm of health care. In an official white paper she states, “Since the health of a population is directly related to its economic productivity and global competitiveness, then health care delivery must be viewed as an economic engine and not a cost.  The health care sector in Canada is the largest ‘business sector’ in the country, yet few think of it in this way.  More often, health care is seen as an extension of government or public service, and not as a key component of our economy capable of producing greater wealth and prosperity.”

Leitch and her co-authors go on to say the Canadian health care system is adverse to her innovation and requires new policies to accommodate it.  She claims UWO’s health innovation centre was created to “remedy these problems.”  The paper mentions renegotiating health care funding in 2014 and includes quotes from Tony Clement in support of her proposal. It goes on to argue for two-tiered funding that would allow private “financial drivers” into our system, but oddly, Leitch denied these very notions to our local newspaper as recently as yesterday.

The health innovation centre’s plan is to create “living laboratories” of the basic elements of health care: everything from paramedics to the doctor’s office, from the emergency room to the operating room. They especially would like to engage “consumers of health care” in technology. The white paper broaches the subject of health information technology in particular. It mentions expanding e-health into personal health records that patients can access from Microsoft, Google, Facebook or even their smartphones.

When I first heard this suggestion, I found myself quite alarmed. What about safety, privacy, fraud, misdiagnosis and cost to the patient? Overall, I thought it must be a theological argument. That was until Leitch made national headlines with her proposals.

The Financial Post article describes Leitch’s scenario of “a mother waking up to find her baby with an odd-looking rash. In an ideal health care environment, the mother can upload a picture of the rash to a website using her smartphone, be connected to live video conference with a doctor and have the proper ointment prescribed which she can pick up on her way to day care, without ever having to visit a hospital or clinic.”

Residents who’ve read the article have taken issue. Wasaga Beach has many senior citizens who aren’t always comfortable using smartphones. A lot of other residents are unemployed and can’t afford a cellphone or medical apps to receive service.

“Low-income families will not be able to access doctors through smartphone applications.  The Wasaga Beach and surrounding area is already battling with severe unemployment, and many of the clients I work with have a hard time putting food on the table, let alone paying for internet,” says domestic violence worker Kim Stubbington. “I also work with older clients who wouldn’t be comfortable operating a smartphone or talking about their problems in the open.”

Then there are some who wonder how many times that rash could be misdiagnosed or medicine prescribed that may cause an adverse reaction. Would everyone know the difference between flesh eating disease, skin cancer and gout from a smartphone picture? Could it decipher between a sprain and a fracture? Apparently other companies have already seen the dollar signs and created a smartphone plugin that can detect cancer for just $200.

The UWO health sector MBA program that Leitch oversees seeks to cross-train our doctors, nurses and researchers as partners to big pharma and corporations with vested interest. The core curriculum consists of: pharmacoeconomics; intellectual property, licensing and the regulatory environment of health; health care management; financing private health care sector enterprise; managing the political and economic environment; and private health sector strategy.

Considering the names of the courses, I don’t think there’s any denying a private push for health care, and this is making a lot of folks uneasy.  Leitch’s white paper also asserts we should discourage accomplished health professionals from leading our institutions if they haven’t completed her program.  Controversial, indeed.

In Part 4, we’ll add Telus, TD Bank and the University of Toronto to the mix.

Part 4/5 – Privatization of Health Care – Why Should We Care?

CBC News Politics

Wasaga Beach: Privatization of health care – Part 4

April 27, 2011 12:09 PM

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canadavotes2011/myelection/yourtake/2011/04/wasaga-beach-privatization-of-health-care—part-4.html

Region: Ontario Topics:

Why should we care?

By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, Ont.)

 

amy-macpherson-hs-2.jpg  Kellie Leitch, Conservative candidate in the riding of Simcoe-Grey, hosted an annual conference last November through the University of Western Ontario’s Centre for Health Innovation and Leadership. The following are snippets from that event, identifying issues within our health care system that she plans to remedy.


Neil Fraser is the chair of the health innovation centre’s advisory council and reports on the strategic direction of the centre. He states, “We need leaders who understand how to go about overturning a sometimes intractable culture and many silos with a bias against change in the health care system.” And: “I applaud Kellie for taking on such an ambitious agenda.” He also addresses commercialization of our health care devices and the reason for lending his company’s support to Leitch’s vision.

As proof of their success, a student is awarded a scholarship for her efforts in the private health industry. She was trained in medicine and thanks the health innovation centre for translating those skills into a job with pharmaceutical company Pfizer, where she marketed the smoking cessation drug Champix, as opposed to actually practising medicine.

On Day 2 of the same conference, Leitch begins by addressing government and patient resistance to change. She insists we need a more consumer-marketed health system and reassures the audience this is what people want.


Gary Goodyear, minister of state for science and technology, also attended. He speaks to the Conservative government’s role in this type of innovation: “These are the foundations, frankly the building blocks of the economies of tomorrow.” He lauds Prime Minister Stephen Harper for increasing budgets by $8 billion and takes credit for $5 million directly allocated to establish the UWO’s health innovation centre.

Goodyear asks private sector companies to step up their own engagement, saying they hope to make the health care sector “a source of long-term prosperity for Canadians” and to further extend their reach to universities. Reportedly, funding came straight from the Economic Action Plan and included $20 million in Southern Ontario to create a government-university network for clinical trials. According to Goodyear, this ties in to attempts to develop an artificial pancreas as a means of economic stimulus.


The vice-president of TD Bank, Derek Burleton, contributed his views at the conference. He addresses Ontario specifically and the inability to sustain health care funding. He urges the system to allow private enterprise, to alleviate the burden on taxpayers who will have to confront an aging population. Burleton would also like to see changes to the way we remunerate doctors, including replacing the fee-for-service model. He would prefer to remove funds from Ontario drug coverage and reallocate the dollars to health IT pursuits. On a side note and as an economist, he doesn’t understand why tax cuts haven’t translated into productivity yet. Here it is, in his own words.


Ontario’s deputy health minister, Saad Rafi, was another guest speaker at the event. He lays out possible reductions in public health spending, with cutbacks to blood tests, ECGs and other “unnecessary costs.”

The keynote address was provided by Jason Hwang, who focused on the theory of  ”disruptive innovation,” whereby improvements are made in response to difficult situations. He compares health care to private service providers whose goal it is to “pack in as many features possible” to attract the highest paying customers. He also projects that lower-class consumers would be willing to accept trade-offs in exchange for lower prices.

He goes on to describe the decentralization of health care, which may open the doors to patients being treated at kiosks. The Centre for Health Innovation and Leadership promotes the idea that putting technology in the hands of patients will reduce costs and allow them to provide their own care.

Hwang, a doctor, proposes deregulation of drugs like Lipitor and believes many pharmaceuticals can be safely sold over the counter. He argues these methods aren’t to put doctors and hospitals out of business, but to free up their time for more sophisticated measures. In fact, he compliments the legal profession in how it put more procedures directly in clients’ hands, “so they are free to do more high-value activities.”

Paul Lepage, senior VP of Telus Health and Financial Solutions, is a significant partner of Leitch. Telus sponsored a report that Leitch co-authored on how British Columbia can direct e-health dollars. Telus has created a special branch of the company to manage personal health records and medical app services for clients, hoping to monopolize on the emergence of new technology. Lepage attended the conference and elaborated on the lucrative nature of this venture.


All video clips from the November 2010 ICHIL conference can be seen here.

Part 5/5 – Privatization of Health Care – When Corporation Meets University

CBC News Politics

Wasaga Beach: Privatization of health care – Part 5

April 27, 2011 12:10 PM

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canadavotes2011/myelection/yourtake/2011/04/wasaga-beach-privatization-of-health-care—part-5.html

Region: Ontario Topics:

When corporation meets university
By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, Ont.)

amy-macpherson-hs-2.jpg  In changing society’s mindset, it is best to start with schools and educators. This is one of four goals emphasized by Kellie Leitch and the UWO’s Centre for Health Innovation and Leadership conference. In a separate presentation by the doctor under the University of Toronto brand, she sheds light on how these plans may impact students here and throughout Ontario.

The presentation lays out definitions of innovation and commercialization. Innovation means to introduce a new idea, device or novelty. Commercialization, according to Leitch, is to “manage a business for profit and to leverage quality for more profit.”

I asked Angela Regnier, executive director of the University of Toronto Students’ Union, about the presentation. She criticized it: “It’s very disappointing to see faculty at the University of Toronto unabashedly engage in profiteering of research. Selling off university research to private enterprise skews the goals of university research, by creating an atmosphere of misconduct and preventing research for the public good. Our faculty and universities should be accountable to the public, not for-profit corporations.”

After a passionate and personable conversation, Regnier provided a report that details student concerns with the commercialization of education and research. It’s titled Public Risk Private Gain, produced by the Canadian Federation of Students, and it’s certainly worth the read. It would appear private enterprise has been a challenge to our higher learning institutions for some time, and they are consistently fending off corporate interference.

So I guess we know where the vote mob stands. The final nod will be up to Simcoe-Grey residents on May 2. The bigger question remains: Do all of us know the choice we’ll be making?

An Election Hangover – The Morning After

CBC News  Politics

Wasaga Beach: An election hangover

May 4, 2011 9:10 AM

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canadavotes2011/myelection/yourtake/2011/05/wasaga-beach-an-election-hangover.html

Region: Ontario Topics:

By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, Ont.)Amy-MacPherson-52.jpg  Simcoe-Grey has handily elected Conservative candidate Kellie Leitch, a pediatric surgeon, with 49 per cent of the vote. Results came in quickly, placing the NDP’s Katy Austin in a distant second and independent Helena Guergis and Liberal Alex Smardenka roughly tied for third. Green Party candidate Jace Metheral was dealt a blow, losing 2,000-plus supporters compared with the election before. The Liberals lost nearly 4,000 votes while the NDP made gains of around 5,000. It was a historic moment for the Orange Crush movement in our riding, as it nearly doubled support and cracked a glass ceiling in Conservative territory.

Although voter turnout was 66 per cent for the riding, it seems Wasaga Beach still has a few bumps to work out itself. Nearly half our polling stations present challenges for people with disabilities, an issue that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Elections Canada volunteers. Central poll supervisor David Trafford says, “Anyone in a wheelchair wouldn’t be able to open the steel doors. And first they have to make it across a gravel parking lot to reach the doors. I intend to include this in my accessibility report.”

amy1-election-night.jpg

Around noon, there weren’t any lineups and plenty of parking was still available. By dinnertime, the flow had increased, but voters continued to be in and out within five minutes. Accessibility may have been an issue, but so too was voter response to attack ads. Resident Billy Burch confessed, “That’s why I didn’t vote!” But he continued to praise Leitch’s medical qualifications and hopes: “She encourages kids’ fitness with ideas like tax incentives to get involved in sports.”

amy2-election-night.jpg

Perhaps adding to voter frustration were the locations of and lack of signage identifying polling stations. One of our polling centres was situated deep within a private, adult gated community that is normally off limits to the public and requires a security code to enter by vehicle. It was meant to serve surrounding neighbourhoods on election day, but there was no indication the public could attend for this special occasion.

amy3-election-night.jpg

So the mood seems mixed following the ballot-box tally. Personal support worker Melanie Lopes was a bit more cynical in her assessment, lamenting, “Hopefully, I get my surgery before health care is taken away!” Small-business owner and stonemason Darren Ellis was disappointed after voting NDP because “everyone else seems to have ego in the way but [Jack Layton’s] transparent.” It will be his first official summer as an entrepreneur, and he’s at odds with how a Conservative agenda will impact his pursuits.

Speaking with those who are happy with developments, we see a boatload of hopes pinned on Leitch’s ability to translate social and health care into politics. Private foster care operator Leslie Listro gave her nod to the local Conservative because “the lack of resources and supports for this community is significant,” and she was impressed with the doctor’s verbal response to her concerns. Candice Labuick adds, “I want to see us reduce more debt and regain stability in our government.” Only time will tell which group hedged their social investment well.

Before I go I’d just like to thank everyone at CBC for this wonderful opportunity to get the grassroots more engaged in the electoral process.  If you’d like to stay up to date with all things Simcoe-Grey and social issues in Ontario, please follow me on Twitter via MsAmyMacPherson.  Cheers to my fellow bloggers and the CBC community for a job well done!

Photo credit: Amy MacPherson.

Gap Between Rich & Poor – A Photo Essay

CBC News Politics

Wasaga Beach: Before you vote, a real picture

April 30, 2011 8:50 PM

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Region: Ontario Topics:

Amy-MacPherson-52.jpg  By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, Ont.)

With the aggrandizement of party leaders and political personalities this election, I have to say we may have let them off the hook regarding the issues themselves.

Essentially, all our cares collaborate to represent one thing: How government translates to the family pocketbook at the end of each week. We have our ideals addressing foreign aid; hopes to find a party that can translate policy into real jobs; forethought to protect our army and additional worry for staples like health care, child care and education.  In the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs however, these are all secondary and dependent upon a family’s ability to carry the burden of fulfilling these goals.

On the frontlines and amongst social service advocates, we’re painfully aware of the gap between rich and poor. We’ve been watching this unfold and don’t need to hear from statistics to endorse our beliefs.  The pictures I’d like to share with you are inspired by the families I help through Wasaga Cares (community resource) and demonstrate their story beyond any thousand words I could choose.

The only context I’d like to offer is that Wasaga Beach doesn’t offer much in the way of affordable housing.  Our working poor live in little boxes and many are forced to take up residence in cottages throughout the winter.  The lowest rent for any of the properties I’ve photographed is $650 per month, which is well above the maximum income for a single person on welfare.  To compound their woes, we have a 0.9 per cent rental vacancy rate in our area and 25 per cent of our population is now surviving on the food bank.

And then, there’s the middle class, which should be better insulated better from the recession. Their homes have appeared for sale in pairs as neighbours come to terms with financial hardship.  When we speak about the gap between rich and poor, this is exactly the group we’re talking about – although 7,000 sq. ft. mansions are abandoned just the same. What you won’t see in the photographs are rows and rows of election signs.  There may be one or two noting property forfeiture, but not anyone praising a politician.

The Lewis family is one group who’s spent the past few years living in motel.  Mike counts his blessings saying, “I’m just lucky to have a position that helps me pay the rent.”  He’s the property manager for Bay Breezes and estimates fifteen families live there permanently.  Remaining units are rented out to passersby and tourists.

MikeLewis_AmyMacPherson-300.jpg
Mike Lewis, property manager of the Bay Breezes Motel in Wasaga Beach, Ont. Mike is photographed with his children, his children Mariah, left, and Ethan. (Amy MacPherson)
Despite the absence of a playground, his children Mariah, 9, and Ethan, 7, entertain themselves in the parking lot.  At the sole low-income housing complex across town, you’ll see what those kids get for play equipment.  And let us not forget that current government direction has turned a great deal of families away from bricks and onto thatch.  If this doesn’t tell us tax cuts aren’t working, I don’t know what will.

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Federal Election 2011: Sparks Fly At Simcoe-Grey Debate

CBC News Politics

Wasaga Beach: Sparks Fly At Simcoe-Grey Debate

April 23, 2011 3:21 PM

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Region: Ontario Topics:

Amy-MacPherson-52.jpg  By Amy MacPherson (Wasaga Beach, Ont.)

It was standing room only – as far back as the foyer, where the late crowd could only listen by loudspeaker.  Electricity could be felt amongst the candidates, so tangible even a light exploded!  The audience was a tad unruly, although entertaining with their hoots, hollers and odd heckle for good measure.  Simcoe-Grey [voters] are vocal participants in their politics.

Instead of characterizing and paraphrasing, I’d like to share some of the more pointed moments with video.  It helps that we have a supply of political Hollywood in our riding, but I think the mood and personalities all do a wonderful job of speaking for themselves.

Conservative (CPC) candidate Kellie Leitch tested constituents with the party line on coalition governments and took a dig at her opponent, Helena Guergis (Independent Conservative) about who was the real deal.  The audience offers its opinion on negative attacks in our debates, though.

Helena Guergis, embattled by bitter and false attacks on her reputation, was admirably poised in her response about mistakes and forgiveness.

The night included a hotbed of issues, including abortion and women’s rights.  Jace Metheral of the Green Party was charming and witty, surely winning best quote of the night.  When questioned on age and experience he offered the he was “only 22 and had the least time to be corrupted”!  Everyone laughed heartily, but when confronted on the topic of pro choice his answer seemed to waiver.

The recession impacted the Georgian Bay area so severely that we lost a vast majority of all factory work, never to be replaced. This led to questions regarding the different party strategies to help struggling families.  Responses were wide ranging and in some cases went beyond the party line.

Liberal Alex Smardenka believes the Competition Bureau should play a great role in alleviating the family burden:

NDP candidate Katy Austin believes the solution involves caps on credit card interest and chastises Smardenka for comparing family struggle to the cost of golf magazines:

Conservative Kellie Leitch wasn’t shy on using the family to invoke the coalition argument again.  Still the audience remained unmoved.

I was perplexed there were no questions asked about poverty or affordable housing.  Instead there seemed to be much ado regarding illegal immigrants for some reason.  Independent Conservative Helena Guergis melded immigration with bringing seniors back into the workforce.

Jace Metheral of the Green Party, used the issue as a segue into affordable housing by contrast.  He was the only candidate to broach the idea of a national housing strategy.

The NDP’s Katy Austin was also alone in mentioning the word poverty, sadly.  She bravely addressed the gap between rich and poor, challenging the strategy of corporate tax cuts.  With emphatic quotes from both Jesus and Robin Hood, Ms. Austin managed to solicit a joyous round of applause.

The event started out with a big bang and as you can see there was a regular exchange of mortar for the duration.  You’re welcome to visit thisYouTube channel to view the full menu of Simcoe-Grey debate clips, but please be forewarned the audience felt like this by the finale: