I remember when I started at CBC. We had tens of millions more in our budget. We had a robust slate of overseas correspondents. We had a radio drama department. We had much more ability to invest resources into investigations, arts, training, long-term thinking. The CBC of today can do much less than the CBC I started working at.
I started working at CBC five years ago.
This isn’t some political post. I know the Liberals gutted the CBC before the Conservatives took over the job. I know Conservatives who strongly support the CBC (I also know plenty who don’t). Honestly, this isn’t even about the CBC. This is about journalism.
* * *
I’m writing this post with the presumption that I don’t need to convince you that a robust, independent media is an important component of a functioning democracy. If you disagree, I suggest you turn to the People’s Daily and 24seven for your news coverage and enjoy slowly slipping away from reality.
Meanwhile, I’m going to tell the rest of you about my story file. Actually a bunch of files – there’s a Google Doc, a notebook full of jotted down ideas, an email folder, and a few actual physical folders with newspaper clippings and notes.
All of these are full of stories I want to do stories on but haven’t had the time/opportunity to yet. Among them:
an explanation into why people making a little more than minimum wage are being paid by private companies to look after high-risk teenagers
an in-depth look at why it is so hard to bring doctors to northeastern B.C. (the community of Chetwynd will have no doctors come this summer, four are resigning at once – what’s behind that?)
the story of the Chinese gang wars that hit Prince George in the 1920s
following the struggles of one family with a special-needs child trying to navigate the public school system
There’s lots of other stuff, too. Some is interesting, but small scale. Others are much bigger and more important to the point I don’t feel comfortable putting even a teaser out here because I haven’t had time to fully fact-check.
And that’s sort of the problem. I don’t know a journalist out there who doesn’t have a whole list of meaty stories they’d like to delve into, but require more time, research, and editorial judgement than a quick one-and-done about a traffic accident or the latest city council meetings.
And the quick one-and-dones are important, no doubt, but so too is original, investigative journalism. Unfortunately, the latter requires resources that are increasingly scarce.
Look, CBC and other outlets across the country are still committed to hard-hitting, boots-on-the-ground, analytic reporting. But they are also committed to telling you all you need to know about the news of the day. And eventually, something’s got to give. In many ways, it already has.
I am not a veteran journalist. But I’ve talked to them, read interviews with them, heard them talk about the old days. And the journalism of old had far more resources than the journalism of today. People could get on planes, spend weeks going through papers and reports, attend full days of meetings. There are still people who can do that, but it’s increasingly rare and increasingly difficult. Sometimes it’s tough to even leave your desk for lunch, let alone to meet a contact for a story that you don’t know will immediately produce results. There are just too many deadlines to invest time in potential stories.
“Rank-and-file comment-section staffers are now expected to write multiple pieces per day, help out with editing, write headlines, browse freelance submissions, libel-check the comment threads, do radio and TV hits when necessary, and promote the hell out of themselves and their colleagues on social media. And even when it’s time to go home for the day, everyone’s expected to keep his or her smartphone on: you never knew when the media-party action is going to get good on Twitter.
“It’s a lot of work for not much money. In 1998, I took a 30 percent pay cut when I left my job as a tax lawyer to become a journalist. These days, the equivalent pay cut would be more on the order of 75 percent.”
And that’s if you get a decent job. I am exceedingly and utterly lucky to be in a position where I can have a mortgage, a pension. Assuming things don’t get worse for the CBC (which, today, feels like a pretty big assumption) I could actually do this job until I retire and be comfortably middle class. That is not the case for many of my colleagues in the private industry. In Prince George, I have seen newsrooms everywhere shrink as, like the CBC, people are expected to do more with less. I have seen many talented people parachute out of journalism to jobs elsewhere. As one former newsroom director told me, she was making barely more than if she were to take a job at Dairy Queen, and she wasn’t sure it was worth it anymore. Being a journalist has become akin to a backpack trip around the world: something relatively-well-off people do in their twenties before getting a real job.
That’s the thing. Critics of the CBC will often say it’s time to cut loose and let the market decide. Unfortunately, the market doesn’t seem to be sure it wants to pay for journalism or, if it does, how those payments will be made. There’s a lot of promise in the world of online, and I’m a big believer in those models, but there are no internet startups that are providing coverage as robust as even today’s diminished CBC. Many of the communities we cover have no other media outlets, or just one of those small “community announcement” newsletters you find at coffee shops. Believe it or not, there are still people and places where the internet as a news source isn’t viable, and newspapers like the Globe and Mail and National Post will no longer deliver. The further north I drive, the more likely it is someone will recognize my name, because CBC radio in a small resource town of a few hundred is a vital link to the rest of the country in a way that is tough to grasp in a bigger city.
* * *
Again, this isn’t a critique aimed at any specific person or policy. This is just a statement of the way things are.
Not so long ago, I went on a Twitter spree explaining the constraints of my job in response to someone wondering why CBC wasn’t at an event in the city. I said that the answer to why we aren’t covering a story is never because we don’t think it’s important. It’s because we don’t have the resources to be in the many places we would like to be. We don’t have the resources to do all that we want to do. And the resources we have left are shrinking.
I’ve seen direct action happen as the result of journalism. Important policy changes are made, or someone who needs help connects with someone who can provide it. There is no doubt in my mind that journalists makes positive difference in ways big and small, all the time. I am certain of that.
I am also certain that less people means journalism in this country will be less effective. You can only “work smarter” for so long. Eventually, you just don’t have enough people or time to practice effective journalism. I’m not sure we’ve hit the breaking point yet. But from where I stand- one of the lucky ones to not be among the hundreds and hundreds of journalists in the private and public sector to not lose my job in the last decade- I fear we’re getting dangerously close.
“So what do the recent changes to the Oxford Junior Dictionary mean? I think it’s fair to say that it means that school-aged children – the target audience of this dictionary – aren’t holding buttercups under chins. They aren’t catching amphibians. They aren’t listening to birds. They aren’t playing games among tangles of willows. They are, instead, being influenced toward corporatized indoor loneliness instead of towards a corporate outdoor solitude.”
Like Huber, I’m in a community that is still surrounded by nature, but also like him, I worry. Even as an adult living in the same neighbourhood I grew up in, I notice that woods I used to wander in are now subdivisions, and the elementary school I attended with a forest on the side is now among many that are shut down. I didn’t fully understand the psychological impact nature had on me until I lived in urban China and experienced a profound sense of relief after discovering a small wooded area after months of nothing but concrete. I hope that future generations will also get to grow up with dirt and trees and birds.
“I very much fell into the trap of only being exposed to the voices of men. My blog subscriptions were all to male writers. Those I followed on Twitter were almost all male. I spoke at many conferences, and in every case, the speaker line-up was either almost completely or exclusively male. Those men then amplified other male voices, perpetuating the effect.
“It’s vital, for all our sakes, that we make an effort to change that.”
I’d also make this recommendation for other voices. During #IdleNoMore, I made an effort to follow more indigenous voices, and during the initial events of Ferguson last year I added African-American voices.
I don’t know what my ratio is, but I do know having more diverse voices in my Twitter feed has helped make me more aware of and empathetic towards viewpoints that, pre-Twitter, I simply didn’t know about. One other tip I’d add: once you’re following those voices, don’t challenge, argue or question. Just listen.
Word this morning that Ben Meisner, legendary broadcaster, has died. As a longtime journalist, he was known for his no-holds-barred interviews, tough questions, and his signature line, delivered in his perfect, old-school radio voice: “I’m Meisner, and that’s one man’s opinion.”
The first I knew of Meisner was when I was a kid, and he was the owner of the business Crazy Willys here in Prince George. He’d show up during my Saturday morning cartoons, in commercials for the deals. I didn’t get a good sense of who he was as a journalist until years later, when I was an intern working in the B.C. legislature.
I was in government caucus communications. Gordon Campbell was still the premier. Some years earlier, as the host of a talk radio show on the now defunct 550 AM in Prince George, Meisner had Campbell on to talk BC Rail.
I didn’t hear the interview myself, but it had grown to the stuff of local legend. Meisner wouldn’t let Campbell off on why he sold the railway. He kept questioning him, rather than moving on to the next subject. Or so I heard.
There are a number of versions of the story about what happened next. In one, the station owner in Vancouver became so enraged about the interview that he personally flew to Prince George to fire Meisner. This is probably not true. This is where the “legendary” status comes from. There are legends around the guy.
Either way, not so long after this interview Meisner was off the air, and the two events became conflated.
He resurfaced, of course. He started the website 250 News in the early days of the internet-as-a new-source, and started broadcasting on community radio. That’s where he was when I started my internship.
So anyways, in government communications there was a job called media monitoring. Tracking what people are saying about the B.C. government. There were only about four or five columnists that the government cared about, because of their ability to influence public decision. All of them were in either Victoria or Vancouver. All of them but one, that is: Ben Meisner.
* * *
I didn’t actually meet Meisner until I started working at CBC. It was on Campbell’s last visit here as premier.
Funny thing is, they acted more like old friends than people who had very publicly sparred. This was a pattern I would see a few times. Despite often being the one to most hold people’s feet to the fire, Meisner was also the one they would chat and laugh with. That’s a tough thing to do.
I got to know Meisner later. When he heard something he liked on CBC, he would reward us with a visit to the office and an invitation for coffee. He would put his face against the glass door, and peer in with a smile. “What’ll ya have, bud?”
Waiting in line, there were always friends and people he’d helped. “Hi there, old-timer!” he’d exclaim.
About three years ago, he ended his radio show. Shortly after, he told us what motivated him. As he told it, he was in the office but the station manager didn’t know it. Ben overheard him talking about what would happen if he stopped broadcasting. “He’ll never quit!” said the station manager. So he did.
Of course, he couldn’t stay away. He came back to the airwaves last year in order to interview every last candidate running in the municipal election. That’s the thing about him. He was absolutely driven by the chase of the story. He always had some investigation on the go. “Oh, let me tell you,” he’d say slyly. Always some new scoop or tip.
“It’s not about the money, it’s never about the money,” he’d say. It was about the story.
When I took the job as producer of the local CBC show last year, we wanted to have someone on to comment on city issues. I invited Meisner.
He warned me it probably wouldn’t work out.
He recorded a few episodes, opining on spending issues, municipal priorities, that sort of thing.
One piece he wrote ran longer than the time allotted, and I thought there were some extraneous lines that we could do without. I emailed him to make the suggestion.
He replied, “Please do not run this editorial in any shape or form… I don’t feel it necessary to justify each and every paragraph I write.
“Consider last week’s submission to be my final column.”
He was getting paid, but it wasn’t about the money. It was never about the money.
I stand by my suggested changes, but I don’t begrudge him the decision not to be edited. He had his own platform. He had earned it.
* * *
A few weeks ago, Meisner paid his last visit to our office. Peering through the glass doors. “What’ll you have, bub?”
This time, we talked about his upcoming vacation plans.
He had asked his wife Elaine where she wanted to go. Hawaii? She said no. Mexico? Nah.
“You choose somewhere,” he says she told him.
He smiles, slyly. Here comes the punchline.
“So we’re going ice fishing in Dauphin, Manitoba!”
We talked about how much he was looking forward to it. How Elaine would like it.
* * *
A few weeks later, another breaking story is published to 250News.com. “Meisner battling cancer”.
Damn. Damn damn damn.
And of course his top priority is getting back to Prince George. “That is my town, and I owe so much.”
That’s the headline. But look at the web address. It ends with “meisner-finally-coming-home”.
He was born in Saskatchewan, started his career in Manitoba, and moved on to Toronto, Red Deer, Kamloops, and more. But Prince George was home. He loved this city. And it loved him back.
I’m seeing tributes coming in from people from all walks of life. The premier has issued a statement. The comments section on 250 News is, as always, full of voices.
Here’s what I’m going to do.
I’m going to remember all the times he chose the tough questions over the easy conversation. The times he chose his journalistic instincts over money.
In these days of shrinking newsrooms and the ever-vanishing line between “journalism” and “PR”, he stood as an example. He would work for other people, but not if that meant changing what he wanted to say. He’d sooner quit. And he did, again and again. If no one would give him the platform to say what he felt needed to be said, he built it himself.
There are a number of critiques you could throw at him, but no one can say he wasn’t true to himself. And that’s no small feat.
Rest in peace, Ben. You deserve it.
That’s one man’s opinion.
* * *
I should add, I think it’s only fair that the fullest portrait of who Ben was comes from the man himself. Fortunately, the Prince George Oral History Group conducted an interview with him about ten years ago that gives you a full picture of his life and values.
You can also listen to my interview on CBC about him:
At first I was in the anti-Comic Sans camp, but I think that was just my learned, knee-jerk reaction. I mean sure, designers and the people who follow them know that Comic Sans is only acceptable for comic books and children’s messages, but when it’s one of the default choices on most operating systems, people in the wider world are only going to know it as a somewhat friendly looking font. That’s why you have the Vatican and the research team for the Higgs-Boson particle using it. Comic Sans may cause some people to recoil, but in the wider world most people don’t even know its name.
To test this, I printed two copies of the report- one in the original Comic Sans and one in the default Arial, and asked people which they preferred. The results were half and half. No one had any issues with Comic Sans. I had to explain what a “font” was to some.
I also found it interesting that the people who liked Comic Sans better (and some of the ones who preferred Arial) said that Comic Sans was “friendlier” or more eye-catching. I started thinking about how we’re always talking about ways to get people feel more involved with local government, and that one of the barriers is how intimidating it can be. There’s a lot of technical jargon and rules that the general public might not feel comfortable with.
Maybe in certain instances when you want to get people to feel involved and welcome, Comic Sans is the way to go. It’s also accessible – some research has shown that people who are dyslexic have an easier time reading it than other fonts.
Plus I think we’re hitting a turning point. Already there’s a backlash to the backlash in this debate. There have been pieces in the Guardian and Slate in defence of Comic Sans. By embracing it, the city of Prince George could really be riding that trend.
“Today, when you read a story at the New Republic, or Medium, or any of a thousand other sites, it looks great; every story looks great. Even something as simple as a competition announcement comes with a full-page header and whiz-bang scrollkit graphics. The result is a cognitive disconnect: why is the website design telling me that this short blog post is incredibly important, when in reality it’s just a blockquote and a single line of snark? All too often, when I visit a site like Slate or Quartz, I feel let down when I read something short and snappy — something which I might well have enjoyed, if it just took up a small amount of space in an old-fashioned reverse-chronological blog. The design raises my expectations, even as the writers are still expected to throw out a large number of quick takes on various subjects.”
Smart take on what online reading lacks: any clear differentiation between types of stories. For the most part, everything on a given site looks the same, unlike print where there are any number of clues about how much weight the editors/designers feel the content deserves.
That’s one thing I’ve tried to address here- some posts, like this one, have a smaller headline whereas others that I feel deserve more weight get a bigger font. It’s a small thing, but as you scroll hopefully it provides some clue about how important I feel it is.
Prince George is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. I’m ruminating on a couple of projects to mark that, and here’s one of them: compiling a list of the greatest “Prince George songs” of all time.
In my own life I’ve seen a number of great artists come and go and come again in the various local music scenes. I know that extends back to before my time, as well, so I’m hoping to get help on this. I’m going to collect top ten lists from various people who’ve been involved in the musical community over the years. I’m then going to take those compilations and create a master list.
Here’s my definition of a “Prince George” song:
1. It was recorded or written by an artist based in Prince George at or near the time of recording.
2. It is by an artist not from Prince George, but the song itself is about or inspired by Prince George.
That’s about it.
I’m hoping that if you’ve been involved in the local music scene as an artist, promoter, or fan, you’ll submit your list using the form below. If you have less than ten, that’s fine. You may rank them, if you want. Also, if you’d like to say anything about why you chose the songs, that’d be awesome.
“If the folks in Studio Q allowed themselves a few moments of uncharacteristic giddiness, you could understand their relief. Thursday marked 20 weeks since Ghomeshi had stepped out of the studio and into infamy, and everyone on staff was eager – some would say desperate – to begin a new chapter. While the focus has understandably been on the former host, who faces seven criminal charges, the gruelling, unprecedented process of finding a new personality to be Q’s flag bearer offers a fascinating glimpse into the stress fractures and underlying strength of the public broadcaster.”
Seriously, good on these guys for getting through this. I’ve gone through the process of having a new host, of being uncertain about the future- but never anything like this. I can’t imagine how stressful it would have been to have so much scrutiny on you, a major scandal in the backdrop, and real questions about whether the show you’re making should even continue to exist.
The broader structural issues that helped create this problem it still need to be examined and sorted, but the people involved in the day to day production of this show deserve to breathe a sigh of relief.
There are, however, some parts of the country that don’t bother: Saskatchewan, parts of Ontario, Nunavut, and right here in British Columbia. The community of Fort Nelson in northeastern B.C. is changing its clocks for the last time, having decided in the last election to join the rest of the Peace region and observe Mountain Standard Time year-round.
After hearing this, I contacted the the Ministry of Community, Sport, and Cultural Development- they oversee local governments, so I figured they would be responsible for this sort of thing. Turns out they weren’t. After some poking around, I found it’s the Ministry of Justice.
The reason for this is the observation of time zones falls under the Interpretation Act, an unwieldy document that basically lays out a bunch of rules on how we should refer to distances and people so that it is legally sound. Time falls under this. So I emailed the Ministry of Justice some questions, which I’ve pasted along with their answers below:
Q. Who actually decides what time zone a community is in?
A. The Interpretation Act regulates the use of daylight saving time (DST), which was adopted after a provincewide plebiscite in 1952. However, the provincial government does not require that all parts of the province observe Pacific Time or DST. Some areas in the province have historically observed Mountain Time or have chosen not to observedaylight saving time.
Q. Can they just say “we’re in a new time zone now” and that’s it? Or is there some oversight?
A. The decision can be made by the local community.
Q. And who has the authority to change it?
A. While communities may change the time zone they observe, when dealing in matters of provincial law, Pacific Time applies.
The short version of this is that although legal documents require us to use Pacific Time as decided by the province, for conventional purposes we can do whatever the heck we want. The decision to change time zones is entirely in the hands of the same people who are in charge of parking meters and dog licences: your local government. At the next city council meeting, someone could propose we observe Azerbaijan Time Mondays and Thursday and Easter Island Summer Time the rest of the week, and if the rest of council agrees, we could be on crazy kooky time before summer rolls around. In practice, they’d probably want to get buy-in from the community – most likely a plebiscite to abolish Daylights Savings at the next local election – but heck, that’s pretty easy, too.
One other thing: everyone should know that the reason we even have daylight saving is this guy wanted to collect more bugs.
Thanks to an article by Frank Peebles (one worth reading), I was able to find this front-page Fort George Herald story from September 6, 1913, about the burning of the Lheidli T’enneh village. What astounds me is how it is both incredibly frank about what is going down (“the torch of the white men will be thrust into the remaining houses and the village will disappear quietly in a cloud of smoke”) and at the same time, so celebratory (this is being done “for the purposes of the dominant race which has purchased their reserve for the future site of a great city”).
“Demolition of Old Village Is Now Under Way—Indians Still Owners of Much Valuable Land Hereabouts
“The old Indian village, a few hundred yards up the Fraser river from this town, will soon be a mass of smoldering ruins. Already the houses at the north end of the village have been burned to the ground to give way to the utilization of the land upon which they have stood for years gone by, for the purposes of the dominant race which has purchased their reserve for the future site of a great city.
“Most of the Indians have already evacuated their houses and have gone to their new, bright, ready-made village erected for them on the Goose country reservation fifteen miles up the Fraser from this point. The remaining Indians will move an soon as the steamer Quesnel can be secured to take their chattels to the new locations. Home are going to reserve No. 3, at Duck Lake, about 12 miles up the Nechako river.
“With the departure of the last of the tribe from their old haunts here, the torch of the white men will be thrust into the remaining houses and the village will disappear quietly in a cloud of smoke and sparks. Even the churches of the Indians will be burned, the sacred ornaments and the bell dedicated to their missionary priests being removed to the beautiful church on reserve No. 2. “
By the way, this article makes frequent reference to the land having been purchased and this being a good deal around. I’ve had conversations with a number of local historians and the validity of the deal is iffy at best and out-and-out non-existent at worst.
Again, you should also read Frank Peebles’ article about this here, and here’s a production I made for CBC Radio:
March 6, 2015 is the 100th anniversary of the city of Prince George. I’m happy to celebrate, but I also think it’s important to reflect on how we got here. An important part of the story is what happened to the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation in order to make way for the city: the burning of their village and their removal to the reserve of Shelley, on the outskirts of town.
This track is an expansion of the A Tribe Called Red song “Burn Your Village to the Ground“. All the music, as well as the monologue in the middle (an excerpt from the movie Addams Family Values), is part of the original track.
I’ve added portions of interviews with land use planner Lisa Krebs and Lheidli T’enneh band member Rena Zatorski about the burning of the Lheidli village prior to that monologue, and the second half includes clips from stories on missing and murdered women and residential schools from northern British Columbia. The final words are from Lheidli elder Edi Frederick welcoming everyone to the traditional lands of the Lhedli T’enneh.
The goal is to shine a light on the complicated history surrounding the creation and ongoing existence of Prince George, and make us think about how best to move in to the future together.
Alright, I just got back from the final performance in the Canada Games Plaza, after seventeen days of sports, music, and fireworks. I’m sure in the weeks ahead there will be plenty of discussion of the good, bad, and ugly of the past two-and-a-half weeks but here, in the aftermathy buzz of excitement, are some things that I think went right with the Games and what we, the people of Prince George, should do with that information:
1. Showcase local talent
The Games far exceeded my expectations on this one. I really expected the musical offerings to be lower-level top 40 CanCon. There’s nothing wrong with lower-level top 40 CanCon per se, but having night after night of critically acclaimed Canadian musicians was way better. And the cherry on top was the huge showcase given to local and regional musicians. Bright City Heights of Prince George, Rosewood’s Diary of Vanderhoof, Jerusha White of Fort St James, King Crow and the Ladies from Hell of Terrace, Doug Koyama of Quesnel… all names familiar to people keyed into the local festival circuits but unknowns for the vast majority of people in this city and virtually everyone visiting from out of town.
The Games (in conjunction with the Coldsnap Music Festival) took their massive platform and opened it up to these relative unknowns, exposing them to new audiences and, in turn, audiences to new listening experiences hidden right in their own backyard. It would have been really easy to just get Hedley to play the opening ceremonies, but the Games went with Black Spruce Bog and it made everything that much more special. Future event organizers, take note: you don’t need to import great talent.
2. Put the Lheidi T’enneh front and centre
We’ve already established that when a bunch of kids sang “Oh Canada” in Dakelh I got tears in my eyes. But man, has it been great seeing the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation be such a big part of this. Prior to 1913, the entirety of downtown Prince George was Lheidli reserve land, just before their village was burned and they were moved out to Shelley. For decades afterwards, there was almost no visible reminders of this. But thanks partially to the Games, that’s been changing. The Civic Canada Games Plaza now has columns welcoming people to Prince George in English, French and Dakelh, along with pictures depicting the four clans of the Lheidli T’enneh. In the centre is a sculpture depicting a traditional Lheidli drum, full of stones to be used in prayer rituals. Every night, entertainment moved over the to the Lheidli T’enneh pavilion. It was more than acknowledging that we are the traditional territory of the Lheidli T’enneh, it was embracing it. Let’s keep that up.
3. Turning the Civic Plaza into an actual civic plaza
Honestly, I was kind of cynical about the Civic Plaza in front of the library being renamed the Canada Games Plaza, but two-and-a-half weeks later I think that name’s been earned. I mean, holy cow. Prior to this, I had never envisioned the plaza as much of civic gathering place largely because it is almost always empty. But the redesign, adding art and history and benches and lighting where there was once just basically empty concrete, coupled with the nightly mainstage shows has completely reimagined what this space can be.
Time and time again I heard people say how great it was having the main gathering place be here, and I completely agree. It makes sense: you have the library, art gallery, civic centre, and swimming pool right there, you’re near city hall, and you’re on the corner of downtown with it’s shops and restaurants. Why shouldn’t it be the gathering place? I mean, obviously that was sort of the plan since it was the “civic plaza” and all, but this seems like the first time the idea actually came to fruition. Let’s figure out how to make sure it isn’t the last.
4. We don’t need the Canada Winter Games to have a great party
This is not a slight on the Games, by any means. But I would like to dispel any ideas you may have that none of this would be possible without the Games. Last night, I was at a show at the ArtSpace. At one point the band asked how many people were athletes. No one cheered. Athlete parents? Silence. From another province? No one. How many from Prince George? Almost everyone clapped.
This was a full house, with a line to get in, and it was almost all locals- there was no need for a big tourist event to make it happen. Oh, and just before that I had been at a packed show at the main stage and again, the loudest yell went out for B.C. and Prince George. Having the people from out of town was nice, but the bulk of people taking in the entertainment were living right here. The audience exists- the Games demonstrated that very clearly, but now they’re done and we shouldn’t think it can’t happen again. Put on something good, and this city will support it.
As Prince George was gearing up to host the Canada Winter Games this year, there was widespread anticipation that Prime Minister Stephen Harper would be attending. After all, he’s attended every other Canada Games since he became Prime Minister: winter in Whitehorse and Halifax, and summer in Summerside/Charlottetown and Sherbrooke.
But no, despite making a trip to southern British Columbia for Lunar New Year and an LNG announcement, Harper couldn’t make time for the one-hour flight north to drop in on the Games in Prince George. This is keeping with an old tradition of Prime Ministers not visiting the city.1
I decided to ask the Prime Minister’s Office why Harper wasn’t able to make the trip. After calling the media line, I was asked to email my request, which I have cut-and-paste below.
“There are a number of questions being asked about Mr. Harper and the Canada Winter Games in Prince George that I hope you can address:
Why was Stephen Harper not a part of the opening ceremonies of the Canada Winter Games in Prince George?
Why was Mr. Harper not at the Games despite attending the opening of all previous Canada Games during his tenure as Prime Minister?
Why is Mr. Harper able to attend Lunar New Year events in the Lower Mainland but not make a visit to Prince George during the Games?
Why has Mr. Harper not visited Prince George during his tenure as Prime Minister despite strong support for the Conservative Party in the region and its proximity to his home riding of Calgary (a one hour direct flight)?
Are there plans in place for Mr. Harper to visit Prince George or any part of northern British Columbia in the coming months?
Why has the Governor General not been a part of the Games, also breaking with tradition?2
Will the Governor General be a part of the closing ceremonies of the Canada Winter Games?”
This was sent to Pierre-Luc Jean in the PMO. He added his colleague Carl Vallée to the chain, and Vallée sent me this response:
“Our government was represented at the Canada Winter Games by its Minister of Sport Bal Gosal.
“As for your question on the PM’s presence in your region, during this mandate, the PM has in fact been in Northern BC: both in Fort St John and Dawson Creek.
“As you are no doubt aware, Dawson Creek and Fort St John are some distance away from Prince George.
“I would also appreciate an answer as to why Prince George is the first host city of the Canada Games the PM has not visited.
This was seven days ago. I have yet to receive further correspondence.3
As best I can tell, Trudeau is the last one to do so while still in office. ↩
The Governor General will, in fact, be a part of the closing ceremonies, but I never received an answer about that from the PMO. It came out later as part of a general release. ↩
Several people have commented that while the title of this says “this is why” it doesn’t actually answer the question. I’m aware of that. It’s an ironic title, since I very clearly asked the PMO for an answer and was given a classic political non-answer. By the way, politicians give non-answers all the time. ↩
And on the subject of Neil Godbout, here’s his editorial on Prince George continuously seeking- and failing to get- validation from Vancouver media and citizens:
“Prince George residents in general and members of the area business community in particular are desperate – bordering on teenage girl obsessed with the captain of the football team – to be recognized by the denizens of Greater Vancouver.”
“In fact, Prince George doesn’t need a damn thing from Vancouver.
“The sooner this city realizes it and acts accordingly, the better off it’ll be.”
I whole-heartedly agree with this whole thing. If you live in Prince George, please read it.
Neil Godbout did his own analysis of election spending in Prince George:
“On the surface, it looks like Lyn Hall blew away the notion that elected office is earned, not bought, with his mayoral win.
“Many people, including many would-be politicians, desperately want to believe that money can’t buy a seat at the table. Sadly, Hall’s victory goes against recent results.”
He goes on to point out that the majority of the time the winning mayor and councillours are those who spent the most money on their campaign.
Of course, this goes against my own analysis of election spending, titled “Does money buy votes? Not in northern B.C.” (indeed, Godbout’s editorial is titled “Cash counts at ballot box”. But I think our conclusions are not as different as the titles would suggest. When I said money doesn’t buy votes I meant that money alone doesn’t buy it- you can outspend and still lose. Godbout says the same, pointing to Hall, Skakun, and Frizzell as examples of hard work and the right candidate overcoming a bigger budget.
I think the better way to think about the need for election spending is table stakes. Zero-dollar campaigns do not do well1. So while a $40,000 dollar mayor’s campaign might beat an $80,000, you still need $40,000. On council, you might win with $6,000 but the bulk of evidence suggests you still need $6,000. Skill, messaging, and hard work may let you beat someone with more money. But if you want to win, you need to pay the table stakes.
I’m talking about Prince George, smaller cities have the occasional successful cost-free campaign ↩