Browsing the archives for the Public Interest Groups tag.

Has the Ottawa Citizen Become a Blogspaper?

Economic Reality, Financial Crisis, Political Reality, South March Highlands, Virtual Reality

Today, Jan 12 2013,  there is no news article to be found anywhere on today’s front page of the Ottawa Citizen’s print edition.  The only article is a columnist’s opinion piece.

The Ottawa Citizen, which has recently been steadily displacing news with opinion on its front page, appears to have taken another step in a transition from being a reputable newspaper to being primarily a compendium of opinion articles – in effect a blogspaper.  Actual reporting of news appears to have become a scare commodity on the front page where opinion-based articles written by columnists appear to be increasingly crowding-out fact-based news.

The reason for this is probably economic as more and more people rely on Internet news sources than print sources.  I’ve been told by former Citizen reporters that fewer than half the reporters that worked at the Citizen in 2005 remain due to rounds of budget cutbacks.  Many of the columnists employed by the Citizen are syndicated across more than one newspaper to reduce costs.

The need to protect non-subscription revenue – i.e. advertising – appears to explain why news reporting over the past few years at the Citizen seemed to become skewed, by what appears to be selective editing, in favour of the interests of its largest sources of ad revenue: new home sales, real estate, car sales, and city notices.

Selective editing is invisible to those not intimately familiar with an issue being “reported”.  It wasn’t until I participated in the Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands that I personally realized the extent of news that simply was not being reported in the Citizen.

  • For example, on more than one occasion I or someone else in the Coalition would be interviewed by a reporter, only to see the Coalition’s perspective omitted or under-represented in the subsequent article.
  • Other media (TV, radio) would report our perspective in a more balanced way, but compared to the print space allocated to support a developer’s or the City of Ottawa’s perspective, it appeared that an editorial slant was silently at work.
  • From discussions with spokespeople for other environmental groups in Ottawa, it appears that selective editing is widespread.  One can only wonder if it will naturally lead to selective reporting by reporters who will see the futility in reporting more than will ever be printed.

I also see the same signs of lack of depth & balance in the reporting of the Idle No More movement that I also have first-hand knowledge of.  For example, prior to running sensational headlines about the audit at Attawapiskat, did the Citizen bother to investigate the other side to the story?

  • How many qualified accountants even exist within a 1000-mile radius of a tiny, isolated, northern community in which few have any opportunity for post-secondary education?  Attawapiskat has an on-reserve population of less than 1,600 people and 1/3 of them are under the age of 19.  Most of its 1000 adults are unemployed, living in crowded, substandard, housing with no running water.
  • As for education, the state of deteriorating buildings caused the elementary school to be closed in 2000 and replaced by crowded portables which hardly promote a positive educational experience in the average -30 C weather during the school year. The space in those portables is only 50% of the standard that is supposed to be funded by the Federal Government.
  • So is it surprising that record-keeping is not to the standard expected by Certified Public Accountants?  There isn’t even a doctor in Attawapiskat, so why would anyone expect to find a professional accountant in a warm and comfy office diligently recording receipts?  The real story is that the Chief’s husband upgraded his accounting skills in a best-effort to try to improve financial accountability and, according to the audit, this resulted in fewer audit concerns.  Much has been made of the daily rate charged for this service, but has anyone inquired into how many days he billed?
  • More to the point, is there actually any evidence of misappropriation of funds?  Or is it possible that it was more expedient for the Citizen to run a story that required less investigative journalism?

The Federal government, who does not advertise much in the Citizen, appears to be the main target for investigative news which provides the illusion of continued balanced reporting to many.   But with fewer reporters on payroll, how long will even this continue?

Today may be remembered as a day of infamy for journalism as no news content at all was reported on the front page.  Headlines and a columnist’s article do not make much of a newspaper – especially for the advertising enriched weekend edition.

There once was a time when the Ottawa Citizen won awards for the high-quality of its investigative journalism.  Sadly those days appear to be gone, and so now I personally rely on the Globe and Mail for old-fashioned, real “news”.  Most bloggers like me are not trained journalists.  Some of us, like some of the columnists in the Citizen, try to present facts along with opinion but our primary service is to share our fair comment on the news – not report the news.

As the Internet inevitably eviscerates the Fourth Estate and replaces it with the Fifth Estate, I for one will miss its professionalism.  Meanwhile I still subscribe to the Citizen because my wife enjoys its extensive funny papers.

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Is This Quality Decision-Making?

South March Highlands

Open Message to Mayor Watson and City Council,

Attached is a copy of a letter hand-delivered to Minister Chan as well as to the press gallery at Queen’s Park.  The provincial leader of the NDP rose in the Ontario Legislature to call attention to it.

As you read this letter, ask yourself whether this is indicative of the quality of decision making that the people of Ottawa expect from all of you.  On what expert authority is the decision to ignore important archaeological potential being based?

  • It isn’t the expertise of licensed archaeologists – the city has NONE on staff and none were contracted by the city to review the situation.  The two licensed experts who did review the new evidence have called for a new study.
  • It isn’t the Ministry of Tourism and Culture who have clearly stated that they only review reports presented to them and that they have downloaded the approval authority to the city when it comes to requiring new studies.  Only the City as the approval authority, or the Minister of Culture acting on an emergency basis, can order that a new study be done.
  • It isn’t the City Council’s advisory committee on Arts and Heritage that has unanimously recommended that a new study be done.
  • It isn’t the people whose direct heritage is being ignored.  ALL the Algonquin First Nations on both sides of the Ottawa River have expressed their concern and requested that a new review be done.  Furthermore the City Council’s new advisory subcommittee on Aboriginal Affairs has also unanimously recommended that a new study be done.

The answer according to the Mayor is that the decision has been made by a non-professional archaeologist (J. Moser) based on a legal opinion city counsel (T. Marc) – neither of whom have any training or expertise in archaeology.  This is the same legal counsel who recently stood against public interest groups at an OMB hearing and challenged the affidavits presented by the public because they were submitted by non-professionals in the subjects being reviewed!

Is this the quality of decision making that City Council wants to rely on?  Decisions made by those apparently blind to their consequences because they are untrained to evaluate the information required to make the right decision?

The legal opinion only confirms that it is apparently legal in Ontario to embarrass the City and its leadership by relying on an out-dated study when it comes to development approvals.  Doesn’t say much for the quality of legislation used to protect cultural heritage.  It is equally legal to require that a new study be done at any time prior to registration of subdivision.

The City Council of Ottawa does not have to rely on a decision-making process that is blind to the facts.  Nor should Council allow the City to be embarrassed by decisions made by staff in such a flawed manner. 

With Fortitude,

Paul Renaud

South March Highlands – Carp River Conservation Inc.

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Understanding The Terry Fox Drive Decisions

South March Highlands

On Dec 14, 2010 the Ontario Divisional Court gave judgement  in a judicial review of the Terry Fox Drive Extension environmental assessment process.  This decision, for which leave to appeal may be sought, appears to be precedent-setting and has significant implications in Ontario.

1. Despite the City’s attempt to challenge the standing of the South March Highlands – Carp River Conservation Inc.(SMHCRC), the court ruled that the SMHCRC:

(a) has a genuine interest in the matter;

(b) that there is a serious issue to be tried; and

(c) there is no other reasonable and effective manner for the issue to be resolved.

This appears to be an important precedent that will assist other public interest groups assure their standing before the courts.

2. Despite the City’s assertion that the Minister of the Environment as well as the City of Ottawa should have been a party to the case, the court ruled that the City on its own exercised a statutory power of decision that was subject to judicial review.

This aspect of the decision appears to indicate that municipalities will be held accountable for the effect of their own decisions, notwithstanding the involvement of other authorities.

3. Despite the City’s assertion to the contrary, the City’s decision to proceed with construction of the road is a statutory power of decision and thus subject to review.  Furthermore, the City’s decision to proceed without filing an Addendum that was available for public review has broad public interest implications because of the lack of opportunity for public review.

This appears to indicate that municipalities who decide to proceed with projects without filing an Addendum that was available for public review are subject to judicial review by the courts.

4. Despite the City’s assertion that the situation was moot because the road was near completion, the court agreed that it is not too late to address items such as whether the environmental mitigation is appropriate.

This means that it is not too late to do the right thing.

5. With regard to whether the City of Ottawa was required to file an Environmental Assessment (EA) Addendum the court determined that it could not conclude that the City’s decision to proceed without filing an Addendum was unreasonable.

This aspect of the decision appears to raise a number of questions which require careful consideration by members of a broad community of interest. 

In summary the SMHCRC successfully defended itself on several legal challenges made by the City of Ottawa on questions of legal standing, applicability, mootness, and the extent to which the City was subject to judicial review. 

The SMHCRC now has 15 days to consider whether it should request leave to appeal on the remaining aspects of the decision.

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