Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Stephen Harper Revives the Accurate News and Information Act

In 1935, Alberta elected the first Social Credit government in the world and a man by the name of William Aberhart, would be named premier of Alberta.

Upon his death, his lieutenant, Ernest Manning took the reins and ran Alberta for several decades. Later Ernest's son Preston Manning would found the Reform Party and his lieutenant Stephen Harper would head up the same party under the Alliance banner and later the (Reform) Conservative Party of Canada.

In a 1997 speech to the Council for National Policy, Stephen Harper himself stated "The predecessor of the Reform party, the Social Credit party ..." and also claims that "It's the closest thing we have to a neo-conservative party ...". (1)

From the moment that the social credit movement began, Aberhart, dubbed "Bible Bill", waged war on the media, and after his election victory, according to Time Magazine:
Without crudely borrowing the name of Germany's "Ministry of Propaganda & Public Enlightenment," Premier Aberhart announced that Alberta Government news will hereafter be "dished out in platters" by a bureau with exclusive monopoly of statements from the Premier & Cabinet so that ''there will be no more scoops." (2)
But journalists doing what journalists do, scooped him all over the place. This prompted the Alberta legislature to pass what was called The Accurate News and Information Act, which essentially was an attempt to muzzle the press, and according to Time Magazine: The .. bill would force Alberta newspapers to give as much as one full page to presentation of the Government's views verbatim at any time upon demand. (3) And:
The act empowered the chair of the Social Credit Board to require a newspaper to reveal the names and addresses of its sources, as well as the names and addresses of any writers, including of unsigned pieces. Non-compliance would result in fines of up to $1,000 per day, and prohibitions on the publishing of the offending newspaper, of stories by offending writers, or of information emanating from offending sources. The act also required newspapers to print, at the instruction of the chair of the Social Credit Board, any statement "which has for its object the correction or amplification of any statement relating to any policy or activity of the Government of the Province." (4)
The Supreme Court eventually overturned this measure as being unconstitutional. But the real story here is the media's reaction. They fought William Aberhart tooth and nail and they won. Don Brown, the reporter who led the charge and his paper, the Edmonton Journal were awarded a bronze plaque from the Pulitzer Prize committee, the first time it honoured a non-American newspaper. And ninety-five other papers, including the Calgary Albertan, Edmonton Bulletin, Calgary Herald, Lethbridge Herald, and Medicine Hat News, were presented with engraved certificates. (5)

Fast Forward to Another 'Time':

In 2006, roughly seven decades after the founder of this movement, William Aberhart, attempts to strangle the media; his successor, Stephen Harper also makes Time Magazine, as they report that:
--The PMO has restricted what Cabinet ministers, embassies, consulates and some Members of Parliament can say and do without first having their plans vetted by the PMO.

--Officials decide which reporters get to ask questions at the Prime Minister's press conferences and sometimes pass over those they suspect have questions they don't want to deal with.

--The PMO has not announced some of Harper's meetings with national and international leaders.

--The PMO has placed undue restrictions on allowing reporters into photo ops in the Prime Minister's Centre Block office, even though they have traditionally been allowed access. The PMO last week beefed up security and allowed only photographers and camera operators into a meeting in which children presented daffodils to Harper as part of a campaign to raise awareness for cancer research. Reporters who had been barred from the session got into a minor shoving match with Commons security guards.

With Parliament starting a new session this week, the journalists, at least, say the issues at stake are critical. "We contribute as members of the press to holding the government accountable for its actions," says Latraverse. "Canadians should be worried when they see the government trying to exert such an unprecedented level of control." (6)
But a lot has happened since 2006, and what we have today is a government that does not speak to us, except in carefully scripted soundbites, and a media that gave up the fight long ago.

So should we really be surprised to learn that when youth were invited to 'question' their prime minister' that this would happen:
Youths who participated in a question-and-answer session with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Monday say their questions were edited by the Prime Minister’s Office. Other youths had earlier explained that the questions were selected by Vision Internationale, a non-profit Christian group, and then edited by Harper’s office.
And when Anna Fricker, a young ambassador for the group, discovered that her question on maternal health had been edited, she spoke out:
Fricker was then interrupted by an organizer who would not identify herself except to say, "I’m supposed to be handling the media." "I would appreciate if you could just work with us so that we can keep this consistent message," she said. "I’m just supposed to keep this under control."
A Christian group hired to "keep this under control". Whose control?

And the Globe and Mail also stated that he avoided any questions on the environment, something young people are very concerned about:
Raimey Gallant is putting on the record the question she wanted to ask Stephen Harper at a G8/G20 forum Monday but couldn’t because of a process she believes was so stage-managed as to be insulting.

The 30-year-old student from Winnipeg’s Red River College wanted to talk to the Prime Minister about the environment. She wanted to ask about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and she even censored herself by making her question a little tamer in hopes it would be picked. It didn’t happen.

... Anything beyond the economy, including issues frequently covered by the national media, is a “sideshow,” the Prime Minster said.

“The whole sideshow thing, I think that insulted me the most,” Ms. Raimey told The Globe today. “I was really upset by that. I find it extremely insulting because we are Canadians, too, and these issues are important to us. If our Prime Minister thinks they are sideshows – I mean this isn’t a government of one.”
This "isn't a government of one"? Silly girl. Of course it is.

But as much as the media is now crying foul, it should not have taken a group of young people to point out that government information is so "stage-managed it's insulting." It should be insulting to everyone in this country, especially our media.

Because the real story here is that they did not fight this. They laid down for a man who is not only taking his own photos and writing his own copy, but "dishing out news on platters."

So who among them will win a plaque from the Pulitzer prize committee for breaking through the silence? How many Canadian newspapers will win certificates for standing up to this totalitarian regime?

These young people deserve an apology. But not an apology from the PMO, but an apology from Canada's press who allowed this to happen.

Thomas Jefferson once said: "Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost."

The media should uphold that in the same way that a doctor upholds the Hippocratic Oath to "first do no harm". But as these young people have pointed out, the harm has already been done.


1. Full text of Stephen Harper's 1997 speech, CBC News, December 14, 2005

2. Social Credit Improved, Time Magazine, September 16, 1935

3. Bill's Bills, Time Magazine, October 18, 1937

4. Bible Bill: A Biography of William Aberhart, By: David R. Elliot and Iris Miller, Edmonton: Reidmore Books, 1987, Pg. 272-273

5. The Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of Social Credit in Alberta, By John J. Barr, McClelland and Stewart Limited, ISBN 077101015X, Pg. 112-113

6. Controlling The Message, By Steven Frank, April 03, 2006


  1. Congratulations Emily, on your exhaustive research, undoubtedly you are one of the most politically aware Canadians I know. It's always enlightening to read your thoughts on our regression into some weird, foreign, unrecognisable state. Your biggest fan...