Ouch. The Harper government continues to break new ground in its dealings with the media, this time by outing longtime Parliament Hill columnists Jeffrey Simpson, Lawrence Martin and Hugh Winsor as having given paid speeches to federal government staffers.
Update: I have been alerted to this story in today’s Ottawa Citizen – in which Liberal MP and former Financial Post editor John Godfrey describes the assembling of the list as a witch hunt – and to this item at CBC Watch.
From the Ottawa Citizen story published in the Regina Leader-Post (hat tip: National Newswatch):
. . . the Harper government has released a list of parliamentary press gallery members who received contracts from the federal government they report on.
The list of journalists receiving government money includes several prominent writers from the Globe and Mail who took speaking fees or honorariums, including national affairs columnist Jeffrey Simpson, who was paid $2,400 for two speeches through the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
The government tabled the list this week in response to an order paper question from Conservative MP Scott Reid.
There are no rules explicitly prohibiting press gallery members from getting paid by the government they are supposed to cover, but the gallery's constitution does not allow journalists to use their membership for their own "benefit." Journalists have been tossed out for using their gallery membership to win government work in the past.
The records show that Lawrence Martin, a Globe and Mail columnist, was paid $2,500 by the Department of Justice to speak to a group of managers on the topic "Leadership in the New Canada" in October 2005. Martin is the author of a biography of former prime minister Jean Chretien and now contributes two columns a week for the Globe.
He also received $4,000 for a February 2005 speech to the Canada School of Public Service, a training centre for senior public servants.
Simpson's former colleague, Hugh Winsor, was paid $1,070 by Western Economic Development Canada for a speech in 2004, a year after he retired from the Globe and Mail. Before he left the paper, Winsor wrote a column on politics and the senior public service. He continues to write freelance pieces for the paper occasionally. He said he recalls recycling one of his lectures from a course he teaches at Queen's University for the speech.
Reid's order paper question required every government department and Crown corporation to compare a list of more than 400 parliamentary press gallery members against all the contracts issued over the past four fiscal years -- a time-consuming and likely expensive undertaking.