Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Toronto Star Caught Red-Tongued

Liar, liar...

With the Toronto Star clearly behind Stephane Dion's Liberal party to the extent of distorting reality, it was only a matter of time until they tried to help Dion's erstwhile party leader, Elizabeth May (since she's writing his policies and all) win her uphill battle against Conservative deputy Prime Minister Peter MacKay.

Which they did yesterday when they dug up a story about a $16,400 bill for feeding some Passport Canada staff in March 2007. The author of the story, Dean Beeby, claimed that MacKay had "bent the rules" in order to approve the expenditure. But, as it turned out, some Toronto Star readers were kind enough to write in and reveal that the only one doing any bending was Beeby -- and he was bending the truth.

First off, we have Stephen J Leich of Mississauga, Ontario:

"I have been in private sector management for a number of years and I find the tone of this article to be unnecessarily antagonistic.

The total cost quoted in the headline looks like a big number and another example of government waste. Once you read the article, however, you can see that the amount spent comes to $42 per employee, over three weekends.

Most companies think nothing of providing lunches to employees working extra time for necessary projects; in fact, it is usually considered good employee relations. These Passport Canada staffers were dealing with a huge workload, caused by factors outside their control. If providing this minor amount per employee made it more palatable to them to put in this extra effort, I fail to see where it can be considered any sort of problem. Yes, it's unfortunate that the total was so high, and perhaps the deputy minister should have realized that this would be the case before the $5,000 limit was exceeded, but it appears he took steps to rectify the situation.

I know a number of people who were caught up in that backlog of passport applications, and I can't help but feel that this is not an unreasonable cost to minimize the impact on so many Canadians.

One would think that Beeby must have had a hard time explaining that one to his editor. (This is the Toronto Star we're talking about here, so probably not. -ed.)

But it's entirely possible, as some Liberal partisans will likely rush to insist, that Stephen J Leich is merely a Tory hack reacting on behalf of the party.

Fortunately, Toronto's Geoff Rytell pitched in:

"Breaking news: Peter MacKay bent government rules in giving the nod to $16,800 for passport officials' lunches. The facts, unfortunately, don't support the claim. The regulations say that civil servants can be fed at taxpayer expense if they're working overtime. If the cost is more than $5,000, the appropriate minister must approve. MacKay was solicited. He approved. The rules were followed. Assuming that the bureaucrats in question did not imbibe several bottles of Bollinger, where's the story? I, too, am anxious to show Stephen Harper the door but not at the cost of the truth."

That one must have been a little bit harder to take.

But in the end, this entire episode is considerably less than unsurprising. After all, this is the Toronto Star -- where publishing stories inflating mundane government business into manufactured scandals in the name of hurting the Conservative party is just another day on the job.

One would almost expect some kind of retraction of the obvious mistruths. But, then again (once again), this is the Toronto Star, where journalistic integrity isn't only something they talk about -- it's also something they discard.

At the very least, it's very kind of the Star to come out and actually say what they think of civil servants: they shouldn't be rewarded when they do more than what Canadians expect of them. Apparently, even a working lunch is too much to ask for the suddenly-converted fiscal tightwads at the Star.

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