The Ontario Conservatives, #Metoo and the media

Written by  Wednesday, 14 February 2018 11:08
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Remember Patrick Brown. Way back in time, almost three weeks ago now, he was the leader of the Ontario Conservative Party, the Premier in waiting. The upcoming Ontario election was ‘his to lose’. And then he was gone, so gone.

The Ontario Conservative Party has moved on, and is now fully immersed in an open war between its Conservative, moderate, and Ford wings. But there are still a number of commentators who remain in hand wringing mode over the fact that Mr. Brown was “tried, convicted, and sentenced” by a mere allegation of sexual harassment.

There certainly have been a number of politicians and celebrities named as alleged bullies, harassers and abusers in recent months, and the accusations have had a devastating impact on their lives. But each case is different.

In the case of Patrick Brown his own party turned on him before the public had even heard the allegations against him. His personal staff resigned and there were calls for his resignation by members of his caucus before the story even went to air. After professing his innocence at a press conference, which also took place before the allegations had been made public, Brown tendered his resignation over night. Most Ontarians learned of his resignation at the same time that they heard the allegations against him. His own colleagues did him in, before the media had a chance to cut him down. Since then it has become abundantly clear that Brown had little or no support among the Conservative Caucus, although he had the support of many of the Conservative Pary candidates for the coming election.

The party may indeed choose a leader who will be capable of leading them back to power against the Liberal government that has been in power for 15 years and has made more than its share of enemies along the way. There is also a chance that the party will consume itself over the next month or so, such that it cannot present a coherent program to the Ontario public in time for the June 7 election. And even then, they might still carry the day.

Patrick Brown was indeed brought down by un-proven allegations of impropriety, but that does not mean that every man in the public eye who has ever made a pass at a woman can just as easily be cut down. In Brown’s case, CTV would not have aired the story without doing a lot of background work, and without corroborating evidence. Of course they aired allegations that have not been tested in court, but they need to construct enough evidence and credibility to protect themselves against a libel suit. Libel is all about money. CTV is owned by BCE, incorporated. They have lots of money. Patrick Brown was poised to become a Conservative Premier of Ontario at the age of 39, his lifetime earnings potential was vast and is now limited. Those are the two key elements to a successful libel suit because libel is about losing present and future income.

CTV would not air this story without first ensuring they were on solid footing. That, in itself, does not make the allegations true, but it ensures that they are credible.

In another recent case, Steve Paiken of TVO has been accused, by former Toronto Mayoralty candidate, Sarah Thomson, of propositioning her with the implicit promise of providing TV exposure if she said yes, and witholding that exposure if she said no. But Paiken’s employer has not suspended him, although they have launched an independent investigation. Meanwhile he is still employed and his profile, although damaged somewhat, remains more or less intact. The public is taking a wait and see approach.

Paiken may indeed be a sexual predator and Brown may be entirely innocent, we don’t know anything for sure in either case. But the cases are still different and that is why the consequences, thus far, have been so different. In Paiken’s case, there is only one accuser, Sarah Thomson, and the accusation was published on her own website. Paiken brought it to the attention of TVO himself and then it became widely known.

There was no journalistic work done in this case, no meetings to determine if the story was strong enough to publish.

The series of revelations about various individuals under the #MeToo umbrella are not all created equal and they will not all do irrevocable harm to reputations. As time passes and more information comes out, a fuller picture tends to emerge. In some cases it is pretty ugly, in some cases it is murky. Human relations and human memories are fallable, and sometimes people are vindictive.

We are at an important moment. A pattern of behaviour in all professions and in all corners of our society, is being revealed. There are some who will be caught up in the whole thing unfairly, and none of us should jump to conclusions based on a single newspaper account or a single tweet.

There is a broader issue behind this, outside of the whole celebrity culture aspect and the gossipy nature of the way these stories are coming out.

My own demographic, the 50 - 65 year old men who grew up in the 1970’s, when the idea of equality in the workplace, and an egalitarian society was already well accepted, did not live up to those ideals. Much like the men in the generations before us, we used our social and economic advantage for our own benefit. And some of us, a small but significant minority, have weopanised sex throughout their working lives. This current generation of women, and men as well I hope, are rising up to stop it, hopefully once and for all.In this time, it is important to listen carefully to the voices of those who are speaking out, before coming to our conclusions about each of the cases that hit the news.

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