The Gomery commission is visiting Vancouver this Thursday and wrapping up a series of roundtables held across the country since late August. These gatherings have been held behind closed doors and have regrouped "former parliamentarians and government officials, academics, subject experts and technical specialists who will discuss the issues under review by the Commission."
Now that the first leak of the first report is out, British Columbians do recollect the alienated feeling of voting federally while already knowing what political party has actually been elected. Over and above the déjà-vu, more comes to mind when we consider the background of the "experts" and more particularly their past, current and future funding. The most disturbing part amounts to the stated mandate of the commission of making recommendations on accountability and transparency of our federal governance vs. how it is actually going about it.
The problem with "experts" and identifying them
When going through the list of the "experts" that the commission has identified across the country, one will be surprisingly struck by how few media "experts"--whether public, commercial or NGO new medias--have been identified. One would think that these people would have a pretty good idea of what "transparency" really means, what its barriers are, and what the tools are to really improve things, etc. But should we really be surprised that an inquiry commission presided over by a judge does not see or seek solutions outside the framework it operates within? We also hear that governments and their internal establishments are scared shitless by the Internet, which will take away the "control": power is certainly not a matter easily shared. Finally, should we be suprised that the Gomery commission has stayed clear from putting the media themselves under the spotlight? Perhaps they really do not want the media to act as the watchdog of the public interest when suspicious people roam the neighborhood.
The early days of the sponsorship scam
Those of you who track Quebec politics may remember the gagging of investigative reporter Normand Lester at Société Radio-Canada (SRC) when he blew the whistle on the Heritage Canada minutes. It turned out that these were funded by the taxpayers rather than the Bronfman foundation claiming its funding. Some Québécois did not appreciate at all the propaganda that they were subjected to at their own expenses in their own language. The aggravation of their own alienation has caused a few to switch over their allegiance, which would have been quite fine otherwise, one would think. But did we learn anything?
A problem with the integrity of the media?
In the aftermath of the Lester episode, the sponsorship scam was going full steam, and the advertising agencies were issuing these bogus press releases to the medias. One would think that it does not take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that something really bad was going on. Quite a few people in the media should have known better, particularly at SRC; knew, in fact, what was happening but zipped themselves up. The other media in Quebec did not fare any better, since there are always lucrative contracts available when one follows the party line. And that line was clearly set during the gagging of Normand Lester. Now one wonders how many more shifted their allegiance after the sponsorship scam follow-on episode.
The Gomery inquiry: one more episode?
Prime Minister Martin came up, set the commission and claimed it was going to clear things up (prior to returning to the next poll). We have all seen the soap that went on, became irritated over it, and have been hoping for a serious mop-up job. Judging from the handling of the financial scams uncovered south of the border, we can probably expect that a few rotten apples will be identified (and hopefully locked up), a few obvious reforms will be brought in, the ethics office will be put under further scrutiny, and business will return as usual. But how many more in Quebec will shift their allegiance? And why shouldn't they?
Should we not dig further below the surface and challenge the transparency being sought? Orwell's 1984 comes to mind when the ministry of information focuses on spreading disinformation, history changes by the day, semantics is appropriated and everyone must follow the party line in this Brave New World.
"Briser les solitudes": the resilience of Francophones outside of Quebec and uniting the country all seem to produce the exact opposite result with Sir Laurier, Trudeau, Mulroney, Chrétien and now Martin. What can we do on the West Coast on all of this, other than further disengage from federal politics? But perhaps this is what some are actually seeking...
The Land of culture jamming
Vancouver-based Adbusters.org started a Media Carta campaign earlier this summer so that we can regain our sanity when perpetually confronted by harmful consumer publicity, including state propaganda. Commercial and public broadcasters should open up their tight boxes and let people and NGOs challenge back on the crap we are being submitted to constantly.
The Gomery commission had the opportunity to get some fresh air while in Vancouver and consult the experts in its new media sector. With all respect to Rafe Mair (selected as a media expert), he belongs to the generation of mudrakers: the mechanisms have dramatically changed on how to do this. The transparency solutions seem to reside in the blogosphere and RSS feeds, as well as in improved interoperations between our public broadcaster, our federal infrastructures and the NGO underfunded new medias.
Could the Tyee or ViveLeCanada new medias hold as a discussion thread a "Gomery-hAlt" group therapy session away from the "experts"? Could they "briser les solitudes" that they have themselves created or have been feeding? Yeah, right... How else would they maintain themselves in power?
[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on October 20, 2005]