There’s no way the Broadbent Institute should have hired a high-profile strikebreaker to moderate a panel on Alberta’s election

Posted on May 29, 2015, 12:27 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: A striker, at right, confronts a security guard during one of the dark days of the 1999-2000 labour dispute at the Calgary Herald. Below: Calgary Herald political columnist Don Braid and Broadbent Institute Executive Director Rick Smith.

I was genuinely shocked when I learned a few days ago that the Broadbent Institute is about to hold a panel discussion called “Learning From the Historic Alberta Election” on Monday in Vancouver.

The cause of my dismay was not that this topic is going to be dealt with in Vancouver – the event, after all, is being organized with the Simon Fraser University School of Public Policy in nearby Burnaby and is doubtless of more than a little interest to our politically engaged neighbours in British Columbia, just as it is in Ottawa where the institute is based.

BraidRather, it was the revelation the event would be hosted by Calgary Herald political columnist Don Braid that shocked me. Actually, I first realized this when I noticed a Tweet saying Mr. Braid would be the moderator of the panel on the New Democratic Party’s unexpected victory in the May 5 Alberta election.

No doubt Mr. Braid was very pleased to have been invited to play this role by a prestigious and progressive organization that bears the name of former NDP federal leader Ed Broadbent. I was not so delighted.

My problem with this is that while I have considerable regard for Mr. Braid’s political commentary, and have quoted his observations in this blog from time to time over the years, he is simply not an appropriate host for an event put on by an organization that is supported by many donations from unions and individual union members.

The reason: Mr. Braid’s role in the strike at the Calgary Herald that took place from Nov. 8, 1999, to June 30, 2000. Mr. Braid did service during the latter part of the bitter eight-month labour dispute as a strikebreaker and, in my informed opinion, made a significant contribution to the employer’s successful effort to break the union.

Let me pause here to declare my interest. I too was there throughout the strike, walking the picket line outside as the vice-president of the doomed Local 115A of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada.

Mr. Braid wasn’t one of those picket-line crossers who merely remained on the job out of fear or financial need when the strike came. He was hired away from another newspaper during the strike to work at the Herald.

Whether it was the intention of the employer or Mr. Braid, then as now a high-profile political writer with a devoted following, his byline brought considerable credibility to the employer’s effort to continue doing business while many of its unionized journalists walked often bitterly cold picket lines outside the Herald’s bunker-like northeast Calgary office and printing complex.

rick-smithMr. Braid had been a popular and well-read Herald columnist from 1993 to 1998 and had left the newspaper, according to a story in the Globe and Mail published shortly after the strike began, because of the way his reporting had been treated by the Herald’s management.

“After a piece in which columnist Don Braid mentioned Calgary’s powerful and wealthy Mannix family, the writer found himself called on the carpet,” wrote Globe reporter Susanne Craig on Nov. 16, eight days after the strike began. “According to Herald insiders, a Mannix confidant had complained, saying the family was upset at being described as secretive. … Two weeks later, Mr. Braid quit. He now toils for the rival Calgary Sun.”

Regardless of the reasons for Mr. Braid’s change of employer in 1998, as the strike ground on through the winter and early spring of 2000, he reconsidered.

On Feb. 26, 2000, the Canadian Press reported, “High-profile columnists Don Braid and Sydney Sharpe have rejoined the Calgary Herald after a two-year absence working for the paper’s chief competitor. Both have written best-sellers and have held senior news positions at major Canadian papers. The married couple began their new tenure at the Herald on Friday.”

“We’re delighted to have Don and Sydney returning to the Herald, which has always been their home,” then editor-in-chief Peter Menzies was quoted as saying in the CP story, which omitted any mention of the strike that was under way at the newspaper.

A few days before the strike ended, Ms. Sharpe wrote a story that appeared in both the Herald on June 4, 2000, and the National Post, owned by the same company, on June 9. It began: “I am a scab. Until a few months ago, I had never crossed a picket line in my life, but today I do so at the Calgary Herald, defiantly and proudly. I am a scab because free speech must never be silenced by a blockade of intolerance, ignorance and hatred …”

So what the Globe had described as journalists on the picket line “fuming over what they say is the loss of their paper’s integrity,” Ms. Sharpe saw as an epic battle over freedom of speech.

These stories are no longer easily found online, although they can be accessed through your public library’s newspaper database. A good and I believe fair and balanced description of the issues in the strike and the tactics adopted by the employer is contained in former Herald columnist and reporter Brian Brennan’s memoir, Leaving Dublin, Writing My Way from Dublin to Canada.

Broadbent Institute Executive Director Rick Smith defends the use of Mr. Braid to moderate the panel because of his high profile as a political commentator in Alberta, arguing that having a controversial moderator is the same as having a controversial panel member.

I respectfully disagree, because the moderator represents the institution, whereas a panel member simply represents a point of view. And an institution that espouses the principles the Broadbent Institute says it believes in ought not to employ a former strikebreaker.

I am not just writing this to be mean spirited. I am proud of my role as vice-president of Local 115A of CEP throughout the strike, which ended my career in journalism, and I remember many others like me whose careers suffered the same fate.

To return to the topic of Monday’s seminar, one of the things I hope and expect to see from the election of Rachel Notley’s NDP here in Alberta is first-collective-agreement arbitration legislation like that in most other Canadian provincial jurisdictions that will make it impossible for employers like the Calgary Herald’s owners to bust a legal strike for a first collective agreement with impunity – and the help of strikebreakers – as happened in 2000 in Calgary.

Many readers and some of the participants in the events of 1999 and 2000 may feel 15 years is long enough, and that everyone involved should just “get over it.”

Not me. And I don’t think the Broadbent Institute should either.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca. NOTE: Late this morning, the Broadbent Institute Tweeted that “Don Braid let us know he’s respectfully withdrawn as moderator for #abvotes panel Monday. We look forward to his ongoing AB poli reporting.”

9 Comments to: There’s no way the Broadbent Institute should have hired a high-profile strikebreaker to moderate a panel on Alberta’s election

  1. Doug Meggison

    May 29th, 2015

    Your considerate column must have been hard to write. When a colleague becomes a ‘strike breaker’ as you kindly place it, it is a punch to the gut that endures. I have just reserved a copy of Leaving Dublin, Writing My Way from Dublin to Canada so as to learn more. However, I have learned enough to make a prediction that Don Braid will not be moderating out in Vancouver. Your column will influence that decision!

    Reply
  2. Rocky

    May 29th, 2015

    Sydney Sharp’s “proud to be a Scab” column makes interesting reading after all these years. It’s also interesting to compare her sentiments with Don Braid’s Calgary Sun column published on Nov. 16, 1999, in which he said: “… I still have trouble seeing serious physical danger in all this. The Herald newsroom has always been a middle-class place where the deadliest threat is a paper cut. These people are writers, not muggers.”

    Reply
  3. Athabascan

    May 29th, 2015

    “Mr. Braid did service during the latter part of the bitter eight-month labour dispute as a strikebreaker….”

    David, why don’t you call it what it really is – scabbing! It’s an ugly word for an ugly deed done by scum.

    People should know what this offensive label is for. Strikebreaker doesn’t even come close to describing what these bottom feeders do. Preying on the misery and sacrifices of others to enrich oneself during a strike is scabbing. If that’s what you do, then you are a scab.

    Sorry, but there is no gentler way of saying it.

    Reply
  4. Martin d'Entremont

    May 29th, 2015

    At least Sydney referred to herself correctly as a scab. Braid should too. And let’s not leave serial backstabber Danielle Smith out of this either. Scabbing for Conrad Black. Can anyone go lower than that?

    Reply
  5. redneckred

    May 29th, 2015

    I well remember the headline for Sydney Sharp’s column: “I crossed the line for freedom of speech”. Presumably this freedom of speech was directly deposited into Sydney’s bank account every two weeks, directly from the coffers of her employer, Conrad Black. The piece was very amusing for those of us who remember her undergraduate days as a stalwart of the radical Students for a Democratic University at the U of A.”All power to the plutocrats!”

    I also recall Don Braid’s relentless sucking up to Preston “The West Wants In” Manning, an activity that has never harmed a journalistic career out here in Oil Country.

    Reply
  6. Franny

    May 29th, 2015

    See @Broadbent Twiiter feed approx 1pm May 29, 2015.

    Reply
  7. Don

    May 29th, 2015

    I have a lot of respect for strikebreakers who cross the picket line to do such a novel thing – work. Think independently. Stand up to greedy big labour and their questionable practices.

    My opinion of Broadbent has improved.

    Bravo to independence, freedom, and democracy. Next stop: right to work legislation.\

    Reply
    • Glen

      May 30th, 2015

      I have absolutely no respect for scabs or their supporters! If you have so much disdain for unions and the commonly accepted practices they use in securing collective agreements, then feel free to go work for a non-Union shop.
      Anybody that accepts the fruits earned off the struggles of their union brothers and sisters then does the most heinous act of scabbing deserves to be treated like the scum they are.

      Reply
  8. Mike

    May 30th, 2015

    Your website is hard to read on my mobile device. Can you enable responsive zooming please?

    Reply

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