Calgary Sun, angry conservatives try to spin a glorified typographical error into the first political brouhaha of 2016

Posted on January 02, 2016, 12:52 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: Independent Calgary-Bow MLA Deborah Drever in a recent shot grabbed from her Facebook page. Below: Wildrose Finance Critic Derek Fildebrand (grabbed from Facebook) and PC interim Leader Ric McIver (from Wikipedia).

The Calgary Sun called it “the first political gaffe of 2016.”

A better description of yesterday’s non-story about Independent MLA Deborah Drever’s New Year’s message would be that it’s Alberta’s first journalistic gaffe of the year.

FildebrandtPostmedia Network’s Calgary Sun newspaper clearly deserves a certain amount of scorn for its apparent effort yesterday to spin what turns out to have been a glorified typographical error into a controversy about the supposed relationship between the NDP Government and the Calgary-Bow MLA, who was kicked out of the NDP caucus on May 22. The story thus far:

Yesterday morning, someone noticed that a New Year’s greeting under Ms. Drever’s name and picture in a free community newsletter in Calgary was word-for-word the same as one in another neighbourhood newsletter attributed to New Democrat MLA Brandy Payne, who represents the Calgary-Acadia riding.

Well, that much was true. As Ms. Drever told me yesterday, “neither my staff nor I submitted the newsletter update that ran under my name, nor were we given a proof to approve. All I can assume is that it is a mistake on the publisher’s end. My staff was unable to reach anyone today. On Monday we will be requesting a retraction from the publisher.”

Anyone who has worked in the publishing industry, as I did for many years, understands it is easy for things like this to happen, and how frequently they do. This should have been obvious to anyone who read to the end of the message, because it closed with Ms. Payne’s contact information.

Regardless, pro-Wildrose Twitter trolls were soon hard at it, accusing Ms. Drever of “plagiarism,” and the NDP of having secretly invited her back into its caucus without having made it official.

As alert readers will recall, Ms. Drever was elected on May 5 as a New Democrat MLA but was expelled from the government caucus 17 days later after a series of tasteless social media posts published before the Mount Royal University student had contemplated a political career came to light. Premier Rachel Notley said at the time she would review Ms. Drever’s status within the year.

McIverSince then, Ms. Drever was won accolades for a private member’s bill, passed unanimously by the Legislature in December, designed to protect victims of spousal abuse by allowing them to break residential leases without financial penalty, thus making it easier to escape violent domestic situations.

“She has done a remarkable job in rehabilitating her image and will soon be back formally in NDP caucus,” Mount Royal University political science Professor Duane Bratt predicted yesterday. However, while I agree with Dr. Bratt’s assessment, there is no evidence Ms. Drever and the NDP are quite there yet.

Regardless, Edmonton Sun Editor Dave Breakenridge soon began Tweeting about how “this looks awful” and repeating claims by others that “‘#andp caucus comms published it on her behalf.’ That’s worse, no?”

A few hours later, the Calgary Sun story appeared on that newspaper’s website, giving plenty of ink to Wildrose Finance Critic Derek Fildebrandt, Team Angry’s chief dispenser of faux outrage, and a little less to Progressive Conservative interim Leader Ric McIver.

“Nobody around the Legislature has believed for one minute that Deborah Drever was ever an Independent,” huffed Mr. Fildebrandt, the MLA for Strathmore-Brooks, a rural riding east of Calgary. “She is treated as a privileged member of the NDP caucus and has very obviously been receiving direct help, assistance and resources directly from the premier’s office.”

Mr. McIver repeated several of Mr. Fildebrandt’s talking points – although I’m sure this was entirely coincidental – expressing skepticism that the duplicate greeting was a publishing error. According to the Sun story, the Calgary-Hays Tory MLA even alleged Ms. Drever’s Independent status is “an expensive charade” designed to get more resources for the NDP caucus!

Mr. Fildebrabdt asked a related rhetorical question: “If we can’t trust them to change a few words in a sentence to ensure that it’s not blatantly obvious Miss Drever is getting her marching orders directly from the premier’s office, how do we trust them on bigger issues?” (!)

Well, that would not be the simple explanation, which is usually the right one. And as will most certainly be formally revealed by the newsletter’s publisher on Monday, what actually happened was nothing of the sort.

Indeed, if there was a political gaffe in this story – other than Messrs. Findebrandt’s and McIver’s theatrically cynical indignation – it was Ms. Drever’s mistake of not promptly returning the Sun reporter’s call.

In this, I feel some sympathy with her. Postmedia newspapers, especially Sun tabloids, nowadays operate pretty much as the communications and outreach department of the Wildrose Party. In her shoes, I wouldn’t have looked forward to dealing with a Sun reporter either, especially since as an Independent MLA she had no help from the government caucus’s communications staff. Still, the lesson for everyone in politics is that it’s always a mistake not to return media calls immediately.

What this understandable error by an inexperienced MLA really illustrates is not how close Ms. Drever is to the NDP’s caucus, but how close she isn’t.

As an aside, it’s interesting to note that for many years under Danielle Smith’s leadership the Wildrose Party handed all its MLAs identical generic columns for occasions like New Year’s to be placed in local papers under their names. In the past, a few MLAs balked and were given permission to make minor changes so that their greetings didn’t look like plagiarism, but some didn’t bother.

I don’t know if this practice continues, but of course we should be keeping an eye on future Wildrose and Conservative party communications of this type, with the caveat that this will probably result in Wildrose supporters complaining New Democrats are wasting the Legislature’s money by making them write extra press releases.

Well, I expect once the facts are revealed on Monday that Mr. Fildebrandt, Mr. McIver and the Sun will all apologize to both Ms. Drever and the premier’s office for their obviously inappropriate spin.

Don’t you?

NOTE: This story has been updated with new information and observations about past Wildrose practices. This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

13 Comments to: Calgary Sun, angry conservatives try to spin a glorified typographical error into the first political brouhaha of 2016

  1. January 2nd, 2016

    It’s a slow news week, but still, this hardly qualifies as real political news. Also, it’s not a political gaffe if it is an error on the part of the newspaper publisher. I hope that The Sun would print a correction if they are able to get a comment from the publisher on Monday.

    Over the years I remember numerous examples of PC MLAs printing identical or near identical columns in local newsletters. I don’t remember that being an issue then.

    Reply
    • Sammy

      January 2nd, 2016

      Difference being given ghetto were part of the same caucus. This shows that the disgraced Drever is still being supported by the NDP.

      Biased much, Dave?

      Reply
      • January 2nd, 2016

        Yawn, nice try. Despite her initial setbacks, Drever has done a fine job as an MLA in the legislature. She is well spoken, has successfully shepherded a private members bill through the assembly and has proven herself to be a competent MLA, despite what Derek Fildebrandt has to complain about.

        Reply
  2. Kathy

    January 2nd, 2016

    There are so many typographical errors in THIS story, how can anyone take it seriously? Newspapers don’t just write things like this out of the blue. They have to get the information from somewhere and have it approved before going to print. Drever and Notley obviously think we are all stupid.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      January 2nd, 2016

      If you have specific typographical errors to point out, please do so and, if we are in agreement about them, I will correct them. I can’t speak for Ms. Notley or Ms. Drever, of course, but I certainly know who I think is stupid.

      Reply
    • Athabascan

      January 2nd, 2016

      I agree with Kathy.

      So-called newspapers such as the Sun do in fact get their information from somewhere. Often times though “somewhere” is a place deep within the recesses of their own biased imagination.

      Reply
  3. Albertan

    January 2nd, 2016

    “What this understandable error by an inexperienced MLA really illustrates is not how close Ms. Drever is to the NDP’s caucus, but how close she isn’t.”
    And this is why noone takes this blog seriously.
    There is perspective – and then there is being pathetically apologistic.
    While few remain that excuse any of Drever’s prior actions, even fewer would have the preposterous audacity to suggest that she isn’t lock-step with the NDP caucus. She has voted as such, acted as such, and even Notley (in her desperation) will bring her back into the fold despite nonsense like this.
    This is an amateur mistake, made by an unqualified and completely inexperienced person at a job that requires aptitude, professionalism, and education – something that many in our government now lack.

    Reply
    • Tom in Ontario

      January 2nd, 2016

      “This is an amateur mistake, made by an unqualified and completely inexperienced person at a job that requires aptitude, professionalism, and education – something that many in our government now lack.”

      If you think this is bad, you should have been around when Jim Prentice was Premier of Alberta.

      Reply
    • Ann Onn

      January 2nd, 2016

      “…completely inexperienced person at a job that requires aptitude, professionalism, and education – something that many in our government now lack.” You’re complaining about the educational level of the NDP caucus? Seriously? You’re comparing it unfavourably to that of the Wildrose and Tory caucuses? Do you even think for a nanosecond before you start putting your idiocy into words?

      Reply
  4. J

    January 2nd, 2016

    Sad to see when conservatives have nothing to talk about so they reach into a hat and see what they can pull out. Anyone with a brain will quickly realize and understand what happened. I hope the paper/journalist in question comes forward to the Sun to make this better and issue an apology.

    Reply
  5. Trevor Marr

    January 2nd, 2016

    I want my money Back!!!

    Reply
  6. Ward

    January 2nd, 2016

    Happy New Year Dave. Keep blogging Dave. I’ll keep reading and enjoying your perspective.

    Reply
    • PJP

      January 3rd, 2016

      I am with Ward on this. And the amount of trolling you get seems to suggest many of us take your blog seriously, and appreciatively.

      Reply

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