CBC Chief Correspondent Peter Mansbridge, back in the day before he could seriously contemplate receiving a $28,000 speaking fee just for flapping his gums over dinner. (Photo found on the Internet.) Below: Similarly compensated CBC commentator Rex Murphy, presumably at about the same moment in history. Below that: Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith’s enthusiastic review of Mr. Murphy’s remarks to an oil industry audience and a shot Mr. Mansbridge’s appearance before CAPP from the group’s Facebook page.

There he is, not quite as large as life and rather blurry, but nevertheless front and centre on the Facebook page of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers – and, no, we’re not talking about Rex Murphy.

Rather, it’s Peter Mansbridge, chief correspondent of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, taking part in a CAPP seminar in December 2012. “He articulated that energy has moved to the forefront of news: economic, environment, safety,” the CAPP caption noted, not particularly informatively.

Well, not such a big deal, really, and a long time ago – except for the fact this is the same Peter Mansbridge who just days ago was sending sharpish emails to members of the public who complained about the CBC’s failure to inform listeners about Mr. Murphy’s apparently lucrative speaking arrangements with the oil industry.

“Thank you for your recent email,” Mr. Mansbridge wrote to an acquaintance of mine in response to a note to the CBC about l’affaire Rex. “You were one of a few dozen concerned viewers who wrote to me, most it seems, after being encouraged to do so by the latest Sierra Club fundraising blog. We take all comments seriously as we have done with yours even though many of the comments I have received are not based on fact. Not even close to fact.” (Emphasis, of course, added.)

“This issue has been in the public domain for some time and the CBC has responded a number of times,” Mr. Mansbridge went on, a trifle sniffily I thought, providing a link to a blog post by CBC General Manager Jennifer McGuire. “…Once again thank you for your comments. I will make sure they are passed along.”

According to reports on the Internet, it turns out that Mr. Mansbridge too was paid by the CAPP for his efforts – although just how much, the Calgary-based oilpatch lobbying organization would not say. However, according to Toronto Life Magazine, Mr. Mansbridge can expect a fee not unadjacent to $30,000 when he bloviates over dinner.

Still, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if this fact – which at the time my friend received this correspondence was still lurking largely unrecognized if not completely undiscovered in the archives of cyberspace – may have accounted for the chief correspondent’s slightly snippy tone.

Well, we haven’t got a list of how many times Mr. Mansbridge has appeared before oil industry audiences, so it’s quite possible that he hasn’t made a habit of it as Mr. Murphy appears to have done. According to the Broadbent Institute’s Press Progress online publication, which recently published an info-graphic on the topic, Mr. Murphy as been paid up to $30,000 a pop for 25 speeches to oil and gas groups since 2009.

The controversy generated, of course, has to do with whether the CBC and Mr. Murphy should have declared this activity, especially before one of Mr. Murphy’s diatribes about the perfidy of environmentalists, not about the size or existence of the speakers’ fees themselves.

Regardless, Mr. Murphy’s remarks seem to have elicited a positive response from at least some of his invited listeners. “Wow,” enthused Alberta Opposition Leader Danielle Smith in a Tweet last fall, “CAPP needs to hire Rex Murphy as the spokesperson for our energy industry: telling the crowd why we should be proud of what we do.”

Uh, and what do you mean we, Ms. Smith?

But the Mansbridge revelation certainly kept the story about Mr. Murphy’s spectacular, and so far journalistically undeclared, speaking fees simmering at a time when the national broadcasting company that employs his services must surely have expected it would have gone away.

When I was a lad working in the Canadian news industry, it was a matter of some controversy if a journalist didn’t pay for his or her own drink, or was taken to lunch, let alone, God forbid, took a payment for “freelance work,” “speech writing” or “research.”

That this should seem quaint and $28,000 speaking fees – never mind who’s paying them – seem normal in the ninth year of the Stephen Harper Era in Canada is possibly predictable, but more than faintly depressing.

So it was mildly reassuring to discover that a controversy could still be stoked in the Alberta Legislative Press Gallery by the offering to correspondents by Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk of rings of Polish sausage.

At any rate, the editor of an innuendo- and typo-riddled subscribers-only Legislative newsletter went to considerable lengths to mock two Edmonton Journal reporters for refusing to accept the unsolicited gifts, which presumably marked the guilty with a garlicky miasma.

To me, though, the determination of the principled pair to stand by what was once considered routinely ethical behaviour for journalists offered a glimmer of hopeful illumination in an otherwise tenebrous scene.

Would the last one out, please turn out the light at the end of the pipeline!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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  1. What’s next? Evan Solomon on the board of Suncor? Carol Off having secret meetings with Karl Péladeau at his Laurentian compound? CBC is no longer the public broadcaster or even the state broadcaster. It has become the ‘petrostate’ broadcaster. Which was probably the intended goal of both the Reform party and the ‘Manning Centre for People Who Can Never Get Real Jobs’.

  2. Do we know how much the CBC pays Mr. Murphy for his rants? We often accuse former politicians and bureaucrats of “double-dipping”. Does that concept apply to commentators?

  3. for some explanation re :Uh, and what do you mean we, Ms. Smith?”

    Ian Urquhart at Alberta Views:

    re: “Wow,” enthused Alberta Opposition Leader Danielle Smith in a Tweet last fall, “CAPP needs to hire Rex Murphy as the spokesperson for our energy industry: telling the crowd why we should be proud of what we do.”


    excerpt: “…energy companies showed their displeasure with the government by steering their contributions primarily to the Wildrose Alliance, the only party to defend the royalty status quo.

    The 2007 changes to the royalty framework mobilized more than two dozen petroleum-related companies to contribute to the Wildrose campaign.

    More than half the party’s corporate contributions came from these companies, and they delivered 40 per cent of the party’s campaign contribution total.

    Reaction against PC petroleum policy produced an unheard-of situation—energy sector contributions to the governing Conservatives in the 2008 campaign ($169,575) were less than those to the fledgling Wildrose Alliance ($207,750).

    Soon after the 2008 election the Conservatives moved to curry favour with the petroleum sector. They initiated policies designed to win back contributions and dry up the most significant source of funding for the Wildrose Alliance.

    Royalties were reduced to promote the drilling of high-cost deep oil and gas wells. These departures from the 2007 royalty framework are expected to cost the provincial treasury $237-million a year in foregone royalties for five years, for a total of $1.185-billion. Royalties were reduced for conventional oil and natural gas in March of this year; in May the government reduced the royalties on wells depending on expensive technologies. Next on the agenda, according to CAPP, is addressing Alberta’s “regulatory competitiveness.” This doublespeak means further advantages for oil—and fewer for citizens.

    Energy industry companies that sat on the sidelines in the 2008 election campaign—Canadian Natural Resources, Devon, First Energy Capital, Nexen, Peters & Co., Suncor and Talisman—were all back writing cheques to the Conservatives in 2009.”

    Seems to me that:
    Lougheed called their bluff and raised royalties.
    Getty tried various gifts to offset world price collapse but didn’t give them the farm or let them set up office in the legislature.
    Klein gave away the farm. And keys to the legislature.
    Stelmach got cement/tar shoes for his concern of getting AB citizens a fair share so we could actually fund the public good.
    Wildrose Smith got a sponsor to get to the dance.
    Industry can now rely on being courted by two ‘banana republic’ parties.

    See original use of ‘banana republic’ in supplemental by Allan Warrack,
    Lougheed’s minister that created the Heritage Fund.

    PM’s favourite province squandered its petro profits like a ‘banana republic.

    so: AB governance model since Klein:
    Joint-venture negotiations: e.g. petro sector:
    Royalty tax rates negotiations: donations to political parties, industry spends on propaganda, i.e. sky will fall/economic collapse if AB parties/citizenry don’t kiss Big Oil on their purse filled with our petro-resources, and pay our obesiance to this industry for making all life possible.

    (for ‘joint-venture’ origin/credit/explanation see Mark Lisac, in The Klein Revolution, Chapter 9, The Corporate Province)

    Sam Gunsch

    1. supplemental re Allan Warrack’s ‘banana republic’ evaluation of AB gov’t’s current relationship with petro-industry

      excerpt: “In economics, a banana republic is a country operated as a commercial enterprise [15] for private [16] profit [17], effected by a collusion between the State and favoured monopolies [18], in which the profit derived from the private exploitation of public lands is private property, while the debts incurred thereby are a public responsibility.”



      Warrack excerpt: ” He feels the lack of government oversight and fair royalty collection for the oil sands is creating a massive restoration liability. “There is going to be a thousand years of carnage left up there and we are not even getting fair money for it… I mean this is crazy, just crazy.”

      As far as pledges to restore the area around Fort McMurray, Warrack is not optimistic. “Anybody who thinks the environment [at oil sands operations] is going to get fixed is smoking something. I mean they will just declare bankruptcy and they are out of Dodge. Is there any doubt?”

      Norway’s conservative philosophy re petro-industry revenue

      excerpt: “While the rest of Europe remains mired in financial crisis, Norway has quietly been amassing a huge fortune which reached 5.11 trillion crowns ($828 billion) on Wednesday, according to figures from the country’s central bank – Norges Bank.

      Norwegian Finance Minister Siv Jensen told Reuters the fund helps protect Norway from volatile fluctuations on the oil and gas market.

      “Many countries have found that temporary large revenues from natural resource exploitation produce relatively short-lived booms that are followed by difficult adjustments,” Jensen said.

      In spite of the millionaire milestone, Norwegians will not be allowed to access the money which is being saved for a rainy day.
      Some number crunching here:

      Sam Gunsch

  4. There is an interesting article from IPolitics about the double standard between way former Cross Country Checkup Dale Goldhawk and Rex Murphy were treated for conflict of interests. Essentially when Dale Goldhawk was the host of Checkup, he was also the president of the union ACTRA. At that time, the union took a position again the Free Trade Agreement of 1988 which Dale wrote a column on. There was a lot of criticism of that even though he never mentioned it on air and allowed all views on this issue to be aired(something I can attest to as I was a avid CBC listener in those days). He eventually volunteered resigned from ACTRA to avoid a hint of a conflict of interest. Contrast this with Mr. Murphy and you can really see the double standard. The news of Peter Mansbridge giving a speech to CAPP is more surprising given that he isn’t a commentary. I agree with the author in IPolitics that both of these men should disclose this so that people can make a fair judgement on the information they give to the public.

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