Tuesday, September 05, 2006

I'm choking on the greenhouse gasses

I'd planned to write a post for this morning on Young Liberals, party reform, and boozing. Current events though have dictated that I post something on this Dion environmental footnote gate tempest.

A gander at my sidebar will reveal I support Stephane Dion. I still do. However, I hold no position on the campaign. I’m a blogger that has always tried to call it as I see it and be fair to all, and so I shall try to do here. The Dion bashers may accuse me of spin, and the koolaiders may accuse me of unfair attacks. I certainly won’t make any friends. C’est la vie, I won’t be losing any sleep over it.


Anyway, here’s my take on this thing, and it’s twofold. One, while these accusations look bad on the surface on closer examination this is really a non-issue. Two, from a communications perspective the Dion campaign, to use a family-friendly term, screwed the pooch on this one and came off looking like The Clampets, and their performance doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence in their competence, to say the least.


THE COMMUNICATIONS


I’m going to start with communications. First of all, Steve Janke didn’t unearth this. These allegations were being shopped around as early as Friday by someone calling himself “Steve Dion” to a range of bloggers and all the MSM usual suspects. No one bit until Janke did on Monday, cutting and pasting “Steve Dion’s” allegations without attribution into his own “investigative report.” Anyone else find it ironic that he plagiarized someone else’s plagiarism allegations? No footnotes even?


But I digress. I read this tipster’s e-mail Friday evening, and naturally I didn’t like what I read. While I was sure there was likely an innocent explanation, I wanted to hear one. I also wanted the campaign to be aware of the allegations, so they could be ready to quickly respond if and when they surfaced.


So, I forwarded a copy of the e-mail to several senior people on the campaign, including the communications/media chair and the national campaign director. Other than an acknowledgement on receipt from one contact on the campaign Monday, after Janke had “broke” this, I received no reply, and I still haven’t.


It pains me to say so, but this is just unaceptable. And incompetent. Even after Janke’s post Monday, it was 24 hours before there was any kind of response from the Dion campaign, and it was a halfhearted one at that. In the meantime, these allegations were left to fester unchallenged. And when his post went online they had known this was coming for nearly THREE DAYS! Is there any adult supervision over at campaign headquarters?


And just for the record, I’ve still heard nothing from the campaign on this issue.


THE ALLEGATIONS


As I just mentioned I have still heard nothing from the campaign on this so I have no idea what their official spin in this is. I’ll admit, at first read the similarities between the Suzuki report and Dion’s proposal are troubling. But the more I think about it and the more I look at it, the more it’s not so much.


First of all, there should have been some degree of footnoting, or at the very least a big shout-out to Suzuki and Co. in the foreward. Look over the line by line allegations, I won’t reprint them here. But as I see it, they fall into two categories.


The first category are cases where plans for action proposed by the Suzuki report are being adopted as policy proposals that Dion would implement if elected. This is where a shout-out would have been appropriate, as a way of saying ‘hey, we think you’re right, and we’ll do what you suggest, thanks for the idea.’ I’m pretty sure that’s why these reports are written, in the hopes that political parties will adopt their suggestions as policy so the proposals actually get implemented, rather than just collecting dust on a shelf.


The second category are items that fall into the category of facts, such as the estimation that 5800 premature deaths could be associated to air pollution in Ontario in 2005. In that particular case, both Suzuki and Dion are drawing on the same source: The Ontario Medical Association. Possibly even this backgrounder here, for example. That’s one allegation easily disproven as BS, unless you contend Suzuki was plagiarizing as well. But both properly sourced the OMA.


Proposing to implement the policy proposals of an NGO isn’t plagiarism (but as I said, a shout-out is appropriate) and neither is quoting facts from the same source material. To suggest otherwise is foolish.


That discounts all of “Steve Dion’s” laundry list of accusations but two, and that’s two cases where a sentence is identical, word for word, in both reports. That’s not appropriate, to say the least. It’s wrong. I would like an explanation for that. And one should be provided.


My theory? Some volunteer got lazy/tired, and either inadvertently or without thinking wrote the same sentence/s they had read earlier in the Suzuki report, which as already shown they agreed with and were drawing on to formulate their policy on the topic. Unfortunate? Yes. A really big deal? Hardly. Apologize for the mistake, and move on.


THE FALLOUT


My god, you’d think Dion had personally kidnapped the Lindbergh baby or something with the Webspere fallout. With the exceptions I’ve noted, what is the scandal here? Footnoting and the lack of a proper shout-out?


Were people under the impression that policy is written by a few people sitting around a table ordering takeout and asking themselves ‘hmm, the environment, anyone have any ideas?” No, policy is developed by consultations with stakeholders and by research and reading reports, including from reports from groups like the Suzuki Foundation.


As I said earlier, that’s why these groups exist: to raise awareness of their issues and advocate policy options. We’re not talking about writing an academic paper, we’re talking about developing public policy. Frankly, I’m glad that’s how we’re developing policy, talking to experts and taking their advice, instead of relying on pollsters to find five generic ideas that will poll well.


Which brings me to the blogsphere reaction. Frankly, I’d expect this kind of BS from Conservative Bloggers. But to see so many Liberal bloggers hoping on the lynch mob bandwagon, its disgusting.


Particularly some bloggers that had been calling on people to stick to the issues when they felt their candidates were under attack recently. But I guess all is fair in love and a leadership race right? No need to let the facts get in the way of a good smearing. I also wonder which of the leadership campaigns “Steve Dion” is working for? I know he’s not a Conservative, because he (or she) actually read an environmental report.


But anyway, this lynchmob was pure politics. How many of them actually bothered to examine and consider the allegations in detail before jumping at the chance to attack one of the competitors to their own favoured candidates? I’ll just remind them a) karma’s a bitch, and b) At the end of the day, we are one Liberal party that is going to have to be united at the end of the day.


In the mean time, let's get back to talking about ideas, shall we?


PROGRAMMING NOTE
: My time and Internet access will be limited over the rest of the week due a business trip to New York City. Therefore, blogging and commenting may be sporadic in the coming days.

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12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Too bad the same view wasn't taken when Ignatieff was trashed. OK to trash him but people can't take it when their own favourite is trashed.

They're all going to have bad weeks.

It happens.

A BCer in Toronto said...

I've been nothing but fair to Michael Ignatieff.

Jason Bo Green said...

I'm not following this story.

I don't believe for a second that Dion knowingly plagiarised.

I do believe some staffer made an error.

But I know that Dion's campaign made a big mis-step by not acknowledging an error and apologizing and correcting. Even if the acknowl. was, "Whoops, that was just an early draft, we printed out the wrong one - sorry, David Suzuki."

I hope it blows over, but - if it doesn't, they have only themselves to blame.

Anonymous said...

First a cheap tip, now a missing footnote. What next, wearing white after Labour Day? Dion never claimed that these were his ideas, just policy initiatives. Not all policy is original thought. Of course he should have acknowledge the Suzuki Foundation. But he didn't. There he erred. And he should have responded earlier. But let's face it, he's running for the leadership of a party, not class president.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the Iggy bloggers were really piling on Dion today. Enjoy it while you can - I'm sure your guy will blow himself up tomorrow!

Still, the Iggyfans aren't the worst of the bunch. The Generation Kennedy hooligans have turned the blogs into a real gong show. Makes you wonder whether they're being officially encouraged to be as obnoxious as they seem.

Anyway, hope everybody keeps throwing crap at each other like a room full of monkeys. It'll just make it easier for Bob!

Penny said...

One thing I'm sure of is that Professor Stephane Dion would neither have written, nor vetted an article which did not footnote, link to credible references, or at minimum give pretty explicit credit to a source.

But.. should Dion have scanned the paper/report/whatever it is, personally and sent it back for a re-write?

I have never worked at this level for a politician, so I'm just, like, asking...

Anonymous said...

Don't you think that perhaps it's David Sukuzi's call here? If Suzuki doesn't mind, what the hell.

At least Iggy owned up to his mistakes.

The Kennedy gang are driving me nuts - The "kids", Kennedy included need some adult supervision.

The Rat said...

So Jeff, I'm writing report for my major corporation on a technology initiative and it's just so much easier to copy and paste from Computer World. I'm sure you won't mind . . .

As for Ignatieff, having read Janke this morning, pay back is a bitch.

burlivespipe said...

Good assessment ~ more quibbling than anything. The only ironic twist is that it was Dion who made a little fou-fou about Ignatieff not 'sourcing' him for some environmental point. Touche, I suppose.
When you think of it, a university prof being 'caught' publishing someone else's ideas (although never claiming exact ownership) is kind of priceless, don't you think? I sure wish I could smack down one former prof who gave my hardwork some suggestive scribblings down the margin...
As to 'Steve Dion's identity... i believe The likely suspect Doesn't know He's so obvious. follow the clues, boys...

Anonymous said...

Just learned: Apparantly Ignatieff ripped off his environmental plan from a CD Howe Report.

Hmmm.....

Dion stealing from the left.

Iggy stealing from the right.

Sounds like Liberals to me.

Cerberus said...

Great post as usual, Jeff. Bringing some sense of proportion to any problem. Jeff you have bent over backwards to be fair to all of the candidates (except maybe for Volpe!). Don't take these critics to heart. It's a great balanced piece. (And you have to love how quick some are to paint the critics as Iggy supporters. Looking around at the different blogs covering this, I think it is at the very least fair to say the critics are spread around the different camps - including Dion! - but there is one that tends to dominate every blogburst attack including this one.)

As I wrote, over in the comments section at Cherniak's, why are we so eager to avoid policy discussion? It's like we, or at least some among us, want to tear everyone down because that is somehow supposed to help their guy?

If you listened to the critics and the pundits, no one is going to win this leadership race. How can they? Every candidate has at one point been told "that's the end of his/her campaign right there", "stick a fork in him, he's done".

Kennedy's chances were dashed when it turned out he can't speak French too well and when he tried to out-Layton Jack on Afghanistan, and yet people predict he'll be second or third in delegates after the first round. Dryden has been written off for finances and yet suddenly there is new wind in his sails. Rae's rising fortunes apparently crashed when people found out he didn't even take a Liberal sign in the last election, but no one suggests he won't be there on at least the second to last ballot.

Iggy's chances have been terminally ended by critics at least half a dozen times already over deliberate misquotes and yet somehow people still keep talking about him as the "clear frontrunner", "way ahead" of the others etc.

My god! We're going to have to acclaim Hedy Fry!!!

Have heart, CanaDIONs. As bad as this appears, your guy will still be there in the later rounds.

Aristo said...

Jeff, I would suggest that you got it about perfect.
Anyone who impugnes Dion's character or integrity on this is just being stupid.
Did the campaign make a mistake, sure, is it fatal not at all.
Remember we have a lot of new blood coming in here and running campaigns. They may not be over their skill level but some of them are definatly over their experiance level.
These people are going to be the people we need in the next election and hopefully the best ones from all the camps will come forward with new experiance and we will have a larger and stronger team then ever.

The campaign made a mistake fix it and drive on. If you expect to not make mistakes you are in the wrong business baby.