Sun TV and a Conservative ‘scandal’ by Norman Spector

Nov 27, 2010

Source: Globe and Mail

Think back to mid-December, 2008 – to Brian Mulroney’s appearance before the House of Commons Ethics Committee looking into his dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber. Specifically, think back to allegations that CBC reporter Krista Erickson had provided written questions to Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez to be asked of the former prime minister.

How Conservative supporters howled when news of the incident first broke. Ms. Erickson was immediately pulled off the story by CBC management. Then, after the Conservative Party filed a formal complaint with the CBC’s Ombudsman, she was moved out of the Ottawa bureau and re-assigned.

From the beginning, Ms. Erickson maintained that she had done nothing wrong, but was only trying to advance a story she was working on. And, as I recall it, the questions Mr. Rodriguez posed were not embarrassing in the least to Mr. Mulroney, as they had nothing to do with Karlheinz Schreiber or Airbus or anything of the sort. Instead, the questions related to whether Mr. Mulroney had done any telecommunications lobbying on behalf of Quebecor – a company of which he was chair – a question that Mr. Mulroney easily swatted away in the negative, thereby enhancing his supposed integrity.

Today, in Quebecor-owned Le Journal de Montreal, francophone readers are introduced to Krista Erickson, described as “a Gemini-award-winning journalist, who will be joining Sun TV as chief daytime anchor.” Which you’d have to agree is not a bad gig for someone who, it was once alleged, had conspired with the Liberals against the company’s chair, Brian Mulroney. Especially considering that one of the head honchos of the new all-news service is Luc Lavoie, who worked with Mr. Mulroney (and me) in the PMO and served as his loyal spokesperson throughout most of the Airbus affair.

Now, Mr. Lavoie is a pretty tough cookie, and has never been known to be the forgiving type. Which leads me to conclude that Ms. Erickson had not gotten any Quebecor noses out of joint – including the nose of Brian Mulroney – by feeding questions to Pablo Rodriguez two years ago.

Another fact that leads me to this conclusion was reported in March of this year. Thanks to the Halifax Chronicle-Herald’s Stephen Maher, we learned then that Ms. Erickson was registered as the designated traveller for Calgary Centre MP Lee Richardson. This became a matter of some controversy, since it meant that a CBC reporter was in a relationship with an MP whom she could be covering as a journalist. But no questions were asked about the puzzling news that Mr. Richardson was a Conservative MP, not one of those Liberals with whom she had supposedly conspired. And not just any Conservative MP, but a man who had worked in Mr. Mulroney’s PMO and was one of his fiercest loyalists in caucus.

According to my sources, Ms. Erickson and Mr. Richardson were being seen together in Ottawa as early as the summer of 2008, but the relationship was not reported. Had Canadians known this in December of 2008, more of us may have questioned the story that Ms. Erickson had conspired with a Liberal MP against a former Conservative prime minister.

How else do I know that the story was all a bunch of bunk? Rumours of Ms. Erickson’s employment with ‘Fox News North’ have long been circulating – including during the period that Kory Teneycke was in charge of the service – and there hasn’t been a peep from Conservative supporters, much less from the Party that filed a formal complaint against her with the CBC Ombudsman.

Update: After reading this post, a couple of readers reminded me via e-mail that Doug Finley used the Pablo Rodriguez incident to elicit funds from Conservative party donors, and later boasted that the fund-raising letter he sent out was his single most successful until then in dollar terms.

Another update: After reading the post, an Ottawa colleague e-mailed with the information that, in the summer of 2007, Krista Erickson was the only reporter who was allowed to book a room in the same Charlottetown hotel where the Conservative caucus was staying – the infamous hotel from which other reporters covering the meeting were eventually evicted during the course of the event.

Her relationship with Lee Richardson, according to this Ottawa colleague, was also the subject of considerable comment among Conservative staffers and spouses in Charlottetown.

None of this was reported by the media back then, or brought up in December of 2007 when Mr. Mulroney testified at the ethics committee (I mistakenly wrote December 2008 in the post).

Had Canadians known of this relationship in December of 2007 when Mr. Mulroney testified, more of us may have questioned the story that Ms. Erickson had conspired with a Liberal MP against a former Conservative prime minister – an allegation that, as it happened, was first made by Jean Lapierre, who is well-connected to the Quebecor media empire.

© Globe and Mail