The Conservative government’s recent decision to release a list of journalists’ speaking fees has shed light on a topic rarely discussed in the Canadian media. On November 14, 2005, Conservative MP Scott Reid raised the issue in Parliament when he asked then–Liberal house leader Dominic LeBlanc for a list of current and former members of the Ottawa press gallery who had provided services to government departments, agencies, and Crown corporations. Reid asked for the cost and types of services between 2002 and 2005.
The Liberals never released the information, but earlier this month, the Harper government decided to make the data public. It showed that two Globe and Mail columnists, Jeffrey Simpson and Lawrence Martin, were among those who collected fees, according to a recent story by CanWest reporter Glen McGregor.
Martin told McGregor, a former Frank magazine staffer, that he had a less formal relationship with the Globe and Mail when he received $4,000 for a speech to the Canada School of Public Service and another $2,500 for a speech for the Department of Justice. Simpson collected $2,400 from the public purse for speeches at the University of Wisconsin and in Chicago.
Documents faxed from Reid’s office to the Georgia Straight show that prominent Quebec journalist Michel Vastel was paid $1,075.43 to speak at the Canada School of Public Service.
The U.S.–based Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics states that journalists should refuse gifts, favours, fees, free travel, and special treatment.
Meanwhile, some of B.C.’s best-known journalists are on the roster of the National Speakers Bureau, which is the largest such organization in Canada, according to the Web site of its parent company, Contemporary Communications Group (www.ccpr.com/). The firm books speaking engagements for Vancouver Sun columnists Vaughn Palmer and Michael Campbell, Global TV anchor Kevin Newman, CBC TV anchor Ian Hanomansing, CTV anchor Pamela Martin, and freelance Georgia Straight contributor Gwynne Dyer, among others.
Martin, Hanomansing, and Dyer will speak for fees ranging between $5,000 and $7,500, according to the site, whereas Palmer will appear at an event for $3,000 to $5,000 to talk on humour, current events, and politics.
Edward Greenspon, editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail, will speak on business, the economy, or politics for a fee ranging from $7,500 to $10,000. One of his columnists, Margaret Wente, charges a smaller fee of $3,000 to $5,000 to speak on business, current events, or women in society.
The president of Contemporary Communications Group, Perry Goldsmith, did not return a call from the Straight by deadline to respond to questions regarding which clients are paying for all these journalists to speak at their events.