“Ethics”. Press, legal profession and politics are inoculated

di Joe Volpe del February 10, 2020

TORONTO - Two hundred thousand dollars ($200, 000) goes a long way in the sullying of reputations, especially if you have no legal right to provide the good or service that it generates, or no right to spend it on that good or service made illegal under a specific circumstance.

Sooner or later the negotiations between the various teachers’ unions and the [Conservative] government of Ontario will conclude. Either the economics of the “give and/or take” of “strategic strikes” will no longer make sense – for either partner – or the government will see more political value in legislating teachers back to work by declaring educational services essential.

Until then, there will be no end to the mining of circumstances by marginal players on both sides wanting to “seize advantage or curry favour”.

Sometimes they hit the mother load.

Four Toronto English language daily newspapers (not us) were offered more than $200,000 to run ads attacking teachers, their tactics and their motives. The accusations emerged immediately that these were generated by the Government or by friends of the Government on their behalf.

Situation normal, one would say, except that the ads reflect the type of mudslinging Canadians do not openly tolerate or condone. The allegations of impropriety, illegality or undue influence abound.

In these are tough times, the cashstarved the newspaper industry is not immune from the allure of revenue, the four sisters of journalistic integrity jumped at the opportunity, opening themselves to accusations of complicity in the process.

The ad-buyer was a previously unheard of “Vaughan Working Families”. Coincidently, the name Vaughan also figures into the name of Minister Lecce’s constituency. So what, you ask (and we agree)? Even if the temptation to make a connection is hard to resist, no friend of the Minister would be so stupid as to engage in an activity that would cast the Minister in a bad light. Well, it appears that assessment would be a little too rash in the making.

The Toronto Star, perhaps su›ering from remorse at having taken some of the lucre, assigned two journalists, Kristin Rushowy and Robert Benzie, to follow the money and “find the culprit”. Nobody likes a culprit (once found out). They found him/them. It wasn’t difficult. They and the other papers had an invoice for the advertisement.

As reported by the Star, when they contacted Loopstra Nixon LLP, to which their invoice had been forwarded, Allan Ritchie, the law firm’s managing partner “distanced Loopstra Nixon from the ads”.

Referencing a written statement, the reporters cite Ritchie thusly: “The views expressed [in the ad] by Vaughan Working Families are not the views of Loopstra Nixon LLP or its sta›”. Good denial, but he goes on to say, “our firm is comprised of people who hold a wide variety of political opinions, all of which are welcome”.

Including those expressed by Vaughan Working Families? The Star identified one of their partners, Quinto Annibale, as a director of Vaughan Working Families. He responded to their question with a terse “We have no comment.” Who’s we? In the interests of full disclosure and transparency, Quinto Annibale in 2019 filed a Statement of Claim against the Corriere Canadese, for one of several dozen stories it published regarding Villa Charities/Villa Charities Inc’s plans to develop a residential condominium park on lands long considered a public asset. The Corriere has filed a vigorous counter claim.

Mr. Annibale was/is a member of the Board of Villa Charities. He was also a member of the Board of the Vaughan Health Campus of Care for the period between 2007 and 2012 when it was embroiled in a battle for control of development of lands earmarked for the current Mackenzie Health Centre.

Several prominent and wealthy Conservatives with ample resources to produce and publish ads of the variety published against teachers’ unions, serve(d) on those Boards with him, have overlapping inter-connecting experiences and consequently may to be personal friends of his: Sam Ciccolini, Michael De Gasperis and Julian Fantino. Minister Lecce was the communications director for the latter during his sojourn in Ottawa.

It is a long and complex relationship they all of them have with the Minister. It is available for examination to anyone who does the least bit of research. Mr. Annibale is now vice-Chair of the LCBO.

Did he/they do anything untoward or was/were he/they simply overzealous to help out their friend? The irony is that any Vaughan resident who has a teacher or student in their family is likely to develop negative views about an otherwise rising political personality.

The Star meanwhile has apologized to its readers for running the ad, but it has not indicated it will return the money it claims its normal vetting process would have rejected. The other publications make no secret of their political association – irrespective of ethical practices. The investigation continues.

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