ELECTION 88, 10 DAYS TO GO
Michael Duffy, TV Journalist, Editor-in-Chief, CTV's Sunday Edition
Chairman: A. A. van Straubenzee President
Forty-two years ago when he came into this world, and the doctor gave the customary slap, Mike Duffy opened his eyes, looked up at the doctor, and immediately arranged for an interview.
One hour later, Mike Duffy knew how he was conceived, by whom, and probably where. His curiosity and zest for life have continued ever since. Canadian television journalism has jumped into a prominence that places an awesome responsibility on reporters. We are told Canadians are relying increasingly on television for information. It has also become obvious that news people have become famous in their own right.
A recent example is Michael Duffy's move from CBC to CTV as host of Sunday Edition.
We heard from someone who is alleged to be a friend of yours, and who wishes to remain anonymous, that when the alleged friend was reportedly offered a big job at CBS, he was overheard, by a usually reliable source close to your alleged friend, to mention that you had suggested CBS might need a Roly-Poly good-natured weatherman as part of the new morning team.
Your alleged friend is reported to have said to you that because of your suspected active nightlife you would likely be unable to respond to a 3:30 a.m. wake-up call. The usually reliable source close to your alleged friend claims that you replied:
"No problem, we can do it on the way home."
I remember the wonderful story about President Calvin Coolidge who was very reluctant to talk to the press - not unlike, perhaps, some of the politicians in our current federal campaign - but chose one day to speak briefly to a small group of reporters.
"Have you anything to say on prohibition?" asked one reporter. "No," replied the President.
"What about unemployment?" asked a second reporter. "No," he replied again.
"What about disarmament?" asked the third. "No," he replied once more.
And as reporters started to file out in disgust, the President called out after them: "And don't quote me."
If Duffy had been there, he would have got the story. He is famous for getting the story.
Mike has risen rapidly in the field of journalism from his early days in Halifax, Charlottetown, international postings and then Ottawa. Mike Duffy has just recently been recruited to host Sunday Edition, Canada's newest current affairs broadcast. Duffy, who is a former CBC veteran, hosts and serves as chief Parliamentary correspondent for the program.
If I may go back to one of my earlier comments about reporters becoming famous, Chatelaine magazine has named Michael Duffy one of Canada's 10 sexiest men.
His newsgathering talents are highly regarded, his methods fair and respected. He is called reassuring, huggable, witty, sensitive and a man with a soul. All this, and sexy too.
Mike will need all his skills today to help us understand this election.
It's a real pleasure for me to have this opportunity to speak to you today. As a journalist, I've covered many historic events in this very room, and seeing so many familiar faces here today, I feel as if I'm among old friends.
Coming into the hall this afternoon, I couldn't help but overhear people remark on my arrival. One lady leaned over and told another: "There he is, that's him, I'd know him anywhere:"
"Yes," replied another: "That's the guy on the TV news, that's Richard Brown:' I don't know, but she needed either new glasses, or a new television set.
I have some brief remarks to make today, and then I hope we will have time for your questions because I want our meeting here today to be a Conversation About Canada, rather than just Mike Duffy muttering away.
Coming in here this morning, I asked our chairman, Tony van Straubenzee, what he thought was the biggest problem facing Canada today. Was it ignorance, or was it apathy?
You can imagine my surprise when he replied: "I don't know Duff, and frankly I don't give a damn."
Just a joke, but a comment I suggest that describes much of what we see going on around us today.
William Greider, writing in Rolling Stone, reported on a massive study of American public attitudes carried out by Peter Hart Research Associates, a respected American polling firm. What Hart found is that Baby Boomers, those between 18 and 44, are incredibly blasé about important public issues. "This is the first generation," Greider writes, "to experience life from infancy to adulthood in the glowing presence of television."
Demographically they are the largest single block in North American society, and while I don't for a moment believe they are a homogeneous block, Hart found that they do share some striking, and I believe, for journalists, troubling views. Corruption in Washington or Wall Street? So what - they all do it.
Arms sales to Iran? Profits to the Contras? Ollie lies to the Congress?
Lies, deceit. Another betrayal of trust? Who cares? Another election campaign? Forget it.
They're all dwarfs. And what difference does it make who's in the White House anyway?
Nobody's got the answers, so don't expect anything great. Worry about yourself first.
As Haynes Johnson of The Washington Post puts it: "These are not the Teflon years, these are The Don't Bother Me Years. Americans have been anesthetized."
Here in Canada the evidence isn't as scientific, but I suggest there are strong indications the same emotions are at play. Every time we run a story on the CTV National News - a story about government scandal and corruption - we get angry calls. Not angry about the politicians' actions, but anger at why we have no Good News to report. Yet while Canadians seem uninterested in the sometimes seamy side of political life, a recent Angus Reid survey says that 85 per cent of those questioned would be less inclined to vote for a cabinet minister who had violated conflict of interest guidelines while in office. And 82 per cent would be less inclined to vote for a candidate who had been accused of fraud in a business deal a few years earlier. Note the phrase "accused of fraud" - not necessarily convicted of fraud.
Given those numbers one can easily see why it's critically important that we continue to scrutinize politicians at all levels, even if that does sometimes mean annoying that segment of the public who would sooner watch Wheel of Fortune or even better, Bowling for Dollars.
Now, what do you ask, has this got to do with the current political situation in Canada? I believe it has a lot because while here at the Empire Club, I'm conversing with the converted, in many parts of the country the most exciting election in my memory is being fought on the basis of an incomplete picture of the issues involved.
Not that we as journalists haven't rattled on about it at length, but because increasingly Canadians, like citizens in every other nation, feel unable to influence the process. That's why the Empire Club is so important, and that's why it's important that we show Canadians that they can and should get involved.
I sometimes hear my friends who work in theatre and films complain that Canada doesn't have a Hollywood star system. We do. Except the stars are our politicians. The political teams have their own stars, their own fans, and their own strategies. But unlike sports, where you can watch from the sidelines, in politics you can actually get involved. Political parties always love volunteers.
So my message today is get involved. The future of this nation is too important to be left to bureaucrats and specialinterest groups. If we don't get our neighbours involved, we may wake up 20 years from now and find a country we don't like very much.
Now that I've hammered home my point about involvement, let me set up our conversation about the current campaign with a couple of historical examples:
No majority government has been re-elected with two majorities in a row since Louis St. Laurent's Liberals in 1953.
In 35 years, every majority government has either been defeated or reduced to a minority. Remember the Trudeau sweep of 68? Well, Big Thunder Bob Stanfield and his Tories came within two seats of beating Trudeau in 1972.
No government has been re-elected since TV was introduced in the Commons in 1977. That tells us something about either TV or politicians.
Now, in the current campaign, we have polls which show that at no time in memory has what retailers call Brand Loyalty been less solid. After the TV debates we saw a massive switch in voter loyalty, away from the Conservatives and NDP to the Liberals. The polls we're seeing now show that faced with a tough choice on free trade, Canadians are uncertain, and are moving away from their massive support for free trade which we saw six or eight months ago.
It's reminiscent of 1974, when faced with a choice about wage and price controls, Canadians opted for the easy way out. In 1979 we saw the Clark government defeated on 18 cents a gallon. Now once again we face a difficult choice. I don't have all the answers, but I would love to discuss the issues, and your opinions of the current campaign.
Mr. Duffy then answered a series of questions from the audience.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by the Hon. Barnett Danson, PC., a Director of the Empire Club of Canada.