Elle Beaver brings you profiles of the women who are shaping the 2015 federal election (#elxn42), the pundits, spin-doctors, journalists and activists who are making headlines, shaping our political landscape and who are vying for YOUR vote! In this edition, we focus on Rosemary Barton, the interim host of CBC Television’s Power and Politics, the inspiration behind #BartonBeating and the woman who called out one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s foot soldiers, and playing a role in giving attention to Canada’s inaction on the Syrian refugee crisis.
“If you want to avoid the question, let’s just be clear that that’s what’s happening.”
It was the terse response that launched #BartonBeating, a hashtag that saluted journalist Rosemary Barton’s masterful take-down of Canada’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander. The interim host of CBC Television’s Power and Politics‘s interview with Alexander came on the heels the now infamous June 2015 telephone interview with As It Happens, in which he quite literally hung up on the show’s host Carol Off. Alexander, you see, was annoyed with Off’s inquiries into how many of the 200 government-sponsored Syrian refugees the government had pledged to allow into the country had, in fact, made their way to Canada.
Barton’s panel with the NDP’s Paul Dewar, Liberal John MacCallum and Alexander was *also* taking place only a day after the horrific image of Alan Kurdi’s body washing ashore on a Turkish beach made its way around the world, his death moving the international community to recognize and act on the waves of terrified Syrians arriving on Europe’s doorstep. The Kurdi family had been in the process of filing paperwork to bring members of his family, with the ultimate goal of bringing little Alan to Canada as well.
With the death of a child on the international conscience, the media intensified their line of questioning: how many of the now 20, 000 refugees Canada had pledged to take in were now safely on our soil? Barton, much like her peers, put these very legitimate questions to Alexander. Here’s a shortened snapshot of the exchange (read the full transcript):
Alexander: I’m actually interested in why this is the first Power and Politics panel we’ve ever had of this, and—
Barton: Well, Mr. Alexander, that’s completely false, and I can send you links to the previous shows that we’ve discussed this. We’re discussing it during an election campaign because there’s a crisis situation going on in Europe right now [Alexander tries to interject]. But if you’d like me to send you those, I can, because you’ve been on the show previously and discussed it.
Alexander: I’ve never been on the show in a panel discussion on these issues—
Barton:No because you weren’t allowed to do panel as a minister, that’s why you’re here now. If you want to avoid the question, let’s just be clear that that’s what’s happening. [emphasis is Elle Beaver’s]
A layered, nuanced zinger. With her comeback, Barton managed to call out 1) the rigorous control imposed by the Harper government over his cabinet minister’s ability to speak truth to the tax-paying public; 2) That Alexander was deflecting legitimate and important questions about Canada’s role in Syria. And why? Perhaps because the Harper Conservatives haven’t moved on their proposed targets and are now caught with their proverbial pants around their ankles during the most important refugee crisis since the end of the Second World War. Because the truth is that of the 20, 000 refugees we have sworn to take in, Canada has only settled 2,374 refugees, most of which are privately sponsored (read: the government isn’t lifting a finger to bring them here). Because while we may wax poetic about the need to put a stop to the rise of ISIS and Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, we have blood on our hands by failing to open our doors to those who have fled the bloodshed in Syria. Because we could have saved Alan Kurdi and the other children, women and men who have died on Europe’s shores or in abandoned trucks, but whose photographs were never made public.
Because we can — and must — save thousands of refugees fleeing unspeakable violence in their countries, violence for which we have had a hand.
And thus by holding the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to account, by calling out his refusal to answer questions and his contradictory responses, Rosemary Barton had struck a blow for democracy. Journalism work in the public interest, so when a politician dismisses a journalist’s question, he or she dismisses the electorate. Barton’s remarks was Canadian journalism with purpose, journalism at its finest — and for Canadians, it was a moment where we were assured that our media doesn’t have to be establishment-friendly and can play a role in redressing inequities:
It’s worth noting that Barton is still ‘interim’ host of Power and Politics. But with the incredible gravitas, poise and intelligence she brings to her temp gig, we as viewers should demand that CBC make her permanent. In his piece for Canadaland — published MONTHS before the #BartonBeating and aptly titled ‘Rosemary Barton is the Hero we deserve’ — Dale Smith writes:
She is the new face of politics. The days of old white guys dominating the discussion about policy in this country are moving behind us. If the CBC ends up bringing in someone from the Ottawa boys club, it will be a retrograde move. (…) Make her the permanent host of Power & Politics already.
We agree. Rosemary Barton is the political anchorwoman we deserve.
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