June 2, 2019 11:00 am

‘I’m entitled to my free speech’: Dias on Unifor’s anti-Tory stance and the contentious media panel

WATCH ABOVE: Between opposition from U.S. Democrats and the newly announced American tariffs on Mexico, CUSMA isn’t going anywhere, according to Unifor National President Jerry Dias.

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The head of a union that bills itself the Conservatives’ “worst nightmare” rejects the claim his rhetoric is hurting the journalists his union represents and says he is entitled to say whatever he wants.

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In an interview with the West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Unifor national president Jerry Dias argued he is “absolutely not” putting the roughly 12,000 media workers in Unifor in a difficult position by billing his organization as “the resistance” to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. He also defended its inclusion on a controversial federal panel providing recommendations which will help guide the provision of half a billion dollars worth of federal tax credits to media.

Unifor represents many Global News journalists.

READ MORE: Addition of Unifor to controversial media panel comes under fire in question period

“The whole argument is about journalistic integrity. It’s about free speech. I’m entitled to my free speech just like everyone else,” he said.

“The group, I would argue, that are putting them in conflict are the editors and publishers who are openly saying, we are supporting the Conservative Party of Canada. If their owners are quite open in saying that, are you trying to tell me that Canada’s largest private sector union can’t express their point of view?”

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The decision by newspaper editorial boards to issue endorsements of political candidates is a longstanding tradition and reporters get no say in who their publisher or its editorial board chooses to endorse.

Out of the roughly 92 paid daily newspapers in the country, 23 endorsed political candidates in the 2015 election.

Seventeen of those endorsed the Conservatives, or 71 per cent.

But those decisions are separate from the question of whether Unifor itself should be on the media panel given that the publishers that endorsed political candidates did so through their newspapers and not through the organizations that are actually being appointed to the panel.

There are eight organizations named to the panel: News Media Canada, the Association de la presse francophone, the Quebec Community Newspaper Association, the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada, the Canadian Association of Journalists, the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, Unifor and the Fédération nationale des communications.

WATCH BELOW: Tories say Unifor is a supporter of anti-conservative Engage Canada

News Media Canada nominated to the panel its chair, Bob Cox, who is also publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press, which explicitly endorsed no candidate in the 2015 election. The media group represents roughly 800 newspapers and has on its board of directors publishers and senior leaders from Postmedia, the Globe and Mail, and Torstar, which endorsed candidates both red and blue in the last election.

The Association de la presse francophone represents French newspapers outside of Quebec and has nominated a member to the panel, but is not yet saying who. Its board of directors is made up of community media not owned by the major newspaper chains.

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The Quebec Community Newspaper Association represents English-language community newspapers in that province and its board of directors includes members representing The Eastern Door, an Indigenous newspaper in Kahnawake, as well as The Suburban, the province’s largest English weekly (which endorsed the Conservatives in the 2015 election) and the Quebec Farmers Advocate, owned by the Quebec Farmers Association.

The National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada represents small Canadian companies publishing in more than 160 different languages and has named its president Thomas Saras, also editor of the Greek monthly Parides, as its representative.

The Canadian Association of Journalists is a professional organization promoting journalistic excellence and training with APTN’s executive director of news, Karyn Pugliese, as its president, and has not yet decided whether to name a representative to the panel.

The Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec is a not-for-profit advocating for press freedom and also did not respond to the same request. Its president is Stephane Giroux, a reporter with CTV News Montreal.

The Fédération nationale des communications, a French media union, named its president, Pascale St-Onge, to the panel.

Unifor’s representative on the panel, Brad Honywill, is a former reporter and assistant city editor for the Toronto Sun.

Dias argued critics of the panel would be wrong to think federal tax credit support will influence the coverage from reporters.

“These are journalists with their own point of view and I totally respect it,” he said. “I don’t buy the argument that somehow, by the government putting money into this fund, somehow people are going to go from Conservative to raging socialist.”

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