Pin It

Mr. Smith goes to City Hall 

A Coast reporter and a District 12 candidate have a complicated relationship.

Somehow, inadvertently on my part, my relationship with Bruce E. Smith, a candidate in the District 12 (Timberlea - Beechville - Clayton Park West) council race, started off on the wrong foot and careened downward from there.

As I recall, this began when I wrote something referring to Smith as "Bruce Smith." He emailed or called (I forget which), asking to be called "Bruce E. Smith," as this differentiates him from all the other "Bruce Smith"s in the world. I found this funny, as there aren't any other Bruce Smiths, with any middle initial, running for council. So in a subsequent article, I flippantly observed that Smith "gets really upset if you forget the E."

This engendered a long email exchange between Smith and one of our ad people, which Smith cc'ed me on. The Coast maintains a firewall between its sales and editorial departments—sales people can't influence what I write about, or how I write, so I simply ignored the emails. I don't pretend to know much about advertising, but I presume it's a good idea for candidates to advertise in The Coast, no matter what I may write, because our readers are engaged and interested in the election. Political ads reach politicized readers. But candidates are of course free to make up their own minds about where they spend their advertising dollars.

Reflecting back, I think people should be called whatever they want to be called, and in all my subsequent coverage I've referred to Smith as "Bruce E. Smith," just as he's requested. It just seems that a tremendous mountain was made out of what appears to me to be a tiny, tiny ant hill.

Next, I wrote a long post about a candidates' forum in Clayton Park, paying particular attention to what I consider a bogus framing of "tax reform" brought forward by a bogus (in the sense it doesn't legally exist) condominium association. In that post, I criticized all of the candidates, including Smith, for their responses to a question on the issue.

I also live-blogged that forum via Twitter.

That was on September 17. Since then, I haven't written anything specific to the District 12 race, although I've had a few radio appearances and may have mentioned it along with discussion of all the races. I know I mentioned it this morning, when I was on the Jordi Morgan show.

But Wednesday, Smith left a long message on my phone—so long that my voice mail is maxxed out—complaining about various ways I've covered the race.

I recorded the September 17 forum, so I went back and listened to the entire three-hour recording, and compared it to what I've written. I stand by my reporting.

One thing Smith calls me out for is saying that he would reduce costs at city hall by cutting waste. I can't find that I actually wrote that, but it's possible that something along those lines may have shown up in my Twitter live-blogging. (Twitter is only archived for a week, so I can't find that, either.) If I did tweet that, or if I've said it on the radio,now that I've listened to the recording, I can say that I was incorrect: Smith did not say that.

Obviously, Smith and I have a strained relationship. I'm of two minds about this.

First, serious candidates, and serious councillors for that matter, are by nature micro-managers, paying attention to minute details. It's understandable that they want to "correct" what they see as faulty media coverage. And I certainly don't mind being corrected when I make factual mistakes.

But on the other hand, there's a line that most politicians learn not to cross, when it comes to dealing with the media. It's not that politicians shouldn't demand fair coverage, but rather that the definition of "fair" falls on the factual side, and not the opinion side.

To use a non-Smith example, I have a sometimes combative, sometimes friendly relationship with councillor Sue Uteck. I once mistakenly misquoted her, on Twitter, and she quickly called me out for it. I immediately corrected the mistake. Seems appropriate on both sides. But I've been highly critical of Uteck for her position on "tax reform," and while Uteck doesn't like that I have a platform to loudly criticize her, she doesn't attempt to get that coverage reversed in the name of false "fairness." To her credit, she makes something of a joke out of it, as she did at a recent candidates' forum, where she said something like "Bousquet is going to hate this, but...."

Honestly, I don't have anything against Smith, or for him, either. I never knew him, never saw him, before this election. If you want my opinion, it's this: he probably has a good chance of winning this election. He's up against two incumbent councillors, Reg Rankin and Mary Wile, who represent distinct parts of the new district—Timberlea and Clayton Park West, respectively—and it's unlike either will make much headway in the other's territory. Rankin and Wile are also, shall we say, endearingly nutty, and I think voters are probably tiring of both of them. Add to that an anti-incumbant groundswell I'm sensing across the municipality, and Rankin's and Wile's campaigns are that much more threatened. There's also a fourth candidate, Rano Khokhar, who by my read is not a viable candidate. Smith, for his part, is engaged in the district, more knowledgable than most challengers and has had the time, energy and interest to be active in a range of area issues. I think he could very well pull this off. (I could of course be wrong on any or all of this analysis, but that's my informed read of the situation.)

If he does win, I'll try to fairly cover him as a reporter, where "fair" means I don't misrepresent his views, and should I ever make mistakes, I'll correct them. I will, however, criticize or praise as I see fit. At some point, Smith should understand that the media is outside his control, even if he buys advertising, and overly pestering or cajoling reporters won't have the intended effect.

As with the other candidates, I wish Bruce E. Smith well in the election.

Support The Coast

At a time when the city needs local coverage more than ever, we’re asking for your help to support independent journalism. We are committed as always to providing free access to readers, particularly as we confront the impact of COVID-19 in Halifax and beyond.

Read more about the work we do here, or consider making a donation. Thank you for your support!

Pin It

Comments (4)

Showing 1-4 of 4

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-4 of 4

Add a comment

More by Tim Bousquet

Get more Halifax

Our Thursday email gets you caught up with The Coast. Sign up and go deep on Halifax.

Coast Top Ten

© 2021 Coast Publishing Ltd.