How independent are “independent” commentators?

McArthur to Meggs & Louie: "this is not what I ever imagined we might do"

Doug-McArthur.jpg Doug McArthur

As part of the ongoing series of posts here at that challenge our assumptions about media bias, we draw your attention to an email received via a freedom of information request made by us. Exhibit A is an email (see pages one, two) from Doug McArthur, an SFU public policy professor and former Deputy Minister to NDP Premier Glen Clark. McArthur appears regularly on local media, in particular CTV News broadcasts, as a regular commentator on the political affairs of the day. Never introduced as a partisan, McArthur’s views are sought because he’s considered "an expert." More likely he’s just in a producer’s Rolodex.

In an email dated May 4, 2009 to Mayor Geoff Meggs and the ambitious Councillor Raymond Louie, McArthur pleas with his political allies on the matter of an aboriginal land claim issue facing Vancouver City Council (emphasis ours):

Subject: GVRD Vote on Musquem (sic) Lands – URGENT

Geoff and Raymond

Below is a letter I intend to send to City Council this afternoon. I wanted to give you a heads up before I do so…

…I know Vision has changed, but this is not what I ever imagined we might do. We can’t become a party that fights aboriginal people…

This exchange sounds terribly chummy for a reason. McArthur and Meggs are both acolytes of Glen Clark, working with him in Victoria. Louie, Meggs & McArthur are charter members of the so-called Kingsway NDP Mafia, a handle provided by Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith to describe a group of brass knuckle political operatives who surrounded the former Premier.

In reference to McArthur, Smith states:

He played a role in the backrooms when Vision Vancouver was created. I’ll grant him an honourary membership in the Kingsway NDP Mafia, even though he doesn’t live near Kingsway.

I also include the COPE campaign manager in the 2002 election, Neil Monckton, in the Kingsway NDP Mafia. Monckton worked in Clark’s office for a while. He managed Louie’s mayoral campaign, and has at times been close to Meggs and Green.

As we pointed out before, Neil Monckton provided his email list to promote his political ally Raymond Louie, without the permission of the subscribers on the list. McArthur writes editorials for Monckton’s ThinkCity website.

McArthur also provides editorial commentary to the Vancouver Sun, labeled as a "professor of public policy." Victoria’s crack political journalist Sean Holman pointed out that McArthur’s title missed key details about his past:

it might have been helpful if the Sun had told readers that Prof. McArthur – who was the deputy minister to two New Democrat premiers – has been working as a treaty negotiation advisor for the Tsawassen First Nation

Curiously, in the editorial Holman makes reference to, McArthur takes a swipe at political consultant Bill Tieleman, whom he describes as an "extremist columnist" (a charge which Tieleman defends himself against). Like McArthur, Tieleman has worked closely with the fledgling Vision Vancouver organization behind the scenes.

McArthur is linked close enough to Vision Vancouver to have been considered a potential candidate for City Manager by some. His connections to the Federal NDP are much clearer, given that he’s a member of the Vancouver-Centre NDP riding executive.

In his blog McArthur claims to eschew ideology, but that doesn’t exclude him from indulging in some old-fashioned partisanship. His bio may not make reference to political connections, but that shouldn’t prevent Vancouver’s media from first doing a little due dilegence on who they’re getting to speak. That is, if they want us to believe them.

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About The Author

  • I agree with your general comment about letting readers know who’s who but there has to be equality in doing so – not just “NDP connected” people – and there has to be some reasonableness involved.
    Lastly, I am primarily a communications and strategy consultant – there not enough work in political consulting in this country to make a living!

  • Thanks, Bill. You’re sure that we can’t squeeze “political” into one of your job descriptions?

  • Michael Phillips

    I’m not sure what your angle is on this. It seems that what you want is for a person to give be able to give commentary on issues in a way that’s untouched by previous political affiliations, well that’s what Mr. McArthur is doing. He’s giving people he’s worked with and is ideologically close to crap for doing something he thinks is wrong, but he’s being nice about it without diluting his message.
    So what’s the problem, the fact that he was nice? It isn’t unnatural to give one’s political opinions and be nice at the same time (profuse nudging and winking).

  • I have just today, September 19th, become aware of this posting. Its obvious intention to smear and discredit me as an analyst reflects as much upon as anything. It is just a milder version of the old McCarthy tactic of trying to destroy through innuendo. It is a shame that CityCaucus, whatever its motives,is so desperately needing to suppress the views of others. I have no idea who CityCaucus is and have never read its postings but suspect there is an agenda behind what it says does.
    But to put the record straight, I have never attended any meetings or participated in any activities of the Vancouver Centre NDP executive referred to on the posting. I have asked that my name be removed from that list. Nor have I attended any meetings or participated in any activities of the Kingsway NDP mafia, whatever that may be. I make no secret of the fact that I supported now Liberal Senator Larry Campbell in forming Vision but I now have no association with and in fact do not support Vision. In the case of the op ed referred to in the Vancouver Sun, the submission clearly referenced my work with the Tsawwassen First Nation but the Sun chose not to include it in the published version. I have no problem with their choice not to do so.
    I urge all readers to go to to see for themselves whether my writings show favour to any political party or ideology. And to read interesting and yes sometimes controversial insights into today’s issues. No doubt some have upset CityCaucus’s finally tuned ideological sensibilties. As to whether CityCaucus has managed to chase the media away from me as a source of comment,only time will tell.
    Doug McArthur

  • Doug, welcome aboard and thank you for your comments. You got caught in our little comment spam defender – I just checked it.
    I’m not sure if I share your McCarthy analogy. Indeed, if there is anything that today’s mass media often lacks it is full disclosure. We all want to know that those ads running today stateside against Obama’s healthcare plan are sponsored by health insurers, right?
    The same principle applies here. We need to know the backgrounds of people to understand how they roll, so to speak. We’ve always practiced full disclosure on our bios here on, for example. When I read your bio I don’t learn much about your past work and connections. Should they matter?
    As for the Kingsway mafia, this is Charlie Smith’s description, not ours. Check with the Georgia Straight on that one.