Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Gerrard’s spin doctor blows smoke
I’m sitting here absolutely dumbfounded and trying to figure out just how incredibly stupid that the staff of Liberal leader Dr. Jon Gerrard thinks I am.
I received an email this morning from David Shorr, director of communications for the Manitoba Liberal caucus, of which at this time Gerrard, my MLA, is the sole member.
The email might be called disingenuous. It might be called misleading. It might be called slimy. Read on and decide what you’d call it.
It involves the current kerfuffle we reported in last Saturday’s paper about the truly weird and mindboggling decision that the otherwise generally astute Hanover school board made to allow Steinbach Regional Secondary School to re-establish a designated smoking area for students on the school grounds. You can read here about what a bad idea that Education Minister Nancy Allan thinks it is.
What Shorr on behalf of Gerrard wants to tell me about is that on May 13, 2008, Fort Rouge N-Dipper MLA and now minister of labour and immigration Jennifer Howard rose in the legislature and allegedly advocated youth smoking as a rite of passage.
Yes, that would be quite the story, wouldn’t it?
Here’s what Shorr wrote to me, with selected — and selective — quotes from Hansard:
Shorr: A day after Nancy Allan sent her deputy minister to a high school in Steinbach, to close a shack for teenaged smokers, Jennifer Howard is reminded of her comments from a house debate in 2008 seemingly endorsing smoking as a family tradition.
Now Howard in Hansard: "In my family, it is sort of a rite of passage. It has been a rite of passage of when you turn 16 you start smoking. It was very clear to me growing up that part of being an adult was to smoke."
Shorr again: Howard’s views are at odds with Allan’s efforts (to) reduce teen smoking in Manitoba high schools. Since the NDP have taken power, Manitoba has the highest rates in Canada for teen smoking.
Shorr: Perhaps most shocking of all is that she seems to be remiss that young adults will never get to experience smoking in bars.
And Howard again in Hansard: "When I speak to friends of mine who have kids who are turning 18, and starting to go out to bars for the first time, it strikes me that this generation will never know a smoke filled bar; that will never be part of the experience."
Mr. Shorr, do you think me such an idiot that I would print this without reading Hansard and putting this in context?
The quotes took place during a debate on the NDP’s then-latest move to limit smoking, the ban on smoking in a vehicle if anyone under 16 was in the vehicle.
Let’s see what else Howard had to say in that debate, this time after reading her entire speech. I haven’t quoted it all here, I’ve been selective too. You can read the whole thing here.
Howard, on May 13, 2008: "I would like to talk for a moment about some of the things that we have done and how I think those things have been successful. Certainly, one of those is the ban on smoking in public places. I think it’s hard to overestimate what a tremendous change in culture that has been.
"When I speak now to friends of mine who have kids who are turning 18 and starting to go out to bars for the first time, it strikes me that this generation will never know a smoke-filled bar; that will never be part of their experience. I think that is a tremendously positive change in the culture."
Oh, that’s a little different, isn’t it?
Howard, a little further down: "I do think it is a tribute to the advocates who are with us today in the gallery, who have pushed and led on this issue from the beginning. There’s no doubt in my mind that, without them, Manitoba would not see the drop in youth smoking that we’ve seen, which has been tremendous progress, not enough, but certainly tremendously positive progress to go from 30 per cent youth smoking rates in ‘99 to 20 per cent in 2007.
"The reality of those numbers is that there are young people who are not going to start smoking, who are not going to suffer the ill-health effects and who are not going to die prematurely because of the steps of education that a lot of the groups in the gallery have pushed the government to take and that they have led on."
Gosh, again, that’s a little different, isn’t it?
But what about seeing smoking as a rite of passage? Let’s jump down a few paragraphs and see what else Howard said, almost three years ago now.
Howard: "There’s no doubt in my mind that the behaviour of parents matters a great deal when it comes to modelling healthy behaviour for their kids, and I just want to take a moment here to speak personally.
"I am, as I’m sure many in this Chamber are, descended from a long line of very committed smokers. I have watched and grieved the death of many of my relatives from smoking-related causes. My grandmother passed away, just about 12 years ago it will be, from lung cancer. She’s a very healthy woman in many other respects, but she did smoke for most of her life, and it was a very tragic way for her to pass away. It was very quick and sudden and it was clear to me, watching her be sick and watching her die, how not ready she was to let go of her life.
"In my family, it is sort of a rite of passage. It has been a rite of passage of when you turn 16 you start smoking. It’s nobody says that but that is — it was very clear to me growing up that part of being an adult was to smoke, and so I did start smoking and I did quit about 10 years ago. I think it’s almost 10 years ago in May that I was able to quit, but I never underestimate the power of that addiction because, certainly, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind the ill‑health effects of smoking."
And she goes on, and you’re welcome to read the entire speech yourselves, as well as what other honourable members had to say.
Howard was pretty angry when I spoke to her today.
"I’m very hurt and disappointed that they would take that personal experience, my grandmother’s death, to score political points," said Howard.
Anybody who reads the entire exchange in Hansard "is going to see that this is patently absurd," Howard said. "Ive learned the really important step of making it socially unacceptable for people to smoke."
Jon, are you aware that this drivel is going out?
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About Nick Martin
Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.
He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.
Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.
Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.
Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.
Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.
Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.
A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.
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