A number of readers objected to the way The Globe and Mail described a columnist’s background and expertise on a subject recently. Derek Burney is generally described as “Canada’s ambassador to the United States from 1989 to 1993. He led the Canadian delegation in concluding negotiations of the Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement” on most columns.
It’s a good description included in italics at the top of his opinion articles, which are generally about Canada-U.S relations and, of course these days, NAFTA. But that description was not expansive enough for those readers especially on an opinion he wrote last month on Energy East, and I agree with them.
Mr. Burney argued in that column that it is time to consider a relaunch of the energy program and said: “ There is no guarantee the company that initially sponsored Energy East (TransCanada Corp.) would be willing to revisit the project, nor is there any assurance the original list of potential shippers will reinstate their commitments, but the latest U.S. legal setback on the Keystone XL project could prompt some new thinking. The opportunity to give new life to Energy East is at least worth exploring and, unlike nationalization, it would not require one nickel of taxpayer funds. Resuscitation would be an act of bold, visionary leadership, one that would serve our national interest. It would give Canada the key element of a truly transcontinental pipeline and be as much in the national interest as transcontinental railways were more than a century ago.”
Mr. Burney has had a long career in the public service as a diplomat and then chief of staff to prime minister Brian Mulroney before his appointment as ambassador to the United States. He has also been chairman and CEO of Bell Canada International Inc., president and CEO of CAE Inc., as well as sitting on boards of directors including Quebecor World Inc., Shell Canada and TransCanada Corp. He teaches and writes along with other work, and for The Globe, he writes mostly on diplomacy and trade. (He has written nine times this year.)
But it was the reference to TransCanada in his recent energy column without noting his former ties that caught readers attention. “Highlighting his work in international trade from 25+ years ago is far less relevant than his business involvement since then. This omission erodes trust in the press and specifically, in your publication. It is also particularly troubling that in a moment where the oil industry is orchestrating a coordinated push to bring Energy East back into the conversation, the G&M is providing a massive platform and protective cover to make the calls seem more organic,” one reader noted.
In past columns several years ago, when Mr. Burney was still a director of TransCanada, it was mentioned when he wrote about the oil industry and that background as a former director should have been included in the recent Energy East column.
Greater transparency about the relevant background of opinion writers is helpful for readers and necessary in building trust.