November 16, 1985. Governor General Jeanne Sauvé presented the 1984 Michener Award for excellence in journalism to the Kingston Whig-Standard for a series of stories on reform of the federal tax system. The newspaper was chosen from among five finalists. Accepting the Michener award on behalf of the newspaper was its editor Neil Reynolds. Radio Canada was judged to be runner-up and was given honourable mention. Three other news organizations received citations of merit (see below). There were a record 54 entries in the judging for the 1984 Award.
The awards were presented during a formal dinner at Government House where Her Excellency congratulated the recipients for their outstanding work and added – “In your conscientious pursuit of truth and fact amidst all other detail, you have accomplished much, and set a standard worthy of the emulation and respect of your journalistic colleagues” (full text).
The Kingston-Whig provided an illuminating 21-part series on tax reform. The judges said the newspaper “devoted editorial time and news space unstintingly to its tax series and didn’t hesitate to incur costs involved in getting the information”. Reporters Peter Miller and Ian Hamilton spent 9 months researching and writing the study and produced 26 separate stories, totalling 48,000 words. The stories were published on 22 consecutive publishing days from November 24 to December 19. Newspaper editor Neil Reynolds said the greatest challenge in preparing the series was to present the failures of Canada’s tax system in an interesting way “that the ordinary person could enjoy after a long day at work”. The information is now available in book form.
Present at the Rideau Hall ceremony was the founder and original patron of the Award, the Right Honourable Roland Michener. Paul Deacon, President of the Foundation, said that it was an honour to be selected a finalist in the Michener Award competition and that all the finalists will win a recognition of real consequence. (the full text)
Honourable Mention: Radio Canada, for an investigation into disturbing conditions at the Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine Hospital in Montreal. The four part radio series prepared by Robert Houle and Carole Graveline touched off wide concerns in Quebec over conditions at the hospital which cares for 2,200 patients with an average age of over 55. The programs followed up on a confidential report on the hospital prepared by the Quebec order of nurses. It offered severe judgements on the hospital’s organization and on the quality of service. The broadcast resulted in a provincial inquiry and added impact to the story by capturing the attention of Quebec’s English and French language newspapers. Following the inquiry report, a trustee was appointed and the hospital was divided into separate institutions for the mentally retarded, the aged and for psychiatric patients.
Citations of Merit ware awarded to:
The Ottawa Citizen, for stories investigating the 1981 takeover of Petrofina Canada by PetroCanada, revealing previously undisclosed costs as a result of the way the deal had been structured – including details of a stock option plan that provided a rich capital gain harvest for participating Petrofina employees. It ended up costing Canadian taxpayers up to 200 million dollars more than was reported at the time of the takeover. The stories by reporters Dan Turner and Wendy Warburton also became the catalyst which focused public attention on the dispute between Auditor General Kenneth Dye and the Prime Minister’s office.
The Winnipeg Free Press, for a campaign to end parking law violations by revealing that 85,000 violators owed the city $1.13 million in delinquent fines. The newspaper had to get a court order instructing police to issue names of delinquents with amounts of the fines before launching its campaign in earnest. The initiative brought the city $300,000.00 in unpaid fines, speeded up fine payments and encouraged more respect for parking laws. It also led to action in other major municipalities in Manitoba and queries from cities across Canada.
The Globe and Mail, for a campaign to change drug laws that would permit doctors to prescribe heroin for the treatment of pain suffered by terminally ill cancer patients. The Globe published the columns of W. Gifford-Jones, who is really Dr. Kenneth Walker, a long-time advocate of using heroin to ease the suffering of cancer patients. The newspaper also supported the campaign with persuasive reasoned editorials and ran a compelling feature story on the entire issue.
Judges for the 1984 Michener Award:
Fraser MacDougall, former Canadian Press executive and now executive secretary of the Ontario Press Council; Bill Boss, retired director of public relations at the University of Ottawa; Emery LeBlanc, former editor of L’Evangeline and now director of public relations for Via Rail of Montreal; Robert Nielson, of Perth-Andover, N.B., retired veteran Toronto Star staffer; and Jack Fleming of Calgary, retired newspaper and public relations executive.
The Michener Award has been presented annually since 1970 when it was created under the auspices of then Governor General, Roland Michener.