Ottawa, April 10, 2000. CBC National Radio News, Winnipeg, was the recipient of the 1999 Michener Award for reporting on a vote-splitting scheme in the 1995 Manitoba General Election. Governor General Adrienne Clarkson presented the Michener trophy to Curt Petrovich, representing the CBC, at a ceremony held at Rideau Hall.
The 6 finalists in the running for the Michener Award were selected from among 46 entries. The Globe and Mail received honourable mention and four other news organizations were awarded citations of merit (see below).
During the award ceremony, the Governor General said that despite the fact Canadians are well educated and enjoy a high standard of living…”injustices occur here as do abuses of our systems and structures. So we need the press in all its forms to alert us to our situation, to awaken our indignation, and to keep us uncomfortable.” (The full text)
2000 Michener-Deacon Fellowship:
The Governor General also presented the 2000 Michener-Deacon Fellowship to Catherine Cano, an executive producer with Radio-Canada in Montreal. She was awarded the 4-month study leave fellowship for her proposal to examine the role of public television news in a time of increasing competition and globalization. She will prepare a report for the Michener Awards Foundation as well as articles for newspapers and magazines, and a documentary focusing on the future of public television news in Canada and Britain. (The details)
CBC Winnipeg radio reporter Curt Petrovich began his dogged investigation of the illegal vote-splitting scheme in the fall of 1997. The first elements of the story aired in June of 1998. For three years after the 1995 Manitoba provincial election, senior Manitoba Progressive Conservative party members, including some of the Premier’s top advisors hid a dirty secret. They had conspired to use thousands of dollars, some of it from the PC party bank account, to bribe three people to run in the election as ‘independents’ in ridings where the NDP held sway. The candidates were all native people, in ridings with high native populations.
It would take four years for a public inquiry to dissect the scheme. The Inquiry commissioner, Alfred Monnin, would eventually describe it as “unethical, morally reprehensible, and a violation of the democratic system”. He also said the plan was perpetrated by a group of arrogant liars. But because the two year limit for prosecution had expired no one faced criminal charges. As a result commissioner Monnin recommended changing Manitoba’s election laws to close the loop holes through which those involved with the scheme were able to slide.
Among the significant changes enacted by the legislature, as a result of the Inquiry – broader powers of search and seizure of election records for the chief electoral officer, and an extension of the limitation period to allow for timely prosecutions when an offence has been committed. (Background on the Vote-Splitting Scheme story)
The Globe and Mail won Honourable Mention for a five-part series on insider stock trading based on an investigation into more than 100 mergers and acquisitions. The series revealed that in an alarming percentage of the large takeover deals announced between July, 1998, and July, 1999, the stocks of the target companies rose in advance of a public announcement, suggesting that a tight circle of insiders was illegally profiting from that information.
In 28 friendly mergers or acquisitions announced in that time valued at more than $150-million, the share price of almost half of the target companies rose by more than 25 per cent between the times the companies began talking and the night before the deal was announced. In almost 20 per cent of the deals, shares of the target company soared more than 50 per cent. The series helped to change public policy towards illegal insider trading. Susanne Craig was a member of the team that produced the series and accepted the award on behalf of the Globe.
Citations of merit were awarded to:
The Province, Vancouver, was honoured for a 4-part investigative series, ‘Drugging Our Children‘, about the rising practice of over-prescribing stimulants for children in 40 British Columbia communities. Province reporter Ann Rees used BC’s Freedom of Information Act to research her articles which revealed the misuse of the prescription drug Ritalin to control the behaviour of a large number of children in some BC schools.
The newspaper concluded that ‘children are a booming market for psychiatric medications such as stimulants, anti-depressants and anti-psychotic drugs’. The report received widespread medical interest across North America and led to a national survey to determine whether attention deficit disorder (ADD) is properly diagnosed. Ann Rees accepted the Citation of Merit on behalf of the newspaper.
The Toronto Star received a Citation for a series entitled, ‘Hard Times‘, which described the daily lives of a surprising number of the city’s children – over 100,000 – who depend on welfare in Toronto and who were described as ‘the poorest of the poor and decent housing for them is mostly just a dream’. Following publication, three families profiled in the series were overwhelmed with donations of food, clothing and toys. The investigation also raised awareness of the problem among Members of Parliament and the federal government. Star managing editor, Mary Deanne Shears, accepted the award on behalf of the newspaper.
The Record, Kitchener-Waterloo was recognized for its publication of 42 news stories which cut through a wall of silence, showing mishandling of a serious public health issue following a tragedy that struck a Kitchener nursing home. An outbreak of a virulent strain of influenza at the home occurred in January 1999 and resulted in 17 deaths among 238 residents and 49 cases among 200 staff. The paper successfully called for a coroner’s inquest whose 25 recommendations included making flu shots mandatory for all staff and residents of long-term care facilities. Reporter Prithi Yelata accepted the Citation of Merit from the Governor General on behalf of the newspaper.
The Windsor Star received recognition for its series ‘The Enemy Above‘, detailing the severity of air pollution in south-western Ontario and the failure of three orders of government to address the problem. A Health Canada study using 1999 air pollution data indicated that Windsor topped the bad air list with 33 per cent of the year registering as a “high” or “extreme” health risk. Long-term exposure to bad air can affect lung growth, development and function in children. The series spurred action by all three levels of government. Metro editor, Marty Beneteau, accepted the Citation of Merit from Governor General Adrienne Clarkson on behalf of the newspaper.
Judges for the 1999 Michener Award:
David Humphreys (chair) former managing editor, The Ottawa Journal and European Correspondent for FP Publications; Arch MacKenzie, former Ottawa Bureau Chief, The Canadian Press and The Toronto Star; René Roseberry, former news editor, Le Nouvelliste, Trois-Rivières and President of the Grands Pix des Hebdos du Quebec; Duncan McMonagle, former editor-in-chief, Winnipeg Free Press; Senator Joan Fraser, former editor, The Gazette, Montreal.
The Michener Award, founded in 1970, is given to a news organization rather than an individual. Print and broadcast media of any size are eligible. Special consideration is given to the news resources available to the entry. The award attracted 46 entries for 1999.