On Wajid Khan and the Blogging Tories

Much as Jason Cherniak and other more partisan Liberals would like to manufacture outrage about Mississauga-Streetsville MP Wajid Khan’s defection from the Liberals to the Conservatives, they’re not going to get the same level of outrage from the Canadian public as existed surrounding David Emerson’s defection, for a few reasons.

  1. Unlike David Emerson who was campaigning hard against the Conservatives and Harper two weeks before his defection, Wajid Khan has had almost a year to consider his positions, both as a Liberal MP and an adviser to the Prime Minister on Middle Eastern issues. Whereas David Emerson essentially deceived the voters in his riding, enough time has passed for Khan for realities to change.
  2. The fact that Liberal leader Stephane Dion asked him: are you a Liberal MP or an adviser to the Prime Minister, places some of the responsibility for Khan’s reaction at the Liberals’ feet, unlike Emerson’s defection which was unprovoked and out of the blue. They asked, Khan answered. It’s not his fault they hated his answer.
  3. The timing of Emerson’s decision was soon after the 2006 election, when most Canadians still gave a crap about politics. The timing of Khan’s decision is just after the Christmas holiday. I bet you a hot meal that, within two weeks, most Canadians who have registered Khan’s defection will have forgotten about it, and this number will be dwarfed by the number of Canadians who still don’t know that Khan even exists.

But this defection is significant on another front, as it illustrates the connections — sometimes denied, but mostly just coyly ignored — that exist between the upper echelons of the Conservative party and the Blogging Tories. The news of Wajid Khan’s defection burst onto the news sites this Friday. The news was available, however, on Thursday afternoon, when it was posted on Stephen Taylor’s blog.

BREAKING NEWS — Khan crosses floor — EXCLUSIVE

I am now reporting that Wajid Khan will join the Conservative ranks tomorrow as a backbench MP. Doing so protects Khan from cynicism of the press and opposition of making such a political move for career advancement, or for monetary considerations. Khan joins the Tories without taking a position in either cabinet or as a Parliamentary secretary.

This move has been a long time coming and I expected to report on this just after the Liberal leadership convention as such a move would have been wise political strategy to deflate the post-convention bounce in the polls that benefitted the Liberal party.

Khan is expected to make a formal announcement tomorrow and will likely describe that he is switching parties because of the “values” that the Prime Minister represents.


To my knowledge, the corporate media haven’t credited Stephen for his scoop, despite his comment, “If this story is subsequently reported on television, radio, in a newspaper, or on an MSM website, please give proper citation to this blog” (they probably decided they didn’t need to, since Prime Minister Harper called a news conference Friday morning to announce the floor crossing). But this hasn’t stopped some bloggers — many admittedly suspicious of the Tory agenda — from questioning how Stephen managed to get this scoop. For instance, Jason Cherniak, founder of the LibLogs asks:

To the best of my knowledge, Stephen Taylor has no connection to the Conservative Party whatsoever. Unless he wants to describe his source - “a member of the PMO”, for example - there is no reason to cite him as anything but a blogger who is making a guess. Or maybe Taylor is now working for the Tories.

This isn’t the first time that Stephen has been asked about his connections with the Conservative Party. There was the time when he was accused of being fed information by the party to discredit departing Conservative MP Garth Turner.

All this is a battle between the Blogging Tories and the Libloggers for the right to call themselves a grassroots blogging organization and to call the other side “astroturf”. They are running on the premise that if either side receives acknowledgement, information or other resources for the operation of their organization, they become less authentic voices of the people.

I myself do not agree with this sentiment. I don’t believe that you can ultimately pull voters to places they do not want to go, and despite the resources certain parties have to call upon to get their message out and get the vote out, they’re only able to do this through the hard work of individuals, most of whom would not help unless they believed passionately in the cause. Being passionately partisan does not make one’s opinion any less authentic, though it does change how somebody less passionately partisan takes that opinion.

I get scoops, too. I’ve received a pretty expensive Nokia 6682 phone as part of an advertising campaign. Blogs have been used to get the message out, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Likewise, there is nothing wrong with Stephen Taylor landing multiple scoops and tips from sources within the Conservative Party. But I just want to be sure that he is aware that the depth of the relationship between a blogger and his or her source can define that blogger, and this can change the expectations that blogger receives from his or her audience.

Just as Jason Cherniak has been co-chair of Stephane Dion’s blog campaign, and a reliable partisan blogger for both the Ontario and federal Liberals, Stephen Taylor’s work in organizing the Blogging Tories and his apparent relationship with insiders within the Conservative Party make him as much of a mouthpiece for the Conservatives as Jason is for the Liberals. And, indeed, I envy Stephen. He has himself a considerable plum to put on his resume, not to mention a possible future as an official within the Conservative Party — up to and including political candidacy. Like Jason, you’re looking at one of the future movers and shakers in this country.

Which should be fine, so long as, from this point forward, Stephen knows that he will be seen progressively more as a mouthpiece of the Conservative Party, and less his own man. Much as his site promises “commentary on the new Conservative Party of Canada”, some of us will start to get a better idea of what form that commentary is going to take, and adjust their filters accordingly.

Stephen and Jason are not like “Bart” from Calgary Grit who, despite being president of the Alberta Liberals’ youth wing in real life, still comes across in his own blog as one who is his own man, who is not afraid to criticize his own party for its missteps, and who offers us clear commentary on the political issues of the day while either being non-partisan himself, or defining his own bias so we can adjust our own take on his commentary accordingly. Calgary Grit, if offered a similar scoop would, in my opinion, cite his source (even if only “an official within the Liberal Party”) and stand with us to discuss the implications, both positive and negative. Just handing us this information, without comment on the source, puts Stephen on the inside, with a different relationship between himself and his audience.

Congratulations to Stephen Taylor for getting into the inside. The question now is, does he become a window on the Conservative world, or a projector? Both are valid choices, but each comes with a different set of expectations.

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