Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery Dinner
Ottawa, Ontario, Saturday, June 4, 2016
Thank you, and congratulations to the Parliamentary Press Gallery on turning a spritely 150!
It’s wonderful to be part of this grand tradition of the Press Gallery Dinner. Governors general have attended since the early days—and that was no small feat back then.
Because as you know Rideau Hall is way out in New Edinburgh, and the roads in the 19th century capital were pretty terrible!
They were so bad, in fact, my predecessors would often travel to Parliament by barge!
They would exit Rideau Hall, cross Sussex Drive and go down the hill to Governor’s Bay, sail up the Ottawa River, disembark and then climb the long steps up Parliament Hill.
That’s quite a journey.
It was almost as hard as battling traffic and construction today!
I’m pleased to be here for this historic occasion, and I want to salute the Parliamentary Press Gallery on its 150th anniversary.
I do so for a very simple reason:
Because I think we too rarely talk about the essential role of a free press in building a free and fair democratic society.
It’s no coincidence that we’re preparing to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation even as you are turning 150.
Canada as we know it would not exist without a free press to ask tough questions and tell important stories.
As Joseph Howe said in 1835 in his famous defense of press freedom—a defense which was to be followed by responsible government in Nova Scotia—a first in the British Empire:
“The only questions I ask myself are,
‘What is right?
What is just?
What is for the public good?
Those questions continue to guide this profession today, and as many of you know each year at Rideau Hall we recognize the best public service journalism in Canada with the Michener Awards.
These awards were established 46 years ago by my predecessor, Roland Michener, in memory of his daughter, Wendy, herself a journalist. I’d like to read from a letter I wrote to the late Roland Michener in a book of letters called ‘The Idea of Canada’.
“Dear Roland,” the letter goes. “Journalists are often accused of being hard-boiled and cynical. But in fact, the very best journalists are the least cynical people among us. They believe in right and wrong. They believe that people, while quite capable of doing the very worst to each other, are also capable of the very best. They believe in our country and in our ability to create a fair and just society. That’s why they do what they do—because they believe in hope.”
And I conclude the letter by saying:
“The best journalists are like gardeners, helping us weed the garden, allowing space for new plants to grow. They certainly know how to dig! And despite everything that’s changed in the news industry in recent years—and that’s a lot—the basic principles of good journalism have not changed. And they won’t. Journalistic ethics and integrity will never go out of style.”
After 150 years of press gallery reporting on Parliament Hill, this evening reminds us that while much has changed, some things remain the same—and so they should.
Let’s make a toast to 150 years of good journalism, and to the members of the press gallery, past, present and future.