Two federal by-elections, in Toronto Centre and York Centre, will be held on Oct. 26. These are both safe, urban Toronto seats for the Liberal Party and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
It would be surprising if the Liberals lost either one or both of them. Even if they did, their minority government wouldn’t come crashing down.
And by-election results tend to mean very little with respect to opinion polls and nationwide voting.
Yet there’s a controversy percolating in one of the two ridings. Trudeau and his hand-picked candidate have remained silent. They’re likely hoping the public won’t pay attention and the matter will simply disappear into thin air.
Sorry, prime minister. Hope won’t spring eternal after this revelation comes to light.
The source of the controversy is Toronto Centre, previously held by former finance minister Bill Morneau. It’s been in Liberal hands since 1993, represented by high-profile figures like Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and former interim party leader (and Ontario premier) Bob Rae.
The current Liberal candidate is Marci Ien, a longtime journalist and former host of CTV’s Canada AM and The Social. She got her start on the popular children’s television series Circle Square, produced by Crossroads Christian Communications.
Ien is well-known and well-liked in her industry. I met her a time or two when I was a political analyst for CTV News Channel and enjoyed our quick chats.
All things considered, Ien seemed like a slam dunk to win this riding. She would face some resistance from NDP candidate Brian Chang and newly-elected Green Party Leader Annamie Paul, but it was hard to see her coming out anywhere but the top spot.
That is, until something unusual from her past popped up rather unexpectedly.
On Oct. 16, Conservative activist/political strategist Stephen Taylor circulated a barely-noticed tweet that Ien had apparently sent out on May 14, 2011. Here’s what she wrote: “Watching ‘Loose Change 9-11: An American Coup’. Really makes you think about what really happened on September 11, 2001.”
What’s unusual about this?
Loose Change was shown several times between 2005 and 2009. It’s a conspiracy-oriented film that questions the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked by the terrorist organization al-Qaida.
Alex Jones, the controversial U.S. radio host who peddles in conspiracy theories, was even reportedly involved in the production of Loose Change: Final Cut (2007).
While praised for its visual merits, the information and analysis contained in Loose Change is bizarre, preposterous and grossly invalid. The movie has been repeatedly debunked by intelligent, thoughtful sources, including the U.S. State Department.
It seemed very odd, and rather surprising, that an experienced journalist like Ien would publicly recommend a conspiracy-oriented film on a social platform like Twitter.
She’s not the only person to have praised Loose Change. MSNBC host Joy Reid recommended watching it in a recently-unearthed 2006 blog post. Media entrepreneur Mark Cuban was going to distribute the film in 2007 – but wisely backed out and has since condemned it.
Director Kevin Smith called it a “gripping, well-made film” in a short 2012 WeAreChange.org interview, but “I don’t know if it’s true or not.”
However, Ien has said nothing about this old tweet. Maybe she wants to keep it that way.
As someone who wants to make the jump from the world of TV to the political arena, she surely knows there’s no way to avoid this difficult discussion. Print is forever, as the old saying goes. So is social media in our modern world.
If Ien ultimately rejects this tweet between now and the Oct. 26 by-election, that’s fine. We all make mistakes and she deserves to have a chance for redemption.
If not, Trudeau must explain why a possible 9-11 skeptic is his chosen candidate in Toronto Centre. Voters in this riding – and all Canadians – deserve to know.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.