Calgary physician Joe Vipond at a recent rally in Edmonton pushing the Kenney Government not to abandon COVID-19 testing, tracing and isolation. Image: David J. Climenhaga/Used with permission

Between 2005 and 2011, CTV Television Inc. donated nearly $10,000 to the Alberta Conservatives.

This interesting information can be found on Elections Alberta’s website using the provincial election agency’s contributor search tool.

It was entirely legal. It took place back in the days when the Progressive Conservatives were in power and political donations in Alberta operated under Wild West rules — which is to say, essentially no rules at all.

Just the same, it matters. We’ll get back to why in a moment.

But first, dear readers, you need to know that someone somehow associated with Alberta’s current United Conservative Party government used the same tool last week to see if Dr. Joe Vipond, a prominent critic of the government’s COVID-19 policies, had made any donations to the Opposition New Democrats.

They discovered that, over the previous seven years, the Calgary emergency room physician had donated $19,387.50 to the Alberta NDP.

This is not really surprising. In addition to his medical practice, Vipond is a passionate long-time advocate for the elimination on health and environmental grounds of coal-powered electricity generation.

Lately, he has been a thorn in the Kenney government’s side with his critical social media commentary about the UCP’s response to COVID-19, which has been detailed, science-based and has a history of making worrisome predictions that turn out to be accurate.

In the past few weeks, he’s organized a series of well-attended rallies calling on the province to abandon its plan to eliminate most testing for COVID-19, contact tracing, and the requirement for infected persons to isolate. This has obviously gotten under Premier Jason Kenney’s skin.

Armed with that information, Kenney’s personal Internet troll, so-called “director of issues management” Matt Wolf, published an attack tweet on July 30 that asked, “Would the media make someone who has donated in excess of $20,000 to the Alberta NDP their go-to commentator without even *mentioning* apparent partisan affiliation?”

Maybe the UCP was sore because so many more Albertans are donating money to the NDP nowadays than to the UCP, which as the government in power, should have had a fundraising advantage. Many of those people are not necessarily NDP partisans. They’re just Albertans who are frightened by and frustrated with the UCP’s mismanagement and risky policies.

Be that as it may, on Aug. 4, a story appeared in an online publication called True North, which one suspects doth protest too much when it claims to provide “fair, accurate, truthful and fact-based news reports.”

Under the headline, “Calgary doc who claims ‘no ties’ to Alberta NDP has donated nearly $20,000 to party,” the story appears to this reader to portray Vipond in a negative light, implying he is not being honest when he “claims” he has no affiliation with the NDP.

It quotes Brock Harrison, Kenney’s director of communications, saying, “Nearly $20,000 in partisan political donations to the Alberta NDP speaks for itself.” On Aug. 8 — last Sunday — Wolf’s little scoop started appearing all over the place.

A commentary by True North editor by Candice Malcolm showed up in that publication and, on the same day, in the pages of Postmedia’s Toronto Sun.

“Joe Vipond of Calgary has donated nearly $20,000 to the NDP between 2014 and 2019,” Malcolm wrote. She continued, “but surely it couldn’t be the same Joe Vipond. Surely he would have disclosed that before going on television, and he wouldn’t have been so adamant on social media that he has ‘no ties to the NDP.'”

Why would he? He’s a civilian, for crying out loud. I doubt it ever occurred to him.

Surely the Sun, though, run by professional journalists, would have disclosed that its column was pulled from a far-right website. Apparently it didn’t occur to Postmedia’s editors that the Sun should provide its readers with any information about who else the author of its column works for.

The same day, the Sun ran a column by Brian Lilley, another regular on the far-right media circuit, stating that “a review of donations by the True North Centre shows the good doctor dropping just shy of $20,000 to the NDP over the past few years.”

This raises an interesting question. Wolf publicized the facts, albeit in a misleading and inaccurate way, on July 30. Did he or someone at the UCP do the research, or did True North? Or did they both stumble upon it at the same time?

Whatever happened, the same day, someone at CTV News Calgary published an online story under the headline “Critics accuse vocal Calgary doctor of close ties to NDP opposition.”

The original story contained no mention of who these critics might be, or indeed what their criticisms were other than that Vipond had unspecified “ties to the NDP.”

Unlike Wolf’s effort and the stories by writers generally associated with right-wing activism, when CTV’s story was noticed it prompted harsh criticism on social media.

Subsequent to its original publication on Sunday, it has gone through several rewrites.

The story has received a couple of new headlines, for example, the first being “Calgary ER physician fighting for stricter COVID-19 policies comes under fire.”

More recently, that was changed to “Member of Alberta premier’s staff questions Calgary doctor’s political motives as others rally to his defence.”

This is better, or at least more fair, but if that’s all there is to the story, one wonders why CTV would bother publishing it in the first place. Talk about a source with zero credibility!

CTV also embedded links to Wolf’s tweets after the original attribution-free story was published, and later added mention of the tweets to the text of the story as well.

While it didn’t appear in the story, a CTV newscast in Calgary also suggested Vipond intends to run for the NDP in the next provincial election, an assertion the physician denies.

It is nonsense, Vipond told me yesterday. “The only thing I said about elections is that I was asked by three different parties to run in the 2015 election,” he said. “Speaks to my non-partisan nature.”

“I would suck as an MLA,” he added. “I can’t follow orders.”

Yesterday morning, I asked CTV News managing editor Dawn Walton, an experienced former Globe and Mail reporter, if the original story met CTV’s standards for reporting.

If it doesn’t, I wondered, does CTV plan any additional remedial action beyond the addition of Wolf’s embedded tweets — the only change that had occurred at that hour?

I have not yet received a response to my message, sent via Twitter DM. The subsequent changes to the story, however, suggest it did not come up to CTV’s standards, which is mildly reassuring.

Still, it would be helpful to know how this story came to CTV News, and who persuaded CTV it was worth covering, and why it was published as it initially was.

In the meantime, we now know from Elections Alberta that CTV Network donated generously to the Progressive Conservative Party, one of the two parties from which the UCP was formed.

Coincidence? One would hope so.

Still, under the circumstances and the logic of its own journalism, it would be reasonable to wonder that the network is too connected to the Alberta Conservatives to be a reliable source of news on this topic.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image: David J. Climenhaga/Used with permission

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...