Doorstep Postings: Business, never personal, in the province that pays Steve Paikin’s salary

This is the ninth in a series of opinion columns on the 2022 Ontario provincial election, written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.

A week or two later, you’ve already forgotten about the Paikin family’s not-so-great experiences from mid-March 2022—and that’s the point.

It all started when reporter Emma McIntosh asked why TVOntario fixture Steve Paikin didn’t disclose his own close relationship with ex-Ontario PC leader, current Brampton mayor and prospective Conservative Party of Canada leader Patrick Brown in a column that asked whether Mayor Brown was done dirty by reporting from CTV that all but derailed his chances of becoming premier four years ago. 

Shortly after, reporter Fatima Syed asked in a follow up tweet about why the role played by Paikin’s wife Francesca Grosso in ghostwriting an exculpatory account of Brown’s takedown at the hands of his own party. She posted that the tweet had been deleted for being inaccurate, and that Grosso had only written part of the book. 

Shortly after that, Paikin himself wrote an explanatory column in which he claimed to have been totally ignorant of his wife’s role in the ghostwriting of the entirety of the aforementioned Takedown: The Attempted Political Assassination of Patrick Brown. The published results weren’t going to win any literary prizes.

Shortly after that, John Ferri—a journalist turned TVO vice-president who oversees provincially funded programming like The Agenda with Steve Paikin—issued his own apology for encouraging one of his underlings to lean on Syed to delete her tweet. (Incidentally, thanks to the Ontario sunshine list, we know that Paikin’s $356,759.02 salary for 2021 remains significantly higher than what any of his bosses earn.)

And shortly after that, gadfly journalist Jonathan Goldsbie posted a thread showing that all of the supposedly in-dispute information about Paikin’s relationship with Brown and the ghostwriting of Brown’s book was a matter of public record and therefore never should’ve actually been disputed to begin with. 

Meanwhile in Hamilton, the ancestral home of the Paikin family, Ontario NDP MPP Paul Miller (who’s not Jewish) was in his own spot of trouble after the party learned of new information that would have made it impossible for him to continue as a member of that caucus.

It emerged that Miller maintained membership in a Facebook group called “Worldwide Coalition Against Islam,” and apparently didn’t learn the lessons of a 2018 incident involving former staff that led to a complaint being levelled against him at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

Miller countered that he doesn’t use Facebook, that he never was a member of any such group, and that the party has failed to provide any proof that he has done anything wrong.   

By the way! Miller’s wife is Stoney Creek trustee Carole Paikin Miller—a cousin of TVO’s Steve—who has her own history of making comments construed as Islamophobic.  

Look, you don’t need to be a private eye to play this strange game of Jewish Geography.

All it takes is a few well-aimed Google searches and the ability to recognize a last name. And these reports persist despite the best efforts of Canada’s most powerful public families to keep potentially embarrassing dirt hidden. I’m only picking on the Paikins because they just happened to be in the news—and because this is The CJN.

Journalists (and political goons like myself) have been trying to make hay with these hidden-in-plain-sight questionables forever. The aforementioned Goldsbie is a charter member of the Fordologists, those experts who categorize every Ford family foible and personal connection.

When the Ontario PC media relations director Ivana Yelich shacked up with Toronto Sun columnist Brian Lilley, good ol’ Goldsbie was right there, breathlessly reporting the scoop. And when Ford’s daughter Krista Haynes turned against her family to stand on stage with unabashed anti-vaxxers, the Fordologists had another field day. 

The impulse to make the personal political is understandable, if not laudable. Stories about Joe Biden, Boris Johnson and Benjamin Netanyahu’s family woes have been and will continue to be common. But not here in Canada—and especially not here in Ontario. 

The trouble is that most folks tend to lose the plot when these family ties come up. Back in 2014, the Fordologists tried to debunk the now-premier’s claim that his wife Karla was Jewish to defend himself from charges of antisemitism. Supporters and detractors were successfully distracted into arguing about something tangential to whether Ford actually had a problem with Jews.

Getting into the weeds is the best case scenario, however. When a politician actually tries to comment on their opponents’ personal problems, it rarely goes well for them.

Andrea Horwath found this out when Doug Ford scored a dominant majority despite the Ontario NDP leader trying to score political points off a lawsuit levelled against Doug by the widow of Rob Ford in the final days of the previous provincial campaign.

I’ve got no definitive explanation for this tendency, but in my experience it has to do with this province’s weird relationship to power. Criticizing your betters—elected officials included—is looked at as dangerous. A threat to peace, order and good government.

And, as certain journalists in Ontario might’ve recently found out for the first time, it’s also kind of dangerous to try.

Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.