On Signing Petitions

So, I walked into The Office of O.W. Toad Ltd., where the usually smiling staff (two in number) who attempt to run my life with whips of steel were giving me the frowny treatment.
“You’ve been signing petitions again,” they said. “Naughty Margaret! Don’t you remember that you promised not to do that?”
I knew it would be pretty feeble of me to protest that signing petitions was something anyone in a democracy should feel free to do. That would be saying that I was the same as anyone, whereas – it appears – I am not. Scampering off to sign petitions would be – in the eyes of The Office – like Marie Antoinette playing milkmaids. So yes, I had promised – more or less – because I know how much trouble it causes, and what kind of trouble.
For instance: some years ago, before the invasion of Iraq, I signed a mild, gutless petition that said wouldn’t it be better to negotiate and investigate before just invading Iraq. (Remember Hans Blix, who said there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction that he could find? Remember how he was dumped on? Remember the No Weapons of Mass D. that were eventually found? Remember how much money and world prestige this war has cost America? Remember what Jean Chrétien said when he declined Canada’s participation: “What we need is da proof, and dat will be de proof.” Succinct. Now, for 50 extra points: Would it have been a) good for Canada or b) bad for Canada to have gone into that war?
No sooner had I signed the Iraq petition than the organizers of it were on to me to come and speak at a meeting. “No,” said I. “All I did was sign the petition. I do not want to be the poster person for it.” And I went off to get my hair cut. Contrary to popular belief, I do that sometimes, when I’m not taking the nail scissors to it.
Next thing, I find myself being denounced in newspapers as someone egging on Saddam Hussein in his baby-killing activities. I also find myself being quoted – notably by Margaret Wente in the Globe– as having said, at that meeting, that the biggest threat to world press was George Bush and his gang of thugs.
Three letters were sent to the Globe, pointing out that I couldn’t have said anything at a meeting, because I wasn’t there; which also meant that those doing the quoting weren’t there either – they were getting the news from Martians, or through the fillings in their teeth.
As the three letters were not published, I called my lawyer, who dropped a Notice of Libel onto the Globe. I kind of looked forward to the trial – the haircutter would have to testify that indeed the snarly white bit at the back was attached to my head and nobody else’s – but the Globe swiftly published a teeny-weeny retraction, which was read by several ants and mice. Was this “censorship” on my part? Does “free speech” mean that anyone can make up stuff you said, even if you were getting your hair cut at the time? I think not.
(There followed a hurt phone call from the Globe—why had I done such a mean thing to them? The guy who edited the Letters to the Editor was away on vacation, etc. etc.)
So that’s the kind of trouble signing those pesky petitions can cause.
Nevertheless, I occasionally sneak out and sign one, just for old times’ sake. And now – since there is Twitter – I sometimes pass them along. Ones about stuff like sending aid to Pakistan or Haitian flood or earthquake victims don’t cause much of a stir, it seems. But this one did.

Now, you will note from the Report on Business article below –


that what Sun Media wants is not a licence to broadcast – it will have that anyway – but a very special kind of licence, “a rare must-carry licence. It would have guaranteed distribution by all cable and satellite firms – and the subscriber fees that come along with that distribution.” In other words, it wants special treatment. It is the special treatment – the must-carry licence and the subscriber fees – that the petition seems to me to be addressing, along with possible undue pressure being put on a public regulator by the Prime Minister. Is this a “censorship” or “free speech” matter? I think not. Sun Media has lots of “free speech,” and lots of money to create more for itself. Nobody can stop it saying what it wants, within the laws limiting public speech (and Canada does have such laws: anti-hate speech laws, laws against child pornography, and libel laws being among them).

I immediately found myself jumped on by some of the Sun Boys and accused by them and others of “censorship,” lack of patriotism, supporting terrorists (???), and all kinds of other crimes and misdemeanors – leading to the conclusion that I was a Really Bad Person. I fully expect accusations of witchcraft and incense – sorry, incest – to follow, as with Marie Antoinette and Ann Boleyn. Next I’ll be told I was at a meeting I wasn’t at, saying things I didn’t say.

Which is a fun way of deflecting public attention from the issues that ought to be being discussed. These seem to me to include a discussion of: a) whether or not Lawrence Martin, Linda McQuaig et al (see below) are lying about PM Harper’s mysterious off-the-record media-mogul special lunch – is that any of the taxpayer’s business, or did they discuss family matters, and did we pay for the lunch?
b) whether special influence should be brought to bear on the granting of special must-carry licences,
c) if such a licence is granted under such influence, won’t Sun Media owe the PM a big favour, and if so what price the watchdog function of the media, and
d) whether there should be special arm’s length regulators like the CRTC in charge of granting special licences that supply a guaranteed income to special large media corporations, for special channels headed by the PM’s former special advisor.
e) Whether Canada is drifting rapidly away from parliamentary democracy towards a special form of one-man micromanagement is a not unrelated issue.

Those issues are pretty specially special, and legitimate topics for debate. Whether I am a Really Bad Person would seem to come under a separate heading. According to The Office, I am a Really Naughty Person, as I have caused them much extra work, what with the phone ringing and people wanting me to be on their radio shows and so forth.
Sorry, Office. I’ll try not to do it again. But those little “click-here” buttons are sooo tempting. Can’t I push just one…. ?

Here’s the petition:


Here are the specific sources:

Globe and Mail: “Is Harper set to move against the CRTC?”:

CBC: “The absolute last thing this country needs”:

Globe and Mail: CRTC refuses Sun TV’s bid for preferred status on dial:

The Star: “Harper’s foxy luncheon”:


Filed under 1, YOTF Tour Blog

67 responses to “On Signing Petitions

  1. LH

    The link function on your tool bar will make it easy to embed links so others can easily follow them.

    Thanks for this.

    • marg09

      Where — um — is the Link function? Tx Margaret

      • queyras

        If you are in compose mode on wordpress it is on the tool bar. The icon looks like two chain links (sometimes it is simply LINK in blue depending on your browser or something…). You need to type the word you want linked. Then highlight it and hit link. You can past the url in to the box that comes up. There is likely another way, that’s the way I do it.


  2. Excellent. Witty. Original. Effective. I would say Irrefutable. In fact, Top Drawer.

  3. Perhaps you could select a nom de petition for yourself, to support the issues you care about without getting in trouble with The Office or having the Sun think you’re a Bad Person (although I believe that means you are a Good Person).

  4. Well, well Ms A, rabble-rousing were you? Lol, I say let them eat cake and burn incense.

  5. Personally, I think it’s pretty lame for any campaign to cite celebrity endorsements without actually having celebritys endorsements. Everyone is entitled to sign petitions and mail their MP and that’s nobody’s business. But to start declaring so-and-so is behind us is pretty meaningless if that person isn’t standing behind you, if you see my point. Expressing personal concern and giving public support are 2 very different things. Both sides of this campaign are either ignorant of that (which is intolerable of media people) or disregard it (which is worse). Claims that celebrity endorsements make campaigns are insulting to the populace. While it will raise the profile, I don’t really think people go “Oh, Margaret Atwood is behind it, so I’d better sign!” Our world would be very sad were that true.

    Which reminds me, Margaret, I’ve got this petition I’d like your backing on… %}

    P.S. The link button is a little square with a picture of 3 interlocked chain links.

  6. linda in chicago

    The thing that people keep forgetting about this potential Faux News North is that it wouldn’t just be a noisy neocon mouthpiece, it would be a money tree for the Harper gang as well, which is probably its real raison d’etre.

    I don’t know why the Harper gang is so keen to imitate the mistakes of the Americans–can’t they see the mess that we are in down here?? It’s for real, folks, and you’d have to be blind not to see the train wreck that is coming.

    Thanks for publicizing the petition via your article in the Globe, Margaret–I signed and forwarded it.

    Margaret Wente is such a sad case. Does she really believe what she writes, or is it just what the Globe pays her to do?

    • toby the glover

      For awhile I thought that Wente was Atwood writing under a pseudonym, that the name meant [If] Margaret [Atwood] Went Evil. That explained to me why I liked to read both Margarets.

      I’m a schizophrenic, you see.

      I no longer read Wente’s stuff, but I try to keep up with Ms Atwood’s writing.

  7. Kyall Glennie

    and once again the truth is told. Will anyone care to listen?

  8. Russell Barth

    fascism is easier to implement with blue sweaters than with jackboots.

  9. Linda Goossen

    I will support FNN when you become the CEO.

  10. I saw Goody Proctor dancing with Margaret Atwood in moonlight!

    Good for you. A “must carry” deal sounds like something well worth the resisting.

    We’re coming out of an election cycle here in Australia, one in which the performance of the press (not to mention the performance of the 2 mainstream parties) has been less than stellar.

    Like Canada, we have a government broadcaster, ABC, and the gorilla in our particular midst is News Ltd. One of the Murdoch minor’s has been crying foul on the reach of the ABC as it moves into digital, online, 24 hours news etc.

    Sensitive little flowers these media moguls, aren’t they?

    • Ian Lucas

      And with some justification it appears.. Governments should not be in the Radio/TV/News business, no matter what that does to peoples’ impressions of lowered “quality”.

  11. CanNurse

    This is THE clearest explanation I’ve seen anywhere in any media – & believe me, I’ve been reading – that addresses the exact concerns that I – and the 75,000 petition signers are deeply worried about. And that we want addressed. Thank you for writing this (despite what the Office may have wanted!) I hope it will be published in the MSM – so it can be much more widely read.

  12. J.m

    Competition is good for the media business. If CBC CTV G/M T/S etc know that they are doing an excellent job then there is no need to fear competition.
    TThere are grocery stores, car dealers and what have you all facing competition so why not in the media.

    • marg09

      I agree that competition is good, but I am sure you will agree that it should also take place on a level playing field – not through special influences.
      Though I suppose a lot of it does. But I don’t think the PM should be weighting the scales in a matter that is supposed to be determined by an arm’s length public servant. Any more than the government should be lying about what the former Stats Can head actually said.

      • absolutely. This PMO has a very disturbing track record of silencing arms-length people. I believe the first was an Enviro-Can scientist over the tar sands. Then the nuclear watchdog. Then I missed a whole bunch, but lately the StatsCan head, the VA Ombudsman, and, apparently, the CRTC. Regardless of one’s political views or support of Haper, one must concede that the entire purpose for arm-length organizations is that they be free to operate without interference from any PM.

      • Ian Lucas

        But why are we even letting “arms-length” public servants decide the greater good. Wherever it is possible to eliminate the need for them, they should be eliminated. The CRTC is a classic case of a quasi-government Organisation that is past its prime (time).

    • toby the glover

      Tiger says to lamb, Don’t cheat, lets compete!

      Do you think there’d be battles in haeven, if and when there is one?

  13. Pamela Allard

    Good for you Margaret! Kory is no match for you! Please continue to call it as you see ir!

  14. Billy Nobels

    How cheeky Mz. Atwood. To pillory the poor Sun types who heroically support laissez-faire economics whilstbleeding the public purse and whilst decrying your attack on the “free press” will surely bring them to their knees begging yet for more special favours. Unless of course they don’t give a crap about anything you said and will continue to make mockery of a free press and fair comment. Shaming the shameless is like peeing against the wind, it gives momentary comfort which quickly gives way to the tragic reality: these minds do not think, will not be shamed and will not stop until everyone is subjected to their amoral bile.

    • Ian Lucas

      Sun Media is a business that owns almost 200 local newspapers, including our local Welland Tribune, a well respected daily newspaper in the heart of NDP country.
      The various Sun newspapers are a well differentiated brand. It’s a business just like Torstar, whose shareholders expect profitability. Its not staffed by some frenzied group of right wing zealots that you seem to imagine are trying to create a new banana (wheat and soybean) republic. These are good business people earning money by having a position on certain topics that happens to oppose positions taken by competing businesses. Please get a grip.

      • marg09

        But should they get special favours — more than other channels — to start the business? See John Doyle’s column in today’s Globe, yesterday’s online.

  15. Gabby in QC

    Twice Ms. Atwood makes reference in her post to a meeting she did not attend.
    First “… I couldn’t have said anything at a meeting, because I wasn’t there; which also meant that those doing the quoting weren’t there either – they were getting the news from Martians, or through the fillings in their teeth. …
    Does “free speech” mean that anyone can make up stuff you said, even if you were getting your hair cut at the time? I think not.…”

    Ms. Atwood also wrote “Next I’ll be told I was at a meeting I wasn’t at, saying things I didn’t say” — the second reference perhaps meant to again point to the absurdity of the first alleged meeting, for which she sued the Globe and managed to extract a retraction, tiny though it was.

    Well, Ms. Atwood, I would be willing to wager you did not attend the “secret” meeting that PM Harper reportedly had with Rupert Murdoch either. So those, like you, who are alleging the PM is exerting “special influence” to get Sun TV a must-carry license designation means “those doing the quoting weren’t there either – they were getting the news from Martians, or through the fillings in their teeth.”

    Ms. Atwood, you and others have referred to that meeting as being a “secret” one. If it was so secret, why was it reported here by the CBC on January 6, 2010? Are you alleging that the CBC is in cahoots with the PM?
    “… The following day, Fleischer arranged a lunch meeting between Harper and the president of Fox News Channel, Roger Ailes, and with media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. owns Fox.”

    In order to torque this story up to the level of a “secret meeting” Bruce Cheadle of the Canadian Press, the same news agency which carried the January 2010 CBC story, wrote another one on June 14, 2010 with this headline:
    “Tory insiders and behind-scenes lobbying pave path to new ‘Fox North’ launch
    On March 30, 2009, Prime Minister Stephen Harper sat down for lunch in New York with Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes.
    The meeting was not on any public itinerary released by the Prime Minister’s Office and only came to light when The Canadian Press searched media consultant Ari Fleischer’s mandatory disclosures with the U.S. Justice Department. …”

    Perhaps another Martian receiving “news” through his fillings. I’m sure you would agree, Ms. Atwood, that “free speech” does NOT mean that anyone can make up stuff you said … especially when they were not present.

    • bruce cheadle

      Umm, Gabby. The Jan. 6 story and the June story both clearly cite the source of the information about the meeting: Ari Fleischer’s filings in the US. The prime minister’s meeting with Mr. Murdoch was not on any official agenda or disclosed at the time in any way to the public. What I only learned in June was that Kory Teneycke was present at the meeting as well. As for what was discussed, I don’t know.

      • Gabby in QC

        Mr. Cheadle,
        True, both stories mentioned the source of the information, Fleischer’s filings. Commendable. My sore point was that the simple fact of a meeting was torqued into a “behind-scenes lobbying” in your second article. That is what the headline stated. Since you were not present at the meeting, on what grounds can you assert “behind-scenes lobbying” actually took place?

        I’m glad you now add “As for what was discussed, I don’t know” though. I interpret that as an admission the headline was inaccurate, so I thank you for that.

    • But she’s a novelist….

    • Ms Atwood did not need to attend the meeting. It was symbolically “secret” we all knew that, because it was never on any PMO agenda. So at the very least it was a “private” meeting and might just as well have been secret.

      Knowing the participants, and the process, it’s a simple matter to deduce that some sort of “lobbying” went on. Ms. Atwood did not make anything up, in the way that the Globe Crowd did.

  16. MacKenna

    First, lie-vendor Fox News isn’t “free speech” as Canada’s teatards, like their US counterparts, claim. It’s bought and paid for by the Koch brothers.

    Second, Harper has no business funding his own personal publicity and propaganda machine with our cable fees.

    Thank you for signing the petition. I signed it too.

  17. Hey, found your site by accident doing a search on Google but I’ll definitely be coming back. – Man consists of two parts, his mind and his body, only the body has more fun. – Woody Allen Born 1935

  18. ‘Teatards!’ Your commenters are as delightfully informative and snarky as you are, dearest author and gardener. I hope those people receiving transmissions from Martians get their fillings checked. I signed the petition several weeks ago but might well register my husband under his email and then he can sign too. The cats don’t have their own emails and it wouldn’t be fair to have them sign, even though they are obviously far more intelligent than the teatards and FauxNoise fans.

  19. Ian Lucas

    When we look at the whole “special favours” aspect of this debate, it should be pointed out that other well-established channels such as CITY-TV also had “must carry” status. Are we crying “foul” retrospectively because of that? No.
    I would sign a petition to abolish all aspects of the CRTC’s mandate to promote Canadian content. It’s time, like early Trade Unions, has come and gone. All the CRTC should be doing is doling out broadcast frequency spectrum in as transparent a manner as possible. Let the market take care of the rest. Digital content distribution is here to stay and prosper, especially with the Government’s laudable commitment to ensuring high bandwidth internet access to virtually all Canadian communities within the next few years. The CRTC is a dinosaur that we have come to rely on as an artificial crutch to siphon taxpayer dollars to the Canadian content industry. Enough is enough. The trough should be dismantled.

    • Remove the CRTC and watch the cable/sat companies run amock. The so-called free market of the US actually means no competition; the biggest fish buys off the local government for monopoly status. (Check into Comcast operations.) What do you get if you put a big fish and a little fish in the same tank? A bigger fish.

      Want to talk media monopoly? Look at the fact that in the lead up to the Iraq war, every news voice that dared question the existence of WMDs found themselves out of work. Including Bill Maher and Phil Donohue. Why? Because the owners of the television companies did like what they heard.

      That is what happens in a deregulated economy. The CRTC exsists to make sure that big companies listen to the consumer instead of rolling over them.

    • You do get around, don’t you Mr. Lucas.

  20. The “market” screws us on a regular basis. On the fiscal side, we’re doing better than the U.S. because Paul Martin kept the banking sector on a short leash. That`s just one example. The CRTC one other means of maintaining a modicum of Canadian values. If you don`t like it, you could try moving to the »United States«.

  21. Pingback: Can regular people try and propose new laws? | BloggaHoGga

  22. rhoda clattenburg

    Why are you people scared of someone s opinion other than your own.?You made a fool of yourself. Most people dont give a rats ass what Attwood thinks

  23. rhoda clattenburg

    In addition ..isnt the cbc gov funded?? Wernt the last 2 gov gen.ex cbc employees? Yet she falls for a Soros meddling petition which was also signed by Dwight Schroot &Bart Simpson. LOL

  24. toby the glover

    The products of Sun media are like those of the gambling and tobacco industry. What can you do? They’ve got the right to smoke and to flip the bird! We’re all the worse for wear, but the law is the law. No good.

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  26. Chip

    Why an “hour-by-hour, minute by minute”, “straight talk” and “hard news” media outlet may be bad for Canada

    It’s being launched in such Spartan and Assyrian-style. Margaret Atwood expresses an opinion and rather than just reply, Mr. Tenyke proceeds to attack her, her celebrity status, her intelligence, etc. And the hordes of laconophilians gleefully, dutifully enthusiastically joined the attack. If you’re not with Sun TV, apparently, you’re against Sun TV and “unpatriotic”.

    The Spartans became a people perpetually at war, training for war and ate and breathed preparations for war. They were austere. No, not what many people think of as austere, frugal, but severe, uncompromising, simple, limited, rough, sour, harsh. Sure, they had their successful military victories, but as a people they eventually disappeared because they didn’t know how to do anything else but war.

    Over at the SunTV News website, making a case for why Sun News, the claim is made that Canada “needs a stronger, better, bolder information network”. I guess we’re not doing our job as news consumers. Rather than passively observe the news, our hand should be in our foam “#1” hand, and our other hand on speed dial, ready to launch a diatribe in whichever direction we’re pointed. We too can turn ourselves into a nation at war. With unions. Scientists. Census experts. Long-gun registry police. Margaret Atwood. Obama. Rick Mercer. Oh, unless he actually relents and joins Sun TV.

    Were there other ancient cultures like the Spartans? The Assyrians. They actually left this earth in a great self-inflicted crash and bang rather than fade away like the Spartans did. The Romans are often accused of falling because they became too decadent, but some think they became so austere that they simply did not know how to live; how to approach the big questions in life, and they imploded.

    Good on Margaret Atwood. The more the wind blows, the more she should dig in her roots and stay strong. A livable Canada could depend on it.

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  28. Anna

    Dear Margaret,

    I love you.


    This is a great bit of writing!

  29. I enjoyed this piece! And all the follow-ups.

    It’s also brought into relief the vague aversion I’ve always had to petitions. I’ve worked with groups like Amnesty since I was a teenager so I’m a firm believer in letter-writing campaigns, public demonstrations, etc. But a focus on simply gathering signatures can turn a thoughtful, challenging campaign into a numbers game. “Look, I’ve got 1000 signatures against Female Genital Mutilation!” “Oh yeah, well I’ve got 2000 signatures against waterboarding–so it’s WRONGER!”

    Then there’s the desultory way people sign them. At a fair or a concert, you get a paper shoved in front of you. “Sign here if you support human rights! Something about children!” Or online you get a link: “It only takes one click to END WORLD HUNGER!” (Good to know.)

    I have to disagree with Jeff above: signing a petition is in fact expressing public support for a specific cause. No, it’s not acceptable to harass signers afterwards (or to expect that famous people now have to drop everything and become poster children), but if I feel at all equivocal about an issue, or if I haven’t been given enough information, I won’t sign a petition at all.

    And that’s just with the bona-fide petitions. Now there are all the duplicitous petitions lurking around–you know the ones, in which you’re asked to sign to “support small businesses” and then find you’ve lent your name to a new bill supporting union-busting (for instance). Those have really poisoned the well for me.

  30. @lauren Disagree totally. Thoughtful consideration of petitions and their import + thoughtful consideration of your position is the only way of approaching these things. You need to have a deeper belief in your own convictions and opinions. Then you won’t suffer quite so much.

    • Disagree with what? You just restated what I wrote. I know my comment was a little long but it’s customary to read something before offering a didactic critique.

  31. Holly Stick

    So Ezra Levant will be debating Andrew Nikiforuk on Q tomorrow about the oil sands; expect well-informed talk from Nikiforuk and screechy mouth-frothing from Levant.


    • Yes Lauren..on balance you’re right. What I disagreed with with was that”simply gathering signatures” is just a numbers game. My view is that anyone who has taken the time to sign a petition has also taken the time to read it, think about it and approve it. Therefore it’s perfectly legitimate and not just “a numbers game”.

      Just my thought.

      I apologise if I upset you.

  32. Pingback: On Signing Petitions (via Margaret Atwood: Year of the Flood) « kfbunny: the blog

  33. Meaghan Champion

    Dear Ms.Atwood,

    Considering how this Avaaz/Kory TV contretemps ended up, I think you did a marvelous job, all in all. At the end of the day, one of your major detractors resigned (cough… cough…cough) from his job, the other one is being sued by George Soros for spreading a despicable libel that has now been retracted by the paper that published it, and you… well – you are still Margaret Atwood.

    Your credibility as a writer, artist and as a concerned, active participant in Canadian democracy and society has not been tarnished in the least.

    To be sure, a few right-wingnuts who would have never read your books in the first place might be even less inclined to pick up a copy of your works. But I don’t think that represents a demographic large enough to concern you or your publishers… Or in the very least I hope not.

    Please be assured that while the right-wing is very active and organized on-line (re The Snogging Bories/ Blogging Tories) – their bombast and noise machines disguises the fact that they actually do not represent a large portion of Canadians, and indeed, they are actually often an embarrassment to real conservatives who have better things to do with their time than play silly games on the internet all day and all night.

  34. Holly Stick

    That is a good column today, just right for the audience. Contrary to rumour, the Sun readers can read, though the ones who write comments there clearly have difficulty understanding what they read.

  35. Anna Kouprieva


    This post is very interesting but… I couldn’t get through most of it due to the terrible design decision of putting white text on black. My eyes seriously started watering. Please for the love of all that is good change the background to something else (or ask your webmaster to do it if you don’t manage the blog). It’s extremely painful to read your wonderful thoughts and I’m not a sucker for punishments (most of the time anyway).

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