More Perishable than Lettuce or Tomatoes: Labour Law Reform and Toronto's Newspapers
Contains Photos, Bibliography
Rebecca Murdock is a lawyer with the Toronto firm Ryder Wright Blair &
Doyle, Barristers and Solicitors.
Silva’s text examines four Toronto-based newspapers’ anti-union bias
during the last 15 weeks of Bill 40’s passage through the Ontario
legislature in 1992. At the forefront of the business lobby, The
Financial Post, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, and The Toronto
Sun strongly condemned Bill 40, the short-lived NDP labor reform known
primarily for its ban on replacement workers. Editors at The Post
claimed that the NDP was “charging ahead like a herd of spooked
steers, stomping all over individual property rights, ignoring the
warnings of reduced investment.” The Globe ran similar headlines. Many
newspapers ran anti–Bill 40 ads prompting the Ontario Federation of
Labour to lay charges at the Ontario Press Council claiming that the
participating newspapers had breached standards of professionalism by
lobbying Ontarians instead of providing balanced news coverage.
Unfortunately, Silva’s text is long on hyperbolic quotes and short on
insightful analysis. In his first chapter he outlines two media
theories: “instrumentalism” and “social constructionism.”
Proponents of these opposing theories disagree on the extent to which
editorial boards manipulate the news for their own ideological and
Instead of putting these theories to work, Silva proceeds as a tour
guide, offering his readers “sightings” of one theory or the other.
His sophomoric approach rarely ventures beyond “here’s an example of
Theory A” and “here’s an example of Theory B.” In Silva’s
hands, theory does not elucidate the issues; rather, it acts as a buffer
in preventing the author from saying anything meaningful about his
subject matter. Although Silva ultimately concludes that the media
failed in their obligation to report fairly on Bill 40, his conclusions
sound more like concessions than like convincing scholarship.
But a greater misfortune has befallen More Perishable Than Lettuce or
Tomatoes: the 1995 passage of the Tories’ Bill 7, which repealed the
ban on scab labour and all other Bill 40 provisions. The media’s
treatment of labor reforms is always a worthy subject of analysis;
however, the substantive issues around Bill 40 have long since been
eclipsed by Bill 7. Through no fault of his own, Silva misses out on
what could have been a provocative comparative study of the media’s
disparate treatment of the two bills.
Despite its numerous deficiencies, More Perishable than Lettuce or
Tomatoes does offer readers countless examples of irresponsible, even
paranoid, journalism. To that end, Silva has managed to catalogue an
embarrassing period in newsprint reporting.