CBC gives Labchuk the boot

camille-labchuk-2Here’s what Camille Labchuk didn’t do. She didn’t wake up one day, and for kicks, try and cheat her way into a spot on CBC’s reality TV show Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister.

So why then, when the 24 year old aspiring lawyer was a shoo-in for next month’s political Boot Camp, did CBC instead give Camille Labchuk the boot? Good question.

I suspect the answer is going to cost the public broadcaster more in damages than the CBC anticipates, much in the same way it cost the Ontario Lottery Corporation to settle with the holder of a wining lottery ticket, not because of the misprint, but because of misinformation OLGC officials conveyed to the winner upon discovery of the error.                                                                                  

Last fall when the CBC was desperate and weren’t sure they’d have enough contestants to run another season of Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister, they went looking for suitable candidates. One such recruitment letter found its way into Camille Labchuk’s inbox. Camille would be known to the CBC, and to others, mostly because for almost two years she served as Elizabeth May’s press secretary.

Camille knew that if she responded to CBC’s interest in her as a contestant, that winning or doing well in the competition wouldn’t simply be a matter of chance. She knew this initiative would involve a lot of hard word, a significant time commitment, and sacrificing other opportunities. However, the $50,000 payoff for winning the competition, plus an $18,000 internship possibly working alongside Magna’s Belinda Stronach was nothing to sneeze at, especially for a young adult still navigating her way between University degrees and the workforce.

Winners of past seasons have also found good industry related employment. For example 2006 winner Deirdra McCracken, was Jim Prentice’s press secretary and was recently promoted to Director of Communications for Conservative cabinet Minister James Moore. Joseph Lavoie, winner in 2007, is now spokesperson for Brian Mulroney.

Flattered, interested and motivated, Labchuk went out of her way to inform the CBC that in 2006, when she was all of 21 years old, she spent a hundred bucks running as the Green Party Candidate in the riding of Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe. With 1,409 votes or 3%, Camille finished a distant fourth behind the NDP, Conservative, and the Liberal candidate, Brian Murphy, who won the riding.

However before taking the final plunge into this unique opportunity, Camille contacted the CBC, in writing, to make sure her brief brush with running as Federal candidate didn’t exclude her from the competition. On November 6, 2008, at 8:02 pm, Camille wrote the following to CBC associate producer, Richard Maerov:

Hello Richard,   

I may be interested in applying for Canada’s Next Great PM, but have a question. I have previously run as a federal candidate and am wondering if this disqualifies me. I know it was an issue two years ago but perhaps the rules have changed.

Thank you,

Camille

Less than 15 minutes later CBCs Richard Maerov wrote back:

Hi Camille, that’s a good question. As far as I know that shouldn’t be a problem but let me check with my senior producer tomorrow morning and I’ll let you know.

Thanks for your interest!

Richard

After verifying with his boss, CBC Senior Producer, Seema Patel, the following morning, November 7, 2008 at 9:47 am, Richard Maerov responded the following to Camille:

Hi Camille,

You’re good to go! as long as you are between the ages of 18-25 as of April 1, 2009.

Would you mind giving me a call at some point to day when you get the chance?

Thanks!

Richardrichard.maerov@cbc.ca | 205 Wellington
Street West, Toronto

Richard Maerov | Associate Producer | CBC Television – Factual
Entertainment | 416.205.3819 |

For the next two months, including throughout the holidays, Camille Labchuk would do nothing but live and breathe campaigning, studying, and preparing for the competition. Countless hours were spent preparing candidacy web-videos, writing policy documents, outlining her position on numerous issues of interest, as well as preparing written responses to potential questions she anticipated might form part of the competition. Not to mention, getting excited, getting her hopes up, and sharing the news with friends, family, and her online supporters.

Before long, Camille was quickly established and remained as one of the frontrunners on the show’s leaderboard website, and was well positioned as the one-in-eight contestants who would advance automatically to the semi-finals based on public voting for the most popular audition video. Throughout this period CBC was regularly in contact with Camille and other contestants providing updates, additional information about the competition, and responding to individual emails.

Never did the CBC indicate to Camille there was a problem with her candidacy, only that she was doing well in the public voting, always in the top 10, and constantly trading places with only one other contestant for first or second place. All other candidates were well in the distance. 

Last Tuesday January 6, 2009, Camille’s aspirations were suddenly burst by a single phone call from Sarah Maywood, a CBC lawyer informing the would-be next great Canadian prime minister of her disqualification because, wait for it, she once ran for Parliament.

Forget the vagueness of the rule 4.3 the CBC legal beanery quoted. How about rule 4.17 indicating the producer’s word, in this case the above noted Seema Patel, is final? Based on the November 6-7 email thread above, why was Sarah Maywood even calling?

I will spare you the details of how Camille’s first conversation went, or the conversation the next day with the same CBC lawyer and producers. All very apologetic but seemingly unable to seize or appreciate the escalating gravity of the matter.

It’s one thing for an honest and inconsequential mistake to slip through cracks, but it’s quite another for the events outlined above to occur, and the CBC not accept responsibility for its own negligence and incompetence. Offering to Camille Labchuk, as compensation, a pair of tickets to the taping of the final show serves only to ad insult to injury. In addition to negligence and incompetence, it appears those behind the scenes at CBC are also void of any feeling.

My interest and involvement in all of this? None, other than the advice and guidance I gave Camille earlier today when we chatted. I met and worked with Camille when I was Elizabeth May’s advisor. Camille is a sweet, intelligent, and very talented young lady who will go far, and for whom I have a great deal of respect.

Something CBC officials – and other sponsors Magna, Fullbright, and the Dominion Institute – may wish to consider; if the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation can, on its own, conclude it’s better to act quickly and fully compensate for its communications blunder over a misprinted lottery ticket, then the CBC had better cough-up another $50,000 pronto before it finds itself in the unenviable position of having to prove that Ms. Labchuk wouldn’t have won the competition otherwise.

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