In January 2021, I published an article titled “Breaking Down Family Connections In Canadian Journalism.” The guide, updated with new entries twice after publication, now includes more than 55 families and 160 journalists. After publishing this article, a few people reached out asking me to look into family connections between working journalists and politicians. I thought it was a good idea, but became caught up in other work and never got around to putting it together.
A few weeks ago, a mini journalism scandal broke out. The host of TVO’s “The Agenda,” Steve Paikin, wrote an article about Mayor of Brampton Patrick Brown. Paikin failed to disclose some connections between his wife and Brown. A few journalists spoke out, TVO eventually attached a disclaimer to the article and then Paikin wrote a piece in response, where he laid out even more of his family and personal connections with active political figures. More outrage ensued.
The incident made it clear to me that there’s a public appetite for knowing if journalists are related to politicians/political staffers, or have some sort of personal connection with them (something I have long thought to be a matter of public interest). Even some of the people that loudly criticized my past article joined in on critiquing Paikin.
With that in mind, now seems like a good time to publish this article, documenting connections between working journalists and politicians/political staff. Here is my reasoning for doing so:
- There is widespread agreement that having a family connection with a politician could impede a journalist’s ability to write fairly on them or their party
- There is widespread agreement that journalists should either avoid writing about politicians they have a family connection with or at least disclose that connection in their work for the sake of transparency
- We know this disclosure doesn’t always happen, and sometimes it takes someone else bringing up these connections for them to be made public
- In order for this to happen, these connections need to be known to someone other than the family in question
- While other journalists may be aware of these connections, they often don’t bring them up, for a variety of (sometimes understandable, but not justifiable) reasons
As such, the public should be made aware of these connections.
Here is a great example of what I mean. Queen’s Park reporters had known for years that Toronto Sun columnist Brian Lilley had been living with Ivana Yelich, Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s director of media relations. And yet, it took Simone Racanelli (not a journalist) tweeting this on March 26, 2021, to kick start the process of bringing the connection to light: “Enough is enough. Ivana is dating Brian Lilley. Why the hell do we continue to pretend that she’s able to perform her duties as director of media relations to the level of professionalism that Ontarians deserve? She has a clear conflict of interest.”
Canadaland published an article about the connection later that day by editor Jonathan Goldsbie, who admitted Racanelli’s tweet “pushed [him] to finally finish reporting this.” The story broke widely from there. (It had also been reported by Frank magazine behind a paywall, in 2019, but the story didn’t gain much traction then.)
My article is not written to imply that any of the journalists below have reported on family members or their political party without disclosing said connection, or tried to hide it. As you’ll see, I’ve relied entirely on public sources to point out these connections. The purpose of the article is just to bring these already-public connections together in one convenient spot, much like my journalism families article did.
I’ve put together a list of all the connections that I’m aware of, though I strongly suspect there are many more. With my last article, I added the majority of names post-publication, after receiving a bunch of tips. It’s possible that will happen with this one as well.
In order to make the list, a family needs to include at least one working journalist, and at least one politician or political staffer of some sort (they don’t need to currently be in that position, though many are). An asterisk next to a family name means that family also appeared in my article breaking down family connections in Canadian journalism. Unlike that article, I have decided to count marriages as a family connection for the purpose of this one.
Please email email@example.com if you know of any connections not listed here.
Here they are, listed under the family name of the working journalist, in alphabetical order…
Individuals: Ian Austen, Adam Austen
Ian’s son Adam has a great deal of experience in government including three years at Global Affairs Canada ,working from 2017 to 2019 as the press secretary to the minister of foreign affairs and then from 2019 to September 2020 as the deputy director of communications to the minister of foreign affairs. He served in these positions under Chrystia Freeland and François-Philippe Champagne. He now works as the communications manager at Mitacs, which describes itself as “an integral part of Canada’s innovation ecosystem.”
In May 2019, Norman Spector, a former journalist, diplomat and civil servant, tweeted about a New York Times article by Ian, writing, “For the most part, this is a fair piece. But IMO the @nytimes should have noted that its reporter is the son of @cafreeland’s spokesperson.” The article was titled, “A Battered but Unbowed Justin Trudeau Vows to Stay the Course in Canada.” Ian replied, writing, “I assume you intended to write that my son is her spokesman. After he took that job, I stopped writing about her and any story primarily involving her department.”
Individuals: Denise Balkissoon, Bas Balkissoon, Laura Jarrett, Valerie Jarrett
Denise Balkissoon is the Ontario bureau chief at the Narwhal. She has previously worked as the executive editor at Chatelaine and a columnist at the Globe and Mail. Her author profile at the Globe notes that prior to joining the paper in 2015, “she was a longtime freelancer.” In a Narwhal profile, Denise said she freelanced for 10 years.
Denise’s father, Bas Balkissoon, was a Scarborough councillor from 1988 to 1997, a City of Toronto councillor from 1998 to 2005 and a Liberal MPP, for the Scarborough-Rouge River riding, from 2005 until his resignation in 2016.
One of Denise’s siblings, Tony Balkissoon, got married to Laura Jarrett, now a CNN anchor, in June 2012. The Toronto Star published an article about their wedding, titled “Obama attends wedding of Toronto Liberal MPP’s son.” The article notes that Laura is “the daughter of Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama’s most influential advisers and a long-time friend of president who heads the White House office of public engagement.”
The article states that wedding guests included then President of the United States, Barack Obama, as well as “Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder, who arrived in a four-SUV motorcade and Vernon Jordan, a key adviser to former president Bill Clinton, among other Democratic luminaries.” It adds, “While Bas Balkissoon was understandably coy about the event, another Liberal confided that the MPP was seen in deep conversation with both Obama and Holder.”
On Jan. 21, 2013, Denise tweeted, “The internet has thwarted me all weekend but at least I had good seats for the inauguration,” along with a photo of the event marking Obama’s electoral victory. Jonathan Goldsbie, now editor at Canadaland, replied, asking, “Okay, so what is the story here? How did you manage this?” Denise responded, “My brother married a lovely girl whose mom happens to be a mad high roller…v disappointed you missed last June’s Star story, JG.”
Individuals: Mark Bonokoski, Erin Bonokoski Paulusse
Mark Bonokoski is a Postmedia columnist, appearing in Sun Media publications. He has worked at a variety of Sun Media publications over the past few decades, including as the CEO, publisher and editor of the Ottawa Sun. He has also held positions in politics, such as the director of communications for the leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party in the leadup to the failed 2014 election, as well as the senior communications advisor for Conservative MP Lisa Raitt, then transport minister, in the leadup to the 2015 election.
Mark’s daughter, Erin Bonokoski Paulusse, was formerly the “Director of Strategic Communications to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.”
Individuals: Andrew Coyne, James Elliott Coyne
Andrew Coyne is a columnist at the Globe and Mail, and has previously worked at the Financial Post, National Post and Maclean’s. He is also a member of a panel on CBC’s “The National” show.
Andrew’s father, James Elliott Coyne, was the governor of the Bank of Canada from 1955 to 1961.
Individuals: Chrystia Freeland, Graham Bowley
Chrystia Freeland has been the MP for University—Rosedale since 2015. Prior to that, she was the MP for Toronto Centre for two years. She currently serves as the deputy prime minister as well as the minister of finance. Prior to that, she served as the minister of international trade and then the minister of foreign affairs. Before getting involved in politics, Chrystia worked as a journalist in senior positions at a range of publications, including the Financial Times, Reuters and the Globe and Mail.
Chrystia’s husband, Graham Bowley, is “an investigative reporter on the Culture desk of The New York Times.” He has worked there since 2007. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter at the Financial Times.
Individuals: David Frum, Linda Frum
David Frum began working in corporate journalism in the late ’80s at Saturday Night Magazine in Toronto. Since then, he has worked in a range of roles including as a National Post columnist, Wall Street Journal editor and The Atlantic senior editor and staff writer. David was also a speech writer for former U.S. president George W. Bush, from 2001 to 2002. He was part of the team that put together the infamous “Axis of Evil” speech.
David’s sister, Linda Frum, was appointed to the Senate of Canada by then-prime minister Stephen Harper in 2009 to represent Ontario, and remains in this position. She also formerly worked in journalism, including as a contributing editor to Maclean’s and a columnist at the National Post.
Individuals: Anthony Germain, Doris Cowley
Anthony Germain is a CBC TV host. A bio for him on the CBC website states that he is “an award-winning journalist who started his career with CBC in Halifax in 1991. He moved on to report news and current affairs in Moncton, Saint John and Quebec City, and he also hosted the Morning Show in Ottawa.” He would later also co-host “CBC News: Here & Now.”
Anthony’s wife, Doris Cowley, was formerly an adviser to Andrew Furey, the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, being named to the position in 2020. Journalist Bob Wakeham wrote about this connection at the time, claiming that “it’s impossible to imagine [Anthony Germain] being allowed anywhere near a Newfoundland political story, given the conflict of interest in place the minute his wife accepted her new job. It would be a no-brainer if this had happened in my day at the ‘Here and Now’ helm. Germain would be relegated to coverage of the Regatta.”
Doris left the position in January.
Individuals: Mark Kelley, Geoff Kelley, Greg Kelley
Mark Kelley is a journalist that has worked with the CBC for decades, in a variety of roles. He has been the host of “The Fifth Estate” since 2012.
Mark’s brother, Geoff Kelley, served as a Liberal member of the National Assembly of Quebec in the Jacques-Cartier riding from 1994 to 2018. He was appointed as the minister for native affairs in 2005 and again in 2011. He also held a wide variety of other roles in government while an MNA. He retired in 2018.
Geoff was succeeded by his son, and Mark’s nephew, Greg Kelley, who won the election for the Jacques-Cartier riding in 2018, also running as a Liberal.
Individuals: Seth Klein, Naomi Klein, Avi Lewis, Stephen Lewis, Michele Landsberg, David Lewis
Seth and Naomi Klein are siblings.
Seth’s website notes that he “served for 22 years (1996-2018) as the founding British Columbia Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives,” and that he now “writes a regular column for the National Observer.” (Full disclosure: Seth has also written for Passage.)
Naomi’s website notes that she is an “award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author,” and currently works as a “Senior Correspondent for The Intercept.” It adds that she is the “UBC Professor of Climate Justice (tenured) at the University of British Columbia in the Faculty of Arts.”
Naomi is married to Avi Lewis, who the CBC describes as a “former journalist, filmmaker and activist.” He was the “host and producer of CBC Newsworld’s political debate show Counterspin from 1998 to 2001.” Lewis ran in the 2021 federal election for the NDP in the British Columbia riding of West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea-to-Sky Country. He wasn’t elected.
Avi’s mother, Michele Landsberg, worked in journalism for decades, including as a reporter and columnist at the Globe and Mail, a writer at Chatelaine, and a columnist at the Toronto Star. A posting on the University of Toronto website announcing that she is the recipient of an honorary degree from the school notes that, “Her first job after graduation was as a reporter at the Globe and Mail, where she kept her birth name after her 1963 marriage to Stephen Lewis, because the editors did not want it known that one of their reporters was married to a socialist politician.”
Avi’s father, Stephen Lewis, served as an NDP MPP in Ontario, in the Scarborough West riding, from 1963 to 1978. He also served as the leader of the Ontario NDP from 1970 to 1978, and later on as Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations. Two of his siblings were also involved in the Ontario NDP.
Stephen’s father, and Avi’s grandfather, David Lewis, served as a federal NDP MP in the York South riding in Ontario, from 1962 to 1963, and then from 1965 to 1974. He was also the leader of the federal NDP from 1971 to 1975. He died in 1981.
A 1971 Maclean’s article claimed, “The Lewises are, in a way, the Kennedys of Canada. They lack the millions, the yachts, the impeccable background, but they have the same clannishness, the same brilliance, the same passion for politics, the same sense of style, and the same unshakable self-assurance.”
Individuals: Steve Paikin, Henry Paikin, Paul Miller, Francesca Grosso
Steve Paikin has worked as the anchor of TVO’s “The Agenda” since 1992.
Steve’s cousin Paul Miller has been an MPP in Ontario, in the Hamilton East—Stoney Creek riding, since July 2007, with the NDP until he was ejected from the party last month. Prior to that, he served as a city councillor in Stoney Creek, Ont., for six years.
Steve’s wife, Francesca Grosso, was formerly: director of policy for then-Progressive Conservative MPP Tony Clement, co-chair of the party’s health policy platform in 2017 and later a Conservative adviser for the 2018 election in Ontario. She also ghost wrote Mayor of Brampton Patrick Brown’s memoir.
Individuals: Adam Radwanski, George Radwanski
Adam Radwanski has worked in journalism since at least 2000, including at the National Post, Maclean’s and the Globe and Mail. He has been a columnist at the Globe since 2009.
Adam’s father, George Radwanski, was appointed by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien as Canada’s privacy commissioner in 2000, before resigning in 2003 in the midst of a spending scandal. He was formerly a journalist, working in the industry for decades, including becoming editor in chief at the Toronto Star in 1981. He died in 2014.
Individuals: Eric Reguly, Robert Reguly
Eric Reguly has worked at the Globe and Mail since 1997, occupying a variety of positions. He currently works as the European bureau chief.
Eric’s father, Robert, held a public relations position with Ontario’s ministry of environment. This came after a long career in journalism, which stretched from the ’50s to the early ’80s, and included time at the Toronto Star and Toronto Sun. He died in 2011.
Van Dusen Family*
Individuals: Thomas Van Dusen Sr., Julie Van Dusen, Peter Van Dusen, Lisa Van Dusen, Mark Van Dusen, Tom Van Dusen, Tina Van Dusen
Thomas Van Dusen Sr., writes CTV News, was a “journalist, speech writer, political adviser to both Conservatives and Liberals and patriarch of a clan of Canadian journalists.” CTV notes that he “spent 45 years filling a variety of roles on Parliament Hill,” including “working for three prime ministers, John Diefenbaker, Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney” and “a number of cabinet ministers, including Tories Michael Starr and Erik Neilsen, and Liberals Allan MacEachen and Mitchell Sharp.”
Thomas had seven children, and six of them went into journalism: Julie Van Dusen, Peter Van Dusen, Lisa Van Dusen, Mark Van Dusen, Tom Van Dusen, Tina Van Dusen. The following are still active in journalism…
A CPAC bio page for Peter notes, “Peter is one of the most well-known political journalists in Canada, a distinctive and popular personality with close to four decades as both reporter and anchor. He joined CPAC in 2001, where he began his continuing stint as host of PrimeTime Politics, CPAC’s nightly political round-up. He also serves as the network’s Executive Producer, ensuring quality coverage of Canadian politics through a variety of platforms. Prior to joining CPAC, Peter spent seven years with CTV Ottawa and 11 years with the city’s CBC affiliate.”
Tom has worked in the journalism industry for decades. In a May 2020 article announcing a new journalism position, Tom writes, “Hi! It’s me, Tom Van Dusen, still kicking around the news business after all these years, going back 50 actually — could that really be possible — with stints at the Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa Sun, CTV News, various agricultural and weekly papers, and even a couple of summers back in the day at the long-gone Ottawa Journal.”
Individuals: Paul Wells, Lisa Samson
Paul Wells is a freelance journalist who previously worked as a columnist at Maclean’s, the Toronto Star, the National Post and the Montreal Gazette.
Wells’s wife, Lisa Samson, currently works as the “Managing Principal of StrategyCorp’s Ottawa office.” StrategyCorp is a firm that provides “strategic advisory services – public affairs, strategic communications, and management consulting – to private and public sector organizations.”
Lisa’s bio page at StrategyCorp notes that her “public sector experience includes serving as the Legislative Assistant to a Member of Parliament, a senior communications officer in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, the Media Logistics Director for a national election campaign, and as Deputy Campaign Director for a major political party.” This work has included time with Stephen Harper and Preston Manning.
Individuals: Konrad Yakabuski, Paul Yakabuski, John Yakabuski, Sean Conway
Konrad Yakabuski is a columnist at the Globe and Mail, where he has worked since at least 1999. His profile at the Globe notes, “Before that, he worked as a political reporter at Le Devoir. He began his journalism career at the Toronto Star.”
Konrad’s brother John Yakabuski has served as a Progressive Conservative MPP in Ontario since 2003, in the Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke riding, including as the minister of transportation and the minister of natural resources and forestry.
Konrad’s cousin (some articles identify him as a second cousin) Sean Conway served as a Liberal MPP in Ontario, in the Renfrew North and then Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke riding, from 1975 to 2003. His seat was taken over by John. Taken together, at least one person from the family has been an MPP for the past 59 years, at minimum.
UPDATE: This article was updated on April 27 to add more families to the list.
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