On September 2, the Toronto Sun Political Bureau chief posted a story about the results of their Freedom of Information (FOI) request they had filed that revealed some interesting, if not earth-shattering things about John Tory and Steven Stamkos.
On June 27, 2016, within the period where free agents can meet with teams to discuss, not salary, but anything else they might like to talk about, Steven Stamkos met with Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoriello, John Tory, who is the mayor of Toronto, and the CEO of Canadian Tire, Michael B. Medline.
We know this because Steve Simmons heard about it and broke the news on Twitter on the afternoon of June 29 that the meeting had taken place days before. The Toronto Sun ran a story on it that afternoon.
They Sun was curious about something, but they failed to find any details by attempting, as journalists do, to talk to the parties involved.
Tory would not confirm or deny Canadian Tire had someone at the gathering, which took place during a five-day window that allows players to hear what potential suitors have to offer.
No actual salary negotiations are allowed to take place, but if some sort of endorsement deal is in the works, one with no ties to any of the ownership group at MLSE, it can be a way to sweeten the pot.
If they had discovered something about an endorsement deal, that would have been big news and a potential cap circumvention issue, perhaps in spirit if not in the letter of the rules in the CBA.
Stamkos, as we all know, signed with Tampa, not anyone else he talked to during that interview period. He signed on the Day of All the News, when P.K. Subban and Taylor Hall were traded and his decision became the one story too many on a wild day that no one had time to feel anything much of all over.
Tampa made the announcement official with a posting to their website at 8:15 pm on June 29.
And that was that.
Free as in information, not free as in beer
The Sun, as indicated in their story on June 29, tried to get comments from John Tory about that meeting with Stamkos, and they didn't get all the answers they wanted. Tory refused to even confirm the participation of the CEO of Canadian Tire.
As detailed in their story from Saturday about the FOI, the Sun received copies of email communications between Tory's staffers on June 29. Some portions are reproduced in the story.
They show that the staff were worried about revealing what they already knew since presumably Stamkos told Tory on the 27th that he had already decided to sign with Tampa.
One thing we now know is that when confronted with journalists' questions about the activities of the mayor—something that is unquestioningly of public interest—Tory's staff were uncomfortable with just blowing off the Sun. But they knew that the inside information they had was not ready for public airing.
Remember, the Sun is seeing all of this weeks later. An FOI request could not have possibly given them a scoop about his contract or who it was with, so that can't be what they were after.
One email from the 29th shows that Mayor Tory's office thought Stamkos' announcement was due the next day on June 30.
Many members of the Toronto media were curious about why Tory had met with Stamkos, what was said, and who else was there, and he was asked about that even after everyone knew what Stamkos had decided.
What it all means
You get to decide for yourself. But I see several things that are noteworthy and newsworthy.
First, Toronto has a mayor's office that takes responding to the press seriously, as they should, which is a relief after years of drama for the sake of it and belligerence for the fun of it from Mayor Rob Ford's office.
Toronto journalists are not just relaxing and assuming that, however, as they should never do.
It is the job of the journalist, in any field including sports, to represent the public interest. When the mayor, a CEO and some hockey executives trying to sign a player to the Toronto Maple Leafs are all meeting in secret, the public interest is clear. What is the mayor doing there, and was he offering to open the public purse of the City of Toronto in any way? And more to the point, what is that CEO doing there and what did that have to do, if anything, with the business of the City of Toronto?
The Sun could have just assumed Tory was there in his capacity as Toronto cheerleader, but assuming is not what journalists do.
But a FOI? Really?
Using the freedom of information act over a hockey transaction. I am trying to find words, not coming up with many.. https://t.co/OvtofFcPLb— Mike Corcoran (@MikeCorcoranNHL) 3 September 2016
Sports reporters are used to the brush off. They dutifully report the famous "lower body injury" all the time. So perhaps they are not the best judge of what it takes to hold public officials to account.
An FOI might seem drastic, but for many reporters who deal with public officials all the time, these requests are routine. Unfortunately the game of not responding to requests for information that the public—you and I—have a right to know has become the norm in many political regimes in Canada.
How many times does a political reporter have to go through the not speedy or inexpensive process of filing an FOI, when a simple answer to a simple question would suffice before they just do it by rote, assuming they are being stonewalled?
Tory and his staff, caught between their obligation of confidentiality because Stamkos had told them his plans and their obligation to the people they all serve, had to tread a difficult line.
There are thousands of FOI requests filed in Canada, nearly 60,000, in a recent year. But most of them are not from reporters so the information the entire public is entitled to is often never seen by the public at all.
Sean Holman, the author of the piece linked above also says the following about his own feelings on using FOI requests:
Earlier, I wrote an open letter about how the non-answers those staff give reporters is actually a refusal to "provide the public with information. And if the public doesn’t know what their government is actually doing, it can continue doing things the public wouldn’t want it to do."
Were the Sun going on a fishing expedition for dirt on Steven Stamkos? No. They weren't even looking for dirt on John Tory, who is required to tell us all what he is up to within the restrictions of the law. They did not know what they were going to find, but it seems like they wanted that question about the CEO of Canadian Tire answered. Perhaps they still wanted more detail on exactly what Tory himself was doing there.
I'm not sure they, or we, have ever received a complete answer.
But I believe that when the life of a hockey player, some hockey team executives and the CEO of an interested third party cross paths with an elected official, we do have a right to know. Sometimes the news that results is just interesting or fun or even reassuring. But it is news, and it isn't stalking, and it isn't about Steven Stamkos or hockey at all.
The part that is about him is that he had decided before he ever left that meeting to stay home in Tampa. Maybe he had decided before it even started. That's his secret to keep for as long as he likes.