National Affairs column
If one had to select a single individual as the political newsmaker of 2013 in federal politics, former PMO chief of staff Nigel Wright would likely be that person.
His decision to personally reimburse the housing allowance of a high-maintenance Conservative senator has wreaked unprecedented havoc on a sitting prime minister and his palace guard.
But if one were looking for a nominee that stands for a collectivity, the media would be the newsmaker of the year in Canada - in the literal sense of the word.
On Parliament Hill, a series of CTV scoops brought to light the hanging threads that have led to a PMO-woven web of deceit.
In Toronto, investigative work by the Star led to devastating police revelations about the mayor, his subsequent political emasculation and a concert of calls on Rob Ford to step down.
In Quebec, the links between the construction industry and the political class are under the microscope of the judicial inquiry because of the dogged work of the media.
In a normal year, investigative journalism - as revealing as it may be - is all in a day's work. The charges laid earlier this month against Jacques Corriveau - once a close friend of Jean Chrétien - had their roots in the Globe and Mail's digging into the sponsorship program a decade ago. But what made 2013 different from previous years is that journalists did not only dig up news, a good number of them were the news.
In the Senate, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin - two former stars of the parliamentary press gallery - spent much of the year in the eye of the spending storm. A third - suspended senator Patrick Brazeau - is now attempting to join his media critics in the press gallery.
Three of the candidates in the high-profile Toronto Centre byelection were journalists including the winner Liberal Chrystia Freeland and the NDP runner-up Linda McQuaig.
In Quebec, ministers Bernard Drainville and Jean-François Lisée, respectively the mouth and the brain behind the controversial Parti Québécois secularism charter, spent their previous lives - in whole or in part - in the journalistic trenches.
A third - Pierre Duchesne - left the political coverage of the 2012 student strike to run for the PQ and become the minister in charge of resolving the tuition fee issue.
In my early days on Parliament Hill I once heard a veteran correspondent muse that the most efficient way to control an enterprising political journalist was to keep him or her on a steady diet of scoops.
Better a reporter that is busy pursuing known leads than idle media hands doing what could - from a government or a party's perspective - be the devil's work.
At the time in the late '80s and early '90s when journalists assigned to Parliament Hill were pursuing substantial stories on free trade, the Constitution, abortion rights, Quebec sovereignty and the GST, a crowded policy agenda certainly made it harder for scandal-related stories to sustain momentum.
On Stephen Harper's watch though, the news flow has trickled down to drops and information control has routinely defaulted to outright suppression.
With the news industry famished for revenues and a political news drought on the Hill, some predicted that more resources would be reallocated to other beats and for a while they were. But the bet that the public - starting with those who actually vote - would tune out politics has not paid off.
In 2013, few stories generated ratings as high or clicks as numerous as the Wright/Duffy saga or the crisis that overtook Toronto City Hall. The 2008 parliamentary crisis similarly played to a large audience.
At year's end, some bureaus on Parliament Hill are being beefed up. Far from becoming the sleepy hollows that their temporary masters would like them to be, venues like Parliament Hill, city hall or the provincial legislatures are places where the action continues to be.
At the same time shorter media careers combined with longer working lives mean that instead of fading quietly into the media night, more former journalists than ever are crossing over to the so-called dark side from which many of them seem bent to provide the colleagues that they left behind with great headlines.
Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer. Her column is distributed by Torstar Syndication Services.