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Globe and Mail Public Editor Sylvia Stead.

The Globe and Mail

Readers have noticed a few inconsistencies lately in whether a politician is called Dr., Ms. or Mr. They wonder what the rules are and who decides. And they wonder if the variations are due to sexism or sloppiness.

Last week, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins visited the troubled reserve of Attawapiskat, which is facing a suicide and mental health crisis. In the same article, Federal Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, said she was heartened by the efforts to help the community.

An issue was raised when the two ministers were referred to on second reference with an honorific (Ms., Mr., Prof., Dr., etc.) The story was written from Attawapiskat by a Canadian Press reporter. Their style is not to use honorifics. The Globe's style is to include them in the paper edition. Both ministers are medical doctors, but in the paper version of the story, an editor added Dr. for Hoskins and Ms. for Bennett.

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The consistency test failed there.

A reader suggested that "I know The Globe does not intend to minimize the federal Minister, Dr. Carolyn Bennett's medical degree while recognizing the provincial Minister, Dr. Hoskin's … but indeed they have. Some might call this sexism which I know is not the intent. At the very least, it is sloppy journalism and editing."

On Twitter, several readers questioned the inconsistency of the Dr./Ms. issue in that article. In another story in that day's paper, on the Saudi arms deal that included Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion and University of Montreal law professor Daniel Turp, both men have PhDs but only Dr. Turp was given that honorific.

So I asked the committee of editors who determine the style and usage rules and this is what they said: "Concerning the PhD topic, our style is to not grant the Dr. unless it is apropos to the topic in the story. Since Daniel Turp is professor of constitutional and international law, he would be given the Dr. if the story was about that."

But a reader asked on Twitter, then why wouldn't Stéphane Dion be called Dr. since his PhD is in sociology. The rules are somewhat different for politicians.

Here is what the style guide says:

Use the title Dr. for all persons with an earned doctorate, be it in medicine, dentistry or history, unless the story is not about the person's professional capacity and the subject prefers that the title not be used in such contexts. Reporters should determine the subject's preference. Outside the professional context, we should not create the impression that a person is a medical doctor if this is not the case. Do not use Dr. for people with only honorary degrees.

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We do not use the political honorifics Rt. Hon. and Hon. Political officeholders and appointees in Canada or any other country become Mr., Ms. or Mrs. in second reference, or Dr. if they continue to use that title themselves in their political careers.

And Mr. Dion does not use Dr. in his political career. In recent months, there were several references to the new federal Health Minister, family physician Jane Philpott. She was called Ms. Philpott many times, but has since been referred to more often as Dr. Philpott. Likewise Conservative MP and leadership candidate Kellie Leitch has been called both Ms. and Dr. even though she is a working surgeon.

So as the readers note, consistency is needed. The style committee is planning to send a reminder note on the rules.

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