Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Media malaise? It’s a Canuck thing

I’m going verbatim copy-and-paste here (pretending I’m Jane Taber with a CPC memo to members, of course) and reproducing the comment I placed on the murky swamp of the Globe and Mail’s comment boards beneath Lawrence Martin’s article: Has the fourth estate lost its tenacity?

I refrained from replying to the argument with the a single word – "duh!" – and thought instead I'd beat a drum I often beat. Sorry if it comes off as too familiar…

THANK YOU for this critique. As you must know, Lawrence, the Globe is among the worst offenders in the Canadian media universe. The Globe seems to run more copy on Ruth-Ellen Brosseau than it does on Kevin Page. It’s pathetic with a capital P.

You say: “The stories (or contempt, corruption etc) don’t stick, it is said. The reason may well be, to cite Mr. Thomson’s cautionary words, because we in the media don’t stick to them. It’s episodic journalism. We report one story, then move on. We don’t probe deeply. If a Watergate was happening, the public would never know it.”

It is worth remembering, I think, that this is not a global problem. We can’t only blame the “24-hour news cycle” and the pressures of online publishing. It’s a particularly Canadian problem – the Canadian media, bar a couple of exceptions, is uncritical, unimaginative, and doesn’t investigate. It’s a lukewarm media culture where, bizarrely, no one’s speaking truth to power.

Compare Britain. The British media are relentlessly investigative; more diverse, with at least nine national dailies; each of them are openly subjective, and they engage in debate from clear positions; and, crucially, British journos do *not* suffer fools. I’ve said many times, as a Canadian in the UK: if Stephen Harper were a politician in Britain, he would have long ago been eaten *alive*

I’m imagining David Cameron redacting the budget for a crime bill. Or stacking the House of Lords with defeated MP candidates, and delivering the news through a memo, and not through a live press conference. I’m imagining him limiting reporters’ questions to five-a-day during an election campaign. I guarantee you he’d be toast – absolute dead meat. The British media demand accountability, whereas too much Canadian media simply parrot government talking points.

It’s awful news for Canada that the media culture is so tepid, shallow, and almost disinterested in fostering public debate. Too many journos appear happy to just eat what they’re fed by the PMO.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , ,

Some summit perspective

G8 times are here again! And France gets its day in the sun as host, which clearly heralds the ascent of a new French Order in Europe and the world. It will inevitably send their newspapers and TV chat hosts into a month-long tizzy of neurotic self-congratulation and overblown patriotism. Nicolas Sarkozy will almost certainly cite this as evidence that France has matured into a really, really respected power – respected, and loved, and more than capable of organising big dinner parties. Right? Right??

Or is that kind of parochial identity anguish a particularly Canadian phenomenon? Sigh.

We remember it well. Last year, the Canadian media universe (i.e. the Globe and Mail), and the Harper Government together, each treated our hosting of the G8 as though it was the victory in a highly competitive popularity contest. It was the culmination of years of leadership on the world stage. That ill-founded conceit was hyped not only directly from the PMO, but also in copy-and-paste form in the columns of that critical eye, that investigative journalistic powerhouse, Jane Taber. Canada had suddenly become a strong, bold, respected international player, because, well, it was our turn to host a big dinner party. One which happens every year, somewhere in the world.

Harper is still talking about it as though it’s some kind of lasting evidence of his global leadership. Let’s compare world leaders on this – does anyone think Nicolas Sarkozy (and Le Monde) are so insecure about France’s accomplishments in the world that they’ll weep tears of joy this week because they’re in the international news? Equally, will the world look to France as being somehow “bolder” because they’re hosting the thing?

If the answer is “no” there, then sadly, it was always “no” here too.

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, , , , , ,

A future Liberal Party may want to consider…

There’s a lot of personal tragedy in elections, and it couldn’t get any worse for Michael Ignatieff. He’s finally succumbed to wounds meted out by the most vile, relentless attack ad machinery Canada’s ever seen. Shamefully, a huge hunk of the electorate swallowed it all hook, line and sinker – so much for our compassionate discourse. Turns out Canada is more Zdeno Chara than Wayne Gretzky after all.

Ignatieff will be wondering why he ever bothered, and the scale of this defeat will haunt him forever and ever, though in most respects, he doesn’t deserve that kind of torturous retirement from politics.

After all, he did resist the Big Blue Sauronic Machine more effectively than Stephane Dion ever did, at least personally. The problems in the recent couple of years were that slowness and confusion in Liberal responses to CPC tactics, or to policy generally, were rooted in a broad lack of clarity across Liberal High Command.

The vagueness of today’s Liberal identity isn’t Ignatieff’s fault, nor was it Dion’s, or Martin’s – it’s perhaps a consequence of a phenomenon known as toomanycooksism. Everyone’s got a bright idea about how the LPC should have created itself in the aftermath of the Martin Meltdown in 2006. The problem has been, maybe, that a thousand flowers blooming inside the Big Red Tent did nothing to carve a clear direction. It mitigated directly against it.

And, take heart, Ignatieff – it doesn’t seem, broadly speaking, that Canadians like ousting incumbent governments very much, whatever they do. Trudeau’s Liberals governed for nigh on 16 years. Mulroney had 9. The Chretien-Martin team had 13. We generally tut when we read about African sham democracies that tolerate strongmen at the helm for a decade and more, but in Canada, hell, it’s the pattern.

Harper’s had five years, and sure, he’ll get his nine. It’s been five abysmal years, yes (and Canadians will one day beg the gods for forgiveness that they did not react against it sooner), but the Liberals, as logic would then dictate, have only been out of power for five years – perhaps it’s not been long enough, or easy enough in minority circumstances, to rebuild as they need to.

How might a future Liberal Party manifest itself? Rather soon to say, I guess. But one thought occurs to me – perhaps all this time trying to imitate the NDP platform has led them (ironically?) into a deeper state of empathy with the erstwhile minor party, at least as regards particular electoral injustices.

For example, in “vote-rich Ontario” this election, the NDP only secured 16,000 more votes than the Liberals, across the province. That’s a close race, really. It meant, however, 22 NDP seats and 11 Liberal seats. Amazing! Traditionally, it’s the NDP (and Greens) on the losing end of such cruel electoral arithmetic.

The potential upshot of this? One hopes (and one is very, very patient) that a serious interest in pursuing electoral reform, once the pet project of the so-called fringe parties, might now take root in some part of the current Liberal necropolis. When the Big Red Phoenix rises in the future, will it do so through having advocated for democratic reforms towards a better system?

They have to start thinking big. Perhaps a silver lining for the party is that they’ve found the time to do it.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

Québec’s NDP revolution: the new normal, or a BQ holiday?

Québec doesn’t do things by halves, does it? Some of us have begged and implored the NDP to focus its energies on Québec: to play to its social democratic credentials, and to take the Bloc to task as arrogant, single-minded, comfortable and lazy, and prone to taking its voters for granted.

The idea being that this could kickstart a nice slow burn towards NDP relevance in the province. Win a couple of seats in Montréal in 2011, and a couple more the time after, maybe in the Gatineau region or the Townships. This was meant to be a process!

But no – when something catches in La Belle Province, it really catches – there are few things more stunning to me than to look at the Québec electoral map this morning, and to revel in its orangocity. This is not a handful of ridings – the province is basically a solid orange mass, ridings upon ridings upon ridings, from the U.S. border to the shores of Ungava Bay. It’s nothing short of breathtaking.

I’m thrilled about it, but one must keep one’s powder dry in moments like this, mustn’t one? It suits us on the left to be excited, but the right was just as excited when the ADQ leapfrogged the Parti Québécois two provincial elections ago, to form the Official Opposition in the National Assembly in Québec City. The Adéquiste surge surprised everyone at the time – this was, too, a radical redrawing of the political map, and many suspected that it could indeed be a permanent new order. It, too, was the bloodiest of noses for the cause of separatism. It led to a Péquiste crisis of revolving leaders, deep questions about the viability of their project, and an assumption that Mario Dumont’s team was perhaps just one election win away from taking power.

But, we remember: it fell apart. Dumont’s tsunami was not so much due to pure enchantment with his policies or his verve on the campaign trail. It was largely the result of a Québec electorate that is remarkably capable of turning the world on its head and tripping up the conventional establishment, almost for kicks, only to revert to type in future elections once the “changemaker” has both become a “new establishment,” and has also exposed certain incompetencies along the way. Dumont today is gone, and his party is tiny – Québec’s found other interesting new players to consider on the provincial scene. Québec Solidaire, and even the ethereal concept of a new party called Force Québec – a new conservative option that doesn’t even exist, yet has polled well.

Could the Bloc resurge in 2015, wiping out NDP gains? Almost certainly. Not only because Quebecers are comfortable to swing wildly from election to election, but also because the NDP tide in Québec was based on a clear premise, and a premise I’ve always supported: change things around. The Bloc are little more than symbolic in Ottawa, and they do nothing to moderate the Conservative government. Elect a social democratic party in huge numbers, and watch them use our minority parliament as a force for good.

It was the right approach, clearly! Trouble is, Quebecers are waking up, like the rest of us, to a Conservative majority. Many will feel their NDP vote would have, could have, might have worked to shackle a CPC minority, but with the Opposition hereby muted for the next four years, it’s going to cause real angst as to whether this was the right Opposition to elect. More so in Québec than anywhere else, if for nothing else but the scale of what’s happened.

I sound down, but it’s all got to be a central part of how the New Democrats plan to entrench themselves in Québec from here on in. With half their caucus coming from Québec, it’s going to compel a complete reorientation of the party to advocate for an asymmetrical federalism that is more clearly pro-Québec than either the CPC or LPC would dare. And that’s a real revolution.

It’s extraordinary and it’s uplifting to see that Québec has found an anti-establishment voice through the vehicle of a federalist party. The very hard work, though, begins now.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

If this isn’t bittersweet…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times – welcome to Dickensian Canada.

The best of times, in some ways – a social democratic party’s never had a bigger share of the Parliamentary pie. And Quebec sovereigntists have never had less.

The worst of times, clearly, in that years of fear-mongering and negativist spin has converted more Canadians to Harperian Conservatism than ever before. Opacity and contempt haven’t offended us. Historic debt is of trivial interest. Government disdain for media has been swallowed by the selfsame media. Dubya-esque megaprojects have received a Canadian stamp of approval, years after the crash-landing of Dubya-ism in the United States itself.

A CPC majority was not only the worst-case scenario, it increasingly seemed one of the least likely. But, here we are, all the same. Lots of ways to think about what’s happened, and what happens next – rather than write one megapost, I think I’ll post a few things today. Once I emerge from the hour-long freezing shower I need to take… who knows, perhaps this is, in fact, a strange dream?

In the meantime, I’m a big fan of the CBC’s (ahem – now mortally endangered, I suppose) interactive electoral maps. They go back three elections. Contrast and compare – we’ve been on quite a ride after all.

The 2006 election

Then the 2008 election

And then the 2011 election

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , ,