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Selling the Tory Majority

Canadian Politics

Okay, here’s the ugly truth. I refused to vote in the federal election. I turned my back on my ballot. I skipped the whole thing. When all was said and done, it felt like the only responsible thing to do.

I declined to vote not just because the truly urgent issues - the absorption of Canada into a U.S.-driven continental entity, the sale of our publicly owned health system to private buyers, the impact of impending bank mergers, etc. - had been effectively deleted from the campaign. Not just because embarrassingly influential personalities - George W. Bush, Conrad Black, Stockwell Day, to name a few - had also disingenuously disappeared from sight.

It was Globe & Mail editor Edward Greenspon’s infuriating little last-minute homily reminding me to “Vote strategically, vote your principles, but be sure to vote” that pushed me into the arms of rebellion.

Ironically, Mr. Greenspon reminded me that I’m a democrat. To be a democrat you need honest information and diverse perspective. I didn’t get it; I voted not to vote rather than play the polite puppet to his benevolent puppeteer. It was a vote for the integrity of the political process.

The campaign to elect a Tory Majority began in earnest right after Christmas. On January 4 the Winnipeg Free Press ran a smallish tentative story on page 11: “Some Tories Talk of Majority.” A week later, the hope had leaped to page one and gained momentum: “Will Grits Finish in Third Place?” or “Insiders Say They’ve Given Up Hope of Win-ning.” That same week, the Globe & Mail confirmed in front-page headlines that Canadians were “Tru-sting Steven Harper More than They Used To.” There’s a fat file of like-minded stories where these examples came from.

Reading the paper, watching television, listening to private talk radio, it seemed the nation agreed: Martin was a goner, Harper our redeemer. A closer look revealed the agreement coming from two polling companies supplying headlines to two media owners: the Strategic Counsel (managed by former 1980s Tory pollster Allan Gregg) worked for the Globe and its partner CTV; Ipsos Reid did the same for the National Post, CanWest News Service and Global T.V. A few carefully managed polls, notoriously slippery and hugely oversimplified, produced an overwhelming choir singing the same blue note.

Just in case we missed the point, the Tories’ election commercials recycled the media effort on their behalf. Many of them featured Canadians reading Gomery headlines, or watching Gomery newscasts on their T.V.s, all jumping to the astonishing conclusion that the Tories would fix things.

Two days before the election, the National Post blared, “Tory Lead Firm.” On election day the Post’s Andrew Coyne sang out, “Goodbye and Good Riddance!” and the Globe’s political columnist John Ibbitson wrote that he could trust Canadians to “do the right thing.”

As in 2004, Canadians did not “do the right thing.” After 18 months of relentless media bullying, voters surrendered only slightly and gave Steven Harper a stingy minority.

If the media treats Harper’s minority with the same cynicism it bestowed upon Martin’s, the new government is not long for this world, and we’ll be treated to another $275 million dollar election, and perhaps another, until we get it “right,” and a Republican-style majority government can get down to business.

Once we’ve figured out how easy it is to corrupt the election process, even in a sophisticated country like this one, what are we going to do about it?

Don’t look for the answer in the media.

This article appeared in the March/April 2006 issue of Canadian Dimension (Women Speaking Out).

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