Friday, January 06, 2006

2006 federal election - episode 4

Warehouse Election Central
Kick out the jams, brother and sister politicians! Holidays are over, let the mud fly! Watch the campaign kick into gear and the shit hit the fan.

One wonders if Jean Chretien is smiling these days, given the even-growing number of snafus and pieces of dirty laundry emerging from the Liberal campaign. Beer and popcorn. Questions about the timing of income trust policy. A blog that compared Oliva Chow to a similarly-named dog. A Toronto MP who appears to be in financial thrall to the poobahs in the recording industry. A flat tire for the PM during a wagon ride in Regina. Standing in the opinion polls going down.

Did the little guy from Shawinigan laid a hex on his ambitious successor? Are we seeing the Peter Principle play itself out? Did somebody hire some long unemployed staffers from Kim Campbell's '93 campaign? Or, after 12 years at the helm, is the natural governing party pooped out?

What to watch: as Conservative numbers rise (as we are led to believe, but really, aren't we overpolled?), will soft NDP supporters and socially liberal Conservatives stick with those parties or flee, as they have in the past few elections, to the Liberals?

Signs O' The Times
Now that the melting snow in the East is revealing the campaign signs underneath, we'll spotlight signs from here, there and everywhere...or at least where our photographers can afford to go.

First off, Canada's southern-most riding, Essex.

The incumbent in this riding is Conservative Jeff Watson, who won by less than 1,000 votes over previous incumbent Susan Whelan in 2004. Certainly an odd place for the Conservatives to win - the last Tory to win in the riding (and its predecessors) was voted in with the Diefenbaker sweep of 1958.

Except for NDPer Steven Langdon's two victories during the Mulroney years, Essex elected Whelans to office from 1962 until the last race - Eugene (1962-84, agriculture minister for most of Trudeau's governments) and his daughter Susan (1993-2004). Candidate name is the largest on any sign (and only one in caps), party name the smallest.

The NDP finished a strong third last time out. This election sees the area's tradtional labour support for the party in disarray, as CAW head Buzz Hargrove has endorsed Whelan as a strategic choice to knock out the Tories, a decision which has left other area union leaders steaming. Taras Natyshak was the only Essex candidate we saw with their face on a sign.

Not seen: any signs for the Green and Marxist-Leninist candidates in the riding. The Election Prediction Project thinks Essex is too close to call.

Newsstand Watch
WEC introduces its print media specialist, A.S. Pryncesse, who will lend their infinite wisdom to covering how the papers are handling the campaign, and give their neighbourhood garbage collector a hernia from the sheer weight of newsprint sent out to the curb. Take it away...

I fear the ink stains on my fingers may be in vain.

When I took the opportunity to cover the newspaper beat – dissecting the ways Canada’s national newspapers have been reporting the election campaign – I didn’t expect my cynicism would be stoked so thoroughly.

The most obvious thing to mention about the national dailies is – well, the very obviousness of their reporting. From the opening days of the campaign, their positions have been rigid. Their editorial boards may as well come up with some slogans to remind us that they’re in on the joke. Here are a few suggestions:

The Globe and Mail – Your Unofficial Member of the Liberal Caucus

The National Post – Home to Smug Stephen

The Toronto Star – Viva Pornstache!

The most entertaining early example of this bias was apparent in the reporting of Smug Stephen’s announcement of a proposed GST cut. The Globe and the Post both fronted the story (the Post made a point of reminding readers that he used to be an economist), but the Star avoided any direct mention of the story, choosing instead to run an editorial by Chantel Hébert about how cutting consumption taxes wasn’t good fiscal policy. Naturally, each paper’s panel of experts, designed to represent the final word on the issue, came to wildly divergent conclusions on the policy’s merit.

Then there was the Scott Reid fiasco. The Globe and Star buried their reports on his public apology, while the Post gleefully posted theirs on the front page (entertainingly referring to it as the "beer and popcorn jab"). The Star declined to put any election-related story on its front page, while the Globe led with a story on how well the Liberals were doing in Ontario.

While I’m on the subject, the polling numbers have been a scream. For most of the campaign, the Strategic Counsel (CTV/Globe and Mail) has reported a healthy Liberal lead, while the Ipsos-Reid numbers (Global/National Post) always indicated that the Conservatives were ahead. And somehow, they always bury the 4-5% margin of error so as not to remind readers that any 3-or-4 point lead is rendered effectively meaningless. In fairness, as of Thursday all pollsters are in agreement that the Conservatives have a healthy lead (I think the Globe smells blood in the water), but this kind of reporting has been the exception.

What’s remarkable is that you don’t see this kind of bias in the smaller papers. I spent a week in Ottawa at the beginning of the campaign and found the coverage in the Citizen to be remarkably balanced (I was surprised to find out it was a CanWest paper, like the Post). Then again, as a friend pointed out, "its audience is made up of civil servants who know better."

In New Brunswick, I found the difference was even more stark. Reading small papers like the Saint John Telegraph Journal, Moncton Times-Transcript and Acadie Nouvelle, I found similarly objective reporting that was relatively free of rhetoric. As I read a few issues, I realized who I had to thank: the Canadian Press. Most of these papers have little to no staff dedicated to election coverage so they pull articles from the newswires or from any columnists, like Chantal Hébert, who happen to be syndicated (I may as well have stayed home if I wanted to read her – though she is a favourite).

The most frustrating aspect to this exercise has been that I have lost all ability to internalize party policy. Because I spend all of my time in meta-land dissecting an often maddening set of editorial biases, trying to remember actual policy details has made my head hurt (it doesn’t help that the party platforms have become indistinguishable from one another. I think it all started when Pornstache decided he was into two-tier healthcare).

Fortunately, gentle readers, my soul has not been completely destroyed; I will continue my reading and for the next couple of weeks will provide a more detailed review of the often amusing (and often alarming) election reports from Canadian newspapers.

1979 Election Update
From the Apr 30/79 issue of Macleans:
Does B.C. Hold The Key? - Actually, a better question would have been could B.C. voters keep their elections straight, as a provincial election was set for 12 days before the federal vote. "Compounded by last minute mix-ups with the provincial voters' lists, drastic alterations to both provincial and federal riding boundaries and snakes-and-ladders tours by leaders, many observers fear the perplexed will simpoy stay home on both polling days. 'It's no damn good, you know,' complains one angry voter in the Vancouver Island town of Courtney. 'People around here want to do their duty, but it seems like the politicians are doing everything to screw us up.'"

The campaign issue of the week was Tory leader Joe Clark's promise to place in his first budget a plan to allow homeowners to deduct up to $5,000 in mortgage payments anf $1,000 in property taxes from their yearly taxable income. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau rejected the idea as a plan that "favours the well-to-do", while the C.D. Howe Institute felt it was "inflationary, inequitable and inefficient". Clark privately admitted it was meant to appeal to jaded middle-class voters. - AP, JB

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