Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Kill the Messengers

Political blogs are always a bit risky and any are sure to offend someone.  Mostly I have written about American and international politics plus get on my soap box for proportional voting.  If you have read any of them it is not hard to figure out I am a liberal (with a small l).  Canadians would not be surprised that I am not fond of Stephen Harper or the Conservative Party that currently rules my country.  Actually I am not in the minority on this as most voters chose opposition members

Mark Bourrie is also not a fan of Stephen Harper and he writes from the viewpoint of a journalist who feels the fifth estate has let down democracy.  Big money and political interests have combined  to hobble freedom of expression.  I agree that the media has a responsibility to let the rest of us know what is really going on and what is really important.

One of Harper's greatest sins is his attempts to control information.   In a series of steps the Harper government has made it more difficult to get information from the government.  Scientists now have to get permission to talk to the media and it is not always forthcoming.  Budgets for research libraries have been cut.  Mark gives many examples and details.  At the same time the government is now able to access private information from its citizens and will use that information to diminish opposition.

Mark recounts how the Harper government has tried to change our historical memory.  Peacekeeping has been de-emphasized to boost our memories of such military battles as the War of 1812 and Vimy Ridge. He closed the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre.  From the opposition he was eager for Canada to help invade Iraq and now in power is trying to prove himself by fighting in Syria and more recently by training Ukrainians to fight the Russians.

Mark details a lot of newspaper history and it hit a few nerves.  My background is in circulation and amongst other jobs I worked for the Globe and Mail circulation department.  Early in its history they were very careful to check railroad schedules to get their paper to small towns early in the morning.  The Globe and Mail developed a market for the better educated, higher income Canadians and spread over the country, rather than concentrated in metropolitan Toronto.  I became upset with some of their practices affecting newspaper carriers.  They seemed to have the attitude that when they decided a story was big enough they would increase the number of papers they would charge the carriers with regardless if the carrier was able to actually sell them.  I agreed they have a relatively good editorial product, but too many carriers and their supervisors suffered for this one practice.  For more on my Globe and Mail experience visit. http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2012/08/my-career-in-newspaper-circulation-part_12.html  and skip to the last 1/3 or so of the post.

The Metroland expansion, fuelled by the Toronto Star also hit a nerve as I also worked for them.  At one point I was proud to work for a paid circulation product as amongst other things it proved that people wanted it.  The proof came to me when people did not get the paper to their satisfaction and would complain to someone like me to correct the problem.  Metroland soon changed most of their circulation to free and I was in the way.  They did grab up suburban  papers wherever available and increased their drive for ads at the expense of serious editorial.   For my Metroland experiences visit
http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2012/08/my-career-in-circulation-part-3-winding.html

One telling point about the importance of newspapers is that as local papers pulled out their own Ottawa Parliament coverage, voter turnout declined in those cities.  The average Canadian got much of their political understanding from the local press.  Stephen Harper is not responsible for the decline of newspaper readership, but did his best to minimize their impact.

Attack ads are a favourite tool, even when not needed.  Some of the attacks are outrageous, but they seem to have an effect.  His opponents are pictured as weak, immature, unpatriotic, and naive.  They remind me of the Swift boat campaign where the Republicans were able to paint a true thinking war hero into a fraud artist, while hiding their own draft dodging candidate.  Stephane Dion, Michael Ignfatieff and Justin Trudeau have all been the victims of distorted attacks.

Allan Gregg is quoted towards the end of the book.  I have always enjoyed listening to Allan who through his polling company has come to understand a lot of what is really going on.  He had been a long standing Conservative who advised Brian Mulroney and also promoted the Tragically Hip.  He became disillusioned when Harper decided to kill the long form census.  He did not buy the excuses as he knew it was very useful information to help form government policy and together with other actions demonstrated that Harper has his own agenda that he does not want facts to interfere with.

As I write this the Mike Duffy trial is on.  I used to watch Mike on tv many years ago and he always struck me as someone with inside connections.  It now appears that Stephen Harper thought so too and has tried to take advantage of Mike as a fund raiser and attract the right people.  As it turned out this decision is opening a can of worms and nobody can be sure of all the results.

The Harper government is a good example why proportionate representation is such a good idea.  Most of the people actually do not align with most of Harper's views and voted for other parties., but they are stuck with them anyway.  The Conservatives received only 39% of the registered votes, but are now in a position to set the rules for future elections.  For example they voted away the $2.50 each party received for a vote.  Politics is more than policies--it is more to do with how you get to exercise power.  Stephen understands this and has been able to appeal to a base, denigrate other people and split the opposition.

One area of disagreement is that the author dismisses Paul Martin.  I don't have any inside information, but appreciated what I considered long range thinking unlike any other politician.  

An earlier post on Stephen Harper:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2014/06/frankly-his-comments-are-gutless.html

A blog like mine generalizes politics, but I encourage you to read the book, get the details and judge for yourself.  "Kill the Messengers" helps explain how we got to this point.

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