In 2006, with the central issue of the vote being the sponsorship scandal (or at least that was what the media was telling us was the central issue), many newspapers who had previously (but begrudgingly) endorsed the Liberal Party switched sides and said the Conservatives deserve a chance to govern.
Most newspapers in the Canwest, Sun and Gesca chains backed the Tories, as did the Globe and Mail. The two main dissenters were the Toronto Star, which continued to support the Liberals, and Le Devoir, which steadfastly stood behind the Bloc Québécois.
This year, not much has changed, except for the reasons behind the endorsements. Talk of Gomery, Gagliano and Guité has been replaced by acknowledgments of apologies and discussions of steady hands that can guide us through economic difficulties.
Here’s how it breaks down this time:
Endorsing the Conservatives
The National Post, unsurprisingly, hits on just about all of the conservative talking points in endorsing a Conservative Party majority. Taxes, national defence, Canada-U.S. relations, and the avoidance of “large-scale Trudeauvian social-engineering schemes” (i.e. health care, education and other spending) and having no plan for the environment that might adversely affect the economy. It talks about Harper’s management of “the Quebec file,” which as a Quebecer I find somewhat patronizing.
The Globe and Mail takes a softer approach, endorsing Harper but also giving a list of demands for the next term. Though it doesn’t specifically say Harper should lead a minority government, it suggests that this is inevitable, and seems to be comfortable with that. Again, lots of talk about steadyhandedness and how Dion is “not a leader,” a phrase right out of the Tory handbook. The Globe also, laudably, defended its endorsement to readers in a live Q&A session. Both pages also include links to previous endorsements, which other newspaper websites either forgot or were too lazy to do.
The Winnipeg Free Press spreads the blame around, and in fact talks about Harper’s failings at length before turning around and endorsing the Conservatives. The reasons for this aren’t particularly clear, but seem to have to do with Harper’s steady hand on the economy. It also suggests that a Harper win would cause some major shift in Canada’s political system, with Dion getting kicked out as leader, the left deciding to unite and maybe the Conservatives splitting into two parties. I’m not sure what they’ve been smoking, but that’s a pretty bold prediction.
The Ottawa Citizen‘s endorsement is mainly about respecting Harper for formal apologies in the House and his decision not to go to Bejing. Interestingly, it also endorses the Liberal Green Shift plan, and suggests that Harper essentially steal it and use it to fill the giant green gap in the Conservative Party platform. I think this part might touch a lot of Canadians who don’t think Dion should be prime minister but who don’t want the Green Shift idea (taxing carbon and offsetting it with other tax cuts) to die with Dion’s political career.
The Toronto Sun and the Calgary Sun and the Winnipeg Sun run identical national editorials prepared by Sun Media, ridding everyone of any suggestion that these newspapers have some sort of editorial autonomy. The piece itself describes Harper as a strong leader, and describes Dion’s Green Shift as “inexplicable” (really? I figured it out pretty quickly), but also makes mention of the fact that Harper has no environmental plan to speak of.
The Ottawa Sun at least writes its own editorial endorsing Harper, for much of the same reasons, and includes the same criticisms. It declares this to be the most important election in recent times, which I think is a bit of a stretch.
The Edmonton Sun also writes its own editorial, this one from an Alberta perspective. It endorses Harper, while blasting the Conservatives for ignoring a province whose seats are all in the bag for them already. It also makes it clear that they ain’t gonna let no carbon tax prevent them from pollutin’ whatever they want.
The Edmonton Journal says Harper is better on the economy and Afghanistan, but also suggests that if Alberta ridings were more competitive, the Conservatives might not ignore them as much as they are currently.
The Calgary Herald focuses mostly on foreign policy and the economy, with mention of Harper’s record on China, Gaza, Afghanistan and Lebanon.
The Vancouver Sun (which, unlike the other Suns, is owned by Canwest) focuses on the economy (see a trend here?), and specifically endorses a majority Conservative government.
The Vancouver Province (also owned by Canwest) says the Tories need more B.C. representation, and the answer to an economic crisis is not more taxes, as they say the Liberals and NDP would institute.
The Kitchener-Waterloo Record is all-economy, and comes out strong for Harper. It criticizes Dion’s Green Shift, calling it a “leap of faith” that we can’t afford in tough economic times. (For all the criticisms of the Green Shift, this one actually makes sense – its weak point is that it’s unpredictable how the market will react.) It also says that there hasn’t been any evidence of a Tory hidden agenda. Of course, the Conservatives haven’t had a majority government yet, and there have been Tory threats to arts funding and abortion rights.
My own newspaper, The Gazette (which didn’t consult me before making its endorsement), talks a bit about how Conservative policy is best but focuses mainly on telling people to cast ballots strategically to defeat the Bloc. Since the Bloc has no hope of being in power, and sovereignty is not on our doorstep, it seems a strange position to take. The big question is whether the Tories will have a majority or minority government, and lumping the federalist parties together ignores that issue. In fact, if anything I’d think many Quebecers are for the first time considering not voting strategically for this very reason. At the end, it also endorses individual candidates in Montreal-area ridings, basically naming all the star candidates (with Gilles Duceppe being the notable exception): Dion, Michael Fortier (C), Thomas Mulcair (NDP), Irwin Cotler (L), Marc Garneau (L), and Justin Trudeau (L).
Finally, The Economist, which sees the need to meddle in our affairs, endorse the Conservatives, but also Dion’s Green Shift (or some form thereof), saying Harper’s dismissal of a carbon tax shows a lack of leadership. The magazine also, notably, says that a minority Conservative government is probably the best bet for Canada.
Endorsing the Liberals
The Toronto Star just doesn’t know when to quit them. Canada’s liberal voice spends much of its endorsement blasting Harper with the usual left-wing talking points, using scary terms like “neo-conservative.” Its endorsement of Dion’s leadership abilities is weak at best, and it talks about the Liberal team to make up for it. The Green Shift, of course, also gets lauded, as the only Liberal platform point anyone can recite from memory.
Endorsing the Bloc Québécois
Le Devoir‘s endorsement of the Bloc, a foregone conclusion for about a decade now, almost forgets to talk about the party or its leader. It spends most of its time attacking the Liberals and Conservatives on their many mistakes. When it comes down to giving people a reason to vote for the Bloc, it gives the usual vague point about how the Bloc represents the interests of Quebec first, without giving any supporting evidence that they have done so.
La Presse, which signs all its editorials and endorsed the Conservatives last time, has taken the cowardly populist position that no party is good enough to lead this country. It rakes the Liberals and Conservatives, though André Pratte points out that Dion’s campaign wasn’t as awful as had been predicted by everyone but him. Instead of endorsing a national party, the editorial suggests people look at the individual candidates in their riding and choose the one which best represents their interests. It doesn’t name any specific names.
The Victoria Times-Colonist breaks from the Canwest bloc by refusing to endorse a candidate, with the cliché statement that it’s the voters who should decide. It then goes around stating the obvious (Dion can’t speak English very well, Layton’s chances of becoming PM are slim).
Have I missed any? Link to others (big media or small) you find in comments below.
But are they biased?
Newspaper endorsements are worth the paper they’re printed on, and usually only given attention by the candidates they endorse. Certainly Stephen Harper and the Conservatives will make a point of all the endorsements they’ve received in order to reassure voters that they’re not evil or scary.
But the thing with these endorsements is that they’re written by owners and managers of large newspapers, who are usually quite well-off. They’re worried about the economy, but not about whether they’ll be able to put food on their table. They care about the price of a car, but not the price of a bus ticket. They’re not so out of touch that they don’t know what the price of milk is at the grocery store, but there’s clearly a bias here. Opinion polls put the Conservatives in the lead, but still well below 50%, meaning most Canadians don’t support the party.
I don’t know if there’s an easy solution to this. Perhaps newspapers should take votes of all their staff, or stop endorsing candidates. Or just leave everything to me.
UPDATE: J-Source points to a piece by the Star’s public editor about the nature of newspaper endorsements.