‘It took a comedian’


The complete box set of Canwest’s series on the decline of Canadian politics—Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V.

That last story recalls Jon Stewart’s semi-legendary appearance on CNN’s late Crossfire—a moment I’ve been secretly waiting to see repeated here for some time now.

In the meantime, here’s Richard Foot’s summation of the media situation.

Canada’s media have not had a similar watershed moment, but critics say the faults of political punditry and journalism in this country are much the same: too much meaningless drama ( “who’s up! who’s down!'”); an obsession with conflict and minor scandal; and too much partisan bluster, particularly on television.

See previously.


‘It took a comedian’

  1. too much meaningless drama ( “who’s up! who’s down!’”)

    Or, dare I say it, ‘Who’s Hot? Who’s Not?’

    In other words, why does the Globe & Mail waste valuable column inches every week on what is essentially a celebrity gossip column, when it could be devoting the same space to informing Canadians about serious matters of public interest?

    I’ll go out on limb here and guess that the functioning of Canadian democracy has not been markedly improved by the Globe’s decision to have one of its ‘reporters’ inform readers on–to take but recent examples–the chicken dinner shared by Dominic, Bob and Michael; the vegetarian lasagna served to premiers and aboriginal leaders; the applause Stephen Harper supposedly received in a chicken-and-rib joint; or the marital history (ies) of Mike Duffy and Wilbert Keon.

    Would that we could be permanently delivered from such trivia, as well as from those ‘journalists’ who make its reporting their signature professional effort.

  2. Too bad Foot didn’t go on to give any prescriptions for how the media could improve things on their side of it, like you did in your earlier post. I agree with one of the commenters in your earlier post that committee work should be covered better, but the bureaus are so cut back from where they were 20 years ago.

    I thought about half of the suggested improvements in Part V were just top-of-mind, did not work as a coherent set of policies to create a desired outcome, and their consequences were not well laid out. Get rid of the subsidy? OK, and then what … bring back unfettered fundraising? That will turn into a cesspool pretty quickly.

    An honesty-in-politics law? But who gets to judge what’s honest? The blogosphere? The national post? Oh, an ethics commissioner … well who gets to appoint that individual? And fining people for changing their minds? Good grief; what if it’s warranted? I’m more worried about politicians that never take new information into account.

    Recall legislation also sounds like a great populist idea until you see how the recall petitions get used (i.e., for single issues by rabidly ideological groups).

    The most significant suggestion for reform came in Part IV of his series … changing the Standing Orders back again so that MPs do actually get the final say on the Spending Estimates, like they’re supposed to under the British Parliamentary tradition. That’s the best counterbalance to the power of the executive branch (PMO).

    Also, I do agree that some form of modified PR would work better in a multi-party country with very regional party politics. That’s different than a run-off vote. Simply “ensuring” representatives are elected by a broad majority won’t ensure there’s no conflict in politics. Implementing mixed member PR (but I agree with Andrew Coyne that using open lists is better) would just normalize disagreements and make them about policy more than personalities.

    But there’s been less of substance to cover on the Hill, I suppose, because the prevailing trend has been to reduce the role of government. Given that everyone’s a Keynesian again (well, except Bill Robson and Andrew Coyne), perhaps that will change.

    • Thoughtful points – particularly on the need for PR for House of Commons elections.

      Personally, I have more experience advocating for MMP, but also strongly support BC-STV. I think either MMP or STV could work for federal elections, so I guess I’m an electoral reform agnostic.

      What is most important is that our current crop of MPs start an honest debate on electoral reform, ideally a Citizens’ Assembly on the issue, as done in BC and Ontario.

  3. Politicians are mainly reactive creatures. Perhaps if those who cover our politicians were themselves somewhat more competent, empowered and interested in asking tough questions — then questioning those answers — we might get better responses from our politicians.

    Consider that the big business news outside of Canada last week was that Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil (world’s biggest company, ya know) came out in favour of a carbon tax. Really, I read it in the Wall Street Journal and some newspaper type thingies in the US and the UK.

    He’s critical of cap and trade and thinks a carbon tax is the most transparent means of reflecting the true cost of emissions, will set stable ground rules for energy companies and will avoid creating a “Wall Street of emissions brokers.” One article appeared in the Montreal Gazette and a small blurb trickled out from the Calgary Herald news service.

    And in the rest of Canada’s media? Total silence.

    The energy sector, auto sector, mining and other core industries may be seriously impacted by this — as might our tax laws and trade relations … and we get bupkis from our illustrious journos?

    How can we expect more substance from our politicians if our own press is too incompetent or too compromised to even cover the big, plain as the nose on your face issues?

  4. “The ancient Athenians, who created the world’s first known democracy, voted every year to ostracise, or exile, an unpopular politician from their city state for 10 years.”

    I think our Parliamentarians should introduce this rule. It would be fantastic if we could deport one MP every year for a ten-year period. It would increase public awareness of politics and would be a good motivator to get MPs to behave in positive ways.

    • Only one?

      • If it wasn’t limited to just one we’d find ourselves needing a new election every year.

    • “It would increase public awareness of politics and would be a good motivator to get MPs to behave in positive ways.”

      This would make an already regrettable situation worse. Politicians would descend into even more base forms of retail politics, promising populist drivel and avoiding any challenging and potentially unpopular issues for fear that, if they propose something short of a flag-draped free lunch, they’d be bounced from office. They also would avoid, even more so than they do today, any issue with a timeline of consequences longer than one year.

      The Athenian vision of democracy included slavery, travel bans and censorship of anything that denigrated the concept of the Athenian ideal. Maybe you should look for a different source of inspiration?

    • have you thought this through? Wouldn’t we be on the hook for his/her travel expenses, per diems, entertainment right offs… please don’t go putting ideas like this into the heads of impressionable politicians.

  5. The most telling moment in Canadian political journalism was two days before election day in 2006. Peter Mansbridge, of the supposedly left CBC, noted Harper had accused the judiciary and bureaucracy of being ideological opponents who would oppose his government, and then told Harper outright he wasn’t going to grill him on it. It’s amazing anyone could mistrust the media after a gift like that.