Political Perspectives is produced by the students and faculty of Carleton University's School of Journalism and Communication, Canada's oldest journalism school.

JUN 2009

Stéphane Dion, Bugs Bunny, and a dead cat

Posted by padams under All, Election 2008, Election 2008 Media commentary, Media Commentary, Political Strategy

Paul Adams

A small, but significant corrective to Andrew Cohen’s column in today’s Ottawa Citizen.

I sympathize with Cohen’s view that CTV, and in particular, Mike Duffy, gave Stéphane Dion shabby treatment when they aired his repeated false starts in an interview just five days before last October’s election.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council recently criticized CTV for breaching the industry’s code of conduct for airing the false starts even after it had told Dion that it would not. (CTV has strongly defended its decisions in the incident.)

However, is it also true, as Prof. Cohen argues, that for Dion’s campaign, the broadcast may have been “decisive”? His argument appears to be based on a misreading of the polling data.

“It was late in the campaign and polls suggested the Liberals were gaining on the Conservatives,” he writes. And later: “Last October, the polls suggested the Liberal Party’s ascent stalled after the interview. While we cannot say if Dion’s momentum would have brought his party victory, it isn’t impossible.”

Well, almost anything can happen in an animated cartoon, as Bugs Bunny trenchantly observed. But the idea that Dion was riding some “momentum” that might have carried him to victory until the release of the interviews is mistaken. The evidence of the polls is not what Prof. Cohen suggests.

The daily tracking polls that appeared in the last campaign all used a variation of the “rolling poll” system, whereby a published poll includes three, or in some cases four, nightly samples rolled into a single number. Each day, the oldest day is dropped and a new day is added. That means that the published numbers are to a degree retrospective. A number published Thursday, for example, would normally include samples from Monday to Wednesday, or even Sunday to Wednesday.

In other words, there is a delay between moves in public opinion and their capture in the polls. Moreover, I would say from my general observation that it takes two or three days after that for the media to internalize the news of significant shifts contained in the polls and incorporate it into their narratives of the campaign.

At the time of the CTV release of the Dion interviews, there was certainly a media perception that the Liberals were gaining, but this was old news. In fact, all the tracking polls had begun to show the Liberals dipping once again by then.

Mr. Dion had been fairly effective in the leaders’ debates the previous week. The Liberals did indeed get a bump in the polls in the days afterwards, running through the weekend. However, once the last full week of the campaign began, the Liberals slumped back to the dismal numbers they had suffered mid-campaign and which they carried through to election day.

I remember tearing my hair out the very morning of the day the Dion tapes were aired when I saw a headline on the CBC morning program trumpeting the Liberal revival. The revival had been over for several days, and by that time a careful reading of the polls made that evident, notwithstanding the inevitable delay created by the rolling poll system. The problem was, if I may be allowed a gratuitous comment on the media, that the “tightening race” narrative was a better story, and only reluctantly shucked off.

You can check the daily tracking numbers for yourself here.

In fact what had happened was something different.

The Liberal bump after the debates was a dead-cat bounce which was already over by the time of the infamous interview.

The CTV-Dion incident might have been the last nail in the coffin. It may rightfully be described as a final ignominy.

But decisive, it was not.

Paul Adams teaches journalism at Carleton. He is also executive director of EKOS Research Associates, a polling firm that published a daily-tracking poll in the last campaign.

OCT 2008

Get out and vote!–even if you are a journalist

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Media commentary

Paul Adams

I just went and voted and am happy to report that there was a line-up: not because people forgot their ID, but just because plenty of folks in my neighbourhood seem keen to get in and vote as soon as they can.

There has been a debate in the past among journalists about whether they should vote at all. To my knowledge the most prominent journalist to say in public that he does not vote as a matter of journalistic practice is CBC-TV’s Don Newman. The idea is that a journalist should be above party and that no clearer statement could be made of his or her refusal to takes sides in the political debate than to decline the ballot.

I have a lot of respect for Don, who recently won the Gordon Sinclair award for his contribution to Canadian journalism — to be awarded at the Geminis in a few days. He richly deserves the honour.

But I will respectfully disagree with him on this point. Journalists, especially political journalists, are privileged to be among the most informed potential voters in the country. While we should take care in our journalistic work to separate our personal views from our coverage, it would be far-fetched to suppose that we don’t develop views on specific policies, parties and leaders. A journalist insufficiently engaged in the debates of the hour probably wouldn’t be much of a journalist to be truthful. But what journalists need is the humility to be the vehicle for many different voices to express themselves and be heard, even if they differ from our own views.

In my experience. some people can be very opinionated without ever voting; and others can be a model of journalistic probity and balance while conscientiously voting in every election.

I don’t think that journalists should reveal how they vote, any more than they should make a big deal about their religious beliefs, for example. Personally, I am proud to say that while I have voted in every election I could since becoming a journalist, but I have never revealed how I voted (except one or twice to my wife). When friends or colleagues have guessed at how I voted, they have, I am happy to say, been more often wrong than right. I honestly believe that most people could not discern how I would vote from reading my copy or watching my news reports, and that’s the way I like it.

There was a time in this country when judges were not allowed to vote and public servants were severely restricted in their expression of political views away from the workplace. That has changed, as it should. We are all citizens, and citizenship brings responsibilities as well as privileges

I have been lucky enough to watch people in other countries vote for the first time in democratic elections, and was inspired by how seriously they counted this privilege. I have often felt disappointed at the degree to which Canadians take this privilege for granted. 

We don’t cease to be citizens when we become journalists. We do take on a professional duty to be circumspect in the expression of our views. 

So get out and vote –even if you are a journalist!

Paul Adams is a former political reporter with the CBC and the Globe and Mail, and is now a member of Carleton’s journalism faculty, and executive director of EKOS Research Associates.

OCT 2008

The not-fast-enough feedback loop…and its problems

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Media commentary

Paul Adams

There is any idea popularized by the wonderful Mickey Kaus, which he has labelled the Feiler Faster Thesis”, named after the guy he stole it from. Essentially, Kaus/Feiler argue that the modern news environment has radically shortened the news cycle, but that this is not necessarily a bad thing because we are adjusting to this reality. 

Here’s one formulation of the thesis by Kaus:

The news cycle is much faster these days, thanks to 24-hour cable, the Web, a metastasized pundit caste constantly searching for new angles, etc. As a result, politics is able to move much faster, too, as our democracy learns to process more information in a shorter period and to process it comfortably at this faster pace.

In general, I think there is some truth to this. However, there is a limit to our capacity to identify relevant information, disseminate it through the media, and allow the public to absorb it.

As a sometime pollster and sometime journalist, I have long observed the (relatively) lengthy feedback loop involving polls. Polls are not just snapshots: they are snapshots out the rear-view mirror. Even the quickest turn-around daily tracking polls are looking backward over three or four days. 

So when reporters pick up on trends in the polls, they are starting with information which is already a few days old, at least in part. It then takes another day or so for the reporters to explore the implications of the changes, through quizzing politicians, strategists, voters and so on. And it similarly takes the parties at least a day or two to adjust to the new reality (even if they are relying on their own internal polls). Typically (but not invariably) columnists follow in the rear. 

And then, of course, there’s the public, who actually drop the kids off at daycare, go to work, schlep to hockey practice, and don’t spend their entire lives examining the minutiae of the political campaign. They take a few more days to absorb the information they receive through the media, and then, in the case of so-called “strategic voters”, perhaps adapt their own voting choice accordingly. When they do so, they close the loop, because as their preferences change they start showing up in the polls, and we start all over again.

This all takes at the very least a week. At the very least.

Now, let’s look at this in the context of the polls here in Canada in the last week. There has been, as some of you will have noticed, a somewhat puzzling discrepancy among the polls, which is a topic for another day, But there is agreement on one thing: the Liberals rose somewhat and the Conservatives fell somewhat just after the debates and coincident with the deepening of the international credit crisis last week.

For a few days, the gap between the two leading parties closed  — in all the polls, albeit to varying extents.

But then something interesting happened: the gap started opening up again but the media did not instantaneously react. For example, CBC television was trumpeting Liberal momentum on their morning show today, and the Globe had an editorial cartoon to the same effect even though there is general agreement now among the polls that the gap between the Liberals and Conservatives has been widening in recent days. The disagreement amongst the polls is about the timing and extent of these trends, not their direction.

Who cares? Well, we all should. The EKOS tracking poll last night showed that almost a quarter of respondents think the Liberals will win the election, even though this now seems quite unlikely based on where the public has been moving this week. This growing expectation that the Liberals may win is concentrated among non-Conservatives — in other words, the voters who might potentially vote strategically to stop a Conservative victory if they thought this was likely. It may also influence some voters who would like the Tories on a leash, but can’t see Dion as prime minister.

The value of polls is that they can supply timely and relevant information to the public, which voters may (or may not) choose to consider when they cast their ballots. But in this election, this year, it may be that some voters go to the polls with old information on their minds.

The Kaus/Feiler Faster Thesis is true to an extent. But it has also been articulated in the context of the much, much longer American election campaigns. The news cycle in this Canadian election may actually be turning too slowly for some voters to have the best information available on the inclinations of their fellow citizens before going to vote.

Paul Adams is a former political reporter with the CBC and the Globe and Mail, and is now a member of Carleton’s journalism faculty, and executive director of EKOS Research Associates.

OCT 2008

Web of mystery

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Media commentary

Paul Adams

Bill Fox, who was once Brian Mulroney’s communications advisor, has had some of the sharpest insights into the media’s role in this campaign in his contributions to the Globe and Mail.

In today’s column in the Globe he talks about the role that the satirical video by Michel Rivard about the Harper culture cuts has played in the cratering Tory campaign in Quebec. (Now available on You Tube, by the way, with English subtitles.)

Fox notes quite rightly that the Rivard video exploded virally into the election campaign in Quebec before the mainstream media could react. Nonetheless, its full impact was not felt until traditional media picked up the story and ran with it — spreading the news of the video to a much wider public. If the Conservatives fail to get a majority in this election, it may well be because they don’t get their coveted breakthrough in Quebec, and that the Rivard video will be viewed in retrospect as the pivotal event in that failure. But the mainstream media echo chamber was crucial to disseminating the story.

CBC Montreal reporter and current Carleton grad student, Amanda Pfeffer, has pointed out to me, that despite all the attention that the English mainstream media have lavished on the internet in this campaign, they were slower than the francophone media to recognize the impact of the Rivard video, despite its national implications — but that’s another story. In general, in English Canada we have seen the same pattern as in Quebec of the internet having its full impact only by reverberating through the mainstream media. Most of us learned about the puffin pooping on Dion and the NDP candidate with the mouth full of reefers not directly from the net, but from TV and newspaper coverage of those stories.

In a survey we did at EKOS, released earlier this week, we found that television remains the most important source of election information for Canadians, followed by newspapers, radio, and only then online sources. More people cited the leaders’ debates as an important source of election information than cited the web.

It is reporters, of course — and people like me who are personally or professionally pre-occupied with election news — who are most deeply embedded in the online world. We are the ones who obsessively sweep through the net looking for information, stories, gaffes and good ideas. Of course it is journalists (and journalism students and professors) who also obsess about whether the new media will displace the old, distort professional principles, and maybe most importantly, change or eliminate jobs.

But as Fox points out, this history has been that new media elbow their way to a place at the table without actually displacing the old. This is what happened with newspapers after the advent of radio and television.  (Though, admittedly, it has been a while since I have seen a movie newsreel, or heard a traveling minstrel singing about wars in the Holy Land.)

The internet is a new and important element in election campaigns, but it is not quite as instantaneously transformative as we may sometimes be tempted to think.

Paul Adams is a former political reporter with the CBC and the Globe and Mail, and is now a member of Carleton’s journalism faculty, and executive director of EKOS Research Associates.

OCT 2008

Who’s talking? Our little secret

Posted by jsallot under Election 2008, Election 2008 Media commentary

Jeff Sallot

Reporters often have to make difficult choices about when to accept information from sources who want to remain anonymous. Whistleblowers frequently have legitimate fears about losing their jobs if they talked openly about corruption or other wrongdoing where they work.

What if the information on offer is not about criminal activity, but rather an opinion about the how the boss is doing? Maybe it is an unflattering anecdote that provides fresh insight into the character of the person who’s being talked about. Or maybe it is a political insider who is being honest and candid. Do they need anonymity?

Tough calls, sometimes.  Every case has to be considered on its own, weighing the public interest against the harm that can be done to the reputation of individuals. The political coverage in this weekend’s Globe and Mail provides case studies.

My former colleague at the Globe, Michael Valpy, came up with a fascinating nugget  involving Ian Brodie, Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff in the PMO. Brodie, a political science prof, reportedly told an academic seminar at the University of Toronto last week that the Conservatives don’t have an urban strategy in the current campaign and have virtually written off fertile electoral ground in Toronto and Montreal.

Other political observers have said as much. The punch in Valpy`s story is that he’s paraphrasing  a former key insider in the Tory camp. Or is he?

 Reading further into the story, Valpy says he couldn’t actually get Brodie on the phone or online to confirm what he is reported to have told the seminar. Valpy`s sources are  three political scientists who attended Brodie’s talk. The academics are paraphrasing Brodie. This is where it can get murky.

Anyone who has attended a faculty meeting will be familiar with the academic who starts off, “I think what you are really trying to say…”  Is this what’s going on: an interpretation of what Brodie might have said? Who are these academics? Valpy doesn’t say. Nor does he say why the three felt they needed anonymity.

Jane Taber, one of the Globe’s political reporters in Ottawa, is  keeping an eye on the Liberal campaign. In a look ahead at this week in politics she uses  a number of anonymous sources –  “some Liberals,“ and “ senior Liberal strategists,“ and a “senior member of the Dion team,“ and a senior Liberal “who is close to“ Mr. Dion.

That`s a lot of  Liberals who are ready to talk about the campaign, but don`t want their names attached to their views. So what were they saying that was so hot?

They say Dion should try harder to court potential NDP and Green Party voters. He should talk about the human cost of a poor economy. Liberals think they can attack the Conservatives on their platform when it comes out this week. And one senior Liberal felt the party could still form a minority government. In Liberal circles is any of this controversial?

Taber gets one former Liberal insider on the record. She quotes Steven MacKinnon, the party’s former national director, saying Dion “needs to get the votes that are most accessible to us, which are largely on our left and not on our right.“

The best political report I saw this weekend was a profile of Stephen Harper by the Globe`s national affairs columnist, Jeff Simpson, and Ottawa bureau chief, Brian Laghi.

The journalists found five people who have known Harper for years – schoolmates, colleagues, and Calgary friends – who talked candidly and on-the-record.

Laghi and Simpson rely on anonymous sources as well. But when they do their anonymous sources actually say things that are new and interesting. What emerges is a richly detailed portrait of a complex politician.

Jeff Sallot teaches journalism at Carleton. He`s a former Globe and Mail Ottawa bureau chief and has covered nine federal elections.

OCT 2008

The winner? The public, maybe, for a change

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Media commentary

Paul Adams

There are a couple of dubious polls out this morning, one declaring Stephane Dion the winner of last night’s French-language leaders debate and the other saying that he trailed slightly behind Gilles Duceppe. The methodology in both cases is very questionable, and we know from experience anyway that the real impact of debates on campaigns, when they have an impact, is felt only after they have been digested by the media and the public for a few days.

That having been said, let’s have a little hurrah for the format of the debate, which had the leaders seated around a table instead of standing at lecterns, and answering a mix of questions from the journalist-host and members of the public.

It created a more decorous atmosphere and a more dignified debate than we have seen in the past.

It allowed for genuine interaction among the leaders and — most of the time — they didn’t talk over one another.

It allowed the leaders enough time to explain their positions. Dion even got his new economic platform out in point form.

It allowed us to assess them as human beings under pressure. The viewer’s question, which would have seemed forced coming from a journalist, asking them each to say something nice about the leader to their left (at the table, not on the political spectrum) added a little humanity and humour to the debate. Elizabeth May seemed to have the hardest time coming up with something nice to say about Harper (he’s a good family man.) I expected Dion’s task to be toughest — saying something nice about Duceppe; what was fun was watching Duceppe cringe as he was praised by his arch-federalist foe.

And it allowed the leaders to draw the contrasts among themselves, which is not necessarily negative campaigning — it is what we need to make a choice as voters.

Call me an old softy. But at the end, I couldn’t help but think that we are lucky to have a choice among five such estimable people. (Ouch!— that hurt.)

Paul Adams is a former political reporter with the CBC and the Globe and Mail, and is now a member of Carleton’s journalism faculty, and executive director of EKOS Research Associates.

SEP 2008

Butterfly effect and the future of Canada

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Media commentary

Paul Adams

The term “butterfly effect” refers to a feature of chaos theory in mathematics in which a small event — like a butterfly flapping its wings and creating a miniscule change in the atmosphere — might reverberate through an entire system —  changing the direction of some great storm, for example.

It is easy to think of everyday human examples: If I hadn’t been late for the bus that day, I never would have met my spouse, and we wouldn’t have had twelve kids, and I wouldn’t have lost my job when she hit my boss with the butt-end of the shotgun her father gave her, and we wouldn’t be living in this trailer park. (Part of this story is made up, by the way.)

Anyway, my colleague at EKOS, Frank Graves had this intriguing blog in the Globe and Mail on the weekend, in which he points out that with a single vote change at the Liberals’ last leadership convention, the dynamics on subsequent ballots could have changed, resulting in a leader other than Stephan Dion, with a possibly superior result for the Liberals in this election, and potentially tectonic implications on the long-term prospects of the Liberal Party and of the Canadian party system.

So the whole future history of Canada may come down to one delegate who spent too much time in the hospitality suites. If you could track the guy down, it would make an interesting interview.

Paul Adams is a former political reporter with the CBC and the Globe and Mail, and is now a member of Carleton’s journalism faculty, and executive director of EKOS Research Associates.

SEP 2008

9/11 Nonsense and the Liberal candidate

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Media commentary

Paul Adams

A couple of weeks after 9/11, I was in Cairo, trying to connect with the father of Mohamed Atta, the leader of the attack squad. I was a little late because, wise to the Western media by the time I got there, he was demanding thousands of dollars for an interview, and I had to make do with screening tape shot by NBC immediately after the attack to get what I needed.

I remember vividly that already at that point, it seemed that every cab-driver in Cairo could tell you with great confidence that all the Jews in the World Trade Center had been warned not to show up on the fateful day: evidence that the whole thing had been got up by Mossad to sucker the Americans into the Middle East to fight Israel’s enemies. Asked where they got the story, they would say they “heard it on the news”, or as one student told me outside the American University of Cairo, that he had read it in Time magazine!

Slate later had a pretty good timeline of how this cockamamie story got its start.

According to Slate, the story originated with the Hezbollah’s television network Al-Manar. Tracking it down in the internet, at the time, I found references on many Arab websites to a mysterious retired Pakistani general from the intelligence service, who apparently had the goods on Mossad. From his perch in Karachi? You had to think that Pakistani intelligence has deeper roots in Al Qaeda than in Mossad, but never mind: this stuff works by playing on credulity, not by confronting skepticism.

The Globe wasn’t interested in the news of the conspiracy story at the time, despite my pitch that it said a lot about the “Arab street” — something Westerners were obsessing about in those early weeks. Whether it was that my editors didn’t want to give the theory legitimacy unintentionally by putting it in print, or because they were worried about fueling an anti-Arab backlash in Canada (a real concern in those first days), I do not know.

Anyone who has spent time in the Arab world will tell you that theories like the one about 9/11 — often preposterous, and almost all of them conspiratorial — pop up regularly in popular discourse. One of my favourites was the story that sprouted among Palestinians whenever Yasser Arafat was doing something they didn’t like, that the Israelis had swapped him him with a Mossad doppelganger when his plane crashed along the Egyptian-Libyan border in 1992. Man, I thought: you had to be one hard-bitten Mossad guy to do that job for thirteen years.

It is sad in a way, that so many of these myths speak to a self-image among Arabs as being collective weaklings, and invest mystical powers in the Israelis. In fact, at the time, it was not unusual to hear Egyptians, Palestinians and Lebanese say that the 9/11 plot was too sophisticated to have been pulled off by Arabs. So the story struck currents of self-loathing as well.

There may be a pleasant irony in the fact that Americans share something of the Arab taste for exotic conspiracy theories. Various polls have suggested more than a third of Americans disbelieve the official story of 9/11 as they do of the Kennedy assassinations and Elvis’ death. I am told that some still think there really were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

All of this brings us back to Lesley Hughes, the Winnipeg journalist and sometime university lecturer running for the Liberals in Winnipeg, who was informed by a CBC reporter of her unceremonious dumping from the Liberal team by Stephane Dion yesterday. Those of us with Winnipeg roots know Lesley Hughes best as the slightly flaky, a-little-too-openly-opinionated, lefty morning show host on CBC radio in the 1980s and 1990s. Harmless, well-intentioned even, but a little irritating some days when you were shaving and the news just kept coming with an dollops of often quite spectacularly un-self-critical political viewpoint from Ms. Hughes.

It was painful to see her yesterday distancing herself from the 9/11 conspiracy theory, which in context, she plainly gave credence in the offending article, written soon after the September 11 attacks, but re-surfacing this week. Here is a larger chunk of what she wrote than has appeared in most media:

Truth may have been the casualty of war in former ages, but this war is different. While major media busy themselves waving flags, a global network of independent journalists, who have no interests to protect, no secrets to hide, are tracking and documenting its development on a daily basis.

Among the best: the Web site The Emperor’s New Clothes (www.tenc.net) and Mike Ruppert, editor and publisher of From the Wilderness newsletter out of California (www.copvcia.com) .

Using and sharing only published and sourced news stories from world media, and official documents of various governments either leaked or available under freedom of information acts, these journalists have assembled a disturbing picture, which suggests CIA foreknowledge and complicity of highly placed officials in the U.S. government around the attacks on the World Trade Center Sept. 11.

Many official sources are claiming to have warned the American intelligence community, which spends $30 billion a year gathering information, about the attacks on the twin towers on that heartbreaking day.

German Intelligence (BND) claims to have warned the U.S. last June, the Israeli Mossad and Russian Intelligence in August. Israeli businesses, which had offices in the Towers, vacated the premises a week before the attacks, breaking their lease to do it. About 3000 Americans working there were not so lucky.

Ironically, the stock market was also warning anyone who cared to notice that something peculiar was afoot: in the week prior to Sept. 11, unknown speculator(s) were suddenly betting that the stocks of United Airlines and American Airlines were going to fall in value; the trades were placed through Deutschebank/AB Brown, a firm formerly managed by Buzzy-Krongard, now executive director of the CIA.

You can check out the websites she cites. They are the home of no end of conspiracy theories, involving the CIA, Mossad, the Vatican and so on. They seem to mark the precise point in American cyberspace where loony meets lefty.

When the she was dumped by Dion on Friday, best documented in a story here by CBC Winnipeg, Hughes reacted with variations on the ‘it was taken out of context” and “some of my best friends are Jewish” tropes: 

“It’s a major shock to my faith in the party and the whole system,” said Hughes, who defended her track record by citing her biography about a leading figure of the Jewish community and the Holocaust education that she taught in classes at the University of Winnipeg for more than a decade.

“It’s the theatre of the absurd,” said Hughes.

“I have no time for conspiracy theories about the Jewish population whatever,” she said. “The article that I wrote — for anyone who reads it carefully — is very clearly innocent of any kind of anti-Semitic feeling. I am just absolutely stunned by this.

“I guess that’s how soldiers die in the trenches. This is how it must feel.”

Looking at her original remarks in context, you can only see this defence as  either disingenuous or utterly self-aware. I suspect the latter, but of course, cannot know.

The problem, in my view, with the kind of nonsense Hughes was trading in, is not that the American and Israeli governments (as well as the Vatican, for that matter) don’t have lots to answer for. It is that the ideas she was retailing, in the guise of journalism, replace verification and questioning — which should be the journalist’s stock in trade — with credulity and speculation.

This does not make it any easier for people writing about the Middle East to do their jobs. In fact, it understandably raises questions about whether anti-semitism lurks behind every critical question, which it does not and should not. 

It makes me tear my hair out.

Paul Adams is a former political reporter with the CBC and the Globe and Mail, and is now a member of Carleton’s journalism faculty, and executive director of EKOS Research Associates.




SEP 2008

Well, I think it’s interesting

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Media commentary

Paul Adams

I know, I know: you think that there are all these polls around, even three published daily now, and nothing has changed: after three weeks, the Tories are still in front but don’t know whether they’ll get a majority; the Liberals are still far behind; the NDP is doing well, but not well enough to displace the Liberals; and we don’t know yet what will really happen with the Greens.

OK, all this is true. (Though, I would remind you: how would you know any of this without the polls?)

But for those of us following the numbers day-to-day, there have been some fascinating dynamics in this campaign so far, and some amazing possibilities ahead.

Below, I’ve put a seat projection based on EKOS latest daily tracking numbers (conflict alert), which I share with all the usual caveats about seat projections. To me, it suggests some fascinating possibilities. (Don’t get vertigo reading this table, which I had trouble dropping in — hey! only been blogging 3 weeks.)


                     Liberal   C.P.C.   NDP     Bloc    Green   Other   Total 
CANADA             66      148       38       55         0          1       308 
Atlantic               7         21         4        0         0          0         32 
Quebec              10          7         2      55         0          1         75 
Ontario              40        46        20        0         0          0       106 
Man.                   2          9         3         0         0          0         14 
Sask                   1         13         0         0         0          0         14 
Alta.                   1         27         0         0         0          0         28 
B.C.                    4         24         8         0         0          0         36 
Yk/Terr                1           1         1         0         0          0          3 
                          66      148       38       55         0          1       308

First of all, it suggests that the rumours of the Bloc’s demise were highly exaggerated. The culture debate has helped the Bloc in recent days, but they have actually been on the rise for a couple of weeks now. The Tories’ hopes of a breakthrough much beyond what they accomplished in the last election are disappearing before their eyes. And look at the NDP in Quebec — can they maybe, just maybe, increase their foothold in the province?

And here’s a thought: Gilles Duceppe, Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. Lucien Bouchard held that title for a while too, after the ’93 election. If the Liberals lost 12 more seats, on this projection, Duceppe would get the job — even if the NDP picked up every single one of the lost Liberal ridings. Not that I’m saying that’s going to happen. It couldn’t, could it?

As a matter of fact, the race for Leader of the Opposition is looking awfully close at the moment: Duceppe, Dion and Layton could all imagine getting the job under plausible scenarios for the second half of the campaign.

Now, look at Ontario. This may be Dion’s best hope of hanging on to his current job (at least until his own party gives him the heave-ho.) The Liberals have crept back into the race in Ontario. Just ten days ago, using this same model, the Tories would have had 58 seats in Ontario, to 31 for the Liberals and 17 for the NDP. Now it’s 46 Tories, 40 Libs and 20 NDP. 

There remains a lot at stake in this election. There is a big difference between a minority government and a majority — especially when on many significant social and economic issues there is arguably a consensus of 60% or more among supporters of the other parties in opposition to the Tories’ position.

I also believe that the survival of the Liberal Party may be at stake in this election — certainly, if it does not retain at least second-party status. And tied to that, of course, is the potential future of the NDP, which could replace it as the alternative to the governing party.  

And what about the Greens? At the moment, they have captured the support of more than a tenth of the public, yet could quite possibly end up without a seat. The party represents a strong current with regard to the environment, and a strong current of frustration with the youngest cohort of Canadian voters. What does it mean to our democracy if the Greens breakthrough? What does it mean if they don’t?

Personally, I agree completely that the media is overly concerned with the polls — not so much in reporting them, because they provide information useful to voters in making up their own minds — but in allowing them to frame their coverage of the election, muting some legitimate voices, while amplifying others, obsessing on strategy and neglecting the issues of jobs, the economy, the health care system, Afghanistan and the environment that voters care about — or might if the media helped them to understand them better.

But at the end of the day, an election is an exercise is statistics and the numbers will determine in considerable degree what kind of country we end up living in.

Paul Adams is a former political reporter with the CBC and the Globe and Mail, and is now a member of Carleton’s journalism faculty, and executive director of EKOS Research Associates.

SEP 2008

Culture en péril?

Posted by jsallot under Election 2008, Election 2008 Media commentary


New media in the form of a hilarious YouTube video could make life difficult for Conservatives in Quebec.

The video, titled Culture en péril, has gone viral with more than a half-million viewers in the last five days.

It depicts Quebec singer-songwriter Michel Rivard appealing before a board of clueless federal bureaucrats for a small cultural grant for a folk festival.

The board consists of a bunch of Anglophones who clearly do not understand what Rivard is talking about. They become alarmed when they think he’s using the old anglo-saxon F-word when in fact he is using the French word phoque. It gets even funnier after that.

The bureaucrats are seated in front of a Big Brotherish portrait of Stephen Harper. The back drop to the portrait is an American flag.

The message is clear. You can’t count on Tories to protect Quebec culture.

But I wonder if the fact that the French-language video has been viewed so often in such a short span might undercut the claim that Quebec culture is in peril?

You can check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrATQeLLKX0

Jeff Sallot teaches journalism at Carleton University. He is a former Ottawa bureau chief for The Globe and Mail and has covered nine federal election campaigns.