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

OCT 2008

Young love

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Student articles

Matthew Pearson


Voters in Nepean-Carleton are sending Conservative Pierre Poilievre back to the House of Commons for the third time before his 30th birthday.

Poilievre, dressed in a sharp navy blue pin-stripe suit, marched into a victory party at a Barrhaven country club behind a bag-pipe player. His 120 or so supporters chanted “Pierre, Pierre” as the 29-year-old meandered his way to the front of the room with his girlfriend, Jenni Byrne, at his side. Read more…


Love’m or hate’m

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Student articles

Monique Muise

Ottawa West-Nepean

Whether they love him or hate him, Canadians are likely in for a lot more interesting sound bites from the House of Commons courtesy of outspoken Conservative MP John Baird.

The environment minister and former President of the Treasury Board claimed the hotly-contested riding of Ottawa West-Nepean last night by a significant margin over Liberal candidate David Pratt – a one-time Liberal cabinet minister. With 200 of 254 polls reporting a little before 12:30 a.m., Baird had 17,607 votes to Pratt’s 14,696. Read more…


Naked politics

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Student articles

Amanda Truscott

Saanich-Gulf Islands, British Columbia

A tight race in Saanich-Gulf Islands ended with Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn holding onto his seat by 2,621 votes, fewer than the number won by  a candidate who had dropped out of the campaign.

NDP candidate Julian West’s resignation came too late for his name to be removed from the ballot, and he received 3, 667 votes. Conservative incumbent Lunn got 27,988 votes, and Liberal Briony Penn got 25, 367. Green candidate Andrew Lewis received 6, 732 votes.

Read more…

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


Posted by cwaddell under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy

Christopher Waddell

Confidence or the lack of it is the reason why governments in the United States and Europe have had to bail out their banks. In Canada it’s confidence – or lack of it – in the economic future that seems set to determine the outcome of the federal election.

Economic policy has dominated many elections but the debate has been about the economic conditions at the time of the campaign. This election is different as the economy is in good shape now but every day reveals more and more evidence that conditions are going to get worse – perhaps a lot worse – in the months to come. No one knows how bad it might be and that’s what undermines confidence, particularly when economic shocks arrive on a daily basis.

It’s that lack of confidence that Stephane Dion tapped into with his five-point plan to address future economic problems announced at the start of last week’s French language debate. The plan isn’t much beyond initially scheduling a round of meetings to assess the situation and so Stephen Harper attacked it at the opening of the English-language debate, suggesting Dion panicked and criticizing its lack of specifics.

The Conservatives missed the point. The public didn’t want specifics perhaps because no one knows what is going to happen. They needed the confidence that their political leaders were aware of the pending downturn and were prepared to asses the situation and act as needed. Dion’s statement seems to have met that test. Liberals have new confidence and suddenly the Conservatives are playing catch up with growing doubts about whether they can get a majority after all.

Stephen Harper’s speech today in releasing his party’s platform was all about how the Conservatives have seen the problems coming for a year and have taken measured steps in response that will ensure Canada does not face the economic crises now rolling through the U.S. and Europe. In other words, he’s now playing to the same need to build confidence that Dion did last week. 

But he is somewhat constrained in what he can say and do. On the campaign trail he is talking as leader of the Conservative party but to the rest of a nervous world, when he speaks, he is talking as the Prime Minister.  So every thing he says will be dissected internationally for any hints of problems in Canada.

Last night in Quebec the Conservatives started a renewed attack on the Liberal Green Shift (which Dion has conspicuously stopped talking about) arguing that an unpredictable economic future is no time to impose new taxes (while omitting that the Liberal plan includes significant income tax cuts the Liberals say will offset new carbon taxes).

Having misread the public mood and with just a week to go in the campaign, the question is whether the Conservatives have the time to convince enough Canadians both that they care too and that their calm, measured response is the right one for an uncertain future. If they can’t do it, it looks like their best hope is another minority government.

Christopher Waddell is associate director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University and a former Globe and Mail Ottawa bureau chief, former CBC-TV parliamentary bureau chief and election night executive producer for CBC TV News.


And that other election….

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy

Paul Adams

As the Canadian election heats up at the end….seemingly becoming closer by the minute, the race south of the border is headed the other way. Check out Pollster.com‘s excellent map.

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

Small fluctuations can make big differences in seats

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy

Paul Adams

first posted at the EKOS election site.

It’s a nail-biter. We are entering a stage in the election campaign when small regional fluctuations in support could make huge differences to the futures of the parties and their leaders. In a universe where there are many three-way races, and even some four-way races, quite small changes in popular support can dramatically alter the arithmetic in terms of parliamentary seats.  

A case in point: 

Yesterday evening, EKOS released the weekend’s results from its tracking poll, which on the surface showed very little change. The Conservatives and the Greens were down a percentage point from Friday’s three-day roll up and the Liberals were up a point. Otherwise no change. 

However, there were some subtle shifts in the regional numbers, most notably in the Atlantic provinces where the Liberals are doing better, and in British Columbia where the race between the Tories and NDP has tightened considerably. There were also smaller fluctuations in other regions. 

The results in terms of our seat projection model were quite dramatic. 

On Friday’s numbers, the Conservatives were achingly close to a majority – just three seats shy. And the Liberals were headed to winning almost 90 seats fewer than the Tories. 

The weekend numbers suggest a different story, however. The improved Liberal strength in the Atlantic provinces swings many seats over to the Liberals. They also creep up a few seats in Ontario at the Tories’ expense. The suggested result: a Conservative Party barely improving its seat performance over the last election. 

Small shifts: big implications for the potential result. 

This is not so much a prediction of the outcome of the election October 14, as a reminder that with so many seats exquisitely poised among the various contenders, very subtle shifts in public mood over the remaining days of the campaign may greatly alter the political landscape of the coming years. 

Seat Projection Oct 3

CPC 152

Lib 60

ND 41

BQ  54

GP  0

Oth 1

Seat Projections Oct. 5

CPC  130

Lib     78

NDP   42

BQ     58

GP       0

Oth     0

For detailed tables with regional breakdowns, go to www.ekoselection.com

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 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.

OCT 2008

A walk in the park

Posted by cwaddell under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Faculty links

Andrew Cohen

As dusk fell, a man, a woman and their dog made their way through the Rockeries, the crimson gardens high above the Ottawa River. The couple was followed by a bodyguard, less relaxed, wearing an earpiece.

The air was still. The afternoon sun was fading into the folds of the sky.

 In the middle distance, you could see the re-erected Corinthian columns salvaged from the portico of the old Carnegie Library in Ottawa. To these strollers facing calamity, these faux ruins might have seemed a metaphor too far.

On this trail, though, there were no signs or handbills. There were no handlers or hangers-on. When a pair of cyclists wheeled by the couple, no hands were extended and no votes were solicited.

If Stéphane Dion, his wife and his dog found some peace the other night, he surely deserved it. After all, it was his birthday. He was 53. There was little to celebrate.

Did he need any more reminders of his misery? There he was, on Saturday, staring out quizzically from the front page of The Citizen. The headline was devastating: “Fortress to flophouse? Has the once impregnable Liberal Party of Canada mortgaged its hold on power?”

Elsewhere in the newspaper, Mr. Dion could read headlines declaring “Liberals ‘are falling apart’” and “Rough day for Liberals.”

Oh, the agony of being Stéphane Dion. Oh, the agony of being a Liberal.

If he had the stomach to read on, Mr. Dion could learn about the collapse of the party which has held power for most of Canada’s 141 years. He could learn how things are “so bad that some analysts believe the Liberals are about to enter an extended – eight year? – wander through the political wilderness.”

No “analysts” actually said that in the article. No matter. There was more than enough bad news for Mr. Dion to digest on his twilight constitutional.

He could read how his party has no money, how its “Green Shift” is a political loser and how his successors are cheering his demise. He could also read about the rise of the Conservatives, and Stephen Harper’s grand plan of building an enduring Conservative majority in Canada as strategist Karl Rove dreamed of building an enduring Republican majority in the United States.

The besieged Mr. Dion could also learn, if he hadn’t heard enough, of the country’s new political realignment, growing out of an unprecedented polarization between the fragmented parties of the left against the Conservatives on the right.

And you know, the journalistic hyperbole notwithstanding, all this may be true. Perhaps the Liberals are through. Perhaps the party’s over.

It may also be true that Stéphane Dion is the catalyst, though surely not the cause. The trouble began with the vainglorious Paul Martin, Jr., who slayed his patron, Jean Chrétien, touching off an internecine struggle worthy of an Italian opera.

But that’s another story Mr. Dion will have much time to contemplate in political exile. To believe the death notices, that is what awaits him on the morning of October 15.

So assuming that the Liberals are going to disintegrate in two weeks – which, let us hasten to caution, won’t necessarily be so if Canadians deny the Conservatives a majority — what is left for the obituary writers to say about Stéphane Dion? What to say as the vultures circle and the hyenas cackle?

Well, quite a lot.

Mr. Dion is a Canadian who fought for Canada in Quebec in the referendum campaign of 1995. Few others of his ilk did. Mr. Dion exposed the sophistry of the secessionists. It took guts.

 This is a loyalist who spearheaded the Clarity Act of 2000. The sovereigntists again threatened chaos. But it passed, and it makes an ambiguous referendum question and a unilateral declaration of independence harder. It took guile.

This is a street fighter who refused to let Mr. Martin take away his seat. This is a reformer who thinks that global warming needs a creative response.

This is a decent man caught in a rough game. Pooping puffins. Demonization. Humiliation. Mr. Dion as reckless, dangerous, unsteady, awkward, hopeless.

In truth, he was never cut out for it; his style is pedantic, his English ragged. He is stubborn and proud, which take you only so  far in this game.

In politics, flaws are magnified mercilessly, especially in the age of the Internet. Robert Stanfield, Joe Clark, Walter Mondale and Adlai Stevenson all offered their splendid corpses to the cause of political science. They were glorious failures, which doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t honour their service.

When Mr. Dion leaves, there will be more debts than tears — and surely no thanks. Remember, politics is a blood sport.

 But there will be more walks in the park, and happier birthdays.


This column originally appeared in the Ottawa Citizen.

Andrew Cohen, a professor of journalism and international affairs at Carleton University, is the author of Extraordinary Canadians: Lester B. Pearson. Email: andrewzcohen@yahoo.ca\.