A Different Point of View....: MEDIA IN CRISIS – 2: Citizens, government need to plan now to have quality media in future

Canada’s mainstream media are in a state of incipient meltdown. They no longer deliver the volume or quality of news that Canadians need to be informed about important happenings in their communities, let alone to participate in a healthy democratic process.

The corporations that own traditional newspapers, seeing their revenues and readership dissolve, have opted to cut jobs and slash the content that used to provide their product’s value.

News on the Internet: Everyone will get in on the act! 

This is a serious problem for the way our democracy is supposed to work, and it is not going away.
It is time for governments—federal, provincial, and municipal—to step up and find a way to make sure that Canadian communities once again receive the news and information they need to function properly.

I explained in an earlier column why it would be the wrong choice for governments to support the same media that are failing under profit-driven corporate ownership.

Instead, the best solution to our growing news crisis is for governments to provide the financial support needed so that community-based Internet news sites will be sustainable.

Finding government money for public interest news shouldn’t be a problem. Governments already spend millions of dollars to support the diversity of Canadian magazines, privately owned TV stations, and, of course, the CBC.

We also all need to recognize that the transition to Internet-based delivery for disseminating news and information is only accelerating, will soon be virtually complete.

Instead of thinking about the way news dissemination is now, with newspapers hanging on, we need to envision what conditions will be like in, say 10 years, and begin working toward that time frame now.

How? Here’s what I’d like to see happen.

First, we need to remind ourselves that our governments belong to us. If we are being poorly served, and there’s no other way to get the news we absolutely need, we have a perfect right to demand that government help solve the problem.

Without launching yet another multi-year Royal Commission on the media, the federal government should conduct a tightly focused investigation into the quickest, cleanest, and least-costly form of support for digital non-profit community news.

Scores of independent, digital non-profit news outlets already exist in Canada and the United States. But in neither country have they developed business models that can reliably support serious numbers of journalists and also break even.

In the U.S., the Pew Research Centre reported that 172 digital non-profit news outlets had been launched in the country between 1987 and 2013.

But while the sector showed promise of economic health, many sites “face substantial challenges to their long-term financial well-being.” Several had received substantial start-up money from foundations, but lacked business expertise to broaden their funding once the endowments ran out. [List of US non-profits:]

Canada has at least 20 independent Internet news sites, several providing broad, general information. But none serve a large community.

Highest ranked is The Tyee: it comes in at a distant number 2,911 in viewership among all sites in the country, as measured by the search engine Alexa . In second place is National Observer (at number 3,567). rabble.ca (at number 3,582), comes next, closely followed by the specialist paywall site iPolitics (3,651).

All the main corporate media, which mostly republish the same content as their affiliated newspapers, rank much higher.

In addition to providing support for existing sites, we need to look at supporting new sites to serve communities, cities and even provinces that are not well served.

Research is needed to find out how people who do not seek out news on the Internet can be lured to the new sites.

If citizens feel their area is not being covered by existing media, they need to form a community group to assess the situation.

Groups should attract members who have both business and journalism skills. They need to develop a plan, prepare a draft budget, and assess what funding they can generate on their own.

A well-connected community group should be able to tap into a number of funding sources: sustaining donors, memberships, ad sales, possibly foundations, on-line sales of compatible products such as books, fundraising events, special reports, or even develop relations to do contract for community groups and companies.

In Guelph, where TorStar closed The Guelph Mercury last week, it was unclear whether the paper’s website would continue to operate and whether another small Tor-Star free paper can serve the community.

Citizens in Guelph should assess after a period of time whether they are getting the news they need. If not, perhaps they will need to take action as a community.

There are dozens of non-profit sites in the U.S. that could serve as a model for Guelph and other communities if folks decide to have a site. For instance, the Dallas South News has been operating since 2009, using traditional and citizen journalists as well as bloggers to provide news and commentary to the community’s 500,000 residents.

In general, public support for non-profit community media should be awarded in a competitive process run by an arms-length, non-political body. Some might be awarded based on the number of people who visit a site, or by matching funds contributed by the community.

In addition, a non-profit group could apply to the federal government to obtain charitable tax status for the dissemination of educational material. This way donors would be able to receive a tax receipt.

Furthermore, Tax rules could encourage donations to non-profit and educational journalism.

Whatever vehicle is adopted, it will need to satisfy critics of any government involvement in the media, who will be watching like hawks. There will need to be more research.

What’s already clear is that yesterday’s profit-obsessed media market has failed. A new one needs some support so we all can receive the news and information we need.

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A Different Point of View....: MEDIA IN CRISIS – 2: Citizens, government need to plan now to have quality media in future

Canada’s mainstream media are in a state of incipient meltdown. They no longer deliver the volume or quality of news that Canadians need to be informed about important happenings in their communities, let alone to participate in a healthy democratic process. The corporations that own traditional newspapers, seeing their revenues

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A Different Point of View....: Don’t weep for censoring, right-wingPostmedia newspapers

Another 90 dedicated journalists in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa lost their jobs Tuesday as cutthroat Publisher Paul Godfrey slashed away again in an effort to turn Postmedia into a profit-making business. 

In a bizarre move, two competing papers will continue to be separate entities, but there will be one set of editors and most journalists will be shared.

Paul Godfrey – CEO Postmedia Corp

In Vancouver, the Sun and The Province will come under one roof. In Edmonton, the Journal and the Sun will come together; in Calgary, the Calgary Herald and the Sun; and in Ottawa, The Ottawa Citizen and the Sun.

This latest maneuver, in effect, reduces the four cities to print media monopolies. Even as weak as the original Postmedia and Sun papers were, they still competed with each other. Now the same editors will assign reporters from both papers.

Competition Bureau screwed up

This fiasco is possible because the Competition Bureau was wrong in allowing Postmedia to buy the Sun chain less than a year ago. Godfrey had promised the Bureau he would run two separate chains, but this hybrid arrangement clearly violates the spirt of Godfrey’s promise.

Godfrey’s likely last move to try to save his flagging empire will see him close one of the papers in each of the four cities. Look for this to happen within a year.

Postmedia is losing millions each year because of the collapse of newspaper advertising. Meanwhile, the papers have failed to make a successful move to the Internet. Postmedia, which is controlled by American hedge funds, is carrying a debt of $671-million.

Martin O’Hanlon, president of the Communications Workers of America, said “This is not because these papers aren’t making money, this is because Postmedia has a massive debt. “This money that they’re saving by laying people off is going to hedge fund managers in New York.”

If Godfrey cared about journalism he would have been out of the field long ago. Anyone of integrity interested in good journalism would not have stayed around to see these papers turned into shells of their former selves. Maybe it helps that Godfrey commands a large salary, is a multi-millionaire and that, as a prominent (yet failing) businessman he can strut around town as though he is important. In 2014, when the company lost $263.4-million, Godfrey’s income was $1.7-million.

Media experts talk about the day when someone will come up with a formula for quality media to hold its own on the Internet. We’ve been hearing this for 10 years.

Canadians deserve better

While local communities still rely on the shrivelled remains of the once proud broadsheet newspapers, our cities deserve much better. In addition to the problem of the cuts, corporate-owned media in Canada censors or ignores important news. Officialdom commands their full attention, while unions, the climate crisis, and family issues are pretty much ignored. All Canadian papers except The Toronto Star supported Harper values during his ruthless run in Ottawa.

Because of their systematic censorship and support for damaging neo-liberal policies, we should not weep over the decline of Postmedia newspapers. But communities and all levels of government better wake up and get involved in re-establishing credible media.

Firstly, there are about 10 small, independent news sites on the Internet, ranging from iPolitics, to The Tyee to rabble.ca. None of them reach very many Canadians. I’ve been telling them that if they want to really serve the public, they should amalgamate or co-operate in some way. Among them they employ about 20 journalists. I have fundraising experience, and I know money could be raised for such a project. Nothing has come from my suggestion.

By the way, I’ve developed a model that I think would allow a community-owned, Internet-based news organization to become self-sustaining. If anyone is interested, please email me: fillmore0274@rogers.com 

I’ve berated progressive, experienced journalist for not getting out of the mainstream media racket and helping operate or set up media groups to serve their communities. But they’ve been beaten down so badly they don’t have any spunk left, let alone demonstrate a social conscience.

The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) is the one organization that could help lead Canadian journalism back from the wilderness. However, the CAJ has lost influence in recent years, and nothing on its website indicates it is concerned about the big picture of quality journalism in Canada being crippled.

If Canada were part of Europe, our mainstream media would probably be more healthy. Europeans read papers a lot more than Canadians. I recall a few years ago that the average Canadian read a daily newspaper once a week, while the average Dane read a paper every day. Those sales help cover more of the costs of European papers compared to fewer sales in Canada.

Some European governments, recognizing the importance of quality journalism, provide different forms of financial support for newspapers. Grants are either awarded to all papers or through a competitive process.

 I’ve discussed this possibility of government support for media with Canadian friends, and most of them reject the idea. They say people wouldn’t want government interfering with our media. Hmmm . . . . it’s true that Harper interfered with the CBC but, even so, the CBC remains the best broadcaster in the country and it does a lot of socially responsible journalism.


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A Different Point of View....: Struggling to manage your life? Our destructive system is likely to blame.

I was dismayed by the comments of two women on CBC Toronto’s Metro Morning recently. The program deserves credit for planning throughout the week to deal with issues of stress and the fact that most people don’t have enough hours in the day to deal with important, often crucial, matters.

The two women were picked at random on the streets of downtown Toronto. They told the CBC horrendous stories about how difficult their lives are – from being unable to meet the needs of their children, to too much stress at work, not enough money for childcare, and having no time to themselves.

But, if like the two women, you’re under too much pressure in your life and you don’t have any free time, keep in mind it’s happening to just about everyone, and it’s not your fault. It has to do with the way the economic system we live under us putting the squeeze on most of us.

How serious is the problem? A poll conducted for the Heart and Stroke Foundation revealed that half those interviewed were unhealthy because of their lifestyle:

  • 44% of respondents said they had no time for regular physical activity.
  • 41% said healthy meals take too long to prepare. 
  • More than half (51%) said fast food outlets don’t have enough healthy choices. 
  • And almost a third (31%) said the time they would like to spend being active they instead spend commuting.  

These findings are of interest to the folks at Heart and Stroke because heart disease and stroke kills one in three Canadians and is the leading killer of women.

The two women interviewed by the CBC felt it was their fault that they couldn’t manage their lives better. Unfortunately, Canadians are poorly informed when it comes to understanding the big economic and political picture. So it probably would never cross their minds that the real issue is the economic system we’re now living under. 

Wait for it, and don’t be afraid: The problem is the out-of-control form of heartless capitalism we live under.

 Back in the 1960s and 70s we had what might be called “benevolent capitalism.” Money was more equally distributed than now. Most corporations felt they had an obligation to pay their taxes – well, at least part of their taxes. Both a university education and housing were cheaper. Powerful business and political leaders began to dramatically change the political-economic system in many Western countries in the early 1980s. A package of policies known as neo-liberalism – never before tested – was undemocratically imposed upon us.

A major component of the system, trickle-down economics filled the pockets of the rich and corporations with billions in cash. The incomes of ordinary folks began to stagnate.

The impact of those changes some 35 years ago on most people is well documented.  Both the rich and corporations now pay less in taxes. Many social service programs have been gutted. When governments didn’t have enough money to run the system because of the tax breaks for the rich, they imposed austerity on the rest of us. Unions were bashed into submission. Mainstream media succumbed to the powers of the corporate world.

While the wealthy made huge gains in their income, real minimum wages in Canada basically haven’t budged from almost four decades ago.

According to Statistics Canada, the average minimum wage in Canada was $10.14 an hour in 2013. And when you translate the 1975 equivalent into 2013 dollars, it was “almost identical” at $10.13.

The biggest study in recent years on the workplace was carried out by the National Study on Balancing Work and Caregiving in Canada in 2012. It found out that almost two-thirds of Canadians were working more than 45 hours a week – 50-per-cent more than two decades earlier. Work weeks were more rigid, with flex-time arrangements dropping by a third over the previous 10 years.

One consequence of both workplace and home stress is an increase in both serious short-term and long-term disability claims. Dr. Kevin Kelloway, Canada Research Chair in Occupational Health Psychology, says that almost all of the work insurance providers with whom has dealt with report that between 30 and 40 per cent of their claims are related to occupational stress via mental health or heart conditions.

If Canadians were better informed by a comprehensive education system and a socially responsible mass media, the two women interviewed by the CBC would understand that they and millions of other stressed-out people are not primarily responsible for the near chaos in their lives. We are told by mass media that if we end in a crisis situation, it’s our own fault and we need to buckle down and fix our problems.

But what is really to blame is a system that squeezes us more and more year after year.


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A Different Point of View....: Climate controls ‘slip slidin’ away’ following weak Paris agreement

 “World agrees to historic climate accord” 
The Toronto Star.
“Nearly 200 countries agree to historic pact in Paris
to reduce emissions and fight climate change”

The Vancouver Sun.
 “Climate deal: World praises France’s diplomacy, showing it’s still a master of the art”
The Winnipeg Free Press.

With these headlines appearing in newspapers across the country, Canadians must have been relieved that they don’t need to worry about climate change nearly as much now that everything has been worked out in Paris.

Unfortunately, this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.

The politicians meeting in Paris, faced with the possibility of total failure, were extremely excited to reach any kind of an agreement. As politicians will do, they convinced themselves and the compliant mainstream media that the accord all 195 countries signed was an amazing break through document.

The agreement is jam-packed with lofty language and idealistic goals. However, it is totally lacking in legally binding mechanism that will hold governments to emission limits that will stop global warming from reaching devastatingly high levels.

May & Klein have strongly different opinions

Even so, there are strong differences of opinion among environmental leaders concerning the value of the pact.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May is not concerned that the temperature goals in the agreement are not binding.

“It’s an historic and potentially life-saving agreement,” May writes in her blog.  . . . . “it may save the lives of millions.  It may lead to the survival of many small nations close to sea level.  It may give our grandchildren a far more stable climate and thus a more prosperous and healthy society.”

Two of the world’s leading climate activists disagree strongly with May.

Responding to the cheering going on in the meeting room when the deal was signed, Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org commented: “All the serious people in there in suits are playing fantasy games.”

Activist and author Naomi Klein said the agreed upon targets are far too weak. “They don’t lead us to 1.5 degrees Celsius or 2 degrees. They lead us to warming of 3 to 4 degrees Celsius, which is beyond catastrophic.”

This year global warming, compared to the pre-industrial age temperature, is expected to reach 1 degree Celsius. Scientists say that warming must be kept to 1.5 degrees if hundreds of islands are to be saved. If countries do not improve on the promises they made in Paris global warming could reach 3.5 degrees by 2100 or earlier.

In Paris, rich countries, instead of stepping forward and coming up with firm commitments to fight warming, abdicated their responsibility to powerful multi-national corporations.

Corporations were involved in just about every aspect of COP21, including helping to pay for the summit. Meanwhile, a few select non-governmental organizations were permitted only to look over the draft of the agreement at the end of each day. Organizers kept thousands of protestors away from the delegates.

Most of the actions that can come out of the agreement are left to the marketplace, and activities many will be carried out by the same corporations that have polluted the planet.

Incidentally, it was no surprise that none of the words “fossil fuels”, “oil” or “coal” appear in the agreement.

Carbon trading, which allow companies to make huge profits but that are slow to reduce emissions, are looked upon favourably. Because no action was taken against fracking, the practice, which produces highly damaging methane gas, will increase.

Financial institutions are already making large profits from financing many activities related to global warming. The most common funding is for clean energy solutions, underwriting green bonds and structuring catastrophe-linked securities to help clients manage climate change risks.

It is a bitter irony that the banks financed corporations as they destroyed our climate, and now they’ll provide the financing for many of the same companies to try to clean it up.

Rich North betrays developing nations

The lack of substantial outcomes from Paris for countries with the least ability to defend themselves from global warming has caused rifts that may not be overcome for years.

Helen Szoke, of Oxfam Australia, denounced the agreement as “a frayed lifeline to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Pacific Region contribute just 0.3 per cent   of global greenhouse gas emissions. Yet residents of many islands have had to leave their homes, and dozens of islands will disappear under water if strong actions to slow emissions in the developed world are not taken.

There was a lot of fancy talk in Paris about transporting millions of tonnes of earth to restore the most threatened islands, but residents aren’t holding their breath.

The strongest condemnation of the Paris agreement came from Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of Greenpeace, one of the world’s most influential environmental groups.

It’s “climate apartheid,” says Naidoo.

“Most of the people in the countries that emitted the most carbon are white and most people in the countries who are paying first and the most are people of colour,” says Naidoo. “There is no doubt in my mind that subliminal racism is at play in these negotiations.”

Environmentalists must pick up the slack

So with governments failing to move ahead the cause of a cleaner environment in any meaningful way, what can be done to pick up the slack?

The world’s many climate change groups need to organize a huge lobby movement – one that can match the power of the fossil fuel industry. The tobacco industry was not brought under some control until it was banned from lobbying governments, and the same needs to happen with the fossil fuel industry.

Across the globe, NGOs, civil society and all kinds of organizations need to work together lobbying all levels of government. It seems they may be the only segments of society – for now at least – willing to fight for climate justice.

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A Different Point of View....: Climate controls ‘slip slidin’ away’ following weak Paris agreement

 “World agrees to historic climate accord”  The Toronto Star. “Nearly 200 countries agree to historic pact in Paris to reduce emissions and fight climate change” The Vancouver Sun.  “Climate deal: World praises France’s diplomacy, showing it’s still a master of the art”The Winnipeg Free Press. With these headlines appearing in

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A Different Point of View....: Fossil fuel lobby seen as main threat to meaningful progress in Paris

In the early-1950s, when it became widely known that smoking caused cancer, giant tobacco companies formed the Tobacco Industry Research Council (TIRC). Its main goal was to deny the harmful effects of tobacco and confuse the public.

The tobacco lobby wormed its way into the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO), wreaking havoc and slowing the WHO’s efforts to reduce the growing number of cancer deaths. 

Realizing that the tobacco corporations were obstructing progress, the WHO finally built a firewall between public health officials and industry lobbyists. Only then was it possible to better control tobacco.

Flash forward to Paris and the 21st annual UN Climate Conference, November 30 to December 11   The 190 participating countries are charged with trying to hold carbon emissions to liveable limits between the years 2020 and 2030.

But – just like when the tobacco lobby was powerful – the fossil fuel lobby is strongly influencing decisions to be made in Paris.

Pointing to the struggling world economic situation, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) says climate change is important, but it should not jeopardize economic growth.

Fossil fuel corporations have spent billions-of-dollars over the years funding front organizations that mislead and confuse the public by claiming that climate change is not serious threat.

But scientists say that the human race cannot continue to function in a near-normal way unless about 80 per cent of the remaining fossil fuels are left in the ground.

The corporations oppose government regulations, and their main goal is to have the marketplace determine the amount of carbon emissions. However, public interest groups believe that industry will serve its own interests for profits instead of prioritizing the reduction of carbon emissions.

The public interest group Corporate Europe Observatory, located in Brussels, has compiled information on the agenda the corporations will be pushing at COP21:  
  •  Instead of governments taxing emitters – a simple and inexpensive system to operate – corporations want to create a world market where polluters and investors can buy and sell carbon credits. They claim the system would help spur investments in low-carbon energy However, this system has worked poorly in Europe and is vulnerable to abuse.
  • The fossil fuel industry wants governments and the public to acknowledge natural gas as a “clean energy source.” This would result in significant increases of fracking in many parts of the world. It’s true that gas, when burnt, has low emissions, but the fracking process leaks methane into the atmosphere, which is 80 times worse than carbon.
  • The ‘net zero’ proposal: Rather than attempting to reduce emissions to zero, ’net zero’ means that some emissions can keep rising. The industry says this would be offset in the future via the removal of emissions from the atmosphere when yet-to-be developed technologies make the removal possible.
  • According to Shell, going to net zero would allow them to keep burning fossil fuels for the rest of this Century. This would be balanced off by the – so far – theoretical removal of carbon from the atmosphere at some point in the future.

While public interest groups will be kept mainly on the sidelines, corporations are being allowed to hold at least 10 special events for government officials. Names of some of the sessions: “Business and Climate: A positive revolution for companies?”; “The Future is Looking Up”; and “Energy for Tomorrow.”

In addition, some of France’s dirtiest corporations are official sponsors and donors for COP21.  Included are nuclear and coal giants EDF, energy utility corporation Engie, coal-financing bank BNP Paribas, and airline Air France.

Some of the very corporations driving global warming will be represented in Paris. Included will be Shell, BP, Volkswagen, Monsanto, Total, Dow Chemical, Monsanto, Syngenta, Nestles, McDonalds, Walmart and others.

Fossil fuel companies have not managed to get a much coveted seat at the actual negotiating table during COP decision-making. But they are lobbying so hard that they hope politicians will come up with pro-industry solutions.

Meanwhile, a growing number of public interest groups want the fossil fuel lobby barred from the UN process. 

“When you’re trying to burn down the table,” says HodaBaraka of the protect group 350.org, “you don’t deserve a seat at it.” 

NGOs have launched a campaign, Kick the Polluters Out  and are planning demonstrations in Paris. Close to a half-million people signed the protest document over a short period of time.

But, at the present time at least, it would be very difficult to get the fuel lobby organizations out of the climate change process.  

The corporations are so powerful in the UN climate talks process they appear to be the proverbial tail wagging the dog. Christiana Figueres, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), scolded those who claim the fossil fuel industry is not part of the solution, telling them to “stop demonizing oil and gas companies.”

In what critics consider a betrayal of the climate control effort, after a few years inside the system, UN experts move over to the private sector. According to the Corporate Europe Observatory, this revolving door helps business to control the process in the COP process. 

At the national level, because oil, coal and other fossil fuel corporations are so wealthy and so important to national economies, corporationsare able to intimidate governments from taking the best possible carbon reduction pledges to Paris. Energy corporations are successful in compromising the policies of the U.S. government. 

In October, the European Parliament expressed concern that an early analysis government pledges indicated the temperature would increase between 2.7 and 3.5 degrees Celsius.  An increase within this range would be disastrous for humankind.

The European Parliament has now called on governments to agree in Paris to revise the projections downward before 2020 to keep the increase to 2 degrees Celsius, which is the target recommended by scientists.

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A Different Point of View....: Can Mulcair work a miracle and gain unlikely victory?

From the very start, the main issue in the federal election race has been as obvious as the beard on Tom Mulcair’s face, but it’s been largely ignored by mainstream media.

The big time journalists are rushing from the leaders’ pre-planned news conferences day after day, but the majority of voters have said in opinion polls that by far the biggest issue for them is to have either the NDP or Liberals emerge as the party that can soundly defeat Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.

During the fourth week of the campaign, it looked like the NDP might be the chosen party. They were at 33.9 per cent in the polls. The Conservatives were at 28.4 per cent, and the Liberals 27.9.

It looked like the NDP might jump to, say, 36 or 38 per cent in the polls and become the party to stop Harper. But it didn’t happen. Instead, the NDP fell back a little.

The NDP might be suffering because of Mulcair’s misguided promise to balance the budget. This is not playing well with Canadians who question how the NDP is going to both balance the budget and pay for all the promises they’ve made. Meanwhile, many progressives who believe the government should borrow to stimulate the economy – as Trudeau promised to do – are upset with the NDP for adopting an overly-cautious position.

If you believe Monday’s opinion polls, the NDP was at 31 per cent, and the Liberals and Conservatives tied at 30 per cent.

This week the NDP faces two big hurdles. On Wednesday, Mulcair will release figures showing how the party would pay for its election promises. And on Thursday he will join the other two leaders in a televised debate on the economy. If Mulcair survives the attacks he will face during Thursday’s debate, the NDP should still be in the race.

Harper hopes ‘dirty tricks’ let him win

Some analysts have written off Harper – largely because they thought the Conservatives took a big hit during the frantic Syrian refugee acrimony. But in Monday’s Nanos Research poll, the Conservatives were back to 30 per cent.

As in past elections, Harper hopes to benefit from a couple of new “dirty tricks”:

  • When the Conservatives oversaw the rejigging of ridings and the addition of new seats for Parliament, they rigged the system in their favour. The Globe and Mail analysis of Elections Canada data shows that if everyone who voted in the 2011 election cast their ballots for the same political parties in 2015, the Conservatives would pick up 22 of the 30 seats that are being added in a riding redistribution. NDP would pick up six ridings and the Liberals two.
  • The big sleeper in the campaign that could mean victory for the Conservatives depends on whether hundreds-of-thousands of people who favour the NDP or the Liberals can manage to vote. According to the Council of Canadians, the so-called Fair Elections Act makes it more difficult for at least 770,000 people to vote. 

There are other factors favouring the Conservatives. A huge percentage of people who say they will vote Conservative do so. But a lot of people recorded in the polls as favouring the other parties end up not voting.

Secondly, the right wing reacted gleefully when the government announced a phoney surplus for last year of about $1-billion. That’s a surplus of $1-billion on a budget of $290-billion.They created the surplus out of thin air by grabbing funds from the unemployment insurance fund and other financial tricks.

Harper’s prayer is for the NDP and Liberals to stay tied in the polls so he can sneak back into power with just a few more seats than either of the two.

Will strategic voting work this time?

Conservative opponents believe they have a powerful weapon in their back pocket: strategic voting. Unions and public interest groups used strategic voting to help defeat Tim Hudac’s Progressive Conservatives in last year’s Ontario election and, including the work of small groups, there will be a much larger effort to unseat Harper.

But can the anti-Harper campaign really do the job? There are a few problems that must be overcome.

First of all, there are two anti-Harper camps. One group consists of strong NDP loyalists who dislike the Liberals just about as much or more than they hate the Conservatives. The other group is supporting either NDP or Liberal candidates in different ridings.

Given that just about everyone agrees that Harper is the Public Enemy Number One, the two camps should avoid feuding that could reduce the chances of defeating the Conservatives.

Strategic campaigning got off to a bad start when Paul Moist, national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and an NDP loyalist, blasted Leadnow’s approach of electing either New Democrats or Liberals in 72 ridings where the Conservatives are believed to be vulnerable.

Unfortunately, Moist supports the NDP over the interests of the country: an analysis of the 72 target ridings shows that Leadnow will be supporting Liberals only in ridings where the NDP has no chance of winning.

Campaign truce urgently needed

The two sides need to have a truce concerning their campaigns. In fact, they should figure out where there are any strategic ridings where New Democrats oppose Liberals and decide how to resolve the issue. Given the importance of stopping Harper, perhaps they could support the same candidates in a handful of ridings.

More needs to be done. With only five weeks left in the campaign, there’s practically no cooperation among the more than a dozen large and small groups working to elect either New Democrats or Liberals. Some groups have the impression that the Elections Act prohibit them from co-operating, but this does not appear to be the case as the Act concerns itself only with advertising.

For the New Democrats, if Mulcair performs reasonably well and does not “out his foot in it”, strategic voting could bring the party a minority victory.

Groups need to co-operate to make sure that local polling is carried out in all ridings where Harper is vulnerable. Results must be shared and made public a few days before the advance polling dates, which run from October 9 to 12.

Groups also should co-operate to publish a list of the target ridings indicating which candidate has the best chance of defeating the Conservative. Just publishing information on their own websites will not be enough to inform the hundreds-of-thousands of potential voters.

If either, or both, of the NDP voting campaign and the strategic voting campaign are successful, the Harper government will fall on October 19. If the NDP wins, Mulcair has promised to launch a process to introduce proportional representation. PR could bring us the kind of democracy we deserve and, thankfully, the end of strategic voting.


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