Notes on the Creation of the Canadian Narrative
The Canadian Media and the 2008 Election: Reporting or Managing?
by Dave Patterson
Do the Canadian media provide their faithful followers with the information they require to make properly informed decisions on election candidates and issues, as a reliable media, responsible to the citizens of their country, are expected to do? Or are they more in the business of herding their readers like trusting sheep in a certain direction by en masse spinning of some things, and putting other important issues behind a 'we're not talking about this, nothing interesting here!!' curtain, thus creating a false picture of Canadian society, a false picture that most people, trusting their media, use in making decisions, decisions which would almost certainly be very different if they had a more accurate understanding of what was actually happening; in short, creating a false narrative which will soon become a false history, a narrative which has only a loose connection with 'realpolitik' reality but one which justifies certain actions or policies (or lack thereof) by the government? ============================
The Current Narrative
The 'in progress' narrative of the 2008 Federal Election, entering week 3, as presented by the Canadian media with no significant variations, would be something like this: Dion is a weak and ineffectual leader, with little confidence in his leadership even in Liberal ranks, and his Green Shift is just confusing, so overall he is losing voters and Lib prospects aren't very good. The Greens are growing ever more popular with their new leader Elizabeth May. The NDP, well, they can talk all they want, as they always do, but they are perennial third-placers who have no hope of forming a government as socialism is not a popular political option in modern Canada (Ms Petty even snickered on The House last week, concerning a poll of leaders, that 'even Jack Layton beat Dion, haha!' - every listener understood her feigned surprise, that the NDP and their leader are never more than a sideshow of some sort to serious voters, and if Dion is lower than him, he's REALLY pathetic, haha). The Conservatives are moving towards the center, and attracting more Canadian votes as many people seem willing to give the more moderate Harper a chance, even in Quebec as the Bloc has lost most of its raison d'etre these days, for various reasons, but the voters there still dislike the Libs and have never thought much of the NDP. And really, as we heard from day one, the Canadian election is not all that important, with not many real issues to talk about - Canadians have some concern about who can manage the economy better in these troubled times, and some further concern about things like climate change and the health care system, but really, the American election is much more interesting. Afghanistan is a bit of a festering wound, but Harper has said that will end in 2011, and the Liberals agree with this position, and Canadians are tired of talking about it anyway, so it's not really an issue here. There are little interesting things that happen in every election we can gossip about, like candidates saying foolish things that they should resign for (according to outraged media consensus, at any rate), or commenting at length on the latest polls, or what do we all think of the latest stupid attack ad, or getting excited about trying to deny May a place in the leaders' debate, or the age of the Liberal leader's aircraft, or the accusation that some MP used his parliamentary privilege for a mailout after the election was called, or look! two NDPers have dropped out because there are vids of them smoking pot!! and did Jack Layton smoke pot in the past or not, eh? answer that now!! and what does he have to say for himself about it, eh?, and did Ms May call Canadians stupid or not, (but look at that interesting train tour she's doing!), and a regular parade of 'campaign news' like that from your on-the-ball Election Correspondents That's Me!! everyday, but that's all we have, because really, as we (the media) all said from Day 1, it's not really a very important election in the end, so have a chuckle about it all, but don't take it all too seriously, folks.
On the surface, to the Canadian mind well trained to trust what it reads in the 'free' Canadian media, it's a pretty good story that most Canadians seem to accept ok - I mean, if everyone in the free Canadian media is basically on the same page, then it must be true, right?
Out of the Box ....
But then there are some untrusting minds out here in realityland as well, minds which read a bit wider than the mainstream Canadian media and thus get some considerably different information, minds which ask questions the mainstream media seems uninterested in but seem important, which would suggest that perhaps the Canadian media is actually up to something considerably less benign than it pretends to be. When standing back from the full-spectrum, sound-bite vid-clip attention-catching, something-for-almost-everyone coverage of the Canadian media, thinking about things for a bit through a broader, more inclusive perspective, it can be stated with considerable certainty that rather than simply reporting on the election, the media is actually, through some heavy spin of what it does report to magnify some things and marginalize others, and not reporting on certain important things at all, through telling Canadians that certain voices are to be listened to and others are so far out they do not even exist, creating the story of the 2008 Canadian election day by day - a story that is accepted by most voters whose lives are too busy to dig deeper than the daily newscast or paper, a story that will in time become the history of this time - but a very false
and dangerous story, for all of its seeming benign-ness, which is not based on truth as most people would define the term, but on an Orwellian 'created history', a sanitized and even fictional version of the events we are experiencing, a version that is designed to create a false sense of what is happening to serve the demands of the rulers of the country (which would be keeping them in power and pursuing a certain agenda, an agenda most Canadians do not approve of).
Admittedly this will be seen by most as a rather shocking accusation levied against the Canadian media, which is widely viewed as a highly competent and responsible media (they say so often enough themselves, to be sure - which, one of the outside-the-box perspective might note, is part of the less-than-fully-true narrative they are attempting to create of these times) - so to make the case that the Canadian media is actually in the business of creating history, a la Orwell's Ministry of Truth, rather than simply reporting on it, let's start with a quick assessment of the main stories as noted above they are telling everyone about the Canadian election of 2008:
Creative writing example 1: Dion the ineffectual loser: The Canadian media has actually been creating this story for the last twenty-odd months, since Dion was elected leader of the Liberal party. Not a day has gone by since Dion became leader in which he has not been ridiculed in some way by the media, both headlining attacks by the Conservatives or 'anonymous backroom sources' with no or at best minimal response and adding their own voices to the mockery with few dissenting opinions allowed, from the original 'backroom dissatisfaction' of his selection to the current attacks on his Green Shift policy, which, since he introduced it, the media have been telling everyone daily how hard it is to understand. It is not really that hard to understand, but even if it was a bit complicated, the impartial observer, used to thinking for him or herself rather than selecting from various options mandated by their media, reacts with some surprise, wondering is this a normal position for a media en masse? If the media people really cannot understand a major policy of a leading political party during an election or the runup thereto, wouldn't it be their job to talk to people who did understand it, and give that information to Canadians, rather than interviewing a few people who also say they cannot understand it and offering that as 'proof' of their own lack of understanding? If the reporters hired to cover election issues are too unintelligent or inexperienced to understand a major policy of a major Canadian political party, shouldn't the management consider hiring some more useful and intelligent reporters who can grasp and explain things above a grade-school sound-bite level, as is their job in covering important events like elections? Is it really the job of the media to be interpreting things like this through their own limited prism and telling Canadians day after day that this limited interpretation is to be accepted as fact, or is it the job of a competent, responsible media to simply report things, and offer diverse and fair commentary and interpretation from those qualified to comment, so the people of the country can decide themselves through an appropriate democratic process what to think and do?
This is a perfect example of the media 'creating a narrative', which this short essay is all about - telling Canadians en masse how they should view a certain thing, rather than impartially reporting on something, with various commentaries if the issue is controversial, and letting their readers and listeners make up their own minds. There is a world of difference between (a) reporting on some non-Liberal players in the election and their accusation that the Green Shift is complicated (there are very few if any stories to be found with this perspective, actually), with rebuttals from the Liberals as each side gives a perspective, and (b) the media 'journalists' more or less en masse telling everyone, as 'news', that the policy is difficult, even impossible, to understand. It could be called spin, of course, but spin is a one-off thing about a particular issue or story, normally offered by paid commentators rather than 'news' reporters in a credible media, whilst the narrative is a much broader, systemic activity, of which the 'journalists-as-narrative-creators' are central.
There is no fallback position here along the lines of, heck, it's just true and the media reports the truth!! - Dion was a successful and highly respected academic and politician before becoming leader, and did not change overnight into 'an ineffectual loser' etc - but the attack against him was swift and deep; and the Green Shift plan is obviously perfectly comprehensible to many people, so there is no widespread agreement that it is 'hard to understand'. The media always have choices about how they will feature, or spin, any particular story - in Dion's case, he could have been presented as an exciting new leader facing some pitfalls because of his inexperience and a few disgruntled backroomers trying to cause trouble, but bravely bringing a bold new message to Canadians! (recall Trudeau, or Mulroney, who received the 'Great White Savior' treatment when they first appeared - they could equally have been trashed at the media's pleasure, as Dion has been (and Trudeau since the early days)
- all optics, all the time. Anyone has good things and bad things about them that can be the center of spin and emphasized or just ignored or explained away, depending on the desired portrayal ...). Imagine if that had of been the media theme around Dion the last 20 months, with the media interviewing people who thought Dion was great, and featuring editorials and columnists painting a shining picture of him and his new ideas to make Canada a better place for us all!! How would Canadians be viewing Dion and the Liberal Party today, had the media presented him this way, whilst presenting the Conservatives as dinosaurs who want to drag Canada back to the dark ages of laissez-faire Capitalism and continue dragging Canada down the path of becoming ever more like America, which most Canadians are opposed to?
There are those who hold either perspective for either party or its leaders - I do not say the media should have done any of these things, I just note that they could have - and that they have intentionally chosen the presentation we have seen the last couple of years for Dion, when others could have been chosen, resulting in the current broadly accepted narrative of the way Canadians currently think of him. A truly responsible media, under diverse rather than concentrated ownership, would have a fair share of any relevant perspectives, with a lot less editorializing from either side as 'news' and more impartial presentation of factual things, allowing columnists and involved people from all perspectives to present opinion and spin for a full range of interpretations presented to Canadians, the actual role of a responsible media - but the endless, repetitive monologue we have heard from the Canadian media on this Dion story has had only one message, with continual editorializing of the 'news' day after day to endlessly reaffirm this narrative - Dion the ineffective loser, unrest in the party ranks, distant from most Canadians - since he became the Lib leader. And that is what I mean by 'creating the narrative', rather than simply covering news for Canadians to absorb by themselves and consider.
One might note, as a similar example to the Green Shift and the narrative rather than reporting activity, the Canadian media, again en masse, did exactly the same thing last year during the Ontario election, telling everyone that Proportional Representation was just too difficult for people to understand, a spin which was and is simply nonsense, no matter how many selected interviewees they interview or featured columnists they print who parrot the line. And when people like Anna Maria Tremonti of the Current and Michael Enright of the Sunday Edition joke disparagingly about not understanding it, thus encouraging their listeners to reject it without saying so directly, either they are a lot stupider than they appear to be on air, or they are simply dissembling in the larger service of creating the desired narrative - there is simply nothing complicated about the basic idea of a party which gets 30% of the vote getting 30% of the seats, as a counter to the current FPTP system in which a party can get 35% or less of the votes but 60% or more of the seats. But when the media decides they want their followers to believe something, they TELL you, in concert from every quarter, both directly and in many indirect ways, what you are supposed to be thinking, not about everything, but about certain key issues they want you seeing from a certain perspective, and then arrange their 'reporting' and commentary to continually reinforce the desired point of view, and block out or marginalise any other perspectives. And that is, I hope you will agree, not the role of a media in a free society. PR may or may not have been selected by the voters after they understood it and discussed it, or Dion and his Green Shift, but that is for the voters themselves to decide, after being given all the information they need to make an informed decision, not the media through a one-sided monologue supporting or rejecting any given controversial issue. This media advocacy is nothing new, in creating the larger Canadian narrative - I first noticed it during the late 70s and early 80s when the government was imposing seat belt laws against the wishes of most people, never mentioned in any election campaign, with no debate at all but massive one-sided propaganda supporting it from government and media, and then again, as another example, during the 1988 'free trade' election, when the pro coverage outweighed the nay coverage by a very significant amount, particularly in the final deciding days. The Canadian media - not reporting, but advocating. And that is not what we are told they are doing, and it is not their job in a democracy.
Dion the loser, Harper the firm statesman, standing tall while making the tough decisions: Once one understands the Dion narrative the media have been creating, simply the fact that they are in the narrative-creating business rather than honest reporting, the rest of the election narrative becomes quite obvious - they are doing their best to give Harper and the Cons their best chance for a majority in the 2008 election. During the same period the media have been ridiculing Dion nonstop, invariably presenting him in some dishevelled state, eyes a bit wild, always, apparently, just barely in control of anything, etc, Harper has continually been presented in flattering pictures (no birds pooping on him!!), well dressed and groomed always, travelling the world, appearing statesmanlike and accepted by other world leaders, heads-up, decisive, in-control, competently ready with damage control when one of his MPs or candidates screws up, etc and etc, creating an impression of 'competent statesman' in contrast to the disliked, confused Dion, for Canadians always to be comparing, subconsciously at least, in terms of who they want for a leader, or representing them abroad. That his policies are disliked by most Canadians is left pretty much unsaid and unexamined - the handful of lefty commentators allowed regular (infrequent) space in the mainstream media are free to talk about such things if they want, but their comments are buried in the right wing editorialising and commentary, and the overwhelming day-to-day presentation of Harper and the 'Conservative' policies is as noted - a winner on a mission, as opposed to the adrift loser Dion with the endless negative commentary, presented as 'news', about his central policy. This sort of thing won't have much effect on decided voters, but those many who are undecided, and a certain percentage of 'less committed' voters who can be drawn away by raising sufficient distrust of a party or leader, where elections such as this are won or lost, or majorities forged from minorities, will be taking all of this in subconsciously, and few 'undecideds' vote for losers over winners when those undefined things happen in a voting booth that ultimately decide where the X goes.
And May the vote splitter...: And as part of the narrative package, the mainstream media, during the last couple of years also, have been taking every opportunity to present May and the Greens as credible, simply by giving them a lot of space and letting people get to know them, or Ms May, more correctly, as although she is not entirely a one-person show, they are nowhere near running credible candidates in a very high number of ridings, so impressions of being a 'solid national party' are again very much exagerrated, one would have to say intentionally, by the media. Without this kind of confirmation of new people or parties over a period of time considerably longer than the few weeks of an election campaign, few people will vote for 'fringe' parties they don't know much about, but familiarity through regular media exposure over a long period of time gives them some confidence to perhaps do so, a place to send a vote when a voter does not like either mainstream party. The Canadian voter has long been indoctrinated with the idea of the 'socialist ideology' of the NDP, another false meme, part of the narrative, that has been instilled relentlessly into the Canadian population by the same media over the years, but Layton is also a popular and respected personality, and many people understand that the NDP is closer than the other main parties to the values of Canadians on such things as supporting health care, withdrawing from Afghanistan, controlling so called 'free trade' agreements and the like, and there would be some danger in an election at this time of enough voters abandoning both major mainstream parties, unpopular for different reasons, and going to the NDP, which could cause problems for the rulers, so giving those votes another place to go is an obvious way of minimising this danger by splitting the anti-Harper, still dislike the Libs voter.
So, to summarize, what the media have been doing the last 20 months is presenting Harper as a credible leader of a major party, whilst presenting Dion as ineffectual, with minimal focus on 'issues' aside from mocking the major Dion one. Add in presenting May as 'a credible alternative', and leaving the NDP their normal hardcore votes, what we see in the big picture is the majority anti-Harper vote being divided up as much as possible through three other parties (in English Canada, plus the Bloc in Quebec), thus maximising the chances of a 'plurality majority' government resulting from the first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system in Canada. And none of this manipulation is talked about in the mainstream coverage - like any good con artist, they tell you to look here look here!! - when you need to be looking anywhere but where they tell you.
But what about the issues they are talking about? Are these being presented accurately, or is there the same kind of creative 'narrative' writing going on here as well? Is this really a boring, mostly issue-free election, or not? Let us take a closer look.
As noted, to recap briefly, the media began with the premise there is nothing really interesting going on in the Canadian election of 08, and, so far, after going on three weeks, have kept pretty much on message, en masse, more interested to date at least in making sure voters believe the Liberal Green Plan is too complicated to understand and Dion is just a loser, and that everyone is well aware of Elizabeth May as a place for a valid vote to max the vote split (it's a well known PR principle that the main message must be simple and short, even, perhaps moreso, with the kind of below-the-surface manipulation we are seeing here). The 'election correspondents' have been following the leaders around, a central facet of modern election coverage, breathlessly reporting daily on the latest minutiae as if it was important, lots of daily photo-ops and sound-bites, watching carefully for 'gaffes' of any sort as modern citizens (or reporters, at any rate) seem to enjoy 'gotcha!!' moments and embarrassing politicians, commenting on Conservative attack ads for a couple of days, complaining about Dion's plane for another couple, a bit of excitement over a Con minister's joke for another couple, some more excitement about a couple of NDP candidates resigning after it came out they smoked pot and had admitted it, a national story about a Con complaining a Lib had used his MP's office to send campaign material, and so on, avoiding anything remotely like a real issue as much and as long as possible.
So are they right? (haha of course they are, in that sense!) - but are there really no issues that Canadians ought to be concerned with during this election, during this time in our history? Does it really make no difference where Canadians park a vote this time? The out-of-the-box observer might, if such an observer was aware of the broader picture that the mainstream media is trying to keep in that dark closet whilst promoting their 'nothing of interest here folks!!' narrative as the picture Canadians have of their country and world, think that there were indeed some issues of considerable importance, that the Narrative is intentionally concealing:
Real issues 1: Afghanistan: For instance, the ongoing Afghanistan 'mission', which most Canadians have been saying for a long time they do not believe Canada should be involved in, an invasion we embarked upon with no consultation with the Canadian people, although there was no 'clear and present danger' to justify such haste and lack of consultation. Once again, we must consider the question of whether it is up to the media to decide that this is not an issue in the election, and do their best to keep it out of the election coverage, or Canadians themselves. The Current, for instance, on Friday Sept 19 spent an hour on this, with a couple of 'guests' telling Canadians first that this was not really an issue at all, as Harper and Dion have both agreed that ending the mission in 2011 means there is nothing more to talk about, and then spending the rest of the show telling Canadians that even if they were concerned, this is a good mission, and we are doing a good thing, and they should understand that. Where were some representatives of the over 60% of Canadians who do not want Canada in Afghanistan, and do not believe all the 'this is a great mission' stories are the whole story to have some equal time to discuss this very much non-trivial issue from a different perspective? Where are the questions, to the politicians, along the lines of 'If most Canadians think we should not be in Afghanistan, yet both major parties endorse the mission, do these parties actually care about what Canadians want, as they should in a democracy? Is it the role of a political party or government, and media, to 'sell' an invasion of a foreign country to an unwilling and skeptical population, or should very serious issues like this be embarked upon ONLY after a majority of Canadians decide that it is the right thing to do so? Does Canadian democracy involve politician-rulers telling citizens what direction the country will take, or the reverse? A true media would not be burying this very important subject, but trying to get some true understanding of the whole situation, and letting voters decide which party was more likely to do as they wished concerning this, or had some credible ideas about what is happening, and what they will do about it. The current media, of course, is busy creating the narrative noted above - not an issue, people, move on now, but here's another great interview with someone who thinks a cabinet minister should resign over a stupid joke, let's all just spend a few hours on this great story, have a laugh over this, or feign some outrage!! Afghanistan? Move on, folks, move on, not an issue!!
In the bigger picture, of course, anyone who has been following the 'news' the last couple of years will know that the media has once again, as with Dion, been creating a narrative concerning the entire Afghanistan 'mission' rather than reporting plain, unadulterated news - regardless of what most Canadians believe, regardless of the fact we very hastily got involved with the invasion with no real debate at all in this country, a decision made in Ottawa and backed by all major politicians with no input from their constituents, the media has from day 1, rather than representing the citizens of the country and their concern and questions, been on board with this political decision, with non-stop promotion of the 'mission' with 'feel good' stories of military families, bringing democracy to far away lands, support our troops, get with the program people!!, etc and etc. And once again, the impartial observer needs to ask - is this the role of a media in a democracy, to promote a certain course of action over another, even when most Canadians oppose that mission? Is what we are seeing in regards to Afghanistan the attempted creation of a certain narrative to be impressed upon the Canadian people, an official narrative that can be used to justify certain government actions, regardless of what most Canadians feel or think or wish?
Real issue 2, Move on folks nothing to see here!! - Exclusions from the Narrative: And what of the SPP/NAU? Few Canadians want their country forming yet even closer ties with the USA, as this 'agreement' is working towards, and what better time would there be to get Canadians' input into this than an election, when the media might employ their vast research abilities into digging up the facts of this proposal and putting them in the public spotlight for the politicians to talk about, rather than using their research time in digging up instances of some candidates smoking pot in the past, which might be titillating to the gotcha-addicted media but most Canadians don't really care about? And then we might have a party expressing strong belief in this, and another expressing a belief in a sovereign Canada, and Canadians given a clear choice? Admittedly this might be a bit difficult to pull off, as many Canadians undoubtedly remember the last such opportunity in 1993, when the PCs of Brian Mulroney campaigned on how wonderful NAFTA would be, and the Chretien Liberals said that most Canadians did not want this, and by golly if we elected the Liberals there would be serious improvements to the treaty or it would not be signed yeh!! - and when Canadians gave the Liberals a solid majority on the basis of this promise, they were immediately betrayed as Chretien did an about face and signed NAFTA, and not a single Liberal MP spoke up for the constituents he or she was betraying. Fool me once, as George tried to say - but probably many Canadians would not think kindly of an attempted repeat. But of course such people who recall this are probably already mostly in the 40% of 'we're not voting anyway' crowd, and the rest, apparently, susceptible to government and media propaganda.
Still, to make the point in terms of the thesis of the essay, if the media were actually serving Canadians wouldn't they be grilling the candidates about this very secretive SPP/NAU/Amero situation, so Canadians could at least get an idea of where they stood on it? Would this be a more useful elicitation of information than several days talking about a Conservative ad about a bird pooping on Dion's shoulder? It would for many of us, to be sure. But two+ weeks into the campaign, and not a single word about the SPP/NAU in any of the mainstream media. This makes no sense in terms of a responsible media doing its job, but it is quite understandable if you are observing from outside the box, and understand that the media is creating a narrative for Canadians, and enacting the SPP/NAU, like the earlier NAFTA, whether or not Canadians approve, is part of that narrative. One might, perhaps cynically but still truthfully, consider that the corporate leaders of our country, who do support this initiative and are leading the charge to make it happen ASAP, are fully aware Canadians will NOT approve of this, thus the stealth approach is the best option, shutting the whole thing in a not-to-be-discussed closet, to be dragged out as soon as Harper has his 'five years do as you like' faux-majority. (note - a recent poll indicates clearly what Canadians think of NAFTA, even after 15 years of endless media boosterism and telling everyone how great it is - . Interestingly, this is also an article which in itself shows the 'narrative creation' function at work - early in the article they say "...In 1993, NAFTA brought Mexico into the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the U.S. that had been in place since 1989..." - clearly, the unsuspecting reader, unfamiliar with 'real' history, taking things at face value, will believe, falsely, that these two treaties were things 'Canada' wanted to do, with no explanation of the non-narrative truth that actually Canadians voted strongly against both the FTA and NAFTA, but due to the electoral system in place, these treaties were signed by governments representing only a minority of the people. And such is one of the central purposes of the entire process of narrative creation - aside from influencing current events, also doing exactly as in Orwell's Ministry of Truth, creating the 'history' as desired by the rulers, to justify whatever the government is doing, or has done.)
Real issue 3 never touched by the Official Narrative: Should a party defending itself against serious election misspending charges even be allowed to call an election?!?: Whilst the media spend a lot of time getting excited about the pot-smoking history of a couple of candidates, or diligently probing into a candidate who may have sent a mailout after the deadline date, the heinous felon!!, why hasn't there been a single word the last two weeks about the ongoing charges the Conservatives are facing about election misspending the last election? Not a single word?!? No questions at all of the Conservative leader or finance people, yet the charges are quite serious, and shouldn't voters be reminded of them, as they are of the pot-smoking history of others? Isn't this part of the relevant histories of the various candidates for national government? I would note that the pot-smokers were never charged with any criminal offense for the actions that the media are all a-twitter about, yet the media find it justifiable to make sure everyone in Canada knows about this history, but prefer to keep serious criminal charges that are currently being prosecuted against the party leading the polls for election to national office under the rug? Should we even be having an election with candidates and a party facing such serious charges? Hmmm. We might recall the last election campaign, when accusations of criminal misdeeds against the Liberals were also a matter of concern at the time, and this was in the news daily, making sure the voters were going to vote for Libs, if they did, in full awareness of their recent behaviour. But for some reason, the media don't see fit to keep recent accusations of Conservative misdeeds in the same kind of public spotlight during this election. Again, if the narrative is making the Cons appear a good electoral choice, and the Libs not, this selective 'reporting' of accusations of wrongdoing worth noting or not would be understandable, in terms of that narrative.
Real Issue 4 a responsible (to the people) media would be talking about: The very thing the first part of this essay addressed, the apparent media push to ensure the anti-Harper vote is split so a minority of votes becomes a plurality of seats for Harper, thus delivering one of the common faux-majority governments we have been dealing with for many years which have done many things most Canadians do not want done in their country, should be a major election issue, not only this time, but every election until this extremely undemocratic situation is fixed. Such faux-democracies undertaking serious programs against the wishes of most Canadians is quite obviously very undemocratic, yet the media is also en masse not asking citizens what they think of this situation, nor saying a word themselves about this, or why Canada does not join most other modern democracies with a Proportional Representation system of voting which would ensure such false majorities did not happen. And it is not because nobody wants to talk about it, there are a couple of national organisations who are trying to get Canadians thinking about this, with the support of many Canadians, but they are doing it on their own, with no media exposure at all. This is about democracy, and this is an important issue - when any party, the Cons this time, or various past Liberal or Conservative governments, get a majority of seats with a minority of votes, they are free to 'legitimately' undertake things, such as the FTA or NAFTA or SPP or invading Afghanistan or slashing social programs in order to slash corporate taxes or any other thing that a majority of Canadians might disagree with, which is very undemocratic. A switch to a PR voting system might not solve all of our problems, but at least it would dramatically increase the level of actual democracy in Canada, in terms of making sure that governments could only undertake important initiatives with the support of MPs representing the wishes of a majority of Canadians (theoretically at least, another failing of the current system is that MPs are free to ignore the wishes of their constituents, or break promises etc, and regularly do so as noted with, for instance, NAFTA, but that is a different issue...).
And yet not a word about this from the media, who seem, as we saw clearly in the 07 Ontario election, to be en masse against this voting system, a position which does not seem rational if their job is to represent the people, but is somewhat more understandable if one considers they in reality speak for their corporate owners, and their corporate owners much prefer the FPTP system, with its false 'plurality majorities', since the corporate owners control both major parties and thus are the ultimate beneficiaries of the faux-majorities obtained under that system. And in the narrative of this time in history we always read 'great majority!!!' etc stories, but never do we see any stories of 'most voters rejected the views of XX party, but due to the unfairness inherent in the FPTP electoral system they received a majority of seats' - stories which might, if approached with the same enthusiasm given to making Dion appear a hapless loser the last two years, for example, get Canadians more interested in looking for a more fair voting system. As always, the media are free to spin stories as they wish, and voting stories are always spun to maintain the unfair FPTP which favors the corporate rulers, and denigrate PR, which favors We the People and actual democracy.
These highly-important-if-you-care-about-democracy issues also include such things as the marijuana laws - most Canadians do not, and have not for years, believe people who smoke pot have committed any crime and should not be hassled by the police, but they continue to be, and the government continues to enact even harsher punishments, with media support as the annnouncers comment on criminal behaviour etc. If the media actually cared about 'democracy', they could be asking a lot of questions about this, rather than spending days hassling a candidate over a tasteless but harmless joke, made in a private telephone call. But this 'apology crisis of the Cons' will be part of the official narrative of the 08 election, even though, at least according to most open discussion boards I have seen, most people think as do I, that it is really a relatively insignificant matter, but the very undemocratic pot laws will never be mentioned, nor any campaign allowed to get Canadians thinking about how much organised crime relies on these completely undemocratic laws. Again, clearly, the media creating a narrative for history books, a narrative very much against the wishes and beliefs of 'we the people'.
And there are related issues as well - election turnout has been falling in Canada during the last couple of decades, and many people believe it is because the electoral system is so flawed that people just don't think it matters anymore, a situation exacerbated considerably when the wishes of a majority of people are blatantly disregarded, and politicians who blatantly lie about what they will do if elected are allowed to do so with no leadership from the media to try to force them to at least keep such promises (the media is certainly capable of undertaking advocacy campaigns when they wish, as we have seen in various things from the 1988 support of 'free' trade to the current support for the Afghanistan 'mission', or negative ones such as telling voters they do NOT want PR, which would seem to be the wrong advice considering what is happening in the country, or the Green Plan is too difficult to understand, and etc - it is simply a matter of what they choose to keep in the public consciousness and what they choose to bury).
But, once again, it will be seen that the media advocates for things that are to be included in the creation of the narrative they desire - things that fall outside of that narrative, such as a fair voting system in Canada, are stuck in the closet. And that, again, is not the role of a responsible media looking out for the people it supposedly 'serves', but the role of a media serving a higher master.
Serious issues the mainstream media is spinning #5 - taking a closer look at the economy, as the people decide who ought to be in control of the nation's finances for the next few years, and overseeing the various players in the economy, and what sort of general direction the various parties think the financial policies ought to be heading. With the ongoing financial meltdown in the US, obviously affecting Canadian banks and investors, and average people, getting a grip on what is happening economically would be very important for most Canadians, yet this fundamentally important area of economics, as far as the media is concerned and their responsibility to Canadians, is completely a mushroom operation - keep em in the dark and feed em bullshit and platitudes, meaningless interviews with various people about the problems they are indeed suffering, and various promises from all parties that they will make things better through lower taxes or whatever. Many, many people, for instance, see the proposed trillion dollar bailout in the US as nothing more than legalised theft, protection of gamblers who made some bad bets and are now going to be reimbursed from the public purse - but you never see any explanation in the mainstream media about how the deregulation of the Washington Consensus over the last 30 years has directly caused this, and the banking system in Canada is just as vulnerable as the US system, and some options on strengthening our system so it is more stable, etc. This makes the thesis of the media creating a narrative for Canadians, rather than functioning as a responsible media presenting relevant information for Canadians to make decisions with, quite clear, when you understand what it is the media are hiding about the true financial situation, as is explained in another essay, Banketeering . This is surely something Canadians should be aware of, even if, after suitable debate, they knowingly approved of the current procedure for making the nation's money supply - that the details of this are never discussed in the media can only be seen as hiding these details from an awareness that most people would be very unhappy about the situation if they knew about it.
Issues not talked about in the Official Narrative #6 - Maybe, given the above short discussion, we ought to be having a look at just what is going on in the media???? - There may be some resistance to the idea of our 'great free Canadian media!!', and its many hundreds of seemingly independent and trustworthy better-known reporters and commentators, acting en masse with a common message or narrative, but it's not as outrageous or impossible an idea as you might think. You only have to consider the degree of corporate concentration and ownership of the Canadian media, and further consider what kind of managing editors the corporate owners, concerned with both bottom line issues and promoting a certain ideology rather than altruism or the public weal, are going to hire, and what kind of on-the-beat reporters and columnists such managing editors are going to employ themselves, to understand that no vast 'conspiracy' of any sort is necessary to ensure a stable of columnists and junior reporters speaking with more or less one voice, just the careful selection of a small number of higher up and influential employees who already support a certain political philosophy, followed by, if ever required, just the littlest bit of 'guidance' from head office concerning certain things to be emphasized, or others that might better not be mentioned at all (with the odd old lefty left around to point to when accusations of 'lefty media!!!' are the topic de jour, who can always be replaced if they show signs of getting too much off message).
Managing editors and reporters of newspapers who are chosen because of their pre-existing support of the economic system known as the 'Washington Consensus' ideology do not need to be indoctrinated or forced to support political parties such as the Harper Conservatives, and share willingly in spinning the major opposition or competing ideas in an unfavorable light or simply excluding them from the public debate - and nobody who supports a strong social democracy ideology need bother applying for such jobs, in Canada. No conspiracy as such, involving backroom meetings and secret pledges and blackmail or assassination or suchlike, just putting a certain type of predatory beast in cages with trusting herd-instinct lambs and letting nature take its course. (And that includes the notorious leading 'lefties' of the Canadian media - the people at such media organisations might have slightly more of a sense of noblesse oblige towards the peasants in general, but they are still with the Washington Consensus program - show me a leading reporter or columnist at the Toronto Star or CBC who doesn't support 'free' trade or lowering corporate taxes or letting 'the market' function with minimal oversight or 'balanced budgets' and reduced government, the central tenets of the new Chicago 'economics', or who demands some form of PR to get our faux-democracy more democratic or who wants Canadians to understand the great ripoff of the money supply scam? Mmm-mm, not there, and the editorial pages and commentaries of these 'lefty' organisations reflect this clearly, with, again, the odd slightly progressive voice excepted and given a few hundred words once every week or three, but very much not the rule. Do not forget, both the CBC and Star have been following the very inaccurate narrative posited at the first concerning the current election, rather than actually reporting the news and issues of serious importance as later discussed in any systematic way. The 'lefty' Canadian media is, in reality, another rightwing myth - another part of the Canadian narrative that is considerably less than true that the media have been creating for this era, but not the topic of this essay.
So, in the end - the Canadian Narrative. Do Canadians wish to create the narrative for their country, based on their work and beliefs and desires for the future of their country for their children - a future with a democratic government looking after the people and the environment for all of us - or allow their history to be stolen and a false narrative created by the rightwing corporate media, enabling a much different agenda, much less friendly to most citizens and their children and children's children? (a continuation of the narrative which now includes such things as 'Canadians embraced Free Trade in 1988' yea sure, 'Canadians supported bringing Democracy to Afghanistan..' right - and what next, 'Canadians voted in 2008 to form a closer union with the United States via the SPP and adopting a common currency' - really???)
It's up to you. A narrative written by you and other Canadians - or one written for you. If you extrapolate a bit with things like the health care system in mind, or following the Americans into places like Afghanistan, or the increasing financial instability in our country - you might want to give some serious thought to reclaiming the keyboard.
(Perhaps I should note for the record, in case the lengthy discussion of Dion creates a false impression, I am a supporter of none of the major Canadian parties, so this is not a partisan rant, but an impartial analysis, not 'spun' to favor any particular party. I have equally little use for all 3, 4 or 5 main Canadian political parties; my political leanings as a social-democrat-anarchist would be closest to the NDP (of the parties allowed to appear in the Official Narrative), but they are silent about the two or three issues I consider most important, as noted above, democracy and media and economic reform, and they also seem to favor a big mother government which I find almost as distasteful as the big brother rightwing version, so they would not get a vote of mine - and after Broadbent's apparent collusion in foisting the FTA/NAFTA/NWO etc on us, and Rae's refusal to talk about reality or challenge this NWO during his time as Ontario premier, and Layton's current refusal to put democracy and money creation and responsible media at the top of the 'must do' list, I don't have much faith that they'd be anything other than another 'good cop' corporate government if ever elected. Along with Leonard, I'll wait for Democracy.)
Dave Patterson is a social critic, teacher, writer, and other things, trying to figure out what's happening here anyway, his latest thoughts on which can be found in They're Building a Box - and You're In It . He's also written a Utopian sort of novel in which he describes the kind of place in which he'd like to live - Green Island, the story of a society in which the narrative is the true narrative of the people, not the pretend-we're-all-happy-corporate-robots-lalalala corporate elite. It's also a pretty good adventure, as, as might be expected, the creators of the current narrative do not go easily into the good night themselves, and attempt a little regime change. In which they get a little asskicking. That's Dave's narrative. If you love George Bush and bow to The Market, you won't like it.