Harper’s unnecessary paranoia

Fear of Canadian news pointless given party lockdown

Could anything be more clichéd than another screed against Stephen Harper? They seem to be as certain as the sun’s rising each morning and setting every night.

Even in the major league of Canadian journalism, he’s such a permanent fixture on so many shit-lists that commentators desperate to meet their deadline can play a game of Harper-bashing Mad Libs. All a commentator has to do is write the bulk of their article in advance, leaving a couple blank spaces to insert the details of his latest foible, gaffe, scandal or fuck-up.

Personally, I’m no fan of the man, but I’ve been reluctant thus far to dip my toes into the world of political commentary. Mainly, this is because taking a jab at any of the people who populate Canadian politics these days - let alone our fearless leader - is like picking a fight with an old lady who only has one good eye and a club foot. Sure it’s easy, but hardly satisfying.

What, then, made the bile rise in my throat this time?

It was a comment made by Harper last Thursday, before an audience of reporters in Toronto, which I’ll quote here:

“I tend to watch mainly American news because I don’t like to watch Canadian news and hear what ... everybody else is saying about me, so my hobby is to watch politics elsewhere.”

Is Harper’s admission here news to anyone? Not if you’ve been watching the Canadian variety. It’s been an open secret that he holds contempt for the national media.

Since 2006, the Tories have clamped down media access to the prime minister, his cabinet and all Conservative MPs. At the same time, they banned media access to repatriation ceremonies for the bodies of soldiers returning from Afghanistan and stopped lowering the flag to half-mast on Parliament Hill every time a soldier died.

With their access controlled by a draconian communications department, news outlets have had little to report on besides what gets sent to them by the Prime Minister’s Office. Loose lips sink ships, so every party member had to get their mouth stapled shut.

The plan has worked out so far. As Ethan Cabel pointed out in his article in last week’s Uniter, the Tories have managed their public image masterfully.

Loose lips sink ships, so every party member had to get their mouth stapled shut.

For example, remember last fall when he came on television to play with a bunch of kittens while wearing a sweater vest? You sure do.

Remember how he staunchly defended Minister of Natural Resources Lisa Raitt when she called cancer-related deaths a “sexy” issue? Far less likely.

So why not watch Canadian news if you’ve got an army of communications people to filter out the nasty stuff?

Harper’s problem seems to be a lack of journalistic gratitude. Believe it or not, there are some foolish journalists who feel they have a duty to investigate what the government is doing, rather than just re-state press releases issued by the PMO.

Look, Stevie, I know you’ll never read this, but let me just say that it’s your job to look at the news here. Not because you like it, but because it’s supposed to piss you off.

The media should - ideally - provide a critical perspective on the actions of Powers-That-Be, no matter what party they belong to. After that, it’s your job to defend your policies to the public.

So switch off Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck, and tune into Peter Mansbridge or Kevin Newman or Robert J. Holt. We wouldn’t say no to a few extra viewers.

Rob Holt is a second-year University of Winnipeg student who just realized that up ‘til now, the paper has been claiming he’s in his first year.

Published in Volume 64, Number 9 of The Uniter (October 29, 2009)

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