This being the summer, we will not be hearing of Parliament for awhile. There will be no new outrages, no volleys of insults hurled back and forth across the Commons floor. Outrages will not be completely absent: human nature and political life being what they are, new ones will be cropping up every day. But there will be no Parliament in which to yell about them, which will diminish their impact somewhat. There will be no new taxes, at least not so far as we can see. Parliament is on a holiday.
Politics is not, however, on a holiday. Politics goes on, helped by the fact that the political reporters, editors, producers and news executives who comprise the News Machine are not on a holiday—at least not all of them are. Despite the absence of Parliament, despite a lack of outrage on the floor of the House, there are still pages and minutes to fill. Newspapers, radio and television do not go on a holiday.
It is too bad that they don’t. People like to think about pennant races and their tan and their garden or their cottage at this time of year. They like to think about why the city has emptied out, and how nice it is that it has. They like to think about the cool nights, when cool nights are there to be thought about. They don’t like to think about politics, which they associate with the season of work. They would like newspapers and television and radio to go on a holiday, perhaps leaving the weatherman, plus the folks who do the baseball games.
The downside is that the beaches and campgrounds of the nation would be full of vacationing newspapers, radio and television stations, which would not be a pretty sight. What’s black and white and red all over? Right. A newspaper with a sunburn.
Since the News Machine does not go on vacation, politics continues to happen. Even if there is no news, no news is preferable to writing features about how hot it is and whether it’s as hot this year as it
Charles Gordon is a columnist with The Ottawa Citizen.
Newspapers, television and radio should go on holiday in the summer, leaving the weatherman and the folks who do the baseball games
was the last time it was this hot.
This being the summer and Parliament having gone away, the thing the News Machine will be covering is leadership races. Fortunately, there are two. One, the New Democratic Party’s, seems to be under way, to an extent. There will be a convention in November, so any minute now somebody is going to be stirring, and there will be great flurries of excitement filling the newspapers and the airwaves.
However, it should be clear by now that not just anybody stirring is enough to cause great, or even small, flurries of excitement. The News Machine does not waste time and space on people it considers not interesting. Unfortunately, that includes every person who has declared an interest in the NDP leadership so far. The result is that the people of Canada know hardly anything about the candidates because the News Machine has decided they are not worth the public’s time.
It’s an unfortunate decision. They are living, feeling people who have put their political futures on the line. They probably have ideas about the economy, the Constitution, South Africa, free trade, abortion, the CBC, the CFL and the other great issues of our time. But we will have a difficult time learning what they are.
What we know is that they have no chance to win because the News Machine tells us that. Not a one of them stands a chance to win an election against Liberals and Conservatives, and not a one of them, when you get right down to it, stands a chance to win the leadership convention. This could make the leadership convention extremely interesting, and if the News Machine is not interested in covering a political convention that no one wins, perhaps the people from the Guinness book are.
When media critics (the severest of whom are in the media) speak of “horse race coverage,” that’s what they mean: that the News Machine is more interested in who is going to win than in what the winner will do after winning. Translate that to, say, Steven Langdon, one of the NDP leadership candidates, and you have a good idea of what Langdon’s regional strength is, where he stands with Quebec delegates, women and youth, but you have no idea where he stands on NATO or Meech Lake. Langdon, in fact, was allowed by the News Machine to get away with saying, when announcing his candidacy, that he had strong views on Meech Lake but would not, for the moment, reveal what they were. (Eventually, almost three weeks later, he did: saying he opposed the accord.)
Now, if Steven Langdon were Stephen Lewis, that would be a different story. The News Machine so desperately wants Lewis to run that his various denials receive more coverage than all the statements, put together, of all those who are already in the race. Each denial is subjected to detailed analysis of whether it is a more categorical denial than the previous one, which was considered slightly more open to interpretation than the one before.
This being summer, there is time for that. But there is also time to take a look at some of the non-Stephen Lewis people who are in the race, and perhaps find that one of them has something interesting to say, not on whether he or she will win but on an issue. Stranger things have happened.
The NDP, for example, has a long history of trying to do something halfway attractive in Quebec and falling on its face, while losing support in English-speaking Canada for its trouble. One of the candidates might have something interesting to say about that, if anybody could stop waiting for Stephen Lewis to get out of elevators long enough to find out. An original statement on an issue might spark some public interest and then—glory be!— there would be a horse race and everybody would be right at home.
The other race is being run by the Liberals, but it is being run so slowly that the main interest lies in whether it will still be the 20th century when the new leader is chosen. It is like a race between the tortoise and the hare, only with no hare. However, it can be written about, this being summer. A worthwhile project would be for someone to locate Jean Chrétien and find out what he thinks about anything, then do the same thing for Paul Martin Jr. and anybody else who might be running. Heaven knows there is enough time left after that to write about who’s winning.
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